If you followed this year’s Tour de France, the name Jack Thompson indeed surfaced. This ultra cyclist wasn’t riding in the peloton but instead set out on July 5th, riding the exact route two stages per day for a total of 10 days. His goal was to catch the peloton, overtake them, and beat them to Paris. Spoiler alert, he did. Below is my interview after he completed The Amazing Chase.
Sheri: How did you first get into Ultra Cycling?
Jack: My dad was fortunate enough to retire quite young, and being an Insulin dependent diabetic, maintaining his fitness was always a big part of his life. When he finished working, he decided he was going to ride around the world, and so I grew up with a dad who was always off adventuring.
I cycled through my high school years and then took a break while I studied. I went down a dark path of drug abuse and depression, and it was my dad who said, ‘why don’t you jump back on a bike again?’ I followed his advice and found that my love for cycling was still there. Paired with my obsessive personality, the ultra cycling seemed to tick all of the boxes for me. I guess the rest is history!
Sheri: Of all your Ultra Cycling challenges, which was the toughest mentally, which one was the toughest physically?
Jack: The seven day world record in Seville last year was definitely the toughest mentally. 7 days, 500+km day after day on the same course with strong winds was really tough. The reward at the end was pretty special though.
I’d have to say that physically, the toughest event ive done was the Portugal South to North record earlier this year. Although it’s only a 1 day event, I didn’t fuel well and came to learn that I was gluten intolerant just after returning home. 10,000+ m of elevation across 700km in 24hr with stomach problems and an inability to eat, made things really tough!!
Sheri: What do you do mentally to push through so many solo hours on the bike?
Jack: I love music, and so this plays a big role in keeping me motivated while on the bike. House music, especially the progressive uplifting vocals I can listen to all day. I also love just being out and exploring my own mind.
I’ve suffered badly with depression and can honestly say that going through a ‘hard time’ on the bike, doesn’t come close to dealing with a ‘hard time’ mentally. Because of this, when things get tough, or I get bored or start hurting, I remind myself, how what I’m doing is comparatively really easy, all things considered. All I’m doing is pedaling, ‘left,’ ‘right,’ ‘left,’ ‘right’ it’s easy!
Sheri: The pandemic caused an increased number of people to struggle with depression and mental disorders. How has cycling helped you overcome depression and a mental illness?
Jack: Like I mentioned above, cycling, comparatively speaking, is far easier than going through depression, and so there’s always a nice comparison to be made when things get ‘hard’ on the bike. Perspective is an amazing thing!
I also find that being outdoors, be it with music, or without, when surrounded by nature, I forget what’s going on around me, and this gives me some downtime mentally. It’s an opportunity to stop ‘overthinking.’
Cycling also gives me a purpose. I love having a coach and a daily program because it gives me structure. I know that if I just complete a session on the bike, then I’m ‘winning’ and achieving goals. For this reason, I also struggle a bit when for whatever reason, I don’t finish a session as programmed. At times it can be a double-edged sword.
Sheri: Covering two stages of the TdF every day is mind-blowing. How did you come up with the idea for The Amazing Chase?
Jack: It’s been a plan of mine for three year now. I guess it came about because I’ve always been fascinated by the TDF, but never been in a position to actually ride it. My cycling journey has been different, I’ve never really focused on racing, but at the same time, I’ve still had this dream to ride into Paris as the ‘leader’ of the race. It was great working with Wahoo to achieve this dream and make it a reality, and fantastic to work with all of my partners in supporting the event. Specialized, Velocio, Supersapiens, and BBB all played a big role in ensuring that it came off. It was certainly a team effort as opposed to an individual one, like I think some people might think.
Sheri: How did you handle transfers and rest days?
Jack: So essentially, wherever the TDF peloton ‘transferred’ I also transferred. It was a true apples to apples comparision to see how fast the TDF could actually be ridden. I didn’t take any rest days, it was just a ‘non-stop’ ride with some sleep each night.
I thought coming into the event that the transfers would be ‘easy’ and would give me some time to rest, but they were anything but. The transfers were actually really difficult and at times really stressful. With around 3 hours of transfers to complete each day, that’s automatically 3 hours that you can’t be riding toward your km target for the day. In addition to this, sitting in the back of a van trying and trying to rest knowing that you’ve got another 200km to ride is tough. You cool down, your body begins to relax, your eating habits change and then you have to get back on the bike and go again. If there’s one thing I can stress, it’s that the transfers were really tough, more than I think people realise.
Sheri: What were the final stats from your ride?
28hrs 25min of ‘Transfers’
10 days Total
Sheri: Was there any specific training you did to prepare for this challenge?
Jack: I work with a coach here in Girona and we certainly had some big blocks of training in place before I undertook this one. More than anything, the training is important to train the stomach to consume the hige number of calories each day. Physically, the riding is doable, I see these events as more of an eating challenge!
Sheri: How many calories did you consume to keep your energy level high?
Jack: I use the Supersapiens device to monitor my Blood Glucose Levels live and this plays a major role in ensuring I’m fueled both while on the bike and off it. I was burning 10,000-12,000 calories per day while on the bike and trying to replace as much of that as I could. At times, eating ‘junk food’ from the likes of McDonalds is actually necessary, just in order to meet your daily caloric requirements to back up big days, back to back.
Sheri: Is there a secret pleasure you allow yourself to consume (e.g., gummy bears) during an ultra cycling event?
Jack: Anything goes! Being in France, I found that croissants with copious amounts of butter were my ‘treat’ of choice!
Sheri: What’s the next ultra cycling challenge you are planning?
Jack: Good question, I’ve got two upcoming goals now in Portugal. I’m going to be spending a lot more time in Portugal moving forward, it’s an unknown cycling paradise with huge opportunities and I want to showcase the country and the people to the world through my cycling exploits. I love climbing, so without giving away too much, can give you a clue that both challenges involve lots of it!
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women’s cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri’s full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.