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Analysis of the Sun Trip 2024 Race

08.05.2024 - The Sun Trip
The Sun Trip The Sun Trip

After 23 days of adventure, the Sun Trip 2024 race reached its verdict on Sunday May 5. At the age of 29 and after an adventure mastered from start to finish, Englishman Jack Butler joins the list of The Sun Trip winners! 

He now joins Raf Van Hulle and (victories on ST13 and ST18, 2nd on ST15), Bernard Cauquil (victory on ST15) and Jean-Marc Dubouloz, the title-holder on ST21, who adds another line to his legend by taking a superb 2nd place on this Sun Trip 2024.

At the finish line in Chambéry there was a 4-hour gap, but throughout the race the distance separating the two champions was smaller: Jean-Marc cut back slightly in the final kilometers, once he had received the news of Jack’s arrival. On the Sun Trip Europe 2021 the final gap was only 3 hours, after 12,000 km, but followers agree that there was more intensity on this shorter 2024 race. 

The ten or so overtakens between the two leaders will remain etched in people’s minds, particularly between the Sahara and the French border, where Jack and Jean-Marc were hardly ever on the same line. “We rode forming a giant butterfly dance”, said the Frenchman at the finish! A dance that seems to have pleased our followers, with the first polls launched on Facebook and Whatsapp showing this 2024 race to be the most exciting in Sun Trip history, far ahead of 2021 and 2018. 

The day after the finish, over lunch, we took the time to review with them the highlights of this exceptional edition. Here’s a summary of their analysis, starting with a factual table taken from their Strava account. Many thanks to our Belgian friend Claude Brouir for this fine work!

Mileage / time data

These figures are interesting and call for a few simple comments. We’ll have consumption/production figures a little later, especially for Jean-Marc. 

Jack drove 500 km less than Jean-Marc, always cutting to the shortest possible length. 

Jack drove (moving time) 18 hours more than Jean-Marc, with a much lower average speed. 

In short, we could say that they played a game of “hare and tortoise”! And in the unprecedented context of a spring Sun Trip, the bike’s lightness seems to have been an advantage. One wonders what would have happened if Jean-Marc had ridden a little more directly, a little more gently and a little longer?

Favourites at the start

Back to the start, to find out who our champions had in mind as a competitor.  For Jack, things were very clear: “I wanted to beat Raf!”, but he had been analyzing Jean-Marc’s every move on Strava for months…

It’s equally clear that Raf’s absence from the start line is a mystery to the two 2024 champions. Both Jack and Jean-Marc would have liked the Belgian to be there, and can’t understand why he wasn’t able to sort out his technical problems in time. They also wonder whether Raf could have kept up an average pace of over 300 km per day… Answer in the next episode? The two men also agreed that they were each other’s greatest adversaries at the start, but also that “on paper, the Germans Kilian & Jonas were serious contenders“. “I thought they could go faster, they had twice as much solar as me, two wheels for four legs” commented Jack.

The French Pyrenees: a first turning point on day 2!

It’s April 13, at 2:54pm, and the first riders can already see the Pyrenees mountains in the distance. The day after departure, Jean-Marc leads, as planned. But his point suddenly stops. Jean-Marc immediately announces a technical problem, with a restart scheduled for the following day. On arrival, Jean-Marc says it was a problem with the pedaling sensor. In the meantime, a rumor circulated among the followers about a planned stop at a friend’s place. Did Jean-Marc let 5h30 of riding slip by for pleasure and overconfidence? The mystery remains, and so it should, the Sun Trip being above all a game. 

In the meantime, whether this break was the result of an error in bike preparation or simply a desire to have a good time, Jack Butler jumped at the opportunity. He surprisingly took the lead before giving it his all on the Col de la Pierre-Saint-Martin. At the finish, he confided: “Before I set off, I had decided that if I came out on top in the Pyrenees, I would play the race to the hilt, and if not, I would take it easy and do more communication, like in 2018“…

Fine weather all the way to Seville

After this first surprise, the scenario returned to the order of things that many had imagined at the start: Jean-Marc took advantage of the sun and the Spanish plateaus to regain the lead. With breathtaking panache, the Frenchman even set a distance record of 475 km on 16 April! “It was a memorable day, with over 13 and a half hours on the road and an average speed of 35 km/h. It was only on the descent of the Rhône Valley on the first day, with the wind at my back, that I was so fast. On this section in Spain, several other participants will set their record after me, so it was a really good opportunity to overtake Jack”, comments Jean-Marc. 

