TARNo1 // Day 9

May 23, 2024

Michael Drummond


Words by Ross Brannigan, Race Reporter

The Accursed Mountains have many faces: on one side, sun cascades across their towering slopes; on another, the tales of their cursed origin story seem only too true, as thunder crashes around their summits and rain gushes down their sides. 

To brave these unpredictable whims, riders must show strength of body and character, in addition to perseverance and problem-solving. There is, perhaps, no rider who has exemplified these traits more so than Weronika Szalas (08), who became the first woman to finish the Race.  

Rolling into Shkodër, Weronika was met with a small crowd of finishers and volunteers waiting to welcome her.

Matt Grayson

Sporting a pair of socks that read “Fearless Female Cyclist”, Weronika was caked in mud and sporting several grazes — the signatures of the Accursed Mountains. Reaching the finish under the warm afternoon sun, Weronika told us of the powerful storm she and David Sanchez (19) had taken cover from in the Komani area. 

After sheltering overnight under a petrol station entrance, the two separated, only to rejoin later as they sought shelter from another furious storm. They finally reached the finish in the afternoon. David was first, followed half an hour later by Weronika, arriving after 8 days, 6 hours, and 22 minutes of racing.

Matt Grayson

“That was a very long bike ride”, she sighed. Despite finishing sixth overall, Weronika’s main delight came from simply finishing the race: “It feels good to finish earlier than I thought because I didn't think I could finish within the time limit. There were a lot of moments I wanted to quit.”

In addition to being the first woman to reach the finish, Weronika was the first of those riding a drop bar bike to arrive. This, combined with her relative inexperience of racing, made her a source of admiration for everyone following her dot through the mountains.

“It was brilliant to see Weronika finish”, said Race Coordinator, Hannah Larbalestier. “I think all of us were a bit worried for her [when her knee started to hurt], but she’s just been so strong and steadfast throughout the Race. I am just really happy to see her get a strong result, not just as the first woman, but also coming sixth overall.”

Matt Grayson

Weronika took her seat alongside fellow racers Alex Kopp (27) and Josh Ibbett (29), holding a beer and looking mellow and content. Along with the mud that covered her legs and infused her white jersey, her immersion with the landscape was complete.

Riding with joy

As Weronika sipped her non-alcoholic beer, everyone gazed out on the bustling sun-lit streets beyond the Traveler Hostel, awaiting the arrival of the fastest Pair in The Accursed Race. 

Julien Gravaud (40a) and Simon Taulelle (40b) have displayed not only strength and perseverance, but unparalleled good-humour and joy. Every time we saw them there were grins on their faces, and laughter was never far away.

Matt Grayson

Yesterday, they stepped off their bikes one last time, becoming the first pair to finish in a time of 8 days, 10 hours, and 3 minutes. Not only that, they were eighth and ninth overall, showing the power of friendship and support in a race that has constantly challenged their endurance.

Embracing at the finish, the two gave bittersweet smiles, having enjoyed every moment of the Race together. As I stood to interview them, we were surrounded by the other finishers, who watched on as they eloquently explained what makes them such a well-matched Pair.

Matt Grayson

“We came here for fun”, said Julien, pushing his shoulder length hair back. “It’s just a game; we came here to play. When you take care of each other and are able to make fun of the stupidity of the person you are with, and he is wise enough to hear it and laugh about it himself, it is already a victory.”

“It's a fun game being two, actually”, Simon added. “Because you can't lie; you are together for eight days — night and day — in the best moments possible and the worst.”

The watching crowd laughed with them and applauded, showing the infectious energy the two possess. We look forward to seeing where their journeys take them next.


Sometimes partnerships are tested and one rider must make a sacrifice for the other. Peter Olah (42a) and Lajos Köves (42b) were riding well, trading places with Isabelle Berti (41a) and Samuel Rosport (41b) as third-placed Pair. However, it was a lone Lajos who returned to Shkodër yesterday, after scratching to allow Peter to complete the course.

“It was not an easy decision, but also not a hard decision”, Lajos said. “I reached my mental and physical limit several times on the track. I crashed twice and, after that, I told Peter to go on, because … I don’t want to waste time. He is following the track and trying to reach the finish for the party.”

Michael Drummond

Despite several ultra-distance events between them, the terrain is often uncompromising and will test the endurance of a rider, their equipment and their partnership. Lajos chose to ride with a rigid gravel bike, while Peter opted for a mountain bike. Still, Lajos is undeterred: “I will try this race again next year.”

Peter looks safe to reach the Finishers’ Party in time, with the final cut-off falling tomorrow at 23:59 CEST. Last night, Sönke Kreft (24) became the last rider to reach CP2 before the midnight cut-off in Peshkopi, with Damian van Loon (14) unfortunately falling short.

This morning, however, Sönke made the tough decision to scratch, leaving Isabelle Berti (41a) and Samuel Rosport (41b) bringing up the rear in the General Classification.

Michael Drummond

With the mountains in a constant state of change, we hope they, and the other riders on the course, can reach Shkodër in time to share a drink with their fellow racers and toast to their endeavours on the inaugural Accursed Race.

As more riders reach the finish line, the atmosphere continues to evolve, with stories and jokes traded over heavily-laden kebabs and sauce-filled sandwiches. While the world around them appears the same, they have changed, unlocking new horizons and stories to tell.

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