Unfinished Business

Photo: The starting gun and safety car were a little less formal than advertised!

Starting gun. Saturday July 23rd at 6:00 am in front of the cafeteria. We’ve ordered comfortable nice warm weather.


So started the ‘Deutsches Super Brevet Hamburg-Berlin-Köln’. 1,544 km / 11,437m, Saturday 23rd July – Thursday 28th July 2022.

Safety car and weather booked. Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour.

This was a ‘return fixture’ for me and Thomas Baranowski. During the 1001Miglia in 2021 we met and rode together for the last two days. I was used to it, but Thomas struggled in the heat. I used my experience to help him get round in my home country. Now it was his turn to show me around in his home country.

Fast and Furious

“My bag has answered your prayers” said Thomas. We’d just crossed the border from the then West into East Germany. A few minutes earlier I’d told Thomas I couldn’t keep up the pace. I accept it was flat but with a moving average of 30.5km we’d covered 60km in the first two hours in a strong group of riders. His bag was rubbing on his wheel, so we stopped. A welcome respite. We resumed as a pair knowing we would never catch the group ahead.

“Bang”. I looked up to see Thomas careering across the road trying to stay upright. He managed it, but only just. He’d hit a large stone. The collision didn’t bring him down but it did give him a puncture. The air was blue with a glorious mixture of German and English expletives. For a change, none of them were from me.

We ended up in another group, which weren’t that much slower than the first. Having benefitted from their draft I felt a duty to do my turn on the front. 9km at 28-31km. As I pulled off to the left I received several “danke schön” and thumbs up but I was done in. I dropped off the back of the group. “Why did you do that?” enquired Thomas. “It was the right thing to do”. As I discovered later, maybe it wasn’t.

Soon after I began to feel twinges in my knees. Both knees.

Passing an abandoned East German watch tower along the river Elbe.


At the Berlin control (273km) Thomas and I had a conversation with the German speaking Ian from Preston. We discussed the fact that in English we don’t have a single word for enjoying the misfortunes of others. We kind of do. Schadenfreude. The chat was prompted by Thomas being stung in the crutch by a “Wesp” as he called it. What a delightful combination of Wasp and Wespe. Englitsch, or is it Deutish?

I couldn’t resist sharing this photo. I know I shouldn’t, but it makes me laugh. Schadenfreude.

“Pride (or schadenfreude) comes before a fall” as they say.

I was passing Ian in the wonderfully named Brandenburg an der Havel (309km) when I spotted the tramlines. Too late. In went the front wheel. Down I went. The embarrassment was more painful than the fall. It was time for Thomas to enjoy some schadenfreude. My thanks to Ian and Thomas for helping me get the chain back on and back on the road.

By now the knee pain was beginning to get worse. By the time we got to the end of Stage 2 at Ditfurt (448km) I was in trouble. All the control facilities were upstairs. I could hardly get up them due to the pain. I later discovered that if I locked my legs straight I could get about pain free. Some sleep then see what the morning would bring.

Decisions decisions

I was ready. Thomas still had a few things to do. We decided I would head off from the control as I would be slower and he would catch me up. I set off with only a left hand glove. Somehow I’d managed to lose the right hand one at the control.

Thomas recorded the moment he caught up with me. He had no idea how much the top of the climb seen in the distance would have an effect on my German adventure.

We rode for a few kilometers discussing our options. I was in pain but wanted to try the first climb at least. We decided to take one last photo together before Thomas headed off on his own.

I really enjoyed the first climb. Compared to the Alpi4000 I’d finished a few weeks before it was a breeze. The forest provided shade, the incline wasn’t too steep and I got to the top in good time. I say enjoyed. There was just one problem. The pain. Every few pedal strokes it felt like what I imagine it feels like when you are stabbed in the knee. My screams penetrated the forest but no one heard them.

At the summit I took some time to think about my situation. Could I really face another 1,000km of this pain? Could pain killers get me through it? As I didn’t know what the cause was could I cause serious damage by continuing? As I inched towards the descent my front wheel spoke up. “Ching… ching… ching”. A spoke had broken and it was rubbing against the front fork.

Both my body and my bike were telling me to stop. I made the difficult decision to abandon the audax. It was a tough call as I’ve finished every audax I have ever entered. This would be my first DNF. Painful.

“Take The Long Way home”

One of the reasons I love audaxing is that we are responsible for ourselves. Having decided the best thing to do is stop I had to come up with a plan to get home. Home being London. I was transported back to 1979 as “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp kept playing in my head.

Descend – bus to Thale – lunch – three trains to Hamburg – 23km ride to the start – drive 300km to the bag drop control at Messingausen.

Lunch at Thale railway station

When I arrived in Messingausen after midnight who was there having something to eat? Thomas.

He would resume after a few hours sleep. I would sleep without an alarm, waking up when my body wanted to. I woke up at 10:30. Sleep is excellent for recovery. The pain was slightly less.

I had a wonderful day at the Messinghausen control chatting with Lars and Monica, and a few of the riders. What a stroke of luck that an Italian, Monica (who works for our old employer Oracle), was running the kitchen. Scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Minestrone for lunch. I wasn’t expecting that. It was heavenly. They were charming.

The drive to Calais was incident free. The only crash was the sound of me falling into my bed in central London at 03:00. My HBK adventure was over.

Thomas’ adventure continued right to the finish on Wednesday evening with plenty of time to spare. Chapeau Thomas.

The Deutsches Super Brevet Hamburg-Berlin-Köln is run by the Audax Club Schleswig-Holstein. You can tell it’s an audax run by audaxers. The organisation is excellent and the service at the controls superb. The volunteers speak excellent English. I would thoroughly recommend HBK. A huge thank you to the club and it’s members. I am just sorry that this was my first DNF.

I have already put HBK 2026 in my diary. Unfinished business.


Monday 1st August. I’ve had a consultation and blood tests. The diagnosis is reactive synovitis. This typically occurs following a viral infection (possibly even from Covid that I had in May). I originally thought it was because we rode so fast in the early stages, but turns out it’s nothing to do with that.

Treatment is Ibuprofen. My right knee is already almost back to normal. My left knee has decided to take a little longer. I’ve managed a 105km club ride with no pain so I’m feeling optimistic that I can start London-Edinburgh-London in six days time.

More good news. I received an email from Audax Club Schleswig-Holstein that they had found my glove. I offered to pay for it’s return but they insisted they would post it back with their compliments. What a great club.

I am even more determined to complete HBK in 2026.


  • Hi Colin,
    Thanks for the write up, and commiserations on the DNF. It brought back a whole load of memories from 2010 when I completed this ride. It was great to see the photo of Monica & Lars who rescued a companion of mine after he crashed on a level crossing shortly after the Berlin control and severely damaged his bike. Hope the knee problems are resolved quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Martin. I’m not surprised that Lars and Monica were so helpful. Well done for completing it. Next time for me. All the best. Colin


  • 2002 SEASON – colincanride

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