were offered some very strong smelling liquor from a coke bottle. Not for the first time, I noticed the Bulgarian riders often prefer a wee nip to a wee nap but smelling this stuff, I firmly declined. I was in enough trouble already,
Hazy memories of the next bit to Isperih include bit and bitting with Ivo, He rode for a bit, passed me at the side of the road, then collapsed at the side of the road himself. Then I rode for a bit, passed Ivo, then collapsed at the side of the road, then he passed, etc.....At one point I held the wheel of a rider for a few miles until I started to believe he was riding with wheels off an old ship -you know, the wooden steering ones with spokes pointing out of the rim. At that point I knew it was time for me to collapse at the side of the road again and wait for Ivo to go by.
The tactical blunder of the previous night was weighing on my rnind. Less than halfway on a route which was proving tricky and tough. I was exhausted and knew the others, refreshed from a night in the hotel at Veliko Tarnovo, would come past at any moment with an ever so slightly superior swish of rubber on tarmac. Grrrrrr! Sure enough, they overhauled me in Isperih and let me know what bad tactics I'd employed and then disappeared into the heat haze, whilst I was forced to grab 30 minutes sleep in a bed at the control. I left town on the time limit and in the stifling heat of the afternoon, sure In the knowledge that if I didn't pull it together on this leg, the ride could very well be over for me. Fortunately, the heat was manageable and the carrot of getting to the turnaround point at Varna, well over half way at 674km, was all the encouragement I needed Add to that the lovely scenery and the ride started to make sense in my mind again.
By now the poor road surfaces had become something that I was taking for granted, the new Roberts was handling them without complaint and was proving trusty, comfortable and a delight to climb on. Tales of pothole Induced tyre explosions which were filtering through the peloton seemed to be occurring to bikes with tyres less sturdy than the ContI Top Touring 2000 which I was using - despite a similarity to tractor tyres, they certainly go the distance and proved trouble free.
From Vaina, the route retraces the outward leg for about 50km As I made my way to Varna, Rick White passed riding strongly, about 4 to 5 hours ahead on the road. With the exception of one
Bulgarian who had already passed through, most of the other riders weren't too far ahead which was a boost. Turning at dusk after some steak and chips, I chased them back to the MadarskI Konnik control at 762km and, keen not to repeat my mistake of the previous night, went straight to bed,
The next morning, most of the others had gone by the time I was awake, but the flat wind assisted start to the next leg back to Sliven was great Reaching the climbs back over the Balkan range, I met up with a Bulgarian rider, Balanski, and we rode together for some time, finding French to be a useful common language. Whilst I was still concerned about the time limits and was anxious to push on, Dimitar seemed in no rush. He had an air of calm about him which I found reassuring He didn't look as though he wasn't going to finish and was confidant in his pacing. We stopped at a roadside cafe in the scenic village of Tica and enjoyed a relaxing lunch. Questioning why he had ordered two beers simultaneously, he simply replied that he had two hands. Hrn, well... I have to say I still don't fully understand the logic In that one, but I like it, and rt was a daft question anyway, I also had
two drinks, but one was coke and I was grateful for my restraint as the roads wound up, down and around the mountains in the following few hours to Sliven.
I followed Simon through the same thunderstorm to Manolovo and although the rains pelted down oii occasions, the lightening remained at some distance and was a magnificent spectacle, I had met up with Lazar at dusk, and after some soup at a great little roadside cafe, we continued into the night together, gingerly picking our way around the flooded potholes as the lightening continued its display all the way to Manolovo.
I was impressed and a little embarrassed at the lengths Inna and Maria, our control hosts had gone to on our behalf, where I found that Simon and the other had barely made a dent on the feast spread out ready for us.
Revenge on the Doggies
After a sleep and a shower, most of the Anglo-Danish contingent hit the road as one. As it started to rain, the Brits heroically stopped for breakfast, then John punctured, and it felt like the last 150km was going to be drag. But we raised our tempo and, with Danny leading the way,
purposefully cut Into the remaining
mileage On the way, Jan managed to talk all the way up a 12km climb - we figured out that his pedalling action drives his mouth. Our two doggy friends paid us a visit again in Karlovo but by now we were all expert shots with our water bottles and let them have It between the eyes. The ride was without incident, although when )an and Dan started to slalom down some of the hills, Simon kept a safe distance fearing the worst, whilst )ohn pretended to want to join in but claimed his Thorn was handling tike a shopper.
We swung onto the main road and the last 14km What a great feeling these moments are! (especially for Jan on this occasion who had seemingly forgotten his ballooned ankle - he complained so little that the rest of us had certainly forgotten it.)
And what a fantastic reception we had when we rolled in through the finishing arch.. handshakes all round, Mike and Colin being ever-so generous in their praise, Rick looking like there was someone else behind those eyes. A formal presentation to each of us of a trophy, and happy loafing outside a cafe with a cold beer. We were also just in time to see the kick off of the world cup final -perfect timing!
Sofia proved to be a great post-randonee city, we only wished we had had longer to enjoy the leafy cafe atmosphere and incredibly cheap beer prices.
Our plane broke down in mid-air and made a very rapid landing in Venice where we were stranded for 24 hours.
We all agreed that it was one of the most interesting and challenging rides we had ever done. The hospitality of our Bulgarian hosts will be an abiding memory, together with the tireless work of La?ar - even on the road, he was constantly on his hands-free mobile checking how things were proceeding.
The next Bulgarian 1200km ride is planned for 2004, although Lazar is considering some changes. Cycling in Bulgaria is certainly tough but we all hope to go back in 2004. We hope it doesn't change too much.
Look out for details on:
dTliVEE Autumn 2002 53