Biking Man Corsica: The Mountain in the Sea
Photos and words by Ryan Le Garrec
Bikingman Corsica is a mere 700 kilometres race, sounds short for an ultra distance race, well, add 14.000 meters to climb, crazy temperature drops, freezing wind gusts, potholes hiding inside the dark, standing cows on the roads and pigs and boars coming along, wandering dogs and all kinds of wildlife. A beautiful tortuous island with no flat road at any point.
It almost feels like a waste to race it.
There is no race like the one you ride against yourself.
No one is ahead but ahead is as far as it gets and
even your shadow might have given up already.
You might go a little bit more
and a little bit more is all you should think about now
when you have days and mountains ahead.
One should never underestimate the reliance of their mind and how the body will adapt, day in, day out. The first time you’ll get chased by dogs, you will find out that you were not that tired in the end, your legs weren’t that heavy, that hill wasn’t all that steep.
“The body will do what the mind tells it to do.” Jason Black says.
In most cases, the mind will have to scream for us to hear but once you heard it, it’s not the kind of voice you would forget.
“By 5 o’clock in the evening, I had unpacked and repacked my bike bags for the 5th time since the briefing. I still had 12 hours to decide what I would take with me and what I would leave in the car. I felt cold, so I put the thermal layer back in the saddlebag. It’s the last 12 hours before the race, where I feel the most nervous and the least nervous at the same time. I’m just looking forward to riding my bike, knowing that it is too late now for big changes anyhow. It’s also the time where I start realizing that in a couple of hours, I will almost forget that the rest of the world exists. I will be on my bike, enjoying life. Before I went to bed, I took the thermal layer out of the saddlebag because I felt warm. What a stupid decision!”
“After checkpoint one at 170km I was feeling great in control physically and mentally racing hard, by now probably placed 7 or 8th overall and feeling confident as the night would come I’d pick some riders off moving myself higher in general classification, again like Oman nutrition and hydration was on point following the same strategy and feeling strong I rolled into CP2 just before dark, however things went badly downhill from here and all my own doing.. I’d decided to go super light and when I say super light I mean nothing nada and then the unexpected cold came at 11 pm I knew I was in trouble I started shaking and by 12.30am at approximately 500km from the start I was uncontrollably cold and I had no clothes no thermal top or bottom hands or head to keep me warm, I couldn’t brake, hold the handlebars, my chest was in agony with the severe cold and the adrenaline was pumping my heart to the sound of a marching band. Knocking on doors in remote villages I could get no help, spotting a few cars along the road, all locked except the last little white Citroen van, it was open and it was like Christmas morning … I jumped in, parking the bike up alongside. I was as cold in as I was out , taking the car seat covers off it was my only hope of warmth, in fear of the household owner and van owner arriving I pulled it over myself and looked exactly like the seat – no joke what else could I do, it was fight or flight , I sat it out till 6.30am spoke with my wife on the phone and she simply told me “get your f…ing ass on that bike and get to the finish line”
Under no delusion I took off climbing higher and higher awaiting the sun to come up and it did but not till after nine am as I was on the leeward side of the mountain – never in all my days on the coldest most remotest mountains in the world was I as cold as I have been on this night…you bollocks Jason I called myself over and over again. Until I decided right let’s get to this finish line”
“At the first ascent the rhythm is already very high, I am fighting ahead with Clement, we are the first two on top, I see that the boy is going strong !! Downhill he goes like a train and uphill the same, incredible. I grit my teeth and try not to let that train escape. Arriving at the first checkpoint I see that Clement has a 15-minute advantage, I struggle to fill them in the gap. His advance is substantial, I begin to doubt my strategy, maybe I brought too much food, too many clothes, I find it hard to concentrate, the sun of Corsica is hot, and it doesn’t make me think well.
Arriving at CP2 the gap becomes 25 minutes;
It’s about 5 pm, I have been riding for 10 hours without stopping, maybe more, I have a quick break at CP2, I eat a bit of salad and bread, I leave again quickly and I try to come up with something to close the gap on Clement, it’s good that I’m coming to my favorite part of the race: the night.
I feel that the climate is becoming critical, in the mountains there is a lot of humidity and the sky is clear, there is a bit of wind, it’s only 4 degrees, when coming down after the climbs, the cold becomes unbearable, so much that I always have to pedal for not to lose warmth, luckily I have warm clothes and I can continue, Midnight comes and my head falls from sleep. I decide to do a 10-minute microsleep in the mountains I throw myself to the side of the road, and before closing my eyes
I looked around me, I am beside the sea in a panoramic road, with these rocks that surround me, the moon does not show itself, the sea is a black expanse, the stars shine like never before, I feel pampered by their cold distant light, I close my eyes and sleep 10 minutes.“
“When I wake up I’m trembling from the cold, I look at the phone to see the position of the leader, I notice that his GPS is stopped since 10:30 pm.
Surely it is not working, with the certainty of having lost more time, I resume riding and quickly overcome the sea, and yet again some difficult climb, and another, but this makes me reach higher than the previous ones during the night, I’m sweating from the effort and I feel better, I begin the descent that will take me to the cp3, the descent is as long as the asphalt is rough and tricky, going down with 3 degrees around becomes 0 at speed, I’m trembling a lot, so I pull the brakes and keep pushing on the pedals, it works! Even if the hands do not agree.
Finally arrived at the cp3 at 3:20 am I am hungry, I see Axel who welcomes me inside, I also see the leader’s bike I wonder what happened.
