“A long and beautifully hard bicycle race for masters of self-reliance.”
Transcontinental Race, Mike Hall.
It’s the end of July. For me, that can only mean one thing: I’m getting ready to head for Geraardsbergen in Belgium, for the start of the sixth Transcontinental Race. Finaly we can stop talking about it and let the legs do the racing.
It was dreamt up by Mike Hall as he completed the around the world race. He died last year in a tragic collision while racing across Australia, leaving his huge touch on long distance bicycle racing. As in 2017’s TCR No5, I will honour his vision in the best way that I can, pushing your limits and learning to be your best.
Since the first TCR in 2013 participation has climbed. 260 bike racers will be setting off for 2018’s TCR No6. Unlike then, TCR now fits into a jammed calendar of long distance unsupported road events, from Australia (Indian Pacific Wheel Race at 5,500km), Ireland (TransAtlanticWay at 2,500km) and the USA (Trans Am Bike Race at 6,800km), with Kyrgyzstan’s new Silk Road Mountain Race. I’ve never done any of those but there will be TCR racers that have done one of the others already this year, chapeau.
TCR is now owned and run by a brand-new company, Lost Dot Ltd., set up by Mike’s close friends, who all worked with Mike on the early editions. There’s a successful format and this year will be no different to the previous races. That means 4 suitably remote checkpoints, each of which has a compulsory and inevitably tough mountain parcours.
This year’s route provides new places in Europe for us to explore.
- Checkpoint 1 will be in Gashurn in Austria at the foot of the 2,032, Silvretta-Hochalpenstraße
- Checkpoint 2 is in Log Pod Mangortom in Slovenia. The parcours, certainly inspired by Mike Hall, sounds tough. It will take us over Slovenia’s highest road, the Mangart saddle at 2,072m and includes gradients of 25% in the descent towards Kranjska Gora.
- Checkpoint 3 makes us ride north-east to the Karkanosze Pass in Poland in the Sudetes mountain range bordering Poland and the Czech Republic. The parcours will take us up switchbacks gradient promised to be 28% and finishes in Spindleruv in the Czech Republic.
- Checkpoint 4 is Babin Do near Sarajevo in Bosnia. The parcours to Bielašnica will provoke plenty of punctures for the racers as much of it is on gravel.
- TCR Finish is preceded by a long tough climb, then mercifully followed by a sublime descent. It is again at the spectacular UNESCO heritage site near Meteora in Greece.
In addition, my own route gives me 44,000m of climbing. That’s just shy to the numbers I did in 2016. That means hard, attritional racing. As for the distance, well a little under 4000km.
Following the Race
Transcontinental’s website will be the definitive hub and hive of information during the race. Free route is the tracker of choice and will go live Sunday. Dotwatcher.cc is new to the game and promises to collate news from various sources in one location.
A quick look at my known (and unknown) contenders.
Bjorn Lenhard (Germany), winner of Ireland’s TAW 2017 and 2018. I was inspired by his incredible ride to be first finisher in Paris-Brest-Paris 2015. Riding his first ultra event, Bjorn averaged 30kph for 1,200km and rode in front for the last 600km, solo. Finishing, unsupported, in 42 hours and 26 minutes he only stopped for 88 minutes; this is a completely unheard of feat. He was second in the TCR last year and, having already again won TransAtlanticWay in 2018 he’s in great form, a strong racer and great guy.
From last year’s top ten and who will be racing this year: Matthew Falconer (UK) 5th, Stephane Ouaja (France) 9th (also 14th in 2016 and 12th in 2015).
Kristof Allegaert (Belgium), three-time TCR winner is absent in lieu of other focus. Other well-known riders missing include Nelson Trees (France), who has organised his own 1,700km event in Kyrgyzstan, the Silk Road Mountain Race, starting on August 18th. Geoffroy Dussault (Canada) won’t be racing, having a beautiful little boy to care for with his partner Ines. Geoffory is know for setting the highest average speeds ever seen in TCR, unfortunately in 2017 he had a back-wheel mechanical near the end and also enjoyed sleeping too much!
Melissa Pritchard who won the women’s race in 2017 has since had a baby with her partner Jonas Goy, who was 3rd last year. How selfish of Jonas as I’d loved to see Melissa back this year as with more experience she’d fly. Neither will start this year, more pressing matters for them, though she’ll be at the start doing a talk from 7-8pm Saturday in the market square in Geraardsbergen.
Returning to TCR are two strong and proven ultra racers. Bernd Paul (Germany). He won the inaugural TAW in 2016 and was second to Bjorn in 2018. Alexandre Bourgeonnier (France) is back after a year’s absence, having raced Northcape 4000 in 2017, he’s lacking no experience, he raced TCR in 2015, and he finished 2nd.
Notable mention to Stuart Birnie, the 2014 World 24-hour champion and unstoppable ultra racer will be racing again with TABR in his legs and beer in his belly (20th TCR 2017, 14th TABR 2018). Highly recommended to follow his non-stop grumbling on twitter @firsthippy. Special mentions to two ultra racing legends. Mikko Mäkipää (Finland) will be starting his sixth consecutive TCR, I believe the only person to have raced all events. Doug Migden (USA) also maintains entry to a select club having finished 3 of the 5 editions and lining up for his 4th, he swore that 1 was enough, like many of us! With age on his side he puts many young guns to shame with his stamina and tenacity, for 2018 his aim is to make the party and be awarded the Maglia Negra (last finisher before close of play)
“The probability that someone will finish their first race is 62%, but this probability remains about the same for race veterans when trying to complete their second edition”. (Chris White, 2017) I’m not sure if this statistic is encouraging or not for those starting their first race. I didn’t finish mine. However, a couple of rookies who could race well are Malte Hager (Germany) and Thomas Dupin (France). I enjoyed this from Malte’s profile on the start list: “I first heard of TCR only in 2017 and started following the news and the forums just as a spectator, observing “those maniacs” in their habitat. I quickly realized I’m pretty much that kind of maniac, too.” It chimes very close with my entry into this world. I wish them and all others well.
For the women’s race, none of the previous winners will be starting. Nor will last year’s second and third. I don’t know the riders for this year, however Isobel Jobling who had to scratch last year is back no doubt with the experience and hunger to finish.
For my first TCR in 2015 I studied and copied the strategy of the master, Kristof Allegaert. Last year in my preview this is how I described what I thought it was:
- Get in front.
- Get ahead by a sleep.
- Stay ahead.
- Try to win comfortably.
In 2015 this didn’t work for me due to self-inflicted injury. After leading for over half the race, I fell victim to Shermer’s neck, my muscles gave out and stopped supporting my neck.
In 2016 this didn’t work for me due to illness. At the first CP in France I had to take a 36-hour break to recover from a chest infection. I eventually went on to finish 4th and learnt a crucial variation: You can only race your own race.
After my success last year, I wrote a blog called ‘The Power of Recovery’. This describes what worked for me. I’ll be doing the same this year. Listening to my body. Pedalling smoothly. Keeping concentration. Backing off when I can and when it feels right, push hard for the finish.
Personal highlights will be cycling into Poland, albeit briefly. The remote roads in the Sudeten mountains sound incredible, cycling in the Czech Republic for the first time and favourably returning to Bosnia (tough cycling with rolling countryside) and the beauty of Albania.
No doubt the race winner will arrive in under 9 days, cresting the parcours and descending past the cliff top monasteries. I can only hope to make the speed to arrive in daylight this year.
As ever all who have the strength to finish TCR No6 are true winners, and anyone with the mettle to set off into the unknown night is a champion.