What is Unsupported? Part Two

2015 Entry Responses and Rules Guidance

What does “Unsupported” or “Self-Supported” actually mean? – Easy right; doing it on your own without any help?  Well the more one explores the concept, the less black and white it appears.  Just like everything in life; its a little bit more complicated than that…

This year when entries opened we took the opportunity to find out the current state of understanding amongst TCR applicants.

The entry process had one major mandate: to promote thought and discussion on the nuances of unsupported travel.  To discover what is already the common thinking and on what issues additional guidance might be needed.

The questions were posed to riders under two main premises.  In Part I we looked at the first of these What is “Private Resupply”?.  Now we look at the second: What is “Dedicated Outside Assistance”?

Part II: Outside Assistance

The rules state “no outside support” is permitted but what constitutes outside support? or ‘dedicated outside assistance’ as we called it in our quiz.  This, as we mentioned before, overlaps with Private Resupply to some degree but deals more with intangible services and information than it does with equipment and nourishment.  Previous editions of the Transcontinental have shown that the understanding of this by riders has been something of a grey area and some equipment sharing, phone-a-friend navigation and hotel room booking has been known to occur, particularly in the midpack.  Whilst some riders may have had a degree of dependency on each other, some others flew totally solo.  With the introduction of the pairs category we can be firmer with what we regard as assistance, yet riders can still look out for the safety of one-another without having to drop out of the race altogether.  2015 Rules with regard to pairs and assistance between riders state that if one rider helps another rider then they can become joined as a pair and will get the same time when they finish.

On the whole riders should approach the race as if they were taking a completely solo trip across Europe, as if there were no race, as if there were no other riders and as if there were no contact with the people at home.  In short they should do things for themselves.

So then, what did our applicants deem to be dedicated outside assistance, and does TCR HQ agree?


1. Another Rider Lending Me Their Pump.

Applicants answered: Yes: 48% // No: 52%

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TCR Says

Perhaps the most even split of all the questions answered, the field is undecided on this one.  However many bikepacking races are more sure when it comes to the sharing of equipment and it is generally forbidden.  You may not of think it as assistance dedicated to one particular rider from outside of the race.  Nevertheless sharing equipment is a no-no in self-supported races and it is in the Transcontinental too.  Each rider must come equipped for their own race and not be reliant on others.  They must prepare as if they were completing the task entirely on their own and no-one else were taking part in the ride, only then are they truly self supported.  This applies to the sharing of information as it does the sharing of tools, clothing and food and this includes navigation.

TCR Verdict: Yes this is outside assistance.


2. Getting Directions from a Stranger.

Applicants answered: Yes: 21% // No: 79%

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TCR Says

Of course riders should never get lost and will have their own carefully planned route to follow so they shouldn’t need to find directions right?  Well, if you were riding across Europe entirely on your own, with no other riders going at the same time and no-one at home knowing that you were going either, then there would still be local people around that you could ask for directions.  Local people giving you directions then is seen as a local resource that is legitimate to get information from.  Its not a very quick, efficient or reliable means of navigation though and with language barriers thrown into the mix its not going to be a substitute for a well planned route but it is acceptable to stop and ask for directions within the rules of self-sufficiency.

TCR Verdict: No this is not outside assistance.


3. Getting My Bike Fixed at a Bike Shop.

Applicants answered: Yes: 15% // No: 85%

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TCR Says

As the majority of our applicants agree, getting your bike fixed at a local bike shop is totally legit and not dedicated outside assistance since its a commercial service available to all.  Finding the bike shop however is something you must do for yourself and not call home for help.  You can use the internet, ask locally, pick up on other’s publicly available feeds or those from the race which might give you a clues but you should be doing the information gathering yourself from publicly available resources and not have someone doing the work for you.

TCR Verdict: Not at all outside assistance.