With the perfect sun we had all the way to the south of Spain, I couldn’t have done any better. I certainly made the mistake of setting off with a solar panel that was a little too weak, but I had foreseen more bad weather conditions on this spring Sun Trip!” replies Jack, who was unlucky to lose 30 km to Jean-Marc by not being able to board the ferry taken by the Frenchman after the Cabo de Espechel checkpoint.

By the time they passed Seville on 18 April, the gap between them had increased to almost 120km, to Jean-Marc Dubouloz’s advantage. Then came the crash. 

The fall of Gibraltar: turning point 2

It was 19 April, and the organisers had alerted the participants to a strong side wind coming down the Straits of Gibraltar. Jean-Marc told the organisers that it would be difficult for him, and a little later he informed them that he had crashed at 11:24.

This fall is 100% my fault, it was caused by a mechanical part used to orientate the panels. I chose a part that was too light, and it gave way in the wind, causing my panels to turn and throwing me to the ground”. After a bit of repair work and a nap to recover from the shock, he set off again at 5.20pm. He thought about giving up for a while, but finally took the courageous step of continuing, like a champion. In the process, he lost an extra 6 hours to his direct rival, who regained the lead.

Morocco: Jean-Marc’s advantage, despite the incident in Taroudant and the return ferry!

Before the start, we could have imagined that the velomobile would not be at its best on the adventure roads of Morocco, but in the end, overall, it was Jean-Marc who performed the best!  Over the first 3 days, he gradually clawed his way back into the lead, while taking time to repair the bike and making the most of the first rains on the adventure. 

Then, on 23 April, something incredible happened: Jean-Marc went faster than Jack up the Tizi N’test pass. At the summit, he was 1 minute and 55 seconds behind the Englishman! “Originally, it wasn’t planned for me to go over the face of the pass and the broken road, but I was in the hunt and Jack went for it, so I changed the plan, otherwise he would have added 150 km to his lead!” It’s always a good idea to listen to yourself, and Jean-Marc scored a psychological hit. At the top of the pass, for Jack, “the race was over. I didn’t manage to pull away from him here, but he’ll have the advantage at the end”. 

The two men then decided to neutralise their race and set off again in the same time from Taroudant after the rest day. Luckily for Jack, it was during this neutralised race that he got a puncture, with Jean-Marc helping him to repair! The beauty of sport, and then the tragedy… When restarting, Jack inadvertently hit Jean-Marc, damaging one of his solar panels. The jury was called upon to give its decision, which was limited to giving Jean-Marc the option of repairing the damage without wasting any time, with Jack immobilised for the duration of the repair, but without imposing a penalty on the Englishman. The decision can be found on :

The decision was understandably hard for Jean-Marc to accept, but the adventurer carried on and the rest of his Moroccan adventure was very good, apart from a mistake on the route after Sidi Ifni that gave Jack an hour’s bonus. His decision to avoid the Atlas Mountains on the way back paid off, despite the snow at 2000m altitude…

The approach to Chefchaouen is less sunny, but Jack is still on race. Jean-Marc says: “I arrived at the Tangier ferry without a ticket, but I was still on time for the 8pm departure. At the ticket office, I was told I’d be nearly two hours late. Shortly afterwards… I see Jack disembark! He boarded at the last minute! If it hadn’t been for this stroke of luck, he would have lost 4 hours because the morning boat arrived in Tarifa at around 10am…“. 

With the Atlas crossing at zero degrees, the ferry ride was the craziest moment of the adventure. Since Chefchaouen, I’ve known that I’d have to average 28 kph to have any chance of getting the 8 o’clock boat… I pushed as hard as I’ve ever pushed, crossing Tangier without ever going below 28 kph, even if it meant flying over some speed bumps! I think I’m the SunTripper who has flown the most in the history of the adventure! On the boat, the two men began by ignoring each other, before falling asleep from exhaustion! “The crew woke us up and we were the only ones left in the boat...” says Jean-Marc.

