Becoming an Ultra-Endurance Racer

What does it take to ride an endurance bike race? We spoke to Ben Davies, long distance bike racer and tourer and Tailfin ambassador, before he headed off to TCRNo6 earlier this year.

What’s your favourite bike that you’ve ever owned and why? The bike that I am most attached to is definitely nothing fancy! My Trek 520 touring bike has been all over the world with me, with my latest adventure on it being a 15,000 mile, six-month solo tour from Northern Canada to the southern tip of Argentina. It is a real workhorse and has been dinged, scuffed and re-welded, but it is still going strong.

What would your dream bike be if money was no object? 
That’s a difficult question and my answer would probably change from week to week. I was recently looking at some custom carbon frames at the Bespoked bike show, so money no object it would be nice to go down that route, paired with Sram Red mechanical, and Enve wheels and finishing kit. 

What was your path into cycling? Have you always been a road cyclist, or did you come to it from a different sport? 
I have always been a keen cyclist and started off riding mountain bikes, mainly XC, as a teenager. I then made a move into road cycling and taking cycling more seriously after a bad knee injury playing rugby when I was 18. Since then I have spent a lot of time touring around Europe, Morocco, Trans-America and Pan-America.

What is it about the Transcontinental Race that is so attractive to riders? What drives you personally to take on challenges like this? 
I think the Transcontinental Race has different draws for different people but it is a beautiful race and there is a real sense of community from the team running the race.

From a personal perspective, the self-supported ultra-distance format has a real draw as it is a sustained physical and mental challenge which requires a lot of self-reliance. On a really simple level, it is also a great opportunity to travel considerable distances by bicycle in a relatively short period of time.

The TCR involves riding nearly 4,000km across Europe, with the top riders often finishing in just 9 or 10 days. How do you mentally approach a feat like that? Can it be a dark place to be on the bike for those kind of shifts?
With last year being my first race of this kind, there was definitely an element of the unknown, so I went into the race really excited and with an open mind. I had a lot of experience in fast, long distance touring which was a useful background to have for the race. 
My approach this year is slightly different as I know what to expect and have the chance to learn from last year. I haven’t really experienced any dark moments on the bike; I genuinely really enjoy pushing myself and always try and embrace the opportunity and challenge. It is incredibly satisfying to cycle through the night and see the sun rise!

You raced the Transcontinental Race for the first time last year, finishing with a time of 13 days 20 hours and 47 minutes. What was your main learning curve on that race? Any major takeaways? 
I definitely should have spent more time on the route planning! Last year I went on a slightly off-piste route through Switzerland which resulted in much more climbing than was necessary. It turned out to be an incredible cycling route, although not particularly fast for that section. 
As it was my first ultra-distance race, I learned a lot about what kit works and what is not ideal: one legacy from touring that wasn’t great was using solar power/battery so I am planning to go down the route of dynamo power for this year. 

What was your approach to sleeping on that race? Did you prefer to sleep longer and ride harder, or ease off the pedals and crack on during the night? 
I think I took quite a conservative approach to sleep last year, probably because it was my first ultra-distance race; generally I was sleeping 6-7 hours per night. I used the bivvy each night, which was great for utilising as much of the time stopped to rest as possible. This is definitely one area where there is scope to improve.

Are you a data obsessive on the bike or do you prefer to ride more on feel?  
It generally depends on what my objectives for the ride are: I definitely have a preference for riding on feel and perceived effort but it is great to have the data available easily if I need it. Where power data etc. becomes particularly useful is when I am concentrating on shorter training sessions during the week and need to best make use of my time.

How have you set about training for the 2018 edition? Have you approached it any differently this year, with one TCR already under your belt?
The main difference this year has been that I have tried to take a more structured approach to training to best make use of my time around work commitments. The general trend has been shorter, higher intensity rides during the weekdays and then trying to fit in longer rides at the weekend.