Navigational issues, soldiers and target practice
I've been amazed how the first two weeks of the World Cycle Race have already challenged my preconceptions about certain countries. Who would have thought that Belgium had tougher climbs than Austria or that I'd find a German bike shop completely manned by ladies who were more than capable of fixing a buckle in my front tyre which the guys in Luxembourg couldn't fix and finally, and most surprisingly, German soldiers can have a great sense of humour.
So after managing to plot my way through Belgium, I found myself staying in southern Luxembourg. It's such a small country that I passed through it in a matter of hours in terms of moving time and most of them in darkness.
I was having navigational issues leaving the city and my sat nav was determined to have me find every nearby hill in order to test my resolve. Eventually, after following its directions to the letter, I found myself at the end of a cycle path, staring across a field. I could make out the traffic on the other side of the field which indicated the direction I was due to continue in. My choice of a kilometre or so across a grass track versus 4k back up a steep incline saw the field option win out.
Eventually I made civilisation on the other side of the crops and got back moving on the bike again. I was to learn to take everything from the sat nav with a pinch of salt. You need to have a reasonable sense of direction and be prepared to go with your gut instinct instead of following the instructions of a piece of plastic reading a map.
I have had few navigational issues since then, although being directed into a military zone during their target practice session was a particular highlight. Meeting five fully combat-ready German soldiers at the top of a rise, with another two dozen and a tank at the top of a nearby hill isn't something I'd like to repeat.
With regard to setting the world record, I needed everything to go my way in terms of physical, logistical and mechanical issues to have a hope of contending for the race win and with it the chance to break the world record. It turned out that the accident I had in the dark on day one outside Calais was actually a bigger deal than first assumed.
I had changed the puncture and thought that would be it, but a rubbing of the brake pads off the wheel indicated something wasn't quite right. I loosened the brake cables to avoid this but it was clear that I needed to get it fixed. I was in Munich when I finally got the chance to sort out the issue. There was a pretty serious buckle in the front tyre, which had probably cost me a few kilometres per hour.
My body has held up well, other than a few twinges, I haven't had any real pain at all. And, yes, that includes my derrière, which seems to be the main interest to most observers.
I've also had some issues with the support team, where dead batteries and missed messages cost valuable time on two occasions. Once it became clear that the record wasn't going to be threatened, we collectively made the decision for the support team to return to Ireland. They had been included to facilitate a record attempt and it seemed that without that option in play it would be a luxury, the cost of which couldn't be justified.
Despite all this I've made it to Austria, and am staying in Salzburg. The views of the Alps from the window when I awoke and the vistas along the route have been spectacular. My preconceptions so far have been ridiculously wide of the mark on pretty much every front; with another 20 countries and more than 17,000 miles left, I'm looking forward to having some other expectations dashed – for the better.
Breifne is taking part in the World Cycle Race. See www.pedaltheplanet.tv