André tells us about his adventure on the BikingMan Corsica

Text: André Faria. Pictures: David Styv / Biking Man


Mário and I met around 14 years ago.

We both had the same Russian 4x4, the Lada Niva! We travelled a lot together, always with a great cooperative spirit. Years went by, I moved to France and Mário to Spain, and we didn't see each other for over 10 years, until another passion brought us back together: cycling.

Thanks to that passion, in 2020, Mário and I were able to talk, exchange tips, compare distances, and motivate each other to ride together.

At age 40, Mário decided to sign up for an ultracycling race, the BikingMan Corsica. It involves covering 1,000 km in under five days, with a brutal cumulative elevation gain of 18,000 m. And so, since the crazier we are, the more fun we have, he decided to invite me along... I took a few days to decide, but I ended up accepting!

What were we thinking, two cyclists who aren't especially fast, who don't ride much (around 3,000 km a year) and mostly recreationally, when we signed up for this competition? I think it was motivated by the desire to improve ourselves, to test our limits.

Today, I can clearly state that the goal was to understand ourselves better and share a good time, but I'll get back to that in a bit.



For a year, Mário and I trained as best as we could.

Personally, I decided to prepare myself mentally before undertaking any physical training. I listened to a number of podcasts about ultracycling races, I followed the 2020 BikingMan Corsica, talked to some of the participants, watched videos... basically, I got motivated!

The fears I had about the distance were swept aside. I should also mention that 2020 wasn't the ideal year for long races, between the closure of certain borders, the curfews, etc... and to make things even harder, I lived in Lille, where the elevation changes are pretty small…

But I still did my best by following a light training programme, going bikepacking with my friends, training a bit at home, and always keeping a positive, determined mindset! (When I signed up, the race was 850 km and 15,000 m altitude gain... the official route, unveiled a few months later, reached 1,000 km and 18,000 m in altitude gain.)

As for Mário, he had the good weather and plenty of hills, but more limits between his work and his studies (MBA).

In parallel, especially on snowy days, I decided to study the itinerary to see in advance where I could sleep, take breaks, eat, and how much distance I would need to cover in a day. I did all the preparation on Komoo, an app that allows you to import an itinerary and add layers from Google Maps to locate restaurants, cafés, etc. It took me quite a bit of time, but at least I had much more peace of mind.



I boarded the train with my bike, and I was off! En route to adventure!

I transported my bike inside a bag on the TGV, changed trains once, and then took the ferry! During the long crossing, I met David, another BikingMan Corsica participant, who had already completed the 2020 BikingMan Portugal. Once off the ferry, David and I rode at night to the San Damiano campground. It was great! That was where most of the racers got together.

On Saturday morning, I took advantage of the setting to have breakfast with David, Zoubir, and Charles, three other participants. Each one had their own goals and personal experience, but they were all very kind and open. Unable to stay in one place any longer, I ended up getting on my bike to explore my surroundings. The beauty of the area was absolutely extraordinary!

Back in camp, I reconnected with Mário. Despite the years, it was like we'd just seen each other yesterday. Two days left before the start of the race. A mix of haste (checking the bike, loading gear, choosing clothing to bring - since before I left, the weather was supposed to be good, but two days later, the forecast was for bad weather and rain) and relaxation, since we were gradually getting to know the other participants and sharing experiences.

It was a really friendly group of people, and we were surprised to see more Portuguese people amongst the racers and organisers!


And the last step was preparing my bike. I had two possible choices: a racing bike or a gravel bike.

Almost everyone told me to go with the racing bike, for weight reasons.

Well, I did the opposite. Why?Because, as I said before, I'm not a racer, so I really needed to pick equipment that would be easy to use, with a more comfortable geometry for long days in the saddle.

So I set out with my Triban GRVL900 Ti, with a few modifications that I added to adapt it to the route:

GRX810 31/48 bottom bracket
GRX800 double left gear lever
GRX800* front derailleur
Fulcrum Racing 3 wheels
Panaracer Gravelking Slick 32C tyres
SRAM 11-36 cassette
* To make this modification, you need to reverse the position of the cable grommet on the base.

