Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Dr Ian Walker, has won the second edition of the North Cape trans-European 4000k bike race with an awe-inspiring performance.

Having set off from Lake Garda in Italy on Saturday 28 July, it took Ian just 11 days to travel, completely unsupported, by bike to North Cape, deep within the Arctic Circle. In that time he crossed Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and finally Norway.

As if that was not enough, when Ian rolled into Nordkapp (71.170909, 25.783756) last Wednesday evening (8 August) – having braved the elements, navigated through herds of reindeer and under one of the longest sea tunnels in the far reaches of northern Europe – he was 8 hours ahead of the next rider. The pack competing included many seasoned international endurance athletes.

Remarkable achievement

His victory is a huge feat: the distance is almost two times that of the Tour de France and roughly the equivalent of cycling Lands End – John O’Groats four times. Cycling for up to 18 hours a day, Ian burnt as many as 11,000 calories at a time – the equivalent of 48 Mars bars a day!

In the event, the need to keep moving efficiently meant Ian fuelled up on whatever he could find quickly in petrol stations and supermarkets along the route. Family-size pots of yoghurt were a particular favourite.

As part of his cycle Ian raised money for road safety charity Road Peace. To date he has raised £1314 - well over his original £1000 target.

Returning to work in the Department of Psychology this week, he explained: “I entered this race with the goal of putting in my strongest possible ride, and winning overall if that were possible. My commute to Bath is an 82-kilometre round trip so I'd certainly got the training miles in over the previous months.

“However, I impetuously went out too hard on the first day and as a result the climb over the Reschenpass in the Alps was far slower and harder than I'd have hoped; much of the second day was spent limping along trying to recover from the first day. However, I stuck with it and kept riding the best I could, and managed to work my way back up to the top five or six riders after the first few days. It was clear I was amongst some strong cyclists though, and making progress against them was not going to be easy.

“Things really came together as we hit Latvia. The route involved a 42-kilometre section of rough dirt roads, which seemed to throw a lot of the other riders off. Despite riding on a ridiculously dodgy tyre I'd picked up for 6 Euros that morning following a blow-out, I hammered the gravel section hard and got ahead of all the other riders. Seeing this advantage, I pulled an all-nighter to cross Estonia and get up to Finland with a couple of hours' lead over the next rider. It was then a slightly stressful 1500-kilometre breakaway with me constantly worrying about the pack of riders coming up behind me. After the race finished I still spent the next two nights dreaming I was being chased!

“In the end I found myself getting stronger and stronger as I rode the length of Finland, and after eventually crossing into Norway I won the race with an 8-hour window over the next rider in a time of 11 days and 10 hours. The race was an extraordinary, humbling event and to cover that sort of distance so fast under my own power was a great reminder of just how large the world really is.”

Other riders are still battling it out to finish the race. You can track their progress via North Cape 4000 Live Tracker.