Starting in Belgium and finishing in Turkey, participants must pass through four checkpoints on their way to the Asian border – including the Puy du Dome in France’s Massif Central and the Furka Pass in Switzerland – but the route between these points is entirely their own. As well as being completely self-sufficient, taking only what they can carry, riders have the added challenge of sustaining themselves on the road.
“You never know how your body is going to react – sleeping rough, eating crap junk food, being constantly exposed to the elements,” says Neil. “Looking at the amount of people that scratch [do not finish], it would be easy to cast them off as being unprepared, that they’d bitten off more than they can chew, but it doesn’t take much to force you out of the race. You’re pushing your body to its limits.”
Neil, who won the event’s pairs category last year in 14 days, returned to the race with a vengeance – spurred on by the desire to see how much faster he could go solo. “Last year I signed up with my friend Tim. We rode well together, but I finished knowing I could have gone a lot faster. I just didn’t know how fast.”