So I was able to take advantage of even better equipment, more suitable for the race's 18,000 m altitude gain. For the gearheads out there, here is the rest of the equipment I got:

GPS: Garmin Edge 530
Saddle bag: Restrap
Top tube bag: Restrap (since I have an XS frame and I needed to carry two water bottles, it was the only solution I found)
Triban RC520 shoes (real little gems when I needed to climb the col de la Bataille on foot)
Two pairs of shorts
Two Merino wool jerseys
Rain jacket
Down jacket
Decathlon antifriction gel
Decathlon relaxing gel with arnica (for my legs)



A 6 AM departure! We started out calmly, under a beautiful sunrise, and after about ten kilometres, the climb began! The landscapes were so striking that we almost forgot about the difficulty of the gradient. The first day was the toughest, we inevitably worried about everyone else's speed and our own fitness…

Everything was going well at that moment, and my equipment was easy to use - much easier than Mário, who had gone for a racing bike configuration with a 32/56 oval bottom bracket and an 11-34 cassette. No worries, the race was long and we'd meet up again. While we rode, everyone wanted to chat and get to know each other. The day went well, with long ascents and sunny weather. We needed to successfully cover 205 km with around 5,000 m of ascent by 9 PM. It was one of the steepest stages.

As I arrived at the chalet we'd reserved, I remembered we needed to buy some dinner first. I checked my notes, which showed a nearby pizzeria. Perfect! A quick glance at Google Maps, and I was off. But in fact, it didn't look much like a pizzeria, I just saw a little group of older men playing cards… I went in and asked. They replied, "Yes, it is a pizzeria, but it's only open in summer." It was June... not summer yet, apparently... so I asked where I might be able to eat… "There's nothing in the area!" That's when I started to realise that this route went through pretty isolated areas, as I'd seen before leaving.

The chalet was only a kilometre from the pizzeria. I was welcomed warmly when I arrived, and in a stroke of luck, the owner made a delicious omelette for me and Mário, who arrived a few minutes later. It was cold out... and the only thing we wanted was to sleep. But we needed to finish preparing for the next day... try to dry our clothes, prepare what we'd wear the following day, put on relaxing cream… It was with a mixture of fatigue and enthusiasm that we went to bed... around 200 km and a climb of 3,000 m awaited us the following day.



Another significant stage, where we needed to reach the first checkpoint by 9 PM. Nothing insurmountable for us. The day started again with very beautiful landscapes, magnificent weather, and a good climb.

Since there wasn't a supermarket or a café near the chalet, we had to go without a proper breakfast and a good coffee. We rode to the nearest village, where we found a café... we were welcomed by the aroma of coffee and pain au chocolat. As I was ordering, I remembered that Mário and I didn't have any cash on us... I asked if it was possible to pay by credit card... no… "Where is the nearest ATM? " The server didn't know... maybe in the nearest town... I checked my phone… 30 km away… We seemed so put out that he gave us the coffee for free. A very gentlemanly gesture on his part!

During our climbs, we saw wild animals throughout the race. A moving sight! Mid-day, having just barely arrived at the col de Bavella, a huge storm broke! Some cyclists decided to wait at the bus stop. Resolved to keep going, I put on my playlist and started singing. I don't think I've ever pedalled so quickly up a hill! We both arrived at Porto Vecchio, the first checkpoint, at around 7 PM.

Mário set out in search of a restaurant, and I found an ATM. We got to the hotel totally spent. I still needed to prepare all of my things for the next morning, but Mário decided to get as much rest as possible and put off the task for the following day.



At the risk of repeating myself, it was another decisive day, since we needed to cover 230 km with around 3,000 m of elevation gain to be able to reach checkpoint 2 with a good head start on the following day. That was the day that the curfew was extended to 11 PM, leaving us more time to ride.

The morning was demanding for me and Mário. I did my best to leave at 6 AM. Mário told me that his saddle was causing him horrible irritation and he needed more time to rest. It's in this type of adventure that you realise that there isn't a single good strategy; everyone needs to do what's best for them. Leaving the hotel, I met up with other racers who came with me to find somewhere to get food.

Another day, another... long... climb, with a bar mid-way. I took a break there with some other racers. There was nobody at the counter - we looked everywhere, but in vain. So we served ourselves and left money on the table. The only watchman was a cat.

The variety of the landscape was just as pleasant as the temperature. During the day, I stayed in touch with Mário, who was still in pain, but had already recovered quite a bit and was riding well. At the end of the day, Mário explained that he wasn't very far behind, but wouldn't manage to catch up to me. That wasn't the time to lose motivation, the race was far from over! I caught up to David. It was great to see him. It was already evening, and I was 30 km from the hotel I'd reserved.

David was willing to share my room that night, but another racer we met had a spot in his room at kilometre 215, so he ultimately decided to spend the night there. I rode the last 16 kilometres alone, in the twilight. It was both pleasant to ride at night, listening to the crash of the waves, and worrying given how exhausted I was. I saw the numbers fly by on my Garmin watch…

I finally got there... there was barely an hour left to order a pizza and eat. I felt like I was in paradise! 



I felt good, I'd slept well, the only thing I was missing was a real breakfast... and a coffee! Too bad... I had some biscuits and fruit, that did the trick. Another day, another hill to climb, and not the least of them! This time, with a four-footed friend!

