PEZ at the Movies: Ultimate 1000
Long-distance cycling as an event has grown rapidly in the last decade although its has been a challenge for many since the first Paris-Brest-Paris race. Once the purview of logistically-complex supported races such as the Race Across America, it has grown to include epic unsupported rides on both off-road as well as road routes, around the world. In some cases these are extended versions of the traditional one day Grand Fondo/sportive outing. And a clear example of where too much is not enough is found in the latest video from GCN+, “Ultimate1000.” A shorter version of this ride for crazy people was released on YouTube last month:
The Tour des Stations is an event in the Valais region of Switzerland that features a wide range of challenges for cyclists. It offers distances of 242 km, 133 km, 74 km or 34 km, which sounds pretty reasonable. However, one must also consider the altitude gains of each: 8,848 m, 4,700 m, 2,850 m and 1,950 m respectively. Yes, the Ultrafondo the Everest is indeed completing an Everesting ride in a single day. GCN presenters Oliver Bridgewood and Conor Dunne undertook this daunting challenge, with 11 climbs, in 2021 and 2022 respectively, and, in the best tradition of cycling, suffered considerably. But this was insufficient for Dr. Bridgewood’s liking so he signed up for the Ultimate 1000 (by passing the lesser Ultimate 555 on offer), which happened in August 2023. This version takes the riders through seven Swiss cantons and 25 climbs, covering 26,000 m of climbing.
Oliver Bridgewood is clearly someone welcoming challenges, given how difficult the Ultrafondo was to complete but the Ultimate 1000 is on a different level entirely. His goal was to complete the ride in around 72 hours, meaning there would be two nights of riding, and three sunrises, involved. The maximum time allowed for riders on this course is 120 hours. The event is a kind of halfway-house between fully-supported events like RAAM, where your crew accompanies in following vehicles, and the entirely-on-your-own races such as “Dead Ends and Cakes,” also in Switzerland and which we covered recently here: pezcyclingnews.com
So, as a “semi-supported” ride, the difference here is that there are a series of “reboost stations,” seven in all, along the route where a crew can provide the necessities of food, sleeping accommodation and, one hopes, moral support. GCN has access to various sponsors and in this case there was a fancy recreational vehicle to house a drone pilot, videographer and driver/mechanic. There were short YouTube videos about the van as well as the bicycle used.
Taking on a challenge of this length requires considerable preparation and for Bridgewood, whose longest ride previously have been less than 400 kms, a lot of thought was given into how he would ride. During the longer GCN+ video he talks about how riders have a tendency to push too hard at the beginning, driven by the excitement of the undertaking, and he focused on maintaining a steady output, somewhere around Zone 2 power, even though there would be riders passing him (some of whom then were to abandon later in the race). Although his nutrition plan seems to have been sufficient, he was surprised by the amount of water he needed to consume and getting caught short between the reboost stations while riding in the magnificent but empty landscape had to be a concern.
This was also the first time he was to ride all through the night, although he did take advantage of the van’s comfort twice for four hour sleeping breaks, and he had been told by experienced ultracyclists that the big test would come during the second night on the road. Although climbing and descending passes in the Alps in the dark is clearly not for everyone, he was to be rewarded with quiet roads and spectacular sunrises.
The physical demands for a ride like this put great strains on both the body and the mind. One of the problems that often afflicts riders at RAAM is the inability to keep the head raised as the miles wear on as the neck muscles tire and Bridgewood suffers from this towards the end. At various points he comments to the videographer about pains he is suffering. His commentary includes saying he doesn’t think after this he will ever want to ride a bike again and how he just wants the ride to end. But, typically, long-distance riders experience peaks and troughs of emotion throughout. Bridgewood’s competitive instincts are still alive and flare up as he approaches the finish when he sees the chance to leapfrog ahead of two other riders in the standings.
One can imagine that when finally getting off the bike after 1000 kms one’s first thoughts are about how it won’t be necessary to ever do this again. Oliver Bridgewood probably had that thought after the Ultrafondo and its 8,848 m of climbing in 2021 yet here he was again in Valais on a bike two years later. Say never say never!
“Ultimate 1000” is an engaging and beautifully-produced journey along a ride few of us will be up for but which makes entertaining and informative viewing. And we know that Dr. Bridgewood will be back for another epic somewhere…
Presented by Oliver Bridgewood, directed, filmed and edited by Stefan Darque
GCN+ Originals, 2023
Available through streaming on GCN+: plus.globalcyclingnetwork.com
More information about the various Tour des Stations rides can be found on the event website here: tourdesstations.ch/en/.