Getting ready for an adventure race isn’t just about being physically prepared and studying the route; it’s also about choosing the right setup and assembling all the components that make up a good setup. Each of us approaches this phase of the adventure differently.

If you’re Federico Damiani, you usually wait until the last second and then realize your home is such a mess that you have to turn everything upside down to find what you need. You end up piling things on the floor and randomly tossing items into a shopping bag, heading to the starting line hoping you have everything.

On the other hand, if you’re an engineer from Padua with a knack for order and a tendency towards minimalism, you start meticulously organizing your gear weeks before the race. Everything is laid out on your floor and furniture, ready to be packed into bags, compartmentalized in a way that allows you to find anything in seconds.

This was the scenario when we visited Manuel’s home before the Trans Balkan Race on a calm Sunday evening to see what was happening before the start. Unsurprisingly, we found the exact situation described above and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

You’ve already done the TBR two years ago, and we even made a documentary about your experience. Why did you decide to return?

The Balkans are a fascinating place, still relatively untouched by tourism. The TBR left a strong impression on me, making me want to experience it again. Plus, I’m back to settle a score: two years ago, after the third day of the race, I developed a condition called Shermer’s Neck, which made it impossible to keep my head up until the finish. (If you’re not a masochist, I wouldn’t recommend it.)

 

What’s going to be different in your setup for this adventure compared to the last time?

Basically, gear ratio and bike. If someone tells you “gravel is doable too,” think twice before taking their advice. Last time I tried it, but I have to admit that for the past year I’ve been riding a mountain bike, and for adventure events like this, I consider it the best choice. Without a doubt, the Balkan terrain is unforgiving and the comfort pays off: having descents in which you can relax a bit definitely makes a difference after three, four, or more days on the bike.

 

You have a very minimalist setup. How do you decide where to draw the line between what to bring and what to leave behind?

‘Travel light and freeze at night’ as they say. I like to travel light, which means giving up optimal comfort. When I do these types of events, comfort isn’t my priority. However, I always set the bar at a point where I feel sufficiently safe to avoid finding myself in dangerous situations for my health.

What are you bringing this time for sleeping?

No bubble wrap this time! I’ll only bring a bivvy bag and an emergency blanket (leave the mattress and sleeping bag for glamping). Jokes aside, I go pretty light on sleeping gear because it’s a comfort I’m willing to sacrifice and at the same time, I’ve planned as detailed as possible how I will rest and I think that this gear will be enough. 

 

Regarding lights for night riding, what do you recommend in these situations?

In off-road events, it’s essential to have powerful lights with long battery life. For the TBR, I’ll be using a Supernova B54PRO headlight and a Supernova Airstream 2 helmet light. I prefer the B54PRO for the bike-mounted light due to its longer battery life—during the Atlas, for instance, I only needed one and a half batteries and never had to recharge the light—and especially for its more distributed beam. Speeds are never very high, and the B54’s light is wide and even. I like to ride with a broader field of vision while keeping the power at a minimum. For most sections, this is sufficient, and in that mode, the battery life is basically endless.

 

Having a good maintenance set is essential, and experienced riders often have some secret tricks. Do you have any you’d like to share?

In these events, a toothbrush and a rag soaked in gasoline are essential. Keeping your drivetrain as smooth and clean as possible makes all the difference.

 

Finally…can we avoid the 4-hour penalty this time or do you plan on losing the tracker again?

We’ll try! In any case, I’ve already prepared a stainless steel carabiner for the tracker, just in case.