On April 4 at 6:AM, the Ulrich Bartholmoes X The Capitals Cahllenge began in Barcelona. The objective of the Challenge was that Ulrich Bartholmoes (@ubartholmoes) rode the track of The Capitals* (800Kms +16,000m) alone against the clock.
Unable to race the event on July 24, Ulrich took on the challenge alone.
The weather situation of a cold wave and snow a few weeks before the Challenge forced us to alter the original track, eliminating the areas for tracks at more than 1200m in the Pyrenees to avoid having to walk up to 30km on snow with the bike.
Instead, alternatives were sought by road, but the Puigcerda checkpoint was maintained, thus guaranteeing passage through the Pyrenees. The final track for the Challenge, also continued to be a great challenge of 850Km and 15856m of elevation gain.
At 6:00AM in the morning Ulrich began to pedal to leave the urban area of Barcelona, the city was beginning to wake up, and the traffic conditions were very good so as not to lose time or have problems with traffic jams.
The city was left behind through the northern area, in Santa Coloma de Gramanet and following the Mediterranean coast towards Girona through the Serralada de Marina. The terrain during the first 100km runs along gravel tracks in very good condition, but the terrain is a constant up and down. During this section, the track passes through the area of the Mont Negre natural park, a very wooded area that is demanding despite being very close to the sea.
Ulrich was feeling very well in this initial part of the route, and despite having suffered a puncture in his rear wheel that would leave him without his operational tubeless setup at 100×100, he was able to reach Girona 1h earlier than he had predicted.
In Girona Ulrich took the opportunity to replace his rear tire and tubeless fluid in a mechanical workshop and then ate a little more consistently in a stop that lasted just 20min.
The good weather and the motivation to see that he was pedaling below his expectations led him to continue at a good pace through the wooded and mountainous area that goes from Girona to Sant Jaume de Llierca. This area was known to him who a few weeks before had been pedaling through it.
In the afternoon and with very good temperatures, Ulrich arrived at Sant Jaume de Llierca and took the beautiful mountain road in the direction of Beget that would lead him to the pre-Pyrenean area. This section of asphalt served as a “recovery” after having been pedaling largely on the track until now.
Once arrived at Mollo the track began its variations to avoid the high mountain areas with snow. From this point to Puigcerda Ulrich was going to pedal by road, but doing more Kms.
The sun was beginning to go down and Ulrich passed through Camprodon, Sant Joan de les Abadesses, Ripoll, Campdevanol and Ribes de Freser. In these last two, with the valley already without sun and with the snowy mountains in the background, Ulrich saw that the night was going to be very cold, at that moment the thermometer it was 8 degrees, and that despite the fact that I could try to continue pedaling all night, the wisest strategy was to stop for a few hours to sleep in Puigcerda, avoiding a large energy consumption throughout the night.
With the strategy decided, Ulrich leaves Ribes de Freser in direction to Puicerdá via the Collada de Tosses. A few minutes after leaving , he already has to turn on his lights because the valley is dark. In this area we begin to find snow on the sides of the road. Ulrich arrives at Coll de Tosses at 9:51PM. The temperature is -2 degrees.
Ulrich stops for 2 minutes to get equipped with his down jacket and windbreaker to start the 28km descent that remains to Puigcerda. Knowing that once there, he will arrive at a hotel, he decides not to waste time and makes the descent with his shorts bib, despite the temperature and thermal sensation that he knows will accompany him in the following Kms.
After 16h and 43 minutes, 336Km and +7292m of elevation gain, Ulrich reaches Puicerda. Time to have something consistent for dinner, he takes a hot shower and doesn’t miss a minute of rest. The plan is at 5:00 AM to resume the march.
Punctually at 5 am, now wearing long bibs, he leaves Puigcerda on his bike. Before seeing the sun rise, he must complete the ascent to the Coll de la Creueta located at 1900 meters. The ascent by the northern slope is carried out at temperatures that reach -10 degrees.
At 6:49 am, with the sun rising on the horizon, Ulrich crowns the pass, bundles up and begins the descent along the magnificent mountain roads towards Baga.
Given the snow situation, he will continue by road to the Pedraforca base where he will return to the original track and from this point on he will continue to the end.
Upon reaching Coll de Nargo, the track resumes its course along tracks and very secondary roads until it reaches Ponts through the Rialb reservoir.
At this point the terrain becomes much lighter in terms of surface and unevenness until Lleida, but in this section the protagonist will be the headwind. The track now runs through magnificent and fast tracks between fields and areas of fruit trees. In some kilometers of this section he does it accompanied by Pep Sanchez @irontriax, with whom he will share conversations and will accompany him relieving mental fatigue. At 6:15PM Ulrich arrives in Lleida, he does so by entering the Mitjana Park, the biggest city’s green area around the Segre River.
El checkpoint 3 de Lleida está situado delante de la catedral de Seu Vella, en el punto The checkpoint 3 in Lleida is located in front of the Seu Vella cathedral, at the highest point in the city which, given its location, meant that it was used as a military enclave in 1707 and which enjoys some of the best panoramic views of the city and surroundings.
A At 6:41PM Ulrich start pedaling direction to Tarragona. The track continues along wide, smooth tracks, but in this area the terrain is more undulating. What makes this section much more enjoyable and fun.
At 20:49, he arrives at Albí. The last kms have already been done with residual sunlight. Ulrich stops and puts on his long bibs again. It’s going to be a long night on the bike. Stopping to rest in Tarragona makes no sense to him. So he decides to equip himself to finish the final part without big stops.
After crossing the Mussara, Ulrich arrives at la Selva del camp, here he would expect a new surprise. Toni Calderon @tonicalderon76 and Aleix Ballarín @aileixballarin_cyclingcoach have come with their bikes to this point to accompany him for part of the following Kms of night riding. Time also to recharge energy and make the “strong” meal of the day. Some irresistible pizzas. During the day, the diet was based on snacks on the bike to maintain carbohydrate levels.
After 43 hours and 11 minutes from the start, the German arrives at Checkpoint 4 located in Tarragona. It is 1:15AM in the morning and in the Plaça de la Font de Tarragona the bars and terraces have been closed for a while now. It’s Tuesday, but there are still people on the streets who are interested when they see the stopwatch. A group of curious Germans wait to receive his compatriot and encourage him in his feat. They are surprised, when he explains to them what he is doing.
Ulrich leaves Tarragona leaving behind the Roman amphitheater and the Mediterranean Sea to face the last 130km before arriving back in Barcelona.
The terrain in this part surprised Ulrich, with technical areas that no one would want to face after so many hours on the bike and even less so at night. His distance / gradient / average speed calculations are completely altered by the difficulty of the surface, which means that the progress is not at the expected rate. As a note, say that for the event in July this section of the track will be reevaluated to avoid problems especially caused by fatigue.
The night and fatigue were the protagonists in the last hours of the challenge. Ulrich’s face next to the Foix reservoir said it all. It’s 4:39AM in the morning, time to eat a little and rest a few minutes from the saddle. Snack time. Ulrich maintains his smile, but his face shows the change produced by the effort.
At 8:30 Ulrich already reaches the urban area. It’s rush hour on Wednesday and you have to pedal to the city center. The track is drawn in this section on a bike lane, which helps motorized traffic does not excessively affect progress by bicycle.
At 9.23 AM on Wednesday April 6 after 51h and 23min Ulrich arrived again at the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona. The same point from where he had started. 858Km and 15856m of elevation gain in between, along with many anecdotes, experiences and places that he had never pedaled before.
Pictures by: Cesc Maymó