When I received an email from Paul Thelen on October 21 with information about the vWTTC (virtual World Time Trail Championships), I was on a short vacation in the Eifel area south of Aachen. And actually the plan was not to touch my bike for a few weeks.
2020 was a busy year. Not only because of lockdown, contact restrictions, quarantine over Easter and the normal Corona madness, but also because it was a very long sporting season for me. In winter, first of all, the preparation for the cycling races in Belgium, which in the end were all canceled or in which you were only allowed to participate in as a Belgian citizen. Then the preparation for the trip from Aachen to Görlitz. Immediately afterwards there was, unexpectedly, the opportunity in the Netherlands to contest a whole series of training races on the Velodrome in Geleen. In September that was sometimes three races a week, and after a final time trial at the beginning of October my battery was finally empty. So my plan was not to get the bike out of the basement from mid-October to early December.
Since we wanted to combine our participation with a fundraising campaign, plans were quickly made to spread the whole thing on the Internet, either via live blog or livestream. I was busy clarifying the technical requirements and organizing the appropriate technology, while Paul clarified our idea with the responsible health department. The actual plan was to take part in the world championship on Paul’s large, covered terrace together with the necessary distance. The official test of the equipment by the organizer was scheduled for the end of November, one week before the event on December 6th. A few days beforehand we received the information from the organizer that due to technical problems the entire event will be postponed to January 16 and 17, 2021. We then carried out a test run ourselves one day before St. Nicholas, on Saturday, December 5th. I.e. We set up all three racing bikes including smart trainers, laptops, iPads, smartphones and the necessary routers and several cable drums, and together we virtually cycled a few kilometers through the desert. The test went well, only there were minor problems with Roland’s laptop. But until the event in mid-January there was still enough time to fix that. A trial livestream also worked smoothly during our test.
At the beginning of January, due to the current corona situation, we decided not to race together on Paul’s terrace, but rather within our own four walls. As athletes we wanted to act as a role models. The live streaming could therefore only take place from my sports room. The decision not to drive at Paul’s terrace from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ultimately turned out to be the right one. On the one hand, because the stricter lockdown limitations were extended, on the other hand, more on that later …
I have illustrated the whole technical set-up in the graphic above. The Smart Trainer (1) is connected to an iPad (2) via Bluetooth. The software from FulGaz that was used for the race on this iPad. The iPad, in turn, is connected to the router (3) in the WiFi network, and from there through the Internet to the FulGaz server (4). This connection provides real-time information about where you are, how far you are from the drivers in front and behind, and what current performance these drivers are doing. The iPad is also connected to a television (5), which just means a larger picture. For the live stream, three cameras (6) were controlled via the OBS streaming software. This software, on your own laptop (7), then connects to my YouTube channel (8) in which a corresponding live stream is configured. The live stream was checked using another laptop (9). The entries for the live blog were made via an additional computer (10) which was not located in the sports room. The homepage or the live blog was updated via this computer and uploaded to the corresponding server at the web host (11). Last but not least, I used another iPad (12) to follow the live blog myself, to see the donation page on betterplace, and to be able to check out Paul’s blog. I was also connected to many of you during the race via smartphone (twelve). Fortunately, you don’t have to steer a virtual bike race yet. Maybe something for the future.
The athletic preparation
The postponement of six weeks suited me very well. I now had more time to prepare for the event. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I did my standard training laps in the dark after work, at a normal pace. Just like on Sundays with sometimes more and sometimes fewer training mates. The rules in Germany as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium changed almost daily. The Sunday lap is always a longer lap, sometimes at a faster pace. From December onwards, I consistently used Saturday to complete longer and harder training sessions with intervals. This should serve to simulate competitions and to improve the so-called competition hardness. These intervals were long and tailored more to a time trial than a sprint or mountain. On the two days I usually run 10 km each, I rode the Smart Trainer in the evening instead. I took part in several virtual races in order to train shorter, very intense intervals. In particular, the vacation time between Christmas and New Year’s was used to complete as many training kilometers as possible. The last days before the World Cup were tapering, i. H. take it out, take care of yourself, and go to the start well rested.
Sunday January 10th
After my Sunday training of around 130 km in the morning, I had to pedal again at 10:00 p.m. Because today was the official dress rehearsal of the organizer. FulGaz informed us in a zoom conference about the process, the necessary settings in the app and what to do in the event of problems. The video conference started at 10:00 p.m., and from 10:15 p.m. we were able to do a lap on the championship course at the same time. The conference ended at around 11:15 p.m. and everything worked.
Saturday 16th January
On January 16, the tension increased and I spent the whole day setting up the equipment, testing it and doing various preparations for the food and jersey change. This also included baking my muesli bars, preparing the drinking bottles, laying out the gels, providing enough towels, etc. Everything was not finished until around 10 p.m.
