The GBDURO course follows the GB Divide route, The Racing Collective’s British version of the Tour Divide, that cuts a line over the British mountains linking up six National Parks and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), resulting in a cumulative 30,000 metres (98,425 feet) of climbing.
Angus Young lit things up from the get go, using his knowledge of the route gained from last year (where he finished second to Lachlan Morton) to build up a gap of over 50 kilometres to Josh. Josh also traded places with a couple of riders in the opening stint to Bristol including Svein Tuft, the seasoned pro who retired last year from the professional circuit with 13 Grand Tours under his belt.
Josh didn’t panic and took the lead at just over 1,000 km in as Angus fell ill and had to scratch after being caught in a thunderstorm. From there on in it was Josh’s to lose as riders following in his tyre tracks had their own problems to deal with, such as Jason Black’s broken saddle (currently second on the road) and Gail Brown’s broken rack (currently forth on the road), both still trucking thanks to some inspirational bodging.
The event is only in its second year, with Lachlan Morton winning the inaugural edition last year, but COVID-19 forced the hosts, The Racing Collective (the UK’s flagship not-for-profit bikepacking club), to radically adapt the format, defining a new rule set by moving from self-supported riding to self-sufficient riding in the process.
Given the uncertainties and delicate COVID-19 situation the easiest thing to do was cancel this year’s event. But easy doesn’t come naturally to us. Instead, to keep the risk of transmission as low as possible, we announced in May that riders would have to be self-sufficient for the entirety of the single-stage ride, i.e. no assistance from others, including people working for commercial services or the kindness of strangers, no use of any buildings (commercial or otherwise), and no disposal of non-biodegradable waste (pack it in, pack it out).
In defining this new paradigm of self-sufficiency, GBDURO20 was no longer just about physical and mental preparation, it was about calculating how much food one would need to complete the journey, and how to fit it on the bike. Riders came up with a myriad of ways of solving the problem: Svein favoured a trailer, many went for various rack/pannier combos, but remarkably Josh and a few other front-runners managed to pack enough in bikepacking bags alone.
In addition to the challenges of the route to contend with, riders also had to deal with some added logistical hurdles. The Racing Collective is the first bikepacking organiser to our knowledge to impose a no-fly rule on their event. In an effort to push demand for low-carbon travel commensurate with the climate crisis, riders must get to and from the event without flying. This was easy enough for Josh, based in the UK, but Svein Tuft rode over 1,000 km across France from his home in Andorra to reach the start. Others made the commute by land and sea from Switzerland and Ireland… so in a way Josh had it easy!
After winning the 2015 edition of the Transcontinental, Josh made the conscious decision to switch to riding and racing predominantly off-road. This moment may reflect another transition in his life, continuing to explore the world on his bike, but using ground transportation only to get him there. Time will tell if he adopts this new philosophy but in the meantime we wish him all the best as he soaks up that joyous post-race relief.
Chapeau Josh, that was quite a ride.
Josh’s official finish time was 7 days, 17 hours, 44 minutes
Stay tuned for more coverage on the GBDURO 2020 event. Until then, head over to the GBDURO website to track the rest of the riders live.