Not that long ago, Jack Thompson had a 9 to 5. He was stuck behind a computer screen just like the rest of us. However, unlike most, as a teenager Jack suffered from mental health issues. Many would have considered this a disability, but Jack converted this negative energy into something positive. He found a new passion in life: ultra-distance and adventure cycling, which he’s done all over the world. To give you an idea – Jack cycles on average between 500km and 1,200km a week, every week. This is the second of a two-part exclusive column which he has written for The Prologue.
Full of breakfast, shoes tight, helmet fastened, bidons full and rear pockets stuffed with food, I set off for what was to be the first of 48 hours of riding.
My legs felt good, everything felt great. Heart rate was where it needed to be, wattages spot on. I was flying. About 30km into the first ascent, I came across a landslide. We were forced to stop and wait for close to an hour. My heart rate dropped, I became cold and started to worry about the consequence of such events on each ascent and descent. If I was to be stopped on every up and down, for whatever reason, then our timing was going to be way out. I would miss the start of the event itself. Shivers passed down my spine.
Once we received the all clear to pass the blockage, I raised my heart rate once again and pushed on. I reached the summit some 4.5 hours after having started at approximately 3pm. I rigged myself up in my winter kit as the temperatures were now close to zero and began the first descent. One would think that a descent of 100km would take just 2 hours, but the nature of this climb, the narrow mountain roads, the technical nature of the corners and the erratic local traffic meant I needed to remain on high alert. The descent itself took 3 hours, slow if you really think about it – 33km/ hr – but it would have been near on impossible to go any faster.
At the bottom of the climb I had a hearty Bolognese from the 7Eleven and then kicked off into the night. I’d banned myself from listening to music on the first ascent and had decided it would be my treat upon commencing the second. Earphones in, I turned on my tunes and pushed on into the night. I arrived at the peak five hours late. It was now midnight and the temperature had really dropped. It was sub-zero and the wind was blowing in gusts across the lofty mountain peaks. I rigged up quickly and set off for the base of the climb once more. Cold, shivering and eager to reach the warmer temperatures of the lower altitudes, I made quick time, even in the dark of the night.
The third ascent was the easiest. I’d passed the halfway point and had made such good time that I was now some seven hours ahead of schedule. Mentally, I was on a high, and physically, the training had me in good stead to push on. At the peak of the third ascent, I explained to my team I was going to complete an unprecedented fourth ascent prior to the race itself, which would see me having completed a total of five ascents – a double ‘Everesting’ – and close to 900km. With the weather closing in and tight timelines to adhere to, the team wisely talked me out of it. At the base of the third descent, we found I was now 10 hours ahead of schedule. With over 600km in the legs and 10,400m elevation gain, we pulled over, collected our thoughts and decided it would be best to return to the hotel and re-feed properly before commencing the race itself and my fourth and final ascent.
With my heart still pumping from the day before and my mind firmly on the prize, I managed to enjoy half an hour of shut eye. We had stayed up marvelling at the ride thus far and how I had only one more ascent before I could tick this goal off my list.
Arriving at the start line there was a sense of excitement as racers gathered to commence the climb. The gun went off and, although neutralised, the riders jostled for position for the first 18km prior to the official race start. At this point, things got a little crazy as riders fought for position. Unfortunately, there were several crashes in the starting kilometres. I managed to stay out of harm’s way, but this meant I lost contact with the lead group. The likes of Laurens Ten Dam and various other Pro Tour riders drove the front of the race to stay out of trouble. I feared I was lagging, my legs tired from the 10,400m elevation I had already accumulated.
As the climb went on, I started reeling riders back. A number had set off from the start point, fresh legged and fast, but now found themselves struggling to hold their form. With some 10km to go, and the toughest part of the ride yet to come, I gritted my teeth and drove through the pedals, eager to hit the peak and finally give my legs some rest.
The top 10km of the climb are the most brutal, with ramps up to 27%. Climbing this section of road once is torture. Having already completed it three times, my legs knew exactly what was coming and so I found my zone and my rhythm and pushed on to the top.
Unbeknown to me, my fourth ascent was to be my fastest, covering the 105km climb in just over 4 hours. I finished in the top 100 of the 600 riders that started and completed my goal of 700km and 14,400m elevation.
I was on a high and the celebrations that followed with my team on the ground will not soon be forgotten.
As I write this piece, I’m lying in a hotel room on Australia’s East Coast having just met with SBS to discuss my plans for 2019. There’re some massive things happening over the next 12 months.
In July 2019, I’m going to win the Tour De France and finish in front of the world’s best riders…How? Jump across to my Instagram to find out more 😉
Until next time…