How to ride ultra distances in style
Riding Ultra Distances is one thing. But riding in style is another. If you followed Daniel Gottschalk's journey on Instagram it looked like this event was a party. He was riding with this broad grin on his face, dancing on the streets of Berlin and sipping beer on the last kilometers of the ride.
Daniel, what exactly is the Northcape4000?
Northcape4000 is a cycling event, leading riders from Rovereto in Italy to the North Cape. The route is 3800 km long and unsupported, meaning the clock never stops and riders are responsible for planning when to ride, when to rest as well as what food and drinks to bring. The route slightly changes every year: This year, riders had to pass Checkpoints in Munich, Berlin, Stockholm, Rovaniemi and then finish at the North Cape.
When did you come up with the idea to participate in the event?
I already participated last year, so this year was my 2nd time. The first time was kind of a coincidence. I had taken 2 weeks of unpaid vacation to visit my parents in Greece by bike via Istanbul, Izmir, over to Athens and then to Crete. The second week I cycled back home to Bavaria via Patras, Bari, Zurich and on the way to Istanbul I met someone who prepared for the North Cape. And that’s when I became aware of the event. I participated the first time last year, and was quite successful too - I came in 10th place. But I was still suffering from Post COVID fatigue - so it was kind of tough, I was tired a lot and exhausted really quickly. When I reached the finish line, I did not really intend to do it again. But then last October when the route was published I saw that it goes from Munich to Berlin and Saxony, which is my home - so that’s when I decided to participate again and I registered.
How did you prepare for it?
Well, I ride my bike quite a lot. I try to ride 6-8 hours during the week, which is not much, but I work full-time and I always try to fit it all in and that works quite well. We don’t have children, Lisa (my girlfriend) and I. Therefore, the training is not a big issue right now.
We also try to spend a lot of time cycling together. Although, when we ride together Lisa sets the pace, simply because this is more fun for both of us and that’s what it is about. That’s what makes cycling the most beautiful hobby in the world. Besides that I did some longer rides this year - from Erfurt to Rügen, that was a 500 km ride.
Then I did another 300 km ride from Klingenthal, over Fichtelberg, to my parents place.
And another race I participate in every year is the “Heavy”, a 24 hours Mountain Bike race in Rabenstein near Chemnitz. I borrowed a mountain bike for that one because I don’t own one anymore. Generally I got those looks from other riders when I arrived there with my road cycling shoes, but I don’t own things for mountain biking so the road cycling clips had to work. Luckily it didn’t rain so it worked. Also, this race was a good mental preparation. In total there were 40 laps of 10km each, so I rode 40 laps.
What did you pack in your CYCLITE bags?
I still had my packing list when I went to Greece and Istanbul - at that time I think I had 35 kg of luggage. I went over that packing list with a marker last year and crossed off all the things I did not necessarily need. So for last year’s North Cape I narrowed it down to 3 cycling shorts - this year, just in case, I brought an additional one. I also brought a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a pillow, a bivy sack. Simply anything that would allow me to sleep outside because that’s the adventure I am seeking. There for sure are riders that sleep at a hotel every night. But that’s not my style and it also costs too much time to find a hotel in the city each and every night.
Did you have a meal plan for the event?
Yes and no. I can’t really answer this question. I did start with a fully packed bike. I brought enough water, 18 chocolate bars to go and 3 chocolate croissants. I also brought some energy gel packs but I don’t like those too much. So I actually avoided those and bought my food at the gas stations. I always tried to have 2 or 3 snickers as an emergency reserve to keep me going as far as possible. In Sweden I got a 10l folding backpack at Decathlon and filled it with food. I didn’t even fill it all the way but it was enough to go to bed with a full belly no matter where I slept.
How much of the challenge is physically and how much mentally?
I would say 50/50. I mean, once you reach a stage where your head lacks sleep you know the best legs will not help you. If there’s only chaos in your head you can hardly control anything anymore.
This time I went through my hometown Rochlitz and there I had a relatively large fan base. Actually the fan base developed the first 4-5 days of the race. Anyways, when I was riding through Sweden I was flooded with messages, got lots of phone calls on the road and that motivated me so much!
Roverto in Italy:
mixed feelings, because I didn't know how strong the other participants were. Never had the intention to finish in first place. The distances of this event are insane, starting the race with the thought of finishing first would be completely arrogant, but that’s not how I am, I don’t like that.
So at the start, as always, my knees got soft and I was nervous. I knew the race would go up that narrow path first, and thinking of 200 participants sharing a narrow path like this one was nerve racking. So I set myself one goal: Get through Crash free. That was my only goal for the first 100 km.
really tired. It was half past 2 in the middle of the night when I arrived.Tiredness was the one thing but then there was also so much broken glass on the bike paths through the city because of all the people partying. So watching out for those splitters was the biggest challenge.
