Control 3: Lovćen

Control 3 opened on the morning of day 6 as Kristof Allegaert woke in Bosnia close to the Montenegrin border, the Brooks Volvo Control car had been driving overnight in another attempt to catch up with him after being stationed at Stelvio pass for two days.  After an extended upload / download stop in Vicenza the race of man and machine was on again.  The Control Car team drove through the night in shifts with only two short cooking stops by the side of the road to keep refueled and entered Montenegro at first light before taking the ferry 600m across the narrow entrance to Kotor and Risan bay. The control, comprised of two points, necessitates riders climb to around 1400m via 25 switchback turns up the steep mountain side with increasingly more spectacular views overlooking the bay and out over the Adriatic Sea.  After traversing the gallery road and the first control point at the Restoran Nevjesta Jadrana, they are then required to turn inland towards Lovcen and enter the National Park before climbing again.  Over their right shoulder a higher aspect of the bays and islands would pan out before they reach the road to Moutn Lovcen itself.  Here they can descent towards Cetinje, passing the second control point of the Hotel Ivanov Konak, the base of the control team, along the way down this quaint and quiet valley.

Transcontinental Race 2014. Arrivals at CP3 Mount Lovcen. Montegro.

Riders tackling the climb at sunrise and sunset would be particularly rewarded with the sights that the world heritage site offers.  For Kristof Allegaert the steep terrain in the region to the north slowed the Belgian’s progress slightly as he made his entrance into the entirely mountainous country from Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The race to Lovcen was less the nail biter and more a comfortable victory for the Control Car in the end and it was midday before Allegaert was approaching Kotor.  As he climbed, so too did the temperatures in excess of 36oC in the shade.  By the time Kristof reached the control point, the control team also had some bad news for him; the same ferry taken by the control car, which he also had taken, was explicitly forbidden in the race rules for riders.  The veteran and returning winner, who so far had a faultless record, had made a critical error.

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The correction required for this error was to return to the point of embarkation and ‘repair’ the line of unbroken cycling by riding around Kotor and Risan bay.  The indented nature of the bay put the cost of this excursion at around 80km and 5 hours riding time for Allegaert, not to mention the extra strain on his legs in the extra 1000m in elevation.  Allegaert was 20 km into the climb when he learned of his mistake and the circumference of the bay is some 38 km.  Nevertheless Kristof, who feared disqualification when he initially realised his mistake, was quick to volunteer the correction and even quicker to get back in the saddle.

It was approaching 9pm and dark as Kristof finally completed control 3 by reaching the Hotel Ivanov Konak.  He skipped on the option to keep climbing Mount Lovcen and visit the mausoleum of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš at its summit, as would most riders.  The day had taken its toll on Allegaert.  As the Control Team retired after stamping his Brevet Card, the normally unflappable and rider lingered at the hotel procrastinating.  The additional riding had obviously thrown a spanner in the works and shifted him off a carefully planned schedule.

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As day 7 dawned we awaited the arrival of the two young Englishmen Josh Ibbett and Richard Dunnett to see what damage had been done to the lead and whether either of the two could capitalise on the situation to reduce the deficit.  Since control 2 Josh Ibbett had been suffering still with a painful achilles tendon and told us he had been riding down the valley on “one and a half legs” for the next few days until he had managed to get it taped correctly and made adjustments to his bike, improving the situation drastically.  Richard Dunnett had appeared to get some of his motivation back after struggling to get his head into race gear through the Alps.  Dunnett had closed the gap as the pair tracked along the dalmatian coast.  Ibbett had taken the longer coastal route around the Zadar peninsula, admitting that he was enjoying the ride too much.  The upside was he found navigation easier by the coast and that he could switch off navigation equipment, so saving batteries, and follow road signage.  Just north of Dubrovnik however disaster struck and a snapped cable inside Ibbetts frame disabled his rear mech leaving him with just 2 gearing options to chose from.  Finding that there were no bike servicing options in Dubrovnik, Ibbett continued.  He eventually found a new cable in Herceg Novi another 50 km down the coast and into Montenegro and after some modification to fit he was on his way to control 3.  With a complete set of gears he 26 yr old rider from Brighton, UK entered the National Park at 3:25 with a strong climb up the 25 turns and on to Hotel Ivanov Konak where he enjoyed a decent meal while his rinsed kit dried in the sun.

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Not far behind now was Richard Dunnett who had made a start on the climb whilst Josh was finishing his late lunch. Dunnett had closed the gap to within 30km but the climb up to Lovcen still separated the two and last year’s second place finisher rolled up to CP3 90 minutes after Josh had left and took a shorter break. From here both riders were on a similar route into Albania but then would diverge with Ibbett heading Northwest through Macedonia into Bulgaria whilst Dunnett would also cross into Macedonia, but much further south, on his way into Northern Greece.  Ibbett’s route was arguably the more mountainous but Dunnett would only access flatter ground once he reached the Greek coastline and at a cost of additional miles.  With Kristof still more than 18 hours ahead even after his Kotor bay bonus loop, it was looking very much like the race for second place would be the more compelling.

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Some 4 hours later in the evening the Control Car found Steffan Streich on the climb and validated his passage through Control 3.  He had another hour or so to climb and was running around 6hrs behind Dunnett.  Other dots had halted in Kotor so the Control Car descended to take a look and found Matthias Muller in a cafe ordering a large dinner to see him over the mountain and into the early hours.  He tipped us off that he would camp at Control 3 and check in for breakfast in the morning and also that rider #11 Mark Collinson had broken a number of spokes in his wheel which would put him in Kotor overnight.  This allowed the control staff to go back up the mountain to get some much needed sleep.

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In the morning Matthias and number 67 Adrian O’Sullivan were indeed camped opposite, with Muller the first out of bed and to the control.  O’Sullivan was still in his chosen method of accommodation for the trip, a hammock tied between two trees.  Muller was initially recorded as in 5th place at CP3 but this sparked controversy on Adrian’s arrival and we were told the story of their ride to the control.

The two had met while climbing out of Kotor the previous night and tackled most of the climb together, talking for a couple of hours and swapping stories while they made their way up the relatively gentle grade of the 25 turns.  As they neared the top however, the sociable tempo became more aggressive and a competitive streak emerged.  O’Sullivan had wound up the pace and distanced Muller, arriving at the control a minute ahead.

Adrian remarked that it was this that drew him to the TCR, the fact that it is defined as a race and not a challenge.  This good natured competition would last between the two until the end and it reveals an interesting trait among some transcontinental-ers.  For the most part they are relaxed and sociable with healthy respect for other riders but the care-free travelling cyclist exterior belies a latent competitive element they can dig into to motivate themselves in times of need, such that these little victories can summon great efforts.  Ironically O’Sullivan lingered a good while after the two had eaten breakfast and Muller had left the CP, confirming his onward route.  The two would both take different paths on to the finish, but always with that eye on 5th position.

As day 8 progressed only a repaired Mark Collinson would climb out of Kotor and passed the control at Nevjesta Jadrana but missed the right turn into the National Park and so had to circumnavigate it.  It wouldn’t be until Gunter Desmedt arrived at 1am on the morning of the 17th, that the next flurry of visitors made it to Control 3 overnight.  He was closely followed by Stephen Bailey at 1:41am and Rob Goldie climbed with Andrew Allday to share the honours of 10th place at CP3.  The video shows the contrast of conditions on the Stelvio Pass as Mark Collinson reached CP2 and Mount Lovcen as Josh Ibbett arrived at CP3.