The key moment: Spain’s comeback

On 30 April, the two champions hit the Spanish roads again. Jean-Marc made a diversion to Seville and immediately seemed to regain a hundred kilometre lead! “I was tired that day, because of the efforts of the day before, but I spent the day thinking about what was to come”, Jack tells us. And what was to come was the cloud cover that gradually settled over the centre of the country, coupled with a sideways wind and sometimes heavy rain. Jean-Marc’s velomobile lost the plot! On 1 May, Jack regained the lead by managing to keep to the most direct line. He was caught up but managed to keep a reasonable distance when the Pyrenees reappeared on 3 May. “I was an hour ahead of Jack and took the option of heading for Barcelona. I thought that going through the mountains would be too difficult, but I realised afterwards that it wasn’t! In the end, I ended up in the traffic at the end of the day on the outskirts of Barcelona, which was hellish. I did 400 km that day, but Jack took 60 km off me. It’s great that he won on a bet like that, well done champion!

Jack never lost those 60 km again, aided towards the end by cloud cover that favoured pedalling on motor assistance. Carried along by a southerly wind, the Englishman even had the luxury of keeping his batteries almost full until the very last moment, in case Jean-Marc came back like a rocket at the end. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a headwind on this adventure. It was lucky for me because Jean-Marc would have performed much better than me in a headwind” admits Jack. 

Jack’s faultless itinerary is to be commended. His route is incredibly clear from the south of Morocco, curving like that of a migratory bird. “I simply didn’t make the slightest mistake, not even the slightest turn in the wrong direction until the last day, when I was pretty tired” says Jack! 

We’ve often praised the talent of Jean-Marc’s routing team since 2021, but it seems that this time they’ve fallen on a bone! Jack was able to foil their plan and use each of the mistakes made (and the hazards) to gain a little time. These small gains add up to a 4-hour lead at the finish! 

Memories with other participants 

When talking about the other participants with the two champions, one name comes up spontaneously: Michael Polak!  “He’s so nice, he gave me a tin of vegan food to help me” says Jack with a big smile. For his part, Jean-Marc has some great memories of meeting Michael and then Jiri on the way back to Spain: “I had no idea we were on the same route, but then someone told me in the earpiece that they were arriving in the opposite direction! It was really nice to say hello to them“. It has to be said that the leaders didn’t see anyone else on the entire route!

After the adventure 

On the morning of 7 May, the day after their arrival, the two champions got back on their bikes. Jean-Marc headed for Annemasse (Haute-Savoie) to store the velomobile before planning to return to work next week. “Without Jack as a competitor, I’d have taken a bit more time to enjoy myself, but at least I’ll be back in business sooner!” 

For the Englishman, it was off to Mâcon where he had parked his van before the start. Then he’ll meet up with his sweetheart in Cologne, Germany. A little rest and in ten days or so Jack will be joining the 3rd week of the Giro d’Italia cycling race, where he will ride all the stages as a guide for Grand Tours Project! At least we’re sure he’ll have done a good job of endurance on the Sun Trip 2024!

Their vision for the next great Sun Trip

Overall, they both really enjoyed the route, but the adventurers felt it was a little too easy. On this point, which is debatable…, the organisers accept the choice of a rather ‘easy’ route in Morocco. For the first time, the aim was to test the terrain and not to add stretches of desert track. 

The China route is still the must, it’s more of a real adventure, but this Moroccan route is promising for other types of Sun Trip project in the future“, says Jack. “Otherwise, for Africa, in my opinion, you have to dare to go as far as Dakar in Senegal, via Mauritania, where you’ll find some totally crazy itineraries. I know these routes, so it’s not too difficult!” In any case, we can already predict that Jack will one day want to win another crown! 

For his part, Jean-Marc doesn’t seem ready at this stage to imagine himself back in a major Sun Trip, but it’s worth remembering that the champion had already said “never again” the day after his 2021 victory… It could be that the Frenchman wants to try and add another line to his record… Suspense… 

As they finish their lunch, the idea of an “All-Star” edition, reserved for participants with a top 5 finish in previous editions of the event, comes to the fore, and they end on a point of agreement: “we have to come back and beat Raf Van Hulle!” More on this in the next episode!

In the meantime, we’re keeping a close eye on the race for the podium between Kilian & Jonas and Géry & Baudouin, followed by the comeback to 5th place for Vivien Dettwiller. They will have been valiant and successful! 

And behind them, we still have so many stories to tell, with the Sun Trip adventurers. They have until 11 June to get back to Chambéry, with the aim of making the most of every minute, away from the pressure of the race.

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