I was happy to be in bed, but I didn’t sleep well. As always, you have way too many thoughts. Technology was my main concern. If something big went wrong, I wouldn’t be able to take care of it during the race. Fortunately, it shouldn’t be necessary.
Sunday 17th January
The alarm goes off. I just went to bed, right? It had snowed, of course the streets have not been cleared. It’s good that I don’t have to go to Paul, just go to the kitchen for breakfast and then get on my bike. Before breakfast, I quickly run up all the technology and start the live stream. The obligatory look at the emails at breakfast. The organizer had recommended to check again before the start of the race whether important information might have been distributed by e-mail. And that’s exactly what happened. Five and a half hours before the start there was an email in which a small procedure was described which should be carried out before the start in order to avoid that laps and kilometers might not be displayed correctly. So quickly go through the steps, then get into your cycling clothes and get on your racing bike. At 5:50 am on the bike, I start to ride moderately warm. In the 12 hour race, the plan is not to start at full throttle, but to gradually get into the flow. I’m known as a slow starter, and at my age you can’t change that.
06:00 a.m., km 0
The plan did not hold more than 1 minute. They drive off like crazy people. I have an uneasy feeling of driving way way too fast. But I can’t let the others go infinitely away. Let’s see how long that goes well.
07:00 a.m., km 32.8
Better not be confused. I’m driving my own pace now. Let them do what they want. It’s still dark outside and there are still 11 hours left in which a lot can happen. The technology seems to be holding up. Drank more than 1 liter in the first hour. Actually too much. In any case, the second fan must now be switched on. The first is positioned directly in the window. Nice fresh cold air, outside the temperature is around freezing point.
8:00 a.m., km 66
Jersey change. Everything runs relatively constant. Speed and watts look good. Just don’t forget the food. Once you run into a deficit, it takes a long time before the body can compensate for it. I have now ranked 7th. Six people in front of me 23 behind. It’s getting light outside and my bike buddies from the training group are awake. Now there is action in live chat and via WhatsApp. No more boredom.
09:00 a.m., km 100.26
Still in seventh place and 1.26 km behind the sixth placed driver. The distance to the front has grown further than I wanted. And somehow it’s not working at all right now. Drank too much? Ate too much? In any case, it can’t be too little! I was able to reduce the distance to the driver Fabian Schöneberg in front of me to 300 m until just before 10 a.m. I have the impression that some of us are just taking a quick breath.
10:00 a.m., km 129.3
Overall still on a good average, the last hour was slower than the three before. I would normally be outside now. That motivates, feels like a completely normal Sunday morning on the bike. The only difference is that you won’t get anywhere no matter how hard you pedal. Alexej is now moderating Paul’s live chat. We exchange some information via WhatsApp.
11:00 a.m., km 164
It is getting better again. I feel somehow through the deep valley. I’m now in 6th place. We’re also approaching halfway. I’m slowly getting into the “Pippi Longstocking mode”, i. H. you make the world as you like it. So I calculate it all pretty well: only half of it left, although there are still seven hours left, and something great is bound to be on TV soon. Unfortunately, the television on which the virtual route is running switches itself off automatically. No wonder, because of course I haven’t used the remote control once in the last few hours.
After the television has restarted, it unfortunately no longer shows any data fields. A software error in the FulGaz app. So neither the altitude profile, nor the leaderboard with the values of my opponents, nor the map with the positions are displayed. But I can still see the route, at least. I can see the data fields still on the iPad. This is now right in front of the bike. How important this data is should be shown later.
12:00 p.m., km 196
Will this work out? You estimate beforehand how far you can get in 12 hours. The minimum goal was 300 km, the desired goal 350. Then everything would have to go optimally. But 390 km? We will see! During the seventh hour, my old friend Jürgen joins the WhatsApp chat. Out of sympathy, he rides his ergometer in the cellar for 1 hour. Chapeau! A number of donations have already been received in the first 6 hours, and of course I hope for more. For a change, I’ll try a cheese-filled bun. But it takes me forever to even eat half of it. Let’s post that under experience.
1 p.m., km 226
Short break, jersey change, 6th place, 2 km behind the driver in front of me. Paul has already broken the 200 km mark and Roland is just behind with 190 km. Around 1:15 p.m. I virtually lap Paul. Quote from Paul via WhatsApp “I knew that you were behind me, but I didn’t see you.” I’m slowly getting fed up with even the self-baked muesli bars. I am happy to have wholegrain toast topped with Silesian cucumber. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the original Swedish cucumber salad. Anyone who has ever ridden the Vättern tour knows what I’m talking about.
