As racers get their last good night sleep before heading out on the Trans Am Bike Route, we look back at one of the outstanding performances from the event a year ago. Mike Hall completed and won the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race last year. Below we asked Mike a few questions about his life, race history and being on the other side as a race director.
Where are you from?
Where do you live now?
Llangybi, South Wales
What do you do for a living?
I’m a Design Engineer, currently working in Aerospace
When did you start racing bikes?
In my late teens for fun with local XC races but more seriously since around 2009.
What was your first bikepacking experience?
Tour Divide 2011 was the first one really – I did a 2 day test across the Peak District at Easter in the same year and that was my first overnighter.
Last year you finished the first Trans Am Bike Race with a time of 17:16:29. In one word, describe your overall experience?
What was the hardest moment you had to endure?
Whitebird pass with headwinds and the heat was hard, so was trying to stay awake on the long stretch to Lolo Pass overnight. The descent to Flagg Ranch from Yellowstone was ridiculously cold with windchill. They all seem like the hardest moments in their own way but things became more desperate the closer you get to the end and intense and inescapable drowsy spells were happening in the afternoons for the last 3 days. They were some of the most intense moments where a few minutes felt like an eternity.
What surprised you most about the Trans Am Race?
We underestimated the second half. How long it would take, how twisty and up and down it was, especially the Ozarks – I hit them at nightfall and had no idea they were coming. One minute it was rolling and fast, the next it was steep unrelenting ups and downs in the lowest gears and dripping with sweat at 11pm at night. Kentucky is also a surprising place in many ways, good and bad. The drivers are inexplicably patient yet in the East of the state it can be a pretty intimidating place at times. I don’t think I could adequately explain riding through the Appalachians in Kentucky to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
What is the most difficult part of the 4,233 mile route?
Getting into the Appalachians at night maybe, or trying to stay awake in the afternoons for the last 3 days, or maybe the last 13 miles on the Colonial parkway. On 25c tyres at 100psi after all that way that is pretty demoralising.
How did you enjoy having a film crew (Inspired to Ride) around on a self-supported race?
It was great to see the guys every now and then. Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen any familiar faces after day 2. Those guys have done this type of thing before though so there was minimal interference on my ride and I only really spoke with them when I was at a re-supply stop. Otherwise I would see them perched at the side of the road with camera and try not to engage too much as I wouldn’t want to spoil their shots. Overall though it was great to capture the memories and my thoughts as I went as when you are racing you don’t really have too much opportunity to do that and I often forget the things that are running through my head.
What bike did you ride?
Pivot Vault with Reynolds Assault Disc wheels and Shimano Ultegra Di2 with Hydraulic Discs.
What bags did you use?
What tires were you using? Did they last the whole ride?
Continental GP 4000 IIs. Yes, I swapped them over one night in Pueblo so they would get even wear.
Any major bike issues?
Not really. I had a few punctures on day one which was a little frustrating. They were mostly pinch flats and I found the rim tape I was using wasn’t really suitable for the tubes so when I had another puncture later on in Kentucky I tried to add an extra wrap of rim tape I had bought. That was a mistake, the extra thickness meant that the tyre wouldn’t seat on the bead correctly and I tried 3 or four times to ride it in and re-inflate to get it to seat. Otherwise the only other issue was a field re-fit of a Di2 battery to the seat post just before Pueblo. I took two batteries on purpose and wanted to see how far I could get on the first before it went dead flat. Nearly 2000 miles it turned out but I forgot that I would need circlip pliers which I didn’t have. I had to be a little inventive, but it took less than 15 minutes.
You have cycled around the world (World Cycling Race, WCR), participated in the Tour Divide, and endured the Trans Am Bike Race. What was the most difficult ride, mentally and physically?
It’s difficult to say any one exactly. WCR was definitely the longest and most difficult mentally to just complete but the winning margin was around 5000 miles so really I knew it was in the bag for quite some time so long as nothing went wrong. The Divide and Trans Am were both more intense with more competition though so it’s not just the course that makes a tough race, but also who shows up. I think athletically I regard the Tour Divide as my proudest moment so far. The Trans Am was something of an unknown quantity and we went too deep too early on so it was very difficult in the second half because of that but ultimately it didn’t need to be and I think the time can be significantly improved upon.
What is your next race?
Right now I have no idea. I have thought about lining up for a few races like the AZTR or the HTR550 but can’t get plans or fitness to stick and been having a few hamstring issues since the Trans Am. Things are getting better now though and I’m getting hungry to race again. Anna and I are heading to Vietnam on the cycle-a-difference ride (this was the ride that prepared me for the TD in 2013) but that’s in November. I’m hoping that gives me a good lead into winter and I can train hard and come good for a big summer race next year. I would love to come back to the divide.
You are the organizer of the Transcontinental race in Europe. Can you tell us a little bit about that event?
It’s an unsupported race across Europe, mainly on the road and the difference is there is no set route, but there are several mandatory checkpoints instead so we can send riders up some iconic mountains in the Alps etc, so they won’t take it too easy. The format is similar to Brevets of old and seems to be one of the reasons it is becoming popular. It is a little more organised than some bikepacking races in as such there is an entry fee and some media coverage but we are still trying to keep it modest and less overtly commercial.
What was your motivation of putting it together?
Originally I had been idly thinking of an event to Istanbul since I was in the World Cycle Race. I rode to Ankara that time and thought the meeting of Europe and Asia would be a great location to end at. I had also picked up on several voices in the bikepacking and ultra communities that showed there was a demand growing for both a European based ultra on a similar scale to RAAM, and also an unsupported alternative to the race which is very expensive to enter and only a few get to ride. The year after the first World Cycle Race my sponsors Quick Energy wanted to do something else so we used the idea and it became the Transcontinental. Unfortunately the end of that year Quick Energy went bust, so it very nearly never happened. We have a certain well known British saddle company to thank for stepping at the right time.
Favorite non-cycling activity?
Funniest moment this year on a bicycle?
Riding a sketchy greasy rock slab drop in at the local woods for the first time and having a bit of a session with friends on a night ride to see who could or would give it a go. I made the drop but couldn’t get back over from behind the saddle and ended up crashing further down the hill on the easy bit.
Pivot, Shimano, Reynolds, Lezyne, Rab, Chapeau