Riders Pass Through Control 1:

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Those riders that made the noon sailing from Dover were undoubtedly going to be the first to control so the question became, of the four, who and when?

The early prognosis from several UK based watchers was that a midnight finish could be on the cards, but UK time that is; as riders were now running on CET and the rolled off the ferry at around 14:30 local time.  Control 1 was approximately 300km away from Calais putting a 1am CET arrival at 10.5 hrs, not impossible if the tailwind stayed with them, but very ambitious.  It was Josh Ibbett that reached the control first having circumnavigated Paris to the East and avoided riding through the center.  Ibbett reached the Reveil Matin at 02:30am with a 300km ride of 12hrs.  Half an hour later was Richard Dunnett.  Both Dunnett and Ibbett had not slept and set off into the night again unsure where they would rest their heads.

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The all night, all Volvo stake out of Reveil Matin was woken again at 5:07 by the arrival of racers #89, #67 and #14; Steffan Streich, Adrian O’Sullivan and Ishmael Burdeau respectively.  There were some weary and disappointed faces as they found the meaning of “a simple roadside control with no services” and realised that the Reveil Matin was not open for accommodation at this hour.  They too had pushed for the control without worrying about food or water or what next.

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Kristof Allegaert was a man with a plan however and wasn’t going to let the nocturnal activities of riders 15 years his junior dissuade him from it.  He was the first rider to arrive having slept and appeared confident in his strategy, although he did take a break from being a man of very few words to ask ‘who this Josh Ibbett’ was.  Kristof appeared to bed down near Beