175 Riders gathered on de Muur van Geraardsbergen for the third Transcontinental race from Flanders to Istanbul as torches were lit by the iconic cobblestones in front of the Kapel and held by a small crowd of friends, locals and well-wishers. At the stroke of midnight they departed for a neutralised and escorted loop of the city of Geraardsbergen which took them around to the bottom of the famous classics climb. Once they approached the old stones of the top part of the muur, the neutralised session was over and the race was on The next time the crowd saw the riders the fires were still burning and so was the competitive spirit.
Last year’s second place rider Josh Ibbett was at the front with the will evident to make this his year, his Mason bike looking conspicuously short of ballast – showing that he is prepared to take less comfort and more risk after the experience he accumulated on his last year’s ride. It is a long long way to Istanbul of course though and anything can happen.
With the absence of two times champion Kristoff Allegaert, things are much more wide open and less predictable and there are a greater number of hopefuls with the athletic ability to put in a strong ride, so long as their route planning, decision making and on road discipline will let them upset the plans of Ibbett. Once such rider is Bernd Paul, the race across Germany winner and record holder, who is already pushing at the front of the race and has ridden constantly through night 1 and clocked up 612km in the first 24hrs.
Another is Ultan Coyle, the 24hr time trial champion who is riding a modified time trial bike with custom fabricated aero luggage. An impressive rider on an impressive machine, Ultan initially had some navigational device issues but has made his way to the front of the bike race with an impressive 563km in 22hrs before stopping to sleep. Josh meanwhile has just a few more in the bag with 590km and appears to have stopped for rest after 24hrs. Another impressive high miler on day one is James Hayden with an estimated 589km. Like Bernd Paul however he is still riding at 1am on day 2.
Completing the 500km+ club on day 1 are the following riders (all distances are estimates)
Samuel Becuwe 525km
Jakub Vlcek 522km
Ishmael Burdeau 521km
Stefan Maertens 512km
Alex Metcalfe 511km
Lee Pearce 504km
Alexandre Bourgeonnier 501km
Riders made their way across central France all day and an orange cloud is stretched out over hundreds of kilometres.