The road of fear: Cycling the E81 in Romania.

As one friend dubbed it: the ‘Hayden Diversion’. The road from hell during The Transcontinental Race 2017.

 

No, it wasn’t a ruse, now that I was in the lead, to force following racers to go a longer way and lose time.

I love motorbike road racing, particularly the North West 200[1]. Motorbike road racing is a dangerous sport and each year racers will die, doing what they love. Cycling isn’t the same, you don’t die because of your mistake, you die because of someone else’s. It’s not an acceptable consequence.

It was Day 6 of the Transcontinental Race 5. The Balkans were in the grip of a record breaking heatwave, Lucifer and my Garmin showed a maximum temperature of 51 degrees C. I’d left Cluj-Napoca earlier in the evening. The road out wasn’t great but it was tolerable. I arrived in Turda (the only amusing part of today) as dusk fell and found myself riding the E81, from Turda to Sebes, heading south towards Checkpoint 4, the Transfăgărășan Highway.

Real darkness arrived as I was climbing a steady twisting gradient without hard shoulder and only a gravel slip at the side, featuring broken glass and potholes. I had no choice but to ride on the road. I didn’t like it but traffic wasn’t too heavy. I kept heading south, hoping it would improve as I got away from the city. The speed limit on the road fluctuated between 50kph and 90kph. At no point did anyone slow to those speeds.

The gradient flattened and dipped into a shallow downhill, which only helped the lorries go even faster. Being passed by speeding lorries was just a part of the problem. Coming straight at me, head on, were overtaking drivers of both cars and lorries, perhaps unable to determine their distance from me, or possibly just not giving a damn about it. They passed me closely at great speed.

To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less about ‘the race’ at this point, I was scared for my life and for the life of those that would follow me. I just wanted to be at home, tucked up in the warm arms of Isabelle.

I pulled into a petrol station half way along the road, I was so stressed. I had to tell people. I started with Bjorn, hoping to warn him, he didn’t answer. I texted him. I called the race organisers and told them that without any doubt, it’s the worst and most dangerous road I’ve ever ridden. If 250 TCR racers come down this road they would experience great danger. They had no choice other than to ban the road.

I continued riding, having been told by the staff at the petrol station that the road would got better. This was ‘lost in translation’ as in fact the lorries got worse. They weren’t driving as individuals, they were drafting in a peloton, driving bumper to bumper, six in a chain. They wouldn’t slow down for anything and passed me in the darkness with inches to spare at well over 90kph. The first lorry sees you and gives you an inch, but the sixth sees nothing.

Imagine standing on a train platform, the wrong side of the yellow line, as the fast train speeds through the station, just brushing your arm, the wind enough to suck you in.

That dark night I couldn’t give a damn about the race: first or last. I just wanted to get off that road. I felt a deep responsibly for all those to pass behind me, their safety was my concern, I had to report the road and suggest it be banned.

 

 

[1] The North West 200 is a motorcycling race meeting held each May in Northern Ireland. It is held in a 8.9 mi road course between the towns of Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush in Causeway Coast and Glens.