Further isn’t like any other races. Directly coming from the mind of the well known photographer Camille McMillan, the race course is a blend of what long ultra distance can throw at you. Camille is no stranger to ultra distance and covered the famous Transcontinental race several times. Now based in the Pyrenees, he crafted one of the most tenacious long distance events out there.
The race start is above 2000 meters, at Refuge de Ruhle. To get up there you need to tackle a 20 km climb then hike your bike for at least an hour and half. A challenge in itself. The race includes 9 mandatory sectors, which you need to get by in a specific order. Some included very steep, long and remote sections that need hike-a-bike. If this wasn’t enough, 3 out of the 9 sectors have curfews. Which means those sections can’t be ridden between 9.30 pm to 5.30 am. If you happen to be on the sector, you are not allowed to move until the curfew is raised. If so, you get DQ’d.
The Pyrenees are known for some harsh conditions, that included heavy rains, cold and thunderstorms. So this is no joke ! Last year, some of the riders were caught during the night by a thunderstorm, leaving some close to hypothermia. This mountainous terrain needs humility and knowledge to be tackled.
This year the race kept its promises and the weather has been very rough. High humidity, torrential rains and thunderstorms, the perfect package to make for great memories. Right from the start I found myself leading the pack with 4 other riders: Alex Mccormarck, Christophe Djikmans and Neil Phillips. For the first part of day one we were all within sight of each other until Neil crashed and had to drop out of the race. The only time we saw some blue sky was when we reached Mount Fourcat at 2000m, above the sea cloud. The rest of the day was just foggy and rainy. During the afternoon Alex took the lead and I was chasing after him. After the first day, 4 of us made it past the first curfew sector and we had to wait for the night in the valley in order to continue past the 2nd curfew sector. A well deserved hotel night, and 5 hours of sleep did some good after this first tenacious and wet day.
The Second day wasn’t much better in terms of weather conditions and we started climbing up Port de Saleix at 1793m in a misty atmosphere. After this first climb we were 4 to make it to the top all together and we headed back down in the valley through some steep and technical single tracks. After that, I spent the day by myself at the front of the race for several hours until Christophe joined me at the bottom of the last mandatory sector which was in Spain. The 31km segment involved a 3h steep hike-a-bike section. I exited the sector first around 7pm, from there we had several options to reach the finish line at the Refuge du Ruhle located back on French soil. Some of those options included getting through Andorra then hiking your bike in the high mountain terrain before reaching the refuge. I decided to choose the long way around the mountains and went for a 200km route through the French valleys.
The Home Stretch
The night was long and sleepless. The rain was pouring hard and I did my best to stay focused and push hard on the flatter section. I knew Alex and Christophe had chosen to get through Andorra, and for sure being 2 on the same will push them to ride harder. Alone by myself on the long stretch in the valley I did my best to stay really engaged for the whole duration. I reached at 3am the bottom of the last climb that led to the refuge. First part was a 20km road climb. I made it over the halfway point before a big thunderstorm rolled in. I stop several times to find some kind of shelter. I stayed around 20 min waiting under a big rock with my rescue blanket before trying to get up again. The lightning were scaring as hell. I reached a small hut where I waited a bit more before making my last move to the Refuge. I knew from there I had an hour or so to hike a bike. On my way up I saw some light on the other side of the mountain and thought about Christophe or Alex coming in from Andorra. I started running up the hill as fast as I could with my bike on my back toward the refuge. When I arrived I noticed Alex's bike was already there. A bit of disappointment, satisfaction and happiness immersed me instantly. We gave each other a hug, shared a cup of coffee and Christophe joined us a couple of minutes later.
49 hours 26 min is what it took me to round off this hell of adventure.
Overall I’m happy with my effort and my fitness. I did my best and played it safe in the lead up back to the refuge. Camille had warned us prior the race about the weather and how the plateau du Ruhle can be a lightning magnet.
The race is not a race. It is another kind of adventure, rounded by a leaderboard but Further is something else. I’ve never done something similar, and that’s what I liked about it. The intimacy and particular atmosphere the refuge brings and the overall spirit of the race is quite unique. I’m just glad to have happened to be a part of it. I met some amazing people, played in a fantastic environment and forged indelible memories. Isn’t it what ultras are all about?
Words by Thomas Boury (@totosupertramp)
Race photos courtesy of Pertex Fabric (@pertexfabric)
THIS WEEKEND: FURTHER EAST
This weekend, riders will be rolling out for this year’s edition of FURTHER East.
Further East is the second in a trio of races from Camille Mcmillan and FURTHER. With a route designed by Josh Ibbett, riders will be heading into Cambridgeshire and the Fens, this event takes on a different character and format to it’s Pyrenees based sister race.
You can follow the race tracker and view the route here:
This time the route is a single loop with riders set off in one-minute intervals, a format that pays homage to the age-old format of a cycling time trial. In a wink to randonneurs of old, each rider will wear an arm band with their race number on, and their start time is dictated by a tombola the night before around the campfire.
The route is 425 miles (683km) in total, and riders have 60 hours to complete it to classify a finishing time.
Almost deceptively, the race is often referred to as 'the flat one'. While the elevation over the entire distance is low, the route is mainly offroad, and takes in various bridleways, farm tracks and ancient roman roads that criss-cross the countryside.
If the weather is on the riders side, the riding will be fast and fierce. If it rains however, the race could prove incredibly difficult, with lots of these tracks turning into a mudbath. With a recent bout of heat in the late summer it really is 50/50 as to whether the race is hot and dry, or muddy and wet.
Photos of the 2022 event courtesy of Rupert Hartley (@ruperthartleyphoto)