Last year while I travelled overseas, I wrote blogs for MarathonMTB. It was a great way for me to solidify the memories I made, and to reflect on the journey at the same time as sharing it with friends and family.
I hadn’t been planning on doing the same again this year, until someone (other than my mother) mentioned that they had really enjoyed reading along, so here we go again!
Since my European campaign hasn’t begun yet (I’m currently sitting on a plane to Brazil), I thought I would give an overview of my plans for this year, as well as detail some of my experiences preparing for and travelling overseas. So hopefully people can learn from my rookie mistakes.
Something a lot of people don’t know, is that I was considering pulling the pin in early 2021. I have been racing and training since I was 12, and after finally winning a national title; the drive wasn’t there to keep beating my head against the wall to race overseas.
As an athlete we have a phenomenal life, we travel and race with the goal of doing what we love as a job. However we make a lot of sacrifices, and as I watched my friends doing cool adventures without bikes, or progressing their career or education, I was unsure if those sacrifices were worth it.
However I had already made the decision that I wanted to do at least one overseas season, and while I was over there, Team Bridgelane contacted me to join the team.
The support from Bridgelane has made all the sacrifices worth it, and as a MTBer used to fighting tooth and nail to get to races, I have been blown away.
So that means I’m heading overseas again, this time for 5 months, 3 of which Jess will join me for! (my speedy partner)
When we decide to head overseas, the most daunting part of the process is the visa…
I made the mistake of putting it off until I thought I had some plans in place, but looking back, that is the wrong order of operations.
The visa application process is lengthy and complicated, but what I hadn’t accounted for is how long it takes to get an appointment. I waited too late, and nearly had to fly home from Brazil to go to the French embassy.
If you want to skip the boring process of application, jump ahead to my story, otherwise keep reading!
The positive news is you don’t need to book your trip to request an appointment. A lot of the larger countries in Europe outsource their visa appointments to VFS global, who is your point of contact through the process. VFS then sends your application to the embassy from there. To get an appointment you just go on their website and book! All you need to know is the visa you are applying for.
Since I had left it so late, I contacted all of their various country representatives and picked my visa appointment from that list (Austria), as they had an appointment while I was in Canberra racing. However I recommend booking more like 3-6 months early, because I just got lucky…
Visas usually take 4-6 weeks to process, in my case I begged them to speed it along, and they had processed it within 24h, but that is the most nervous 24h of my life.
Then all you need to do is start collecting the relevant documents on their list over the months before your appointment (ideally).
These documents were things like:
Passport + copy of passport
proof of flights there and home
proof of insurance covering just about everything you can imagine
proof of bank statements that prove you can afford the trip (I have heard $10k plus is smiled upon, but there is no hard rule there). In my instance I had some money transferred in for the appointment, and will transfer it back after completing my trip (or appointment if you want to be sneaky)
proof of accomodation for the whole trip, or a letter from a resident of the country inviting you to stay. + proof they exist…
and the list goes on…
When I finally went to organise my visa, I was fumbling around trying to make the application and get the documents ready for a French visa, before booking the appointment. A rookie error apparently.
I finally got to the stage where I wanted to book an appointment, and discovered, to my dismay, that their earliest available slot was mid April. This would have meant returning from Brazil (35h of travel), and then waiting 4-6 weeks in Australia for my visa to be approved. Not to mention it is challenging to book everything for your visa when booking relies on knowing a date you will be allowed into Europe.
As you can imagine, I was feeling pretty stressed already as this daunting task grew and grew. I was desperate, and so began just calling embassies, who reffered me to VFS. It was then, while already in Canberra, on a Thursday, that I discovered a slot available for Austria the following Tuesday (a cancellation). I called Jess just before she left for the airport, and told her to bring my passport. I called Andrew (our excellent team manager), and asked him to book flights there and back. I was running around like a headless chicken printing documents, and copies left right and center.
I have a friend (hopefully a few actually), who was happy to write a letter of invitation and send me all the paperwork they asked for (thank you Tami). I’ve heard the other way to do it is book accommodation for your entire trip and then cancel after your visa is processed.
Finally, I had all the documents ready, and the application filled in. I took it to the VFS offices, and they went through it all with me. They are employed by the embassy to make the visa application smoother for everyone, so they are actually very helpful. They printed off a few extra documents to help, and finally I paid and was ready to be on my way.