14:00, km 258
Overall, everything is still very consistent, both performance values and speed. It gets tough. Jürgen sends me pictures of the sled ride. So while it is still white in Munich, the snow has already thawed away here. Normally I would be back from my Sunday morning lap by now at the latest. Very bad thoughts when you have 4 hours left to go. I am now in 5th place, but the gap to 4th place in the overall standings is 7 km.
3:00 p.m., km 291
Everything that goes through your head. Schruff’s first law “ohne Fritt kein Tritt” (sorry untranslatable), the Udo Bölts classic “torment you pig”, and the legendary saying of the capitan in the movie the boat “now it’s going to get psychological, gentlemen”.
I am slowly catching up, I think I can see any weaknesses in the drivers in front of me. The Dutch kick slightly less watts per kilogram of body weight than I do. I always catch up uphill, downhill and on the flat I lose again. I conclude that these are two typical “tall guys”. So typical time trial riders who are a little heavier than me and can therefore put more pressure on the pedal when going downhill or on flat terrain. I have to try to gain time uphill in the last 3 hours and give a little more gas downhill. But when does it really make sense to attack? 3 hours before the end seems too early to me. I’m waiting
4:00 p.m., km 325
One last short break to change jerseys, this is called the “undercut strategy” in Formula 1. It’s getting serious. In the last 30 minutes I was able to shorten the distance from 5.4 to 4.6 km. Of course, that will not be enough to make up one place again. So step on the gas. I set myself 4:30 pm as the time to start my final attack. The distance to the rear seems big enough to me to take this risk. Even if I should burst, and you never know when the man with the hammer will be on the side of the street, it should still be enough to at least defend my place. New Zealand driver Rooney suddenly disappears from the leaderboard. Technical problems? Just a misrepresentation? Unfortunately, you no longer know exactly where you are.
4:30 p.m., km 341
I’m catching up steadily. At some point the two colleagues in front of me will see through my tactics. I’m increasing my pace as planned.
5:00 p.m., km 361
The two of them smelled the roast. In the meantime they have also swapped places with each other. The confidence grows in me that I will still catch up with the Dutchman ahead of me. Again and again I tell myself to recognize weaknesses in them, if that is not wishful thinking. But the distance has decreased to 1.5 km in a relatively short time. But that means that I have to drive a constant 1.5 km / h faster for the last hour to even catch up. If both tactic and attack shortly before the merger, that could of course pull my teeth. But who would take such a risk? Now it’s all or nothing.
I don’t know whether he took a break and my “undercut strategy” worked or was simply at the limit. But I actually managed not only to catch up with Nijweide, but also to overtake. Another gel quickly.
Now I’m 1.5 km behind Jellema. He defends himself bitterly. The next gel is due.
I have cramps in my left thigh. Unfortunately, I can’t take it into account now, so calm down there and step further. A couple of little stretching exercises, and it’s back to full throttle. Anyone who has ever raced is familiar with such situations. The cramps often go away again, you can kick them out again, but sometimes there is also a big bang and nothing works.
I passed Jellema, didn’t I? The display changes constantly between place 2 and place 3. This is because technically the respective data is only synched with the server every 30s.
After a few more minutes it was clear that I had passed. But Jellema continues to accelerate and does not want to admit defeat. 6 minutes more everything that works.
6 p.m., km 398.01
Done. The leaderboard shows 2nd place for my age group, 3rd place for all age groups. But not all of them were counted correctly. The evaluation will take time …
I get off the bike. Not so easy with such big legs. Just 10 minutes is not enough, but I have to take a shower. Before that, stop the live stream and shut down all the technology.
I’m looking forward to the hamburger afterwards. I can’t do more than one. In addition, a non-alcoholic beer.
Saturday 23 January
The end result was a long time coming. In the end everything was as calculated by my crew boss and recorded during the race.
Vice world champion in the age group 50-59, and overall 3rd place.
All in all a great experience, a successful fundraising campaign and also a sporting success that I would not have expected.
To all of you who supported me during the preparation and implementation, and once again many thanks to all donors!
Monday January 18th,
When I went down the stairs it was clear that the home office is a great alternative today. Instead of cycling the 10 km to the office, I prefer to enjoy a coffee with milk. I didn’t feel I had made the 10 km either.
Tuesday January 19th,
Unfortunately, a friend’s brother suddenly passed away. No, not to Corona. Since there is no possibility of buying stamps in our village due to the lockdown, my wife persuades me to hand over our condolence card to Martin during a training ride. Meeting somewhere in the middle of the road in the Netherlands, the usual evening lap. Unfortunately that was a 25 km headwind that I had to fight to be able to catch Martin at all. Passing the card, and then going home. Despite the tail wind, it took me just as long for the 50 km when I normally manage to ride 75 km. It didn’t pass me by so completely without an impact 😂
Saturday January 23rd,
The legs are back, everything feels relatively normal again…