The unmatchable ups and downs

It’s not possible. 100 mountain passes in 10 days. 200km a day with 5,000m of climbing. Let’s talk over drinks first before deciding anything… Who are the guys riding this? What is driving them? And who comes up with something as crazy as the Cent Cols Challenge (CCC) and makes it into a concept that people sign up for?

I gave it a lot of thought, I really did, but of course I signed up for one. At the time I just needed an extraordinary goal to look forward to. It was over a year ahead and not real to me yet. I had done a few one-day mountain races and a couple of other things but nothing in this league. The past ten years of my life had been busy. Career, kids, life in an airplane, bigger jobs, money, a corporate lifestyle. But everything came at a cost. Endless travel days, business dinners, stress, never at home. I lost a marriage and had to do some thinking. The bike was a good option.

In August 2013 I called a coach I knew and hired him for the season. His task? Make me ready for the CCC. I was 81kg, not in my greatest shape, and far away from being able to complete anything above 150km in the mountains. I decided that I wanted to be serious about the concept with the ambition of enjoying all 10 stages without even thinking about quitting.

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From August 2013 to the start of my CCC in August 2014 I did 900 hours of training. 14,000km on the road and the rest on a home trainer. I completed Rapha’s Festive 500 on my Tacx turbo (I didn’t get the badge). For mental strength, all of the hours were spent alone. I did the small hills in Copenhagen thousands of times. People were laughing – I understand why.

29th August 2014. D-Day. I was 70kg and ready. Anxious though. ‘How good are the other riders? Can I even complete this?’

The CCC Dolomites turned out to be a mind-blowing route through mountains I hadn’t heard of, through backroads with no one on them. I rode with excellent people with different reasons to participate. Some open, some more focused. All with ambitions to complete, some to race, some to develop themselves. They were people from all over the world spending their pocket money on travelling to Italy alone, away from their families.

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I found my small group of likeminded gentlemen, a different breed who gave me a new perspective into cycling. No elbows in the ribs in the sprint – genuine people. During the race we became a family. Some were struggling in the dark, with knee problems or sickness. Some gave up and took the shortcut (don’t ever take the short cut). We even met Eros Poli on top of the Gavia. I was freezing to death but we had a rum and life felt better before the 30km descent and then the Mortirolo up and down in the hard rain.

Strangely enough I felt stronger everyday. Preparation pays off. Despite my 39 years I felt like a pro. My descending became better as I felt the bike like never before. Climbing 4,500m a day became the new normal. We hit 100kph down Fedaia.

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It was difficult to manage clothing and food intake – you need to plan. Cold, hot, wet, cold, too hot… We had our share of rain, a little snow, some cow shit, a lot of coffee, 6,000 calories or more a day and I built some strong friendships.

There were amazing support staff, starting work before the riders and ending after us. They secured the route, provided food stops, support, mechanical help. These people don’t do this for the money, that’s for sure.

I got the badge. Only a few did. I found out it’s not about ticking the box though. It changed my life and the way I see things. I don’t complain about the small things anymore. I’ve got perspective on a few things. I want to do it again.

I finished at 68.6kg. Tired, but I’d never felt better. I had three glasses of red wine on the flight from Milan to Copenhagen and the stewardess had to wake me up when we landed.

Post-race depression. Desk job, meetings about things that didn’t feel important. People at home offered their congratulations but had no idea about the whole package of inspiration, people and great experiences of those 12 days in Italy. I still look at the pictures and think about it. Daily.

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Now the process is starting again. I will do the CCC in the Pyrenees in September 2016. This time smarter and maybe better prepared. Faster? I think I will spend more time cultivating the relationships with the people in and around the event. It is not a race.

Rasmus Helt Poulsen is a Rapha Europe Ambassador who lives in Copenhagen in Denmark. Follow his journey towards a second CCC on his Instagram.