As a three-time winner of the Transcontinental Race, Kristof Allegaert is one of the world’s foremost ultra-racers. Here however, the Apidura Ambassador explains his love for off-the-cuff adventures closer to home, and why “there has to be magic”.
Kristof Allegaert is undoubtedly one of the world’s most distinguished ultra-racers. The Belgian has won the Transcontinental Race three times, the Trans-Siberian Extreme, and the Tour de France Randonneur. But despite having such a keen interest and ability in ultra-distance competitions, for Kristof these events are only incidental to what he believes really matters: getting out on his bike, and challenging himself.
Similarly to the rest of us, not every ride can be a continent-crossing marathon for Kristof. Most are smaller one or two-day expeditions close to home, squeezed in between working as a teacher and time with family. But for Kristof, these small journeys hold a similar attraction, both in terms of escapism, and in helping him to build a confidence in his abilities that he says bleeds into every aspect of his life.
Of late, these have included: ‘Everesting’, in which he rode a single local climb repeatedly until he’d accumulated 8,848 m of altitude gain – the same as the world’s highest mountain; ‘Paint Your City’, in which he covered 277 km riding every kilometre of road in his hometown in a single day, and ‘4 Capitals 3 Days’, in which he rode between Brussels, Paris, London and Amsterdam over a long weekend.
Quite clearly an expert at creating these off-the-cuff adventures, it begs the question: What is it about a challenge that captures his imagination?
Maps are often the starting point. “I look for the smallest roads,” he explains. “If a road isn’t straight, I ask why not? Is it hilly, does it follow the coast or a river? So often these roads are the beautiful ones.”
Like Paris-Dakar or Cairo-Cape Town, just the names of places can also spark the imagination, creating a narrative that elevates the journey above a simple bike ride.
“The first Transcontinental Race was from London to Istanbul,” says Kristof. “Those names -London, Istanbul – it gets you dreaming of what lies in between.”
Still, you don’t have to ride quite that far, it could simply be from one city to the next. “It’s good to have some reason though,” says Kristof. “I like dreaming these ideas up. You could ride between cities with cathedrals, or with breweries, between capitals, or even just two towns with silly names. It’s not just about distance, there has to be magic.”
In fact, distance for its own sake can be a distraction.
“I see people thinking they need to ride like the pros. Are they having fun? I’m not sure. You don’t need to set huge goals. Start with things that are small and close to you. The first ride I remember was a 50 km ride from my house to a nearby climb. I did it when I was 12 years old. What I do now is pretty much the same, just on a different scale. Each ride you do is like a small stepping stone.”
When it comes to the practicalities of fitting in off-the-cuff challenges close to home, Kristof’s advice is not to plan too much, not be put off by the weather forecast, and to go by yourself.
“My bike is always ready to go,” he also says, reiterating the need for spontaneity. As for gear, “For day rides I take just the basics: money, tubes, a multitool, and maybe something to eat.”
Something else worth considering before setting off is that it can be best to let the ride unfold at its own rate. Setting either a distance target or a time limit can work well, but setting both is best avoided.
“When you’re used to riding in a bunch with an average speed it becomes natural [to rely on a set timeframe],” Kristof reminds us. “But when you’re alone, it’s totally different. You have the physical part, and you have the motivational part. So many things can happen [that can affect progress].”
But, assuming the right balance of inspiration, caution and confidence is met in the planning of a ride, there is little to stop you enjoying the freedom, rush, and self-satisfaction gained from challenging yourself and executing it. It matters not whether it’s a cross-continental expedition, or a weekend ride close to home, the main thing is that you are creating adventure and achievement where others only have routine.
Ultimately, “The best moments are unexpected,” says Kristof, cutting down to what it is about these rides that really makes him pursue them. “A beautiful sunrise, an exciting road, finding something good to eat. They are moments that are not always so special in their own right, but when joined together, something magic happens. It’s a feeling… of things working out. Not every ride has such a moment, but if you enjoy your cycling and look out for all these small things, you’ll find them and join them up. You just have to be out there.”