‘It’s an autonomous bicycle adventure race around the Ariege department of the Pyrenees, there will be hike-a-bike’. That’s how Further race Director, Camille Mc Millan, sold the event to us and it’s a good job that he doesn’t work in marketing. Further was about more than riding bicycles up big mountains and brutal hike-a-bikes. Yes these were a key feature of the event, however the real ethos of the event is to collectively celebrate the beauty of suffering, the beauty of the mountains and the beauty of a shared passion.
Often a long distance bike race starts at one point and finishes in another far flung destination, however Further was subtly different. In fact it wasn’t even that long as far as Ultra Distance races go. At less than 500km it may be scoffed at by other longer races on the calendar, however what it lacked in distance it made up for in sheer brutality and beauty. The route weaved its way through deep gorges, over mountain passes and across borders seeking out long lost roads and paths.
Soaring temperatures and high humidity made for brutal riding conditions with most of the small but experienced field of competitors suffering symptoms of heat stroke throughout the event. Mount Fourcat proved the decisive point of day 1, half the field made it over the 2000m peak before the night time curfew and found dinner in a small pizza restaurant, the other half bivvied out on the mountain and went hungry.
Fourcat was just a warm up for the riders as they rode deeper into the Pyrenees. Emma Pooley, Angus Young and Tim O Rouke established themselves at the head of the race as day 2 developed. The Port Du Rat, an old smugglers route into Andorra, thinned the lead group down to just 2. Tim suffering sickness no doubt due to the heat and altitude scratched from the race in Andorra leaving Emma and Angus trading blows for the lead on the high altitude passes. Further behind the field was decimated as riders cut their losses and returned to base.
Further was not just about racing, it was about the Rally and a gathering of like-minded individuals. Zero-Neuf escapes provided the race hq and a safe sanctuary from the mountains in an idyllic farm house looking up into the Pyrenees. Each scratched rider that returned to base early brought more stories from the road bringing the community of riders and supporters closer. Each rider that limped home was received with a standing ovation regardless of whether they had scratched or not. By the end of day 3 over half the field were back at the start sharing stories around the pool or sipping a beer in the bar. The tension and expectations were growing as we awaited the winner.
As the evening drew nearer a blue spec appeared in the distance and a crowd began to assemble. Emma Pooley, in her first ever bikepacking event, had emerged victorious from a tough battle with Angus Young. A ripple of applause began as she cycled across the field to the finish which soon grew into an emotional crescendo of cheers and whoops. It was a collective roar of joy for Emma and all the riders in the event. Emma was the first rider across the line, but more importantly the first rider to successfully beat the mountains in what had been a race of attrition.
It’s hard to really put into words what Further really meant and what the riders really experienced. You had to be there to fully understand the beauty of the event and the suffering that it entailed, so I guess next year you will have to join the Rally to find out for your selves.