Race Update 4: Tales from the Block

With the top 5 finishers of the very first Transcontinental race recording times and distances that put their average daily distances over the 300km mark and Winner Kristof Allegaert exceeding 400km per day the bench has truly been marked first time out with a great race and has put some talented endurance riders on our radar.  Juliana Buhring has also set a very impressive precedence to any future female competitors attempting the Transcontinental.  The TCR doesn’t do records, because there’s no set route and each race has its own story (and because we’ll probably make it more difficult) but if it did Juliana’s and Kristof’s times would certainly take some beating.  They provide the reference rides for future editions, so one might know what it takes to be King or Queen of the continent.

One might think though that with the race for top honours being all wrapped up, that there’s nothing much more to say about the TCR2013.  Well actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  As more and more riders rolled in over the finish line, so the stories became wilder and more intriguing.  James Jordan was first to break away from the highway into Istanbul – a road that front runners found legit to ride, fast and quiet away from the city with a wide shoulder all the way from the border but really puts riders in the thick of it and becomes manic around 40km out.  All of the riders before James had underestimated just how long that 40km could take when one factors in Istanbul’s interesting driving culture where any spare piece of tarmac is a valid route for putting one’s vehicle in front of the next one.  James paid for a quieter route with more climbing but beat the traffic, and the film car following him, and was enjoying an Efes at Hisar before anyone knew what was happening.

James Jordan
James Jordan

Rimas Grigenas won the Continental tyres prize for longest route, taking the wide lines through France and Switzerland towards CP2 and venturing a good way East into Hungary before making a right hand turn through Romania en-route to the finish.  The Lithuanian admitted to strugling with the heat prompting speculation he was looking for a cooler ride down the Danube but it later turned out that he was at the mercy of his routing software.  

Rimas Grigenas
Rimas Grigenas

Australian Ed Jones came in later that day on a strong ride for a man who has never raced a bike before and suggested he may never again over this kind of distance.  Solitude affects riders differently and some enjoy it, while it can be what breaks others.  It clearly disagreed with the usually more sociable Ed who admitted long distances alone were maybe not the type of ride for him but it didn’t break him and he was very pleased with a 7th place finish.  Nick Pusinelli arrived at breakfast time on the 15th after battling to get away from Juliana Buhring who passed him with a poker face on the road as he fixed a puncture out by the Turkish border.  That was all the Kiwi needed to motivate him for heavy riding hours and an all-nighter to finish in just under 12 days.

Juliana Buhring
Juliana Buhring

Juliana Buhring arrived for lunch with a smile and looking remarkably fresh as always but given enough time the stories come forward and it turns out that we gave a tough lady quite a tough time as she recounts in her blog.  Amazing resolve from Juliana and a 9th place finish overall from 30 starters underlines her reputation as one of the toughest individuals we’ve come across.

Tony Hawke
Tony Hawke

Tony Hawke was another rider who just wanted to get done and was ready to ride all night to get to Istanbul after a broken wheel in the Alps and border complications into Croatia had put him behind his target schedule.  Rule changes on Schengen borders from July 1st after Croatia joined the EU put a cat among the pigeons and while his compatriots Jones and Wilkins passed from Slovenia without concern, further North the Australian found that his non-EU passport bizarrely wouldn’t allow him to cross near Zagreb on a bicycle and he was forced to take a train.  Its difficult to tell even post event whether such a swerve from the Croatian official was anything more than an ill tempered reaction to a velocipede but Hawkes and TCR admin settled on a 2hr compensation for the missed cycling miles and Tony continued his ride from Zagreb.

Mikko Makipaa
Mikko Makipaa

Mikko Makipaa appeared early as one of the characters of the TCR having signed up for the race off the back of London – Edinburgh – London and quietly progressed across western Europe towards CP2 with little more than a few hours sleep in four days.  Mikko appeared at the Rumeli Hisari in the afternoon with his LEL number plate still attached to his bike and more than 800 photos on his camera.  Rather than take the hard-but-direct or easy-but-indirect route options, the Fin plowed his own furrow and opted for hard and indirect in order to see as much as possible and just cut down on sleeping instead.  Throughout the race it was anyone’s guess what Mikko would do next, where he would go, how long he would sleep for and if at all, we never could tell.  Even at the end Mikko took an entirely different line into the finish than all before him and found an alternative finish named Rumeli Hisari more than 10km North on the Bosphorus.

Chris Holden, like Mikko, was one of several riders to take a ferry across the Adriatic.  While the rules and checkpoints of the TCR were designated as such that even the organisers didn’t know which would be the fastest route, ferries were allowed to throw open the doors to more adventurous options in anticipation that ferry assisted travel wouldn’t be any quicker than a right turn at Slovenia and straight line through Eastern Europe.  Indeed it appeared to be so and the first three riders to come in via the Adriatic filled the places just outside the top ten.  Chris took a hard line south and climbed the Passo di Gavia on the way to Ancona where he crossed to Zadar for more climbing across the Dinaric Alps into Bosnia.  Chris described his race as a journey of extreme opposites, freezing atop mountain passes in Italy and baking at 38 deg C the same afternoon at sea level, sleeping in strange hotels where the only room left was the penthouse suite complete with honeymoon gifts and the next night sleeping rough in a bus shelter, Chris certainly took the rough with the smooth.