“Thank you Mr Fox, the visa should be processed in 4-6 weeks.”
My jaw hit the floor.
I had flights booked to Rio in 12 days, and they were taking my passport for the application…
I asked if there was any way to make the process quicker, and all she could suggest was to write a letter begging them to speed it along. So I did just that, getting down on my metaphorical knees and pleading with the embassy.
Now Jess can probably attest to how nervous I was while I waited for it to go through (or be rejected).
Thankfully (for her as well as me), the embassy took pity on my ineptitude and processed the visa within 24h, and my passport was home within a few days.
While it was quick this time, I won’t be trying that tactic again. Especially as I’m confident it aged me a year.
So if you are planning on heading overseas with a visa anytime in the next 6 months. if you do nothing else, at least book the appointment and start working towards that…
Note: this visa application is only for Aussies travelling over 3 months in Europe, under 90 days you receive a visa on arrival with no application.
I still haven’t cemented my race plans for Europe yet, and it will depend on my condition as I get into the swing of things. But the following is my proposed race calendar.
And if you are an Aussie (or anyone) heading over to race these, and want to link up for accomodation and transport, don’t hesitate to get in contact!
13th april: arrive in Europe
(make my way to germany and stay with a friend)
23rd april: Heubach, Germany, HC race
30th april: Haiming, Austria, HC race
7th May: Albstadt, Germany, WC
- travel straight to –
14th May: Nove Mesto, Czech, WC
11th June: Leogang, Austria, WC
19th june: Road race in Netherlands
22nd June: Road race in Belgium
9th July: Lenzerheide, Switzerland, WC
16th July: Vallnord, Andora, WC
3rd August: Comm Games (TBC) 😉
14th August: Le Devoluy ,France, C1 race
20th August Basel Swiss cup, C1
27th August: Les Gets ,France, World Championships
3rd September: Val Di Sole, Italy, WC
7th Sep: Fly home from Milan
I thought it might also be interesting for people to see what I have packed for Europe, and some of the reasoning behind it. I’d love to see what else people take, and if you have suggestions, send them through!
(I won’t include every little detail, don’t worry)
- 2x corflute bike boxes. I use foldable ones with wheels. I’ve used these for years and they are superb
- Orbea Oiz 120mm TR with dropper installed
- Argon 18 road bike with Dura Ace 12sp
- Shimano Sphyre shoes x2
- Lazer Sphere helmet
- casual clothes
- travel towel
- exercise bands, these are the lightest way to get a gym workout done anywhere
- spikey roller
- Fox warmup rollers, we’ve used these for years. check out highlights on Insta for more
- laser phototherapy gun, this is a medical grade laser used for recovery sessions
- spare Maxxis forekaster tyres, I learnt this the hard way. Europe mud takes no prisoners
- 1x spare Aspen 2.25. I would have loved to bring 2 but i ran out of luggage
- manta sleep mask
- earplugs + noise cancelling headphones
- inflatable camping pillow, i discovered Europe pillows are too flat for me last year. so hopefully this helps get consistent sleep
- Dozile sleeping tablet for the plane
- aeropress + coffee grinder for when some fresh Nuddy coffee makes it over
- portable travel scales. I use this to make sure there’s no nasty surprises at the airport
- portable charger with interchangeable cables for longer trips
- car dashboard phone mount, so I can navigate without holding my phone
- lots of bottles! you always lose some through each race, so take as many as possible…
- travel floor pump
- nice foldable knife, I’ve never seen a motel/accom with a sharp knife…
- ice vest, i’m using an evoporative cooling vest this year as the classic vests weigh a tonne once wet.
- Euro wall port converter
- power board (one converter, multiple chargers to use)
- refillable gel tubes (GU do a nice one). which I fill with ricemalt/golden syrup/agave syrup for training, or even race nutrition in a pinch
as far as tools go I thought it would be easier to lay out my tools in some photos. It’s no Brad Copeland set up, but it should fix nearly every issue I can have.
The only things I can’t do is brake bleed, fork/shock service.
In fact with a mallet I can even do hub servicing, or BB removal. (maybe not by the book, but well enough to get through).
All of this, along with clothes and toiletries etc, came to 2x23kg bags + carry on
So that ends this stream of conscious for now. I should have some more to report following the Brazil WC.
If you have any questions or advice about my set up, or organising travel, get in contact!