It's day 5 (with day 10 update see end of page) and the leading riders are nearing the halfway point in Transcontinental 2015, and so far it's been a thrilling race. Here at Hunt Bike Wheels we've all been tracking our colleague Josh Ibbett, 2nd place last year, as he aims to go one better in Istanbul this time round. This is our round-up of the first 5 days racing: Oh and of course he happens to riding our 4Season Disc wheels, Hunt Clothing by Mobel, and Dom's incredible Mason Definition bike.
The chase to Mont Ventoux
After the dramatic midnight start up the legendary Muur Van Geraardsbergen in Flanders the first phase of the race was 1000km run almost due south to provence before tackling the fearsome Mont Ventoux. At the top of the 'beast of Provence' the riders would be rewarded with their first brevet card stamp.
It was a mad sprint south with some of the front runners seeming to eschew sleep or rest of any kind. James Hayden made it to the summit of Ventoux in just 40 hours with only 2 x 20 minute sleep breaks establishing a strong early lead.
Close behind James Hayden was Bernd Paul - unfortunately Bernd had suffered terribly climbing Ventoux's exposed roads in the full glare of the afternoon sun and pulled out at the top of the climb.
Hunt Bike Wheels brand manager Josh Ibbett was third up the climb at 19.31, closely followed by British 24 hour TT champ Ultan Coyle. The pair were fortunate to escape the worst of the afternoon heat during the climb.
Fifth to the top was Alexandre Bourgeonnier. With the departure of Paul the remaining four riders formed the cast that appear to be duking it out for the 2015 Transcontinental title.
A Tricky Alpine Traverse
After a blistering descent off Mont Ventoux the riders faced a gruelling passage across the Alps to the Ski resort of Sestriere at checkpoint 2 - but the toughest challenge of this years race lay after the checkpoint. This was the treacherous 60km dirt road to Susa including the Col Della Finestre, scene of famous unpaved summit finishes in the Giro D'Italia. This is where equipment choice was really going to tell.
Hayden made great progress over this section of the course and cemented a strong lead over the chasing trio of Ibbett, Coyle and Bourgeonnier. Handling the rough trails well he hit the town of Susa just before mid-day on Monday.
Josh had carefully considered his kit selection with this road in mind and his Mason Definition bike, Hunt 4 Season Disc wheels, hydro disc brakes and 28mm Schwalbe One Tubeless tyres proved to be an excellent choice. Josh made it from Sestriere to Sousa under 4 hours, taking around 15 minutes out of Hayden's lead.
Josh aboard his Mason Definition with Mason x Hunt 4 Season Disc Wheels
Going into the dirt section at Sestriere Coyle on his full TT rig was 2 hours 12 minutes behind Josh but we hear that two irreparable tyres left him walking down the descent to Susa losing around 8 hours in the process, and allowing Bourgeonnier to climb to third.
From the flatlands to the Balkans
Out of Susa was a charge down the valley followed by a day and half of flat TT action across the plains of Northern Italy. Here the trackers ticked out steady rhythm on our screens as the riders churned through kilometre after kilometre trying to eke out minutes of advantage from many hours of riding. All while trying to manage the tricky balance of rest, riding and refuelling to ensure they can keep going all the way to Istanbul.
In this phase Coyle made his TT setup pay for itself, and along with a huge sleepless stint managed to retake third place and gain on Hayden and Ibbett at the front of the race. However a stop near Venice saw Bourgeonnier pass him again.
The battle at the front between Hayden and Ibbett was also hotting up as the long Italian crossing saw Ibbett close his deficit from around 120km to less than 40km as they crossed the Slovenian Border. The battle between the front two is proving riveting as the distance stretches and closes with every rest stop. So far Ibbett and Hayden have followed near identical routes but the mountainous terrain of Slovenia and Croatia may see that change. It's now that we'll start to tell who's planning and could well win the race. The chase is on!
Day 6 and 7 Update - Its neck and neck (ache) in Croatia and Bosnia.
It's been an eventful last two days since our report on the afternoon of day 5. James, who was at the time leading the race, mentioned on his twitter feed that he was suffering dreadful neck ache and, the cyclists worst nightmare, a sever saddle sore. James sensibly took rest that evening whilst Josh rode on...hard. Little did Josh realise that he has actually passed James, he spent all night riding hard with just hours sleep in a bush! Josh arrived at checkpoint 3 in eastern Croatia to find he was in the lead by 100km+. Check out our Hunt Facebook page for a great pic of Josh smiling after enjoying his all you can eat buffet at CP3, oh and an image of his poor Hunt socks after 2500km of riding, no holes showing we'd like to add. Day 6 saw the race close together again as Josh took to motel and slept through to alarms, we reckon the 8 hours sleep will put him in good stead for the next stage of the race.
As I write this there's just 40kms between James and Josh with around 1300kms left to Istanbul and as Andrew puts it on facebook "After 2500km of racing over the last 6 days in the The Transcontinental Race first and second place #2 Josh Ibbett and #75 James Hayden are within 5km of each other. They keep this up and we'll have a sprint with photo finish in Istanbul"
Day 8 Update
The last 3 days and the climb up to check point 4 have been thrilling. Josh's sensible race pacing and experience have shown and he pulled out a stronger lead over James on the run to Mount Lovcen, Montenegro at CP4. After dropping back considerably James' neck issues worsened as he approached CP4 and he decided that he couldn't continue, despite a neck brace made from gaffer tape, leaving Josh in the lead by a sizable distance to next closest rival Alexandre Bourgeonnier. However, the endurance feat that remained was still a sizable one with over 1100kms left to ride to the finish in Istanbul.
Day 10 Update - 9 AM
Josh is pushing on hard with 226km left to ride his lead is now a massive 570kms over his nearest rival. Josh sent us a what's app message and it looks like he is rding with as little sleep as possible to get to the finish this evening, Monday and complete the mammoth 3900kms in under 10 days, incredible!
Oh and here's a pic of Josh's bike nearly being eaten, just a few seconds after he took the pic the bear had it's claws around the rear tyre, he acted super quick and grabbed the bike away, that was a close escape!
Thanks to photographer Matthias Wjst for the stunning race images
Road.cc have several articles on the race so far, see link below
Transcontinental bike race: Josh Ibbett’s bike and equipment
Q&A: Transcontinental rider Josh Ibbett
Transcontinental 2015: Josh Ibbett takes race lead
Live Race Tracking
You can spend your days watching the GPS tracking dots just like us, but be warned it's addictive!
Track Leaders Official race tracking
Free Route tracking courtesy of Matthias Wjst