4. Calling Ahead (during the race) to Book a Hotel.

Applicants answered: Yes: 18% // No: 82%

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TCR Says

When the race clock starts, calling ahead to book accommodation is legitimate.  Booking out accommodation in advance of the race however may deny other racers a bed for the night which is subsequently not used by those who book it.  This is a matter of racer etiquette rather than outright rule and is in the interests of equal opportunity for all riders.  The correct etiquette is that riders should not make multiple bookings* and be confident of making good on all bookings.  With the exception of singular bookings within 24hrs of the start  bookings should be made whilst the race clock is running.

*Multiple bookings means more than one per solo rider per night or more than two per pair per night.


5. My Friend at Home / Partner booking me into a Hotel.

Applicants answered: Yes: 93% // No: 7%

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TCR Says

TCR position is clear on this one; you do things for yourself.   Our applicants clearly agree.  Next!

TCR Verdict:  Yes, this is outside assistance.


6. Calling my Friends / Family for Directions When I am lost.

Applicants answered:  Yes: 89% // No: 11%

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TCR Says

Also clearly outside assistance.  9 out of 10 applicants agree: If you are on the telephone calling for help, you’re doing it wrong.  To all family and friends who get the call saying “I’m lost” the correct reply is “get unlost” – they’ll thank you for it one day.

TCR Verdict: This is outside assistance.


7. Calling Friends and Family to let them know you are OK.

Applicants answered:  Yes: 14% // No: 86%

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TCR Says

Of course people at home will be concerned about you.  The trackers have a canny ability to make people worry like mad, even when there’s nothing wrong.  You could go away for 2 weeks and not give them any idea of where you are going and they might not bat an eyelid but as soon as there is a little dot to watch and it stops moving, even the calmest follower gets excited.  You should definitely keep in touch with all who care about you at home.  This can be by phone but also equally good is via social media.  It is often cheaper and quicker to log on to local wifi and give an update and it makes sure that the flow of information is one way.


8. Calling Friends and Family to get Updates on Other Riders.

Applicants answered: Yes: 84% // No: 16%

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TCR Says

Yes, this is outside assistance.  People at home feeding you information about the status of the race is like having your own race manager, giving you information that you didn’t find for yourself and hence other riders may not be receiving.

TCR Verdict: Yes this is outside assistance.


9. Checking the Tracker and Social Media on a Smart Phone

Applicants answered:  Yes: 18% // No: 82%

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TCR Says

So long as you are doing the research yourself from sources in the public domain, its all legit.

TCR Verdict: Not a case of outside assistance.


10. Using an Approved Ferry Route.

Applicants answered: Yes: 9% // No: 91%

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TCR Says

Easy one this, not pedalling but not outside assistance either and totally fine.  Bear in mind in some editions ferries may be of no use to you whatsoever.  Ferries are there where permitted to allow for more route options.  They will rarely make for a shorter ride.

TCR Verdict:  Not outside assistance.


11. Book Accommodation online for the Evening.

Applicants answered: Yes: 20% // No: 80%

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TCR Says

Technically no different to no.4 this one.  So long as the establishment is commercially available, you make the booking yourself and its done on race clock (or for use within 24hrs) then there’s no trouble.  The technology used to book makes no difference.

TCR Verdict: Not outside assistance.


In Part III we’ll look at the answers applicants gave to the final part of the quiz on some specific parts of the TCR 2015 controls.  For now we’ll leave you with a word on penalties and safety for the 2015 race.

Minor infractions carry minor penalties, and are seen to be mistakes, not carrying shame.  Remember that one’s safety and wellbeing should come first and are a prerequisite to a successful race.  When a rider find themselves in a position where their safety and well being are compromised, such that they feel they must resort to rule breaking or dubious means of obtaining services or supplies, it is important they realise that they have already failed in their task.  The correct course of action then is to look after their safety first.  Their subsequent actions may be most commendable, given the situation, but out of respect for those who made further efforts not to find themselves in such a situation in the first instance, they are asked to assume there will not be a race finish awarded to them.  Rather TCR asks that racers make good judgements and report truthfully and accurately on the outcomes such that mistakes can be learned from, actions can be understood and their ride can be judged on its merits regardless of its place on GC.

Bon Route, Ride Safe.