On the 15th day of the trip and as the first participants are crossing into Asia, 5 questions for the Sun Trip Director.
What outlook do you have on this first part of the adventure?
We are already very pleased that all the participants who took part in the start proper are still in the game after 15 days. We registered 5 non-starters (or exclusions) right before departure. It was a lot, but since then, we are happy to see that everyone is clinging.
The other highlight of the Sun Trip 2018 first weeks is the weather. The sun was present every day of the departure between Lyon and Chamonix, but it was not the case thereafter. In Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine, the weather was really gloomy. All participants were hit by clouds and rain, which slowed the cycling pace considerably. Ironically, the one who was spared the most by the weather conditions is the leader, Raf Van Hulle! He did not have as much sun as he expected, but he certainly had less rain than all the others behind.
Is the progression of the riders up to previous expectations?
Overall, all of them are running a bit behind schedule, because the weather did not charge the batteries well. The Sun Trip without sun, it’s a hassle!
The leaders of the pack are currently riding 250-260 km/day where some expected to average 300 km/day. Raf Van Hulle rode about 3,900 km in 15 days. It’s not bad, but it will likely accelerate a bit Central Asia where it is (usually) sunny and hot.
Behind him, a group of 10 teams who maintain their average around 200 km/day clearly stand out. These 10 are certainly going to compete until the finish line.
The middle of the group rides 150-160 km/day on average, again despite the rain. They are “on time”, which means that they can arrive in Guangzhou within our 100 days limit.
Finally, some participants at the end of the pack have experienced major technical problems and are struggling to move forward. One can think that for them, the delays will be difficult to comply with. Their first challenge will be to exit Russia before the end of their visa whose dates cannot be changed. For our part, we remind them of the benchmarking dates timing these 100 days of adventure: crossing the Kazakh border before July 20 and entering China before August 20.
Are all participants still charging only with solar energy?
No. Four teams have so far announced that they were now also plugging their charger into wall outlets. Those non-solar chargers were initially placed in a sealed bag. Those participants are therefore excluded from the Solar Adventurer Challenge (speed challenge), but remain fully in the adventure and in the Communication Challenge. Bad weather and technical issues explain these choices, it is part of the vicissitudes of the solar adventure.
What are your main concerns as an organizer?
Beyond the pleasure of following them and telling their stories, the organizing team always keeps in mind that a problem can quickly arise on the roads of the world. Obviously, we worry about road safety. We often spoke about it with participants before the departure. They know what they are doing, they know the risks.
Two days ago, we had a small alert with Raf Van Hulle who came close to the worst in Russia, being involved in an car accident. He triggered his emergency GPS beacon to alert us, but above all, he got out without damage. On the same day but at dusk, another participant was assaulted in western Ukraine. This had not happened since 2013. Our team was as reactive as possible, from a distance, and in the end the situation was under control. The participant bravely pursues his course.
We must remain vigilant at all times. Anything can happen.
On the positive side, we are pleased to see that most border crossings went well so far! Solar bikes are still so amazing that they are like a second passport for our adventurers. But there are still many borders to cross and we remain cautious.
In your opinion, what are the major difficulties to come?
Those who have not yet crossed Ukraine must be very vigilant because the road conditions can still cause significant mechanical damage to their solar bicycles. But beyond that, Ukraine is also a psychological frontier, a transition between the European and the Russian world. One never forgets its first experience in Ukraine. In 2013, it was a tipping point: all those who passed it actually finished the whole course..
Then, the Kazakh land and its 3,500 km of steppes will be a highlight of the course. Many things will happen! As soon as the participants put their wheels in Kazakhstan, they face the immensity, the overwhelming heat (over 40°C), the winds, dubious road and track conditions. They will lose all their marks and will have to create new ones starting with a simple question: “Will I have enough water for the day?”
On the southern route via Turkey, the roads will be better but also much more mountainous. Then there will be Georgia and Azerbaijan, the hope for a short waiting time at the ferry in Baku… to finally get at the South East of Kazakhstan, in Aktau near the Aral Sea, one of the driest and hottest corners of the world, before passing or Uzbekistan. Total adventure!
We will speak later about the Chinese part, which is after all the main part of the course, but we’re not there yet …
When can we expect the fastest to arrive?
Based on the leaders’ current average (260 km/day), we would expect him to arrive around August 5. But the road is still so long and full of hurdles that it’s hard to be precise.
Everything can still change and the ranking can be overturned at any time until the last moments in the Southeast China mountains which they must crossed before getting to Guangzhou (Canton), especially since the first will arrive at the end of the Monsoon!