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From IT to ultra cycling, the extraordinary rise of Ulrich Bartholmoes

Emma Cole
27 Oct 2021

The ultra cyclist from Munich on his glittering career so far, the dangers of the sport’s rising popularity and a brewing love for gravel

Ulrich 'Uba' Bartholmoes is an ultra cyclist to be reckoned with. Since coming onto the scene in 2019, Bartholmoes has added an impressive roster of wins to his belt and shows no sign of stopping.

In August he won the Transibérica after suffering a broken derailleur on his Open Upper road bike halfway through the roughly 3,330km unsupported race across the Iberian Peninsula. This took him on a 70km detour and forced him to be out of the race for almost 24 hours.

'This is my proudest moment of the year,' says Bartholmoes. 'To come back and win after breaking my derailleur and having to make a major detour was just a great feeling. I re-joined the race in eighth place and from there I just pushed as much as I could.'

In June this year the 35-year-old set a new record of 47 hours 38 minutes for the Transpyrenees Race, a 1,050km single-stage road route, which wiggles from the Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic, and involves over 24,000m of climbing and 36 Cols, including the daunting Arcalis.

He also won the B-Hard Ultra Race two weeks before the Transpyrenees, a 1,200km route which weaves through Bosnia and Herzegovina's national parks. Not bad at all.

Oh, and he does all of this whilst running a successful IT consulting business.

How did it all start? 'An accident'

Bartholmoes started off racing 150km-200km gran fondo events in 2014 but he found the greater the elevation and the longer the race, the more fun he had.

In 2018 he entered the Tour de Mont Blanc, a 330km race with 8,000m of elevation, and to his surprise came fourth.

However, it was only after Bartholmoes and his wife decided to spend the summer of 2019 in Spain that he was introduced to ultra cycling.

'It was an accident,' explains Bartholmoes. 'I wanted to do the Tour de Mont Blanc again but I didn’t want to drive over 2,000km to do it so I looked for other races around me.

'Gran fondo races aren’t that popular in Spain so I came across the Transpyrenees and thought I would try it, and I did quite well.'

For his first ever ultra cycling event, he did better than quite well… he won.

Bartholmoes was then invited to join the Transibérica Race a few weeks later, another unsupported non-stop road cycling challenge.

He won again.

Roll on the first edition of the Two Volcano Sprint, a set-route event between Italy's Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna, and Bartholmoes completed a hattrick of wins in his inaugural year as an ultra cyclist.

'That was when it became an addiction,' he says. 'It is a lot of fun and I love it.'

Training for the year

To even begin a training programme for an ultra-endurance event might seem daunting to some, but for Bartholmoes it is simple.

'You cannot train for one of these events, I train for the year,' he says. 'I start in December or early January and I do it for 11 months.'

'I train between 4:30am and 8:30am before work, and during winter I am mostly indoors as the roads are icy and dangerous.'

Nevertheless, it hasn't been all plain sailing.

When the Transcontinental Race – an event which is largely seen as the pinnacle of ultra cycling – was cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic, Bartholmoes found himself struggling with something to focus on.

'It was really hard as I had been building towards the Transcontinental for most of the year,' he says. 'It took me a week or so to get over that and find something else to focus on.'

He hopes the event will go ahead again in 2022 but is also keen on exploring gravel races around the world, something he developed a taste for after coming second in Badlands this year.

'I really enjoyed Badlands and riding gravel was good fun,' he explains. 'I am looking for races I haven’t done before as cycling isn't just about racing but about travelling to new countries, and gravel is great for that.'

The dangers of popularity

The sport is becoming more popular, with more races popping up in the calendar and a growing number of eager riders on the start lines.

However, this growth is not without concern, especially since the death of a rider during the North Cape 4000 this July.

'I am worried that more people will be on the start line who have never done this sort of thing before,' says Bartholmoes. 'As the sport gets more popular, it is inevitable that the number of accidents will go up. Something will need to be done about the safety of more inexperienced riders.'

However, the nature of the sport means that anything could happen to anyone.

During this year’s Two Volcano Sprint, Bartholmoes made the decision to scratch from the race after a serious storm hit the route and affected him at the front.

At the time he wrote on his Instagram that it was important 'to find the right moment when it's enough'.

Whilst riding this year's Transiberica, experienced rider and close friend of Bartholmoes, Ana Orenz, was hit by wild boar whilst descending at full speed. A GoFundMe page has been set up to support Ana's recovery.

A mindful community

Cycling unsupported through often remote and barren areas is not for the faint hearted and comes with a throng of dangers, not just in terms of its unpredictable elements but also the mental strain it puts on riders.

Bartholmoes relishes the mental challenge and finds that spending days alone in the saddle is an opportunity to gain some clarity.

'When I am cycling my mind is completely free,' he says. 'For a few hours I can close my mind and I can escape from all the troubles in daily life and just focus on the moment.

'All I can focus on is the road in front of me, where to get things like water from, and the state of my bike.'

What's more, the ultra cycling community is also an attraction for Bartholmoes. 

'At the beginning of an event, it feels like a reunion with old friends,' says Bartholmoes. 'It is really special to share some kilometres with other participants during the race too, I look forward to it every time.

'At the end, we usually have a beer altogether and share stories. It is really unique in that way.'

Ultra cycling feels more like a lifestyle than just a gruelling competition and with the likes of Bartholmoes for inspiration, it seems only set to grow.

Image credits: Cyril Polito, Danilos Guali, Carlos Mazon

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