Luke GJ Potter caught up with Irish Ultra-Endurance Cyclist Donncha Cuttriss in between his two major 2017 goal events, the IndiPac and the Trans AM.

Donncha with his Coffee. Photo courtesy of Donncha Cuttriss.

Donncha Cuttriss is an Irish Ultra-Endurance Cyclist from Cork. He spent time serving in the defense forces, where he competed in Boxing. He made the transition to cycling and then into the world of Ultra-Endurance Cycling. His 2017 goals are to ride the IndiPac and the Trans AM.

Donncha was a guest on Over The Top Cycling's Podcast twice, which are a great listen:

The IndiPac is short for The Indian Pacific Wheel Race. It starts at Perth, Western Australia and hugs the south coast of the continent before finishing at Sydney Opera House on the eastern side of Australia. It is a race 5,500km race inspired by the Overlanders of the past. Jesse Carlson, winner of the 2015 Trans AM, designed the route. 2017 was the inaugural running of this event.

 

The 2017 Route.

The event threw up so many great stories, some heartwarming and others heart breaking. There was no winner declared, as the event was stopped. Mike Hall died after being struck by a car. Kristof Allegaert was in the lead, Mike was in second place and Sarah Hammond was defending third from Kim Raeymaekers.

It also spawned worldwide legions of "Dot Watchers". The live GPS tracking of the race progress on the maprogress website. I would awake in the morning and check the map, then Instagram Stories for updates on my favourite riders.

Eighteen year old Lochie Kavanagh completed the full distance. This was a feat made all the more impressive as he crashed halfway through and lost his two front teeth. Which made eating extremely painful and inefficient for him.

The real triumph of the event was Social Media. The technology enabled riders to livestream to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The organisers were close to the leaders and set up impromptu fan Q&A sessions on Facebook Live, when the riders were eating at Petrol Stations. I was late to an Orwell Committee meeting as I watched Ryan Flynn AKA Rhino livestream his way to the Sydney Opera House on April 10th. Priorities!!

There were two Irish riders on the start line. Eoin Marshall was forced to withdraw after being hit by a car at 2,207km. Thankfully Eoin survived his encounter. Donncha Cuttriss was riding high in third place for a few days before succumbing to Fatigue at 2,201km. We caught up with him for a post-event Q&A.

 

Build-up

What was it about the IndiPac that attracted you to it?

It was a new race across a new continent which I had never visited and the course was interesting and challenging. It was also hyping up to be a great well organised race and adventure.

 

How long were you in Australia acclimatising and preparing?

About 3 weeks before the race, when it was a lot hotter than during the race itself. There wasn't a specific need to do this and most foreign riders wouldn't have the time to arrive in Australia this long before the race. I had taken four months off work without pay to do the IndiPac and Trans Am.

 

Acclimatising in Perth. Photo courtesy of Donncha Cuttriss.

 

Pre-Race

What were your pre-race targets?

I was thinking 14 days was possible but in such races it's hard to know as much depends on the winds and conditions and anything as always can and does happen. It's always an achievement in finishing such a race and benefit and learn from the experience and even if I don't finish.

 

Were there any riders you wanted to beat?

No! I try to keep my focus on my own plan and the time and following my own strategy. However, it can be beneficial to cycle with or focus on other riders during the race as it helps to keep focused and of course it's also enjoyable to chat with and get to know other riders in the race.

 

Race

Were you a "Dot Watcher"? If yes, which Riders did you have starred?

I might look at the tracker once a day just to check where I am in relation to the other riders. For Trans Am 2016, I coached and mentored Janie Hayes who finished 10th and I enjoyed been a Dot Watcher and learned a lot watching where riders lost and gained time during the race. When not racing it's nice being a Dot Watcher.

 

What were the first few days like, when the leaders were all close together?

It was fast and exciting to be amongst the leaders for the first few days and to be scoffing food in the first major stop at Coolgardie gas station after 380 mile (611km) in 22 hours with Mike Hall and Jesse Carlson. I later passed Mike and Jesse as they took a nap in the mens and womens toilet. Mike later passed me after his nap and I slowed due to tiredness and after 480 mile (772km). Jesse dropped out just before entering the outback. I was in and out of the roadhouse at Norseman in a few mins after stuffing what I bought into my tiny daysack which allowed me to pass Seb Dunne and move into 3rd place behind Kristoff and Mike. Being amongst the leaders kept me focused even though I was very tired as I didn't take my first real sleep break which was longer than 15 mins until I reached around 550 mile (885km).

 

Mike and Jesse after Donncha passed them. Image courtesy of Gene Kehoe.

 

What was your favourite food, you had at a Road House?

Nothing particular, the choice is usually not great and it's more about what's needed than what my favorite food is. I liked the pint of cold double Cappuccino shot which had good calories, was cold and easy to digest, Icecreams for the same reason which are easy to digest and good calories and really refreshing. 

 

What was your sleeping pattern like?