The accumulated days and distance started to weigh on me during the entire climb... I was slow, and the other racers were passing me. I stopped at least three times to get news from Mário and exchange texts with friends… it gave me more courage to get back in the saddle. At the second checkpoint, I was warmly welcomed by the organisers, particularly the Portuguese in charge of tracking us on DotWatcher. I took advantage of the opportunity to have a good coffee and a pain au chocolat, and to stock up at the supermarket. I swore I wouldn't repeat my mistake; this time, I got some good food.

At this stage of the race, energy bars and gels didn't really work for me any more. I ate about one bar and one tube of gel per day, but went more for real food. I still felt a bit tired... I'd plan for 232 km with around 4,800 m of climbing, knowing that there wouldn't be any lodgings in the last 50 km. It was hot, and the climbs were long. I started having trouble thinking and getting organised.

During the crossing of the col de Salvi, going through Montemaggiore, I stopped at a fountain with another racer to have a drink and take a break. I took out a container of tomatoes and offered him some. He looked at me, shocked, and complimented me: "Did you carry that up all those kilometres? You're a madman! " We had a good laugh! Everyone's got their own strategy. We got back in the saddle, and he ended up pulling ahead. I'd made a note that I could stop at kilometre 130... but when I arrived, it was still too early.

I called my friend Jaime in Barcelona. He told me a number of kilometres to cover, some places to spend the night, and after a brief silence, he asked, "You're not in the middle of digesting, right? " No. So, he said: "You know, there's a big hill to climb not far away, then a place to stay just afterwards! Go there to spend the night! That'll give you one fewer climb for tomorrow." That's the kind of situation when you really appreciate your friends. I got an email confirming my reservation at the Casa Franceschi, and without waiting another minute, I set out to attack the col de Bataille. Since it's one of the worst climbs on the race, I decided to climb it on foot. The beauty of the landscape reminded me of how lucky I was to be there. Plus, I was thrilled with my Triban RC520 shoes, which allowed me to walk comfortably (after that day there was a real avalanche of racers' cleats coming unglued).

Once at the top, I could see the descent. It was time to eat! Next, I arrived at Casa Franceschi, where I had a very nice welcome. At that point, Mário was 30 km behind me, but I was sure that he'd come through like a boss and finish the stage. When I wasn't far from going to bed, I got a call from him. His rear derailleur had broken. What a pain. He needed to go back to Calvi to attempt a repair. Just an hour after going to sleep, I heard a racket… I opened the door, and saw Zoubir and another rider. Happy to see you, guys! The owner of the Casa Franceschi had the immense kindness to make them dinner! 



Around 5:30 AM, we were served a delicious fresh breakfast. Corsicans are such great people! Talking a bit with the owner and others, we could really feel their generosity.

It was hard to find the resolve, but I needed to get going. I had over 200 km to go. I had some contradictory feelings: safety, since the route was supposed to be less demanding, but also some nerves, since with 800 km in my legs, the risk of injury was real. I left my two friends, who decided to stay a bit longer. Another hot day, alone for most of the time.

I suddenly felt some sadness... this incredible week was coming to a close. A week of nothing but pedalling, eating, and sleeping. I pedal, and pedal some more, fascinated by the landscape. I allow myself an hour-long break to have a meal gazing at the sea. In the meantime, I meet back up with David. I was really glad! We rode together for a pretty long distance, then he disappeared out of sight (he explained later that he had stopped to have a beer. I hadn't understood at the time!)

At one point, Mário told me that he hadn't been able to replace his derailleur. He needed to find another way to get to the campsite. I felt great and pedalled through the descents... over the last few kilometres, I increased my pace even more. I arrived before 5 PM. Mission accomplished!

We applauded all the other cyclists crossing the finish line. When Mário finally arrived (he hitchhiked with some Portuguese workers in their truck), everyone congratulated him, even though he didn't "finish" the race. A bit later, we all had dinner together.



It might seem cliché, but the important thing is the journey, not the destination. Over a year of preparation and a week of racing, I learned so much, met so many people, and experienced so many moments of friendship and generosity that the medal seems insignificant.

The other thing this race taught me was that if you want it, you can do it. People often told me I was crazy, or even that I could die. But I did it. Don't take everyone at their word, go for it, do it in your own way, and you'll see how it goes. And even if you don't succeed, you learn a lot from your failures. Remember to bring some good music. That could save you!

I almost forgot to tell you that during the race, we decided to raise money for Rifcom, an organisation working to aid Moroccans from the Rif mountain region. Why?Because we want them to have the same chances of success that we do. BikingMan was an amazing chance to discover new places and people and to learn new things, and that's a desire we want to share.

A big thank you to Mário who set me this challenge, to the BikingMan team, to all my friends and family, and to the Triban team.