The BikingWomen of Corsica: Helle Bachofen von Echt
The last edition of BikingMan Corsica, a 700km/13,000m self supported ultra cycling race took place in April 2019. Due to the current global pandemic, the 2020 edition, which was supposed to be underway at the time of publishing, has been postponed. To relive the magic of the 2019 edition, we’re taking a look back at the 8 women who competed, and successfully completed, this painful yet beautiful race.
This is Helle’s story:
Name: Helle Bachofen von Echt
Age at race time: 40
Nationality: Danish, residing in the UAE
Profession: Indoor Cycling Trainer / Fitness Professional
Solo entry in BikingMan Corsica
Found on IG as @thegirlwhocyclesinthedesert
Dubai-based Helle Bachofen von Echt is a force to be reckoned with. With 5 years of competitive amateur road cycling, and one year of competing in triathlons -which in that short time included a half Ironman - Helle entered the world of ultra cycling in February 2019, with the 1037km BikingMan Oman where she finished as second woman and within the top ten of both male and female cyclists.
Finishing BikingMan Corsica in just 41h 3 minutes, Helle took top honours amongst the women and placed 18th overall. This is her BikingMan Corsica story, in her own words:
Why BikingMan Corsica?
I decided quite late to join BikingMan Corsica and signed up to it about 4 weeks before. I had some unfinished business from my first ever ultra race in Oman 8 weeks prior.
Tell us about your training for the race
Admittedly, I didn’t really train for Corsica. I still had the 1000km Oman race in my legs. And 4 weeks before, I also completed an Everesting, which was basically 9,000 elevation meters of non-stop climbing over 24 hours, it was raining and cold, a very miserable Everesting. After completing this, I was pretty confident I could also do 13,000m of climbing. The last 3 weeks before Corsica were exhausting as I was teaching almost 40 indoor cycling classes at work. Some might argue that was also training, but actually it was exhausting and drained me more than it trained me. A few days before traveling to Corsica I strongly considered cancelling the trip, that’s how tired I was.
Thoughts on the start line?
I was totally relaxed. I wasn’t sure how I would feel physically, so all I could do was start pedaling and then time would tell how my body would feel. I was also excited to explore Corsica, it had actually been on my ‘list of places to visit’ for many years.
What was your race strategy, and did you follow it?
My only strategy was to keep going for as long as possible. I didn’t know how long that would be, so my strategy was to listen to my body’s signals. I also wanted to try and make my stops more efficient. In my first ultra cycling race in Oman I learnt that I, from a racing perspective, accumulated some time waste by faffing around or even socializing. In Corsica, I wanted to become more time efficient. Yes, I managed to stay focused and follow my strategy; I went all the way through the course in one go and I set myself some ‘deadlines’ at the check points which I had be pretty efficient to keep. Even when it wasn’t necessary to keep strictly to my deadlines, from a racing perspective, I still did it, more so to push my own limits and to practise efficiency, I may need it another time.
What was the most challenging aspect of the race for you?
Definitely the cold. I was pretty much cold for all 41 hours, and I was literally freezing as I was riding through the night in an average of 5 degrees Celsius. After the night I hit a wall on a climb and had to get off my bike. I think I had underestimated how much energy the body spends to keep warm.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of the race?
Well, given that I was very much in race mode the whole way (racing myself more than anyone else), and I was also cold, I sadly don’t remember many enjoyable moments. However, I must say, that although I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it, the Corsican scenery and terrain looked stunning, especially the rocky coastal line along the azure blue sea.
What advice would you give someone thinking about doing an ultra cycling race?
The amazing thing about ultra cycling, is that it is entirely up to each rider what they want to achieve from the challenge; it’s entirely a personal choice and it is fully accepted and supported no matter what it is. It is also up to each individual rider how they approach riding speed, fueling, sleeping options etc. and this is why ultra is open for all. My advice to get into ultras is to get a ‘mentor’, to seek help and advice from an experienced ultra rider who is willing to share their experience and knowledge, concerning anything from the physical training and preparation, to mental strength and certainly also getting the right equipment together. Anyone with a good dose of will power can complete an ultra.