From time zone to time zone, through the mountains, storms and aggressive dogs of Kentucky, Henri Do held on. After riding 6800 km from west to east in the United States, he finished the Trans Am Bike Race in third place on June 23.
The Trans Am Bike Race is a mythical American ultracycling race in complete autonomy – not to be confused with the Race Across America which allows athletes to be accompanied by a support team.
Henri Do, 36, is an elite ultracyclist specializing in short races, i.e. 24 or 48 hours. He notably covered the road between Montreal and Gaspésie in 24 hours, in 2021. Last year, he completed his first long race – the inaugural edition of the TransCanada Bike Race.
The idea of registering for the United States, which this year was the 9th edition, came to him last winter. After going through a depression in the fall, the Montrealer decided to take action by agreeing to receive help from his friends, he tells us on the phone. Six months ago, he was sitting in his neighbor’s dining room when he decided to enter the Trans Am Bike Race.
Last Wednesday, two days after returning home to Quebec, he saw this same neighbor again. “I was telling him that six months ago we were talking about this in his dining room. There, I succeeded. I came back strong. I finished in the top 3 with the other two guys [Omar Di Felice and Pawel Pulawski]. »
On June 4, at 6 a.m., Henri Do and 45 other participants set off on the West Coast in Astoria, Oregon. If the Montrealer had as a “primary” objective to win, he was also aiming for a top 3 with his two main rivals, the Italian Omar Di Felice and the Polish Pawel Pulawski.
The Trans Am Bike Race, like any ultracycling race, is strategic. In it, cyclists are not entitled to any private assistance, but they can use all public and paid services. Alone from start to finish, they are the sole masters of their adventure. They drag their luggage with them and have to decide when and where they sleep and eat.
Henri Do had a different strategy than his two opponents; less methodical than them, he based his decisions more on his “feeling” and the weather conditions.
“Me, I often do good 24 to 48 hours very fast, I go very far, I give myself a lot. After that, I’m going to have a little crash, so I’m going to sleep a little longer. The others, like Omar and Pavel, will be a little more structured. Omar slept four or five hours a night. »
As the days went by, Do and Pulawski traded second place. On several occasions, the Quebecer fell behind due to his different strategy, before closing the gap. That’s what happened in the first quarter of the race, when he covered the 200 km that separated him from the Italian and the Pole in 24 hours.
Three times he managed to catch the leader, Omar Di Felice, but punctures and other necessary stops prevented him from taking the lead and building the gap.
Henri Do suffered a dozen punctures in three weeks. The most defining – and frustrating – moment of his race came on the very last day, when he had 600km to go and was in second place ahead of Pulawski. As he rode up a steep hill, his GPS beacon became detached from his bike. He didn’t realize it until two hours later.
“I had to turn around to get her and lost two or three hours in the rain. I lost second place at that point. »
On June 23, after 19 days and almost 9 hours of cycling, he arrived on the East Coast in Yorktown, Virginia, in third place.
During these three weeks, Henri Do slept in different places: on picnic tables, in front of gas stations, in post offices or at the hotel. And he ate burgers.
Lots of burgers.
The one who is known in Quebec for his love of ice cream – it gives him the fuel he needs during his short runs, he says – has become “Henri the Burger Man”. This is the nickname given to him by fans who followed the race online.
“Sometimes it was two, three burgers a day. I’ve been to all the McDo’s,” he laughs.
The Trans Am Bike Race cost Henri Do $6,000 to $7,000, but the Quebecer has no remorse. The race hasn’t always been smooth sailing; he went through ups and downs. But he knew that “the hard times always pass,” he said.
A few years ago, the 36-year-old got a temporary tattoo of a dinosaur on his forearm. While on a bike ride with a friend, they decided to christen the dinosaur René, an “old school Quebecois name”, which also happens to be the past participle of the verb reborn. Today, whenever Henri Do goes through a difficult time, he thinks, “I am René. »
“What I want to tell people is that no matter who you are, no matter if you’re a top athlete or someone ultra-resilient, you’re just as likely to fall and sink deep and fast. . That doesn’t mean it’s the end, that we stop there and that we can’t get out of it. On the contrary, there is always a way to bounce back. »
Henri Do is far from done with long runs. Count on him to do the Trans Am Bike Race again.
“I’m sure I’ll do it again in a year or two to win it. »