They say that he was having various problems with the rim and punctured to the point of having to retire, I am very sorry about the problem because it was a fantastic battle,
but I must not relax too much, Ben Cureton is behind me at 20 km,
I eat rice with curry and leave.”
“I’m calmer when I reach Cap Corse, with a distinct advantage on Ben.
The last km in Costa is really hard, my body is tired, my legs and knees aching, cyclists accompany me to the finish line, they followed the race, they were waiting for me, fantastic!”
“I finish the race in 30 hours and 52 minutes!”
“I was aware no one knew me l so I decided to put them all under pressure from the start, I attacked them on the first incline, Rodney came along and we shook a few off, after Check Point 2, Rodney was still close so I decided to attack again, I had been recovering before, slowing down a bit, I thought I’d take all my chances then, attack all the way till the end, win or blow, by the time I had to scratch cause my wheel was broken, I had a 20 km advance on Rodney, my strategy had worked. What I regret the most is that it sure was gonna be a hell of a fight that night with Rodney chasing me. I felt doomed. Before CP1 I crashed in fresh concrete, there were works on the road, saw them too late, dived in, the workers had to rinse me and my bike real well! I’ve hurt my wrist but no big deal.”
Steven Le Hyaric:
“I had a great start, left really chill, slowly building up to CP3 where I would accelerate. At CP3 I go from 7th position to 4th, I eat and charge some batteries quickly, and hammer out towards Cap Corse where there was a loop, I take the loop the wrong way around and I call the race organization who tells me that not only do I need to finish the 12 km loop but also have to take it the other way around, where I cross all my opponents of the last 20 hours, I lost everything there, well almost. I still went for it with rage and will, I was so pissed off that I hammered the hill back up at 20 km per hour. I got my 4th place back by the end, I caught them all except one who had managed his race end well.
Am disappointed, sure, but it was a nice fight and I enjoyed it, am gonna come back here, for revenge!”
Steven had a two-week break after finishing his record-breaking Paris Dakar by bike, a little 5600 kilometres bike ride, he was in good form in Corsica, to say the least.
BLOOD SWEAT AND SMILE
You could say in many ways, the Biking Man races have a commercial angle by creating the first “world championship series” with six races per year, routed out for you. You could think that the RedBull logo comes a tad too often in the image, that the “comfortable” way these races are designed makes them almost too easy for the pure adventurers that think they own the Bike Packing Spirit, Axel Carion might have created the first championship, but he might also have changed a few lives forever:
“I just love it when I see those smiles, these are no ordinary smiles you know, people meet their limits on these races and they often push them a little bit more, and a little bit more. And that inspires them in many other ways than just cycling…That’s why we do this. Yes they are not totally unsecured races, there is a set route, food and beds at check-points and quite some cars from the organization coming along, the goal is not to set people in the wild and then wait at checkpoints, its to empower people who wouldn’t dare in a more overwhelming set up, that being said it still remains an ultra distance race with no support… once they did Biking Man, they know what to expect on any race, they might also just want to explore more.”
“The experience of my first ultra race in Oman was life-changing for me. I was at a time in my life that I needed, I suppose to remind myself what I was capable of. It was stressful, scary, freeing and wonderful, all at the same time. Once I finished, it was a feeling of floating on air. It was an apt reminder that you’re capable of almost anything if you work hard and believe in yourself, even if no one else does. I wanted more… a different challenge and Corsica, with all of the climbing, seemed perfect. Did I actually have what it takes to finish? Was Oman a fluke? Beginner’s luck? I needed to find out.”
I started cycling again and warmed up, and it also got warmer. I was feeling good despite my navigation not working properly that day until I got to Ajaccio and CP2, when I had to navigate rush hour traffic on a highway without the navigation working properly. A night in a hotel did wonders and I decided to stop putting so much pressure on myself and with that, I was off the next day for the most beautiful section of the race. Despite a tick bite scare, my navigation started working somewhere along the way and it all came together. A friend who was following my updates on Instagram had sent me messages during this race to say that it seemed much more relaxed than Oman and she was right. I was having a wonderful time, really enjoying everything. Encouragement came from curious French tourists, a runner who saw my BikingMan number and yelled good luck, a woman raising her arms to cheer me in an approaching car as I slowly made my way up a Col De Marsolino. I didn’t reach CP3 like I wanted to on that third day but it didn’t matter, the ride was beautiful. By the time day four rolled around, I was floating up hills, I was actually looking forward to them. I had started the day about 40km before CP 3 and had hoped to finish that day – 220km and about 3200m to go. CP3 reached and soon I couldn’t feel my legs but they just kept moving. Each section offered something new but in the back of my mind, I was waiting for an unpleasant surprise like Oman’s end gravel section, but it didn’t come, it was smooth sailing to the finish. 88 hours total – a little over 3 and a half days.”
“Make a plan, throw it out the window and push on. I love the uncertainty of ultra cycling and bike packing. I have moments where I want to ditch the bike in the bushes and others I’m happy to be on the road forever. There is something deeply satisfying in completing something many would consider ridiculous, including me. I like to think I’d ride 700km non-stop, even if nobody was watching, just because I can!”
if you don’t ride it with the legs, ride it with the brain, if you don’t ride it with the brain, ride it with your heart, if you don’t ride it with your heart, ride it with your eyes peeled open and the heart will follow and if your eyes are closing down, then ride it some more with all your heart and your eyes will open.
There is no race like the race you ride against yourself.
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