Styrkr ambassador, Ulrich “uba” Bartholmoes, finished first in the GranGuanche Audax Road in January 2022, cycling a paved 600km route that traverses the most iconic roads and climbs of the Canary Island archipelago.
Connected by four separate ferry journeys, GranGuanche begins in the black lava fields, white houses and green vineyards of Lanzarote, crosses the remote deserts of Fuerteventura, the deep ravines and enormous cliffs of Gran Canaria, the enchanted forests and huge volcano of Tenerife and, finally, the deep ravines and misty forests of La Gomera.
Uba completed the course – comprising 14,000m of climbing – in 38hrs 33mins, seven minutes ahead of his nearest rival, Patxi Plazaola Esnaola.
It was a gruelling physical and emotional feat fuelled by Styrkr and Uba’s innate desire to be the best he can be. We spoke to him the week after his victory.
Congratulations, Uba. Tell us, what did it feel like to cross the finish line in first place?
Winning an ultra-endurance event is not like wining a Tour de France stage: there aren’t hundreds of people on the side of the road, there’s no TV cameras and there’s not really even a finish line as such. Your GPS track just ends and you see the race organisers who have gathered to welcome you.
People may have followed you virtually via the trackers, but there aren’t many bystanders at the finish. The moment of victory is not a very big one in terms of ceremony, it’s a very private feeling really. Mostly you are alone with yourself and your achievement.
When I arrived at the finish of GranGuanche 2022, we got some beer, had some food, chatted and, as other riders finished, exchanged experiences. There’s no big banner at the finish, but there is a huge sense of accomplishment and a great feeling of shared experience.
Was there any time for you to enjoy the event given the time you finished it in?
As per my tactics, I was pushing hard – to my limit – for the first 80km of the last island, La Gomera, so I had no time to think about anything during these moments, I just had to suffer and keep pushing.
The last 20km of the GranGuanche road route is downhill, so we all agreed at the start that the race would effectively end on the top of the last climb. Competing in a downhill to the finish when it’s getting dark and dangerous would not be sensible.
So after I got over the final climb in first position, over the last downhill section I was able to reflect on the whole event and what it means to take a victory. It’s always a very special moment recapping the race, thinking about whether I’ve met my goals.
I should say: I don’t go to these races expecting victory, I define a certain personal goal for myself, which I try to achieve. If that means winning the event, that’s a bonus.
Depending on the length of the race and how exhausted I am, finishing is always an emotional moment. Normally in my daily life I don’t cry a lot, but when I compete in longer rides, I do tend to cry for no reason as I either feel incredibly happy or exhausted.
It tends to happen at the finish line too: all the struggles of the last few days race through your mind at once – there’s an immense feeling of satisfaction and relief.
It was your first race using Styrkr products. What was your strategy?
During the whole ride I had six MIX90 and two MIX60 and some SLT. I started with one MIX60 and one MIX90 in my water bottles and carried the rest.
My tactic was always to push very hard on the last island, La Gomera. I had never really experienced pushing that hard after 34 hours of riding, so it was new territory.
I ate some Gnocchi before the ferry ride to La Gomera and I had some Snickers with me on the island, but I couldn’t eat while putting in that kind of effort, so I really needed my last two MIX90s to step up.
To be honest, I didn’t trust the products entirely until that point – I never trust anything 100% until I test it in race conditions.
In the end it was totally on point. It was a very good result for me. Now I know for sure that in any situation I can totally rely on Styrkr to give me the energy I need when I need it most.
You’re a seasoned ultra-cyclist now. Do you still have moments of doubt when you’re on the bike?
Yes, sure. Everyone has them. It’s human nature in these situations to have doubts. I really know what I’m capable of in a “normal state” though: what I can achieve and how much pain I can take. Two years ago in TwoVolcanoSprint (twovolcanosprint.com) I had a seriously bad knee and had to climb Mount Etna with one leg and a severely hanging head. This happened near the end of the race and I had some serious doubts that I could even finish.
You can also have technical problems: at TransIberica (transiberica.club) I broke my derailleur and wondered if that was the end of my race.
But I stopped, slept a night, looked for a solution to the problem and found it in the end. The point here is to firmly believe that you can overcome any doubt and solve any problem if you really want to.
To be honest, I don’t really have doubts about my own physical ability to be able to climb and to suffer. But you have to be prepared to solve problems that prevent you from riding in a “normal state” and deal with them accordingly.
What makes the GranGuanche route unique?
GranGuanche was different from any thing I’d ever done before, which is what I always look for when planning my season: different adventures in different places. There are so many cool things out there to try that I don’t think it makes sense to do them twice.
The ferries really are a game changer at GranGuanche and make the whole ride unique.
I know I can be very efficient on a bike: I can stop quickly at gas stations, buy food and eat on the bike, I don’t need to stop much and I don’t need to sleep much. These things normally give me an advantage and help me to do well in a race, but none of these strengths gave me the advantage at Granguanche.
Because of the ferry times it’s very difficult to escape the pack. Especially the ferry at Gran Canaria, where I managed to sleep for four hours before the ferry’s departure.
I found all of this pretty fascinating tactically, even if it didn’t suit my strengths.
Lastly, what advice would you give to riders who want to do GranGuache in the future
With GranGuanche you don’t need to check the routes, you don’t need to check ferry times or places to eat as this is all supplied before the race.
Also, because of all the infrastructure at the ferry ports on each island, if you didn’t want to race hard and go through the night you could spend a day doing each island and know for sure that there would be good places to eat and to stay at the ports. Then you can rest and really enjoy the incredible landscapes and the views.
GranGuanche is amazing for many reasons and is a wonderful enabler for riders making the step-up to ultra-racing and these kind of crazy adventures.