INTERVIEW / Ian To

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Congratulations Ian on stunning victory, how do you feel?

Thank you!  Right now, I feel amazing!  It was a wonderful experience which I can’t wait to relive by sharing the experience with my family, showing them how beautiful Croatia is.

 

You set some standards in the race and the first records. 29 hours for 700km and 67 hours for 1,400 kilometres, was it something you planned?

I had no plans except to ride hard, through the first night, over the route which I had planned.  I didn’t expect to lead or win!

 

2 weeks before HARD CRO you have also won in the race in Italy, around 2200 km in 134 hours, congratulations! Did you have it on your schedule before you applied for HC, because you questioned whether or not you would start HC due to exhaustion.

After I received a rejection from the Transcontinental race, on Christmas day 2015, I looked into all the unsupported races which were accessible in Europe.  I chose to do the Giro Ciclistico delle Repubbliche Marinare, Hard Cro, and Sverigetempot – my wife agreed to me doing all three as long as she could have another baby!  Due to the atrocious weather in Italy, during the Giro, I even wondered whether I should continue cycling, let alone do Hard Cro!  I decided that I wouldn’t do Hard Cro.  When I got home, and was still utterly exhausted, I still questioned whether I would be recovered in time.  A week after I got home, I decided I should probably do Hard Cro.  Then I decided to come and just give it my best!

 

Since your registration you had enough time to analyse your route and prepare for the race, how much time did you spend on route and logistical planning?

I spent most evenings for the two weeks between the Giro and Hard Cro planning my route, checking the roads on Google maps (which didn’t always work!), and making kit improvements.

 

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You were chased pretty hard by several racers, Ares, Darko, Markus…  And you were hoping they would rest so you could do the same. How tough were rivals? Did you race against them from the beginning?

As I hadn’t trained nor recovered properly from the Giro, I had no idea of my form.  I knew there were some very experienced and fast riders, but I ignored them and just rode until near checkpoint 1, where I realised, surprisingly, that I had a couple of hours lead over them.

 

Ian, you announced doing different races next year, and since you will not participate who do you think could beat your record from this year’s racers?

I think I will return to defend my title!  I think any of the top five fastest finishers could easily beat my record due to their speed and experience.  I made quite a few mistakes, as I described in my blog, costing me a lot of time, as I’m sure the other riders also did, so there is plenty of room for improvement by everyone.  Next year should be faster and even more exciting! (and even harder?)

 

There was live tracking, you probably received information about positions of other, did it make the race more stressful?

I felt like I was being chased, from before checkpoint 1.  Mike Hall (Tour of the Divide record holder and Transcontinental race organiser) has described unsupported solo races as being a fugitive, always being on the run.  I, too, felt like I was on the run from the five fastest guys, never quite being sure where they were, always stressing about being caught.  I was also constantly worried about my battery-powered devices running out (as I had lost part of my USB AA battery charger before the race even started, rendering it useless) which they all did, one after another!  However, feeling like I was fugitive #1 motivated me to keep moving to the finish.

 

No one expected that much heat, really, every day of the race, which made it even harder. How did you handle it?

When I first landed in Dubrovnik, it felt really hot – I was sweating without moving!  I really enjoy the heat, contrasted with the cold and wet of Italy a couple of weeks before.  I started cramping after about 6 hours, but this was probably due to being silly and riding too hard, just riding on feel!

 

As you experienced, the climate and terrain vary a lot from the coast to inland. What were you expectations?

I didn’t really have any expectations of climate – I had heard, though how it was hotter inland during the day and I was very surprised how cold it got during the nights, inland, down to 6 degrees Celsius.  I knew there weren’t any high mountains, so I wasn’t worried about the differing terrain.  Having experienced pretty awful roads and cities in Italy, I was prepared for a similar experience but I have been absolutely delighted by Croatia’s beautiful landscapes and smooth roads.

 

Beside winning both Hard Cro and the Giro Ciclistico delle Repubbliche Marinare, what are your other achievements you would like to mention?

I haven’t really achieved much.  I’ve won a 120 man bunch sprint in a circuit race, placed a fair few times in the top 10 in other road races and hill climbs (anaerobic, explosive, steep uphill time trials lasting a maximum of about 5 minutes), and in the 2005 Tour of Mauritius I came second to last in my first ever time trial, with Chris Froome winning!

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How did you start with ultra cycling? Do you ride supported races as well or prefer self sufficient only?