Berlin was quite funny. A participant from last year called me and asked me if he could accompany me for a while. So we rode out of Berlin together.
Stockholm was quite laid back. I had 3 hours to the ferry, so I had a lot of time. Unfortunately there was not a lot to do during that time because everything was closed. I then went into a 7 Eleven, bought a giant bag of Haribos and grabbed some bananas, water, and filled up the whole bike so that I could hit the pedals again once in Turku.
There was not much going on there. As there was no supermarket the last 150 km I had to go to a store there. I took my time because I knew the checkpoint was closed anyway. Once again I arrived a half an hour late for Santa Claus so I didn’t get to see him. I still don’t believe he exists because I never saw him.
The last 20-30 km I realized I could win this. I had always told myself not to believe it until I am so cose, that even if I had a technical defect 20-30 km before the finish line I could push my bike or even carry it on my shoulders and run. When your spokes break the race can be over really quickly. So I always tried to keep the wheels turning and make as few breaks as possible. That was the philosophy. And yes, that worked out really well!
What thoughts did you have on the ferry?
On the first ferry I was lucky to catch the earlier one at 7am. On the second one I experienced a kind of shock moment. Francesco, another rider arrived at the ferry terminal 10 minutes before departure. We had breakfast together on the ferry and then I tried to get a good night's sleep because I knew: the race is on now!
What was the worst part of the race?
When I found out that Francesco was on the same ferry (laughs). Of course it was nice to have someone on my side but at the same time I knew this was getting serious and he’s a tough guy too.
What was the most beautiful part of the race?
Riding through the alps was breathtaking. I am one of the people who always thought the alps block the view to the sea, but this ride kind of changed my mind.
Also, Sweden was beautiful. The landscape was amazing up there. What I also enjoyed a lot there is that there were parts where there was nothing at all. It was just like a rollercoaster, riding those 4-5 meter wide roads winding through the forests and over the fields. While this is not ideal for food supply, I really enjoyed the tranquility.
My absolute highlight was close to the Norwegian border. There was a hill, I think it was about 20km long towards the North Cape. The city was called Lakselv. That’s also where I had my one and only flat tire . Within 10 minutes I changed the hose. I had to dance around because all of a sudden a bunch of mosquitos started attacking me. Moving on I also saw another beautiful sunset. I need to look at the pictures again, it was so beautiful.
Dancing in the middle of the night, drinking beer on the last kilometres of the race - does it take that kind of craziness to come in first place?
I would not consider myself crazy. I just try not to take myself too seriously, which I think is the key to it. In the end, what good is it to go through the city completely bitter and try to avoid other people. I know there are races, like TCRN where it’s simply prohibited, but here it’s allowed to interact with people so I just do it. There were parts where we even rode together and I think that’s what makes the event so beautiful. Also, the whole thing on Social Media is not about presenting how good I am, I am just trying to take people with me. If it motivates people to cycle then that’s all I could ever wish for! I think anything just works better with a relaxed mind. Of course there are a lot of people out there philosophizing about FTP And nutritional science..but I’m out of that game anyways.
What were your learnings from the event?
I discovered something I actually knew before already. You don’t need much to be happy. I know this works on the road, and that’s why I ride a Decathlon bike because I know it does it’s job, it’s enough and I don’t need more. And I’m also a minimalist in my daily life. When I arrived at the airport on the way back I went through that duty free shop, and this whole lot of consumption just overloaded me! Once more this showed me, that this is something I don’t need in my life.
From a physical perspective the event showed me where my limits are. The day I found out about Francesco on the ferry I just wanted to ride as long as he did just to keep the lead. With every event you get to know your body better, you learn when you can push harder and when it’s time to take it easy. So also this time, lots of learnings for next time.
How does it feel to finish in first place?
I haven't really realized it yet. I haven't even looked at all the statistics from Strava yet. Of course I was over the moon to have reached the top, regardless of whether I was first or not, my real goal was to be on the plane by August 5th because today I had to be back at work on 8am so I had a tight schedule. So it was never my goal to race for the win, of course it was a super good feeling.
How do you celebrate this success?
I didn’t have to throw a party, the party was thrown for me! It was a great day. My dad picked me up from the airport, in his hands was this trophy he made for me. That was a really nice surprise. On the way home my mum asked me what I wanted for dinner - I ordered Pasta, as always. When we got home the whole courtyard was full of people: family, friends, supporters, everybody was there! It was a huge surprise! My favorite cake was there - poppy seed cake and after 2 beers you can imagine I was done already (laughs). It was a nice surprise.
Daniel's bikepacking bag selection for Northcape4000:
Photo Credits: https://www.northcape4000.com/ Matteo Dunchi