Further south Anton Hunt had crossed the Adriatic to Durres and chosen the mountains of Albania to go walkabout.  As his tracker disappeared up where satellite images only showed jeep tracks before drawing circles in the hills, his followers held their breath and his tracks began to slow, before stopping altogether.  When he finally made it to the Rumeli Hisari, he recounted tales of walking 40km along goat tracks in the mountains before being rescued by an Albanian family who drew him a rudimentary map.  Later on more locals steered him straight when a phone was thrust in his hand and a gruff voice on the end of the line simply said “follow the car” which he did for several kilometers before his new found friends stopped for drinks and refused to go any further.  “There are a lot of murders on this path” was the explanation.  12hrs of adrenaline later Anton was back on tarmac and high-tailing it out of there.  Appearing at the finish line it was hard to tell if Anton had a deep tan or just desperately needed his first shower since London, he was certainly one of the most feral racers to check in and looked like some kind of apocalypse survivor with a dog blanket stuffed in his back pocket and his shoes in tatters.  “Carbon road shoes aren’t meant for walking” one shoe cleat was worn down to a smooth slither of plastic whilst the other was completely absent.  He had pedalled the last 600km like this “so long as you don’t stand up or do anything too quick, its sort of manageable”.

A couple of days out it looked like an auto bus had formed in Bulgaria that stuck together through to the Turkish border which was on party pace.  While riding together is frowned upon and drafting outright forbidden, when it comes to the rear end of the field making it to the party and if the auto bus is well populated then one can turn a blind eye to a little help from friends who want to be there to celebrate together.  This little gruppetto of 6 riders dispersed after the Turkish border however and such is the resolution of the tracking feeds it was left to speculation whether they attacked each other once they could smell the Bosphorus, or whether they were indeed ever riding together at all as practical route choices through that area are limited.

Colin Woof was the first rider from the pack to make it to the Bosphorus under the cover of darkness and he too was a top contender for most feral rider of the TCR and also the spirit of the race prize.  Such a low-fi approach using entirely paper maps for navigation, totally unprepared and winging it most of the way, Colin showed amazing fortitude and arrived with a huge smile on his face at 4:23 in the morning and woke us up with a big (sticky, greasy) hug despite a difficult run in to the city.  Colin was expected in a little after 1am and after we had missed a couple of riders arriving early in the morning after all night runs we staked out the finish line all night determined no to miss him.  Several punctures used all of his repair options and even a fix from a truck tyre repair shop failed.  Colin eventually opted for ripping up his t-shirt to pack out the flat tyre as best he could and rode the last 30 miles like that to the finish.

Certainly 2 other pairs of riders had been riding together since the start.  Recep Yesil and Erik Nohlin, two designers from Specialized bicycles had designed and developed the AWOL bike for just this kind of adventure and always planned to ride in each other’s company, but not to share equipment or the work load.  Sebastian Gassner and Daniel Wilson also completed the ride together and the four riders showed that the TCR is more than a race to many and a bicycle adventure is not something that rules should constrain.  When it came down to it they chose companionship and adventure over the race requirements, Gassner and Wilson deciding not to repeat their Stelvio climb from the east side and Yesil accepting the odd lift when illness and fatigue meant that the speed differential between himself and Nohlin was too great to keep them together.

Erik Nohlin was the first to appear at the Rumeli Hisari in time for a beer at Cafe Hisar before the finishers’ photocall.  Recep wasn’t far behind and arrived with moments to spare as the riders assembled in the amphitheater for a final group photo.  The Turk arrived to rapturous applause from his fellow competitors not only for making it in time, but for the contents of his pannier rack, being the only one to stop and buy a watermelon from the stalls that lined the roads in Bulgaria and carry it all the way to the finish.  Many of the others had craved the fruit in the heat through the last few hundred kilometers and contemplated stopping too, 3rd place Matt Wilkins in particular admitted to dreaming of watermelons for the last few nights, but none had the space or the desire to carry the extra weight.  Yesil’s native tongue came in handy as he talked his way into the Ottoman fortress with bike, promising security that he wouldn’t withdraw the knife he had stored in the fruit until he was outside the historic monument once more.

Gassner & Wilson arrived moments later, missing the photo op, but just in time to scrub up and party, which just left the tracker of Sergei Konov as the only one within range before presentation proceedings commenced at Cafe bar Kitchenette, down the road in the exclusive district of Bebek.

Such are the efforts and (mis)adventures of all the riders in the TCR that a deadline seems almost not appropriate, but we’ve got to leave some time and its the attitude of the organisation that the finisher’s party is more carrot than stick.  It certainly isn’t a ‘cut-off’ that would denote unworthiness of non-attendees but more of a defined end to the race and means of rationalising the approach of the race and its participants from the outset.  It was with great pleasure that we saw all the finishers at the party, from those that had been finished for 10 minutes, to those that had been there for almost a week and the opportunity to celebrate and swap tales of adventure with fellow riders proved to be compelling enough that riders pushed themselves to make it, but challenging enough that, inevitably, there were a few casualties and more than a few scratches.

And so with the hard work done, it was time to party…