I never really got into a pattern, as I dropped out after 1200 mile (1931km) and took my first 3 hour sleep at 758 mile (1219km) from 7-10 pm at a motel in Cocklebiddy. My achilles tendons were very sore and I needed to rest so took a three hour sleep, let three cyclists behind me pass and overtook them again when they slept in the next town and I cycled through the night. I took short naps on the side of the road between 15 mins to 90 mins. 

 

Kristof slept in a Toilet, only for an hour. Vasiliki slept in a truck driver's cab. Did you sleep anywhere interesting?

No, the side of the road mainly and toilets as there are not many other options really other than rest stop benches and roadhouses.

 

How did you deal with the Road Trains and the wildlife?

The roads are mostly long and straight and not much traffic in the outback so I could hear and see the toad trains especially at night from a long way off. I would look behind and sometimes I would pull off the road if I was approaching a dipped hill where the driver could not see ahead. The road trains were not a huge problem at all. I didn't see hardly any wildlife as it was mostly dead animals, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats. I rolled over a dead kangaroo

one night and was lucky I didn't hit it dead center as I would have crashed. As a result I had to be sharp at night despite tiredness.

 

Pull out

Pulling out must've been a tough decision. Could you talk us through how the fatigue got to you?

It wasn't really a decision as I just couldn't continue physically. On reaching the Nullarbor roadhouse at 3:30am, it was closed with no hope of food before sleeping in the toilet. I was burning a lot of calories and ate much too many glucose rich sweets while cycling including a big bag of m&m’s. I got breakfast when the roadhouse opened but when I continued my legs were dead with no power. After about 40 mile (64km), I could no longer turn the pedals with another 60 mile (96km) to where I could try and recover. I had also cycled faster than normal the night before with Kim Raeymaekers which really hurt my legs. The combination of these mistakes and the isolation where I couldn't get food and recovery resulted in my situation. I also cycled hard the first three days and my overall mileage in the previous year was very low not helping my rate of recovery. This weakness is a regular occurrence with me also and as result I am trying to burn calories from fat more, avoid high glucose sugars and chocolate and train more intense after long rides.

 

Review

Where in your cycling accomplishments does this rank in terms of difficulty? As you have already done the Trans AM (2014 & 2015), RAAM (2011), Race Around Ireland (2011) and Patrick's Hill 100 (2012) and 150 (2013) times.

For me, it wasn't any more difficult than Trans Am although the isolation and lack of services was particularly different and a challenge. There is a significant amount of more climbing in Trans Am and it is a good bit longer. Everybody though has different answers depending on the person's strengths and weaknesses. They are all challenging in their own different ways and this race was not really too different or hugely more challenging than any other race for me. Supported racing such as the race around Ireland can be tougher with a crew as you are on the bike a lot longer with few breaks which can be tough mentally but the support is nice also. It was particularly tough in RAAM as your crew are pushing you also while you are mentally extremely tired. That's good and bad depending on the racer and crew/racer relationship. Sometimes too it depends on what your physical condition is and dealing with any injuries or issues which can turn a good ride into a daily misery.

 

What kit did you bring with you that you would not bring again?

Sleeping bag. I used it and it was good but I could survive without it and use a survival bag instead.

 

What kit did you not bring and why did you regret leaving it behind?

Nothing.

 

All smiles at the sign-on. Photo courtesy of Donncha Cuttriss.

 

Future

We'll be seeing you in the Trans AM Bike Race. Will you be making any changes?

I am traveling lighter with no saddle bag or sleeping bag and a lighter rain jacket. I have a new lighter front wheel with my usual dynamo hub for power.

 

Will you be having another sleep beside the Warm Springs in Yellowstone National Park?

If I think it's safe, sure why not a nap under the stars.

Reference Explained: It is extremely dangerous to sleep near the Warm Springs. The ground can heat up and become less dense and swallow you. Donncha slept near one during a Trans Am, but was lucky to not become a victim, as a Park Ranger explained to him. Donncha tells the story in the Post Trans AM 2015 podcast at the 22:21 timecode.

 

Do you have any preparation and training tips for a first timer trying an Ultra-Endurance Cycling event? How can they step up from Audax events?

Think of it as fast touring to begin with. You don't have to be that fast at all. Just keep moving and limit your time off the bike and be efficient. Don't be too serious about it or daunted by it as it's just a bike ride and there is no time limit. If it's getting real tough just take some time out and rest and recover get going again. Enter a race and just get started and learn from the experience by improving and lightening your equipment all the time and working on a strategy that works best for you. For training try and reach a stage where you go on a tour for four or five days to a week cycling all day. After that your body starts to adapt and you just pedal everyday and get into your routine. Get stronger and faster as this will improve your long distance cruising speed. Don't get bogged down with cycling long miles all the time in training. Enter a race and start!

 

Where can we follow your adventures

On Instagram: @capperman1

 

Thank you for your time Donncha. We'll be live tracking in the Trans AM from June 3rd 06:00 Pacific Time.

 

The Madone ready for the trip from Astoria to Yorktown. Photo courtesy of Donncha Cuttriss.
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