Riding Day & Night: Björn Lenhard on Racing The TransAtlantic Way
Words: Pete Harrington
Photos: Max Libertine / Rich Marshall
When he checked the weather report in the final few days before departing for 2017’s TransAtlantic Way Race – a 2500km a single stage self-supported road bike ride between Dublin and Cork via The Wild Atlantic Way – Björn Lenhard wondered what on earth he’d let himself in for. “I was like, ‘Oh Jesus, what have you done now?” Why did you register?’” he says with a bemused smile. But foul weather aside, only 6 days, 1 hour, and 24 minutes after cycling out of Dublin, Björn crossed the finish line in Cork as the winner. He then went on to repeat the feat in 2018, shaving off almost a day in the process to complete the course in an astounding 5 days, 3 hours, and 38 minutes – raw numbers that do little to communicate the bloody-minded stubbornness needed to endure, let alone win such a tempestuous event.
Skyping in a few weeks after the 2018 edition, Björn readily admits that neither the course nor country were reasons for registering for the event. For him, it was all about Mike Hall. “I saw the race come up on the internet, and of course, it piqued my interest,” he says. “A few months later, I saw that Mike had registered, and I thought, well, that’s a good idea. I mean, there are not many possibilities to race against him. Of course, that was before Mike’s accident in Australia – a terrible loss.”
Having already booked and organised the trip to Ireland for the race, Björn decided to make the best of things and give the event a go, despite Mike’s absence. “Before that, I only had one thought – Mike is racing,” he explains. “I didn’t think about anything else. My only wish was to test myself against the best; to see what I could do.”
Which brings us back to the weather. “The first day it was okay. The second day was also good, but days three and four were stormy. Rain, sunshine, rain, sunshine, always like this you know?” he laughs. “And really, if you can only manage 12-15 kilometres an hour on a flat road, then you know there is a big storm in front of you!”
In such difficult conditions, how does he find the will to keep going? “You have to force yourself and tell yourself all the time, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.” Pushing on until it gets better? “Well, it can always get worse,” he says drily. “That’s my experience. But you have to carry on regardless because that’s all there is.”
Wild (it’s in the name) and exposed, The Wild Atlantic Way is no friend to the ultra-endurance cyclist. And according to Björn, it’s also really steep. “This year I got off the bike several times,” he says. “It doesn’t make much sense to ride when you’re creeping up an 18% gradient at 5kph. You might as well hike.”
Supported by 7mesh since 2018, Björn had the perfect opportunity to test out his new bike clothing throughout what would be five days of almost non-stop riding on the rivet. But did it survive the lashing? “Everything was perfect,” he says with some relish. “I especially like the (Quantum) jersey. From the pockets on the back to the fit and how fast it dries, it couldn’t have been better suited to the demands of the event.”
With plans to ride the 2019 Transcontinental Race, but not before a vacation to Oman over Christmas for some slow cycling downtime, Björn looks set to rack up the kilometres for the foreseeable future. “Ha, yes, I hope so!” he laughs. “Actually there’s a race in Poland I have my eye on. But it’s a bit short… only 1500 kilometres.”
Watch ‘Day & Night’ below, a film by Ben Page that follows Bjorn Lenhard and Tomy Mulledy, two riders with contrasting styles and experience, as they take on the 2018 TransAtlantic Way.