I stopped road racing in 2008, married and had two more beautiful daughters, only restarting cycling in early 2014, having a bit of fun with chasing Strava KOMs.  With my daughters growing-up and going to school, I rediscovered my passion for cycling, I rode more and more frequently, losing the 12kg I had put on between 2008 and 2014, and rode further and further, until I was doing a 200 mile (320km) ride every month or so up to the North of England, where my wife’s family live, and would sometimes ride back, thus avoiding 4 hours driving each way.  Last year, I went to the Alps for a week in August and loved climbing many famous cols.  In October, I was lucky enough to be able to explore the entire island of Mallorca by doing 160km a day for a week.   It was the idea of the each unsupported race being an adventure, in the spirit of the original Tour de France, which captured my imagination and I was very excited to be able to do the first edition of Hard Cro as a tough race in a beautiful country which I had never visited.

 

We are all aware there is no real money in this type of sport unless you do really big things, which gain you support from sponsors. Did you manage to find sponsors to cover at least some expenses for training and traveling?

I am looking for sponsors… at the moment I am completely unsponsored!  So, yes, at the moment, I pay for all my expenses for flights, accommodation, entry fees, bikes and parts, nutrition, equipment, clothing, etc.  A lot of cost which is further exacerbated by not being paid when I’m “on holiday” riding!  I don’t ride for anything more than pure enjoyment of cycling and was really surprised and touched by the prizes of Hard Cro, which I never expected.

 

Support from the family is a must in order to balance your life.  Your lovely wife Sarah and three beautiful daughters obviously give you enough support to race. How do you balance family with cycling, since training takes a lot of time?

It’s tough for everyone to balance family, work, and training/racing.  I have to manage my time very carefully and don’t have time to do any other sports or hobbies.  I try to involve the whole family in riding, when the weather permits, so we have owned a tandem, a two seater trailer, we now own a Weeho iGo 2, and last year my wife did her first imperial century (100 miles / 160km) at 17mph (27kph) average – I’m very proud of her!  Now, after Hard Cro, she’s started riding again!  As much as possible, I avoid driving my car by, for example, riding my bike to work, often taking the long way round (up to 40 miles, rather than 4 miles directly), riding back from a family day out rather than driving back.

 

Approximately what distance did you ride last year?

Last year I rode about 27,000km.

 

How do you train during Autumn and Winter in the UK?

When the roads get icy or particularly slippery I either ride on a bike with studded tyres, or train indoor using a turbo.  I’ve used Zwift, which helps to keep the boredom at bay, and also watch DVDs or listen to music, or browse the internet using an iPad.

 

Where do you work?

At the moment I work for the world’s biggest building society, Nationwide, as a Business Architect where I’m responsible for strategy and business transformation involving technology change.

 

We had a racer from Germany, Artur Hajduk who works for German Post and sponsors him. He rides up to 10 ultra cycling events during the year, do you have similar support from your employer, at least with days off to race?

Lucky Artur, I’m envious, that’s great for him!  Unfortunately I’m a freelancer / contractor, so Nationwide doesn’t pay me for any of my “holidays”, only the days I work.  I wish I had the same privilege, as I’d feel like a professional and I could ride more races!

 

Now you are back home, what do you tell your wife and children?

How much I love them and how it is so good to be home with them all!  My little daughters ask why daddy wins all the time – what overly-simplistic thoughts from their cute little minds!

 

 

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You loved our hospitality and we hope to see you in the next editions, as well. What would you do differently in a future race?

I wouldn’t do the Giro 2 weeks before Hard Cro!  I wouldn’t lose my battery pack parts!  I wouldn’t get runover by cars, twice in the 7 months before the race, or contract swine flu!  I’d definitely pace myself better from the start and bring more anti-mosquito devices for the hotels so I could sleep better!  Maybe I’d try the coastal route in its entirety, rather than going inland.

 

Can you name cycling hero from past and present?

I admire everyone who rides as hard and as far as they can.  I don’t really have a cycling hero.  However, Steve Cummings, even though he’s quite old (like me!), not the fastest or lightest, he’s smart and tries really hard.  Eddy Merckx is obviously the greatest cyclist of all time!

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I have no idea, I’m not even sure about the rest of this year!  I certainly hope to return to Hard Cro next year, then do the Transcontinental race.  From various conversations after the Hard Cro finish, the idea has also been planted in my mind for doing the Race Across America (“RAAM”), possibly in 2018.  After that, who knows, I’ll be thinking of a new challenge…

 

Thank you for your time Ian, hope to see you soon and much luck in future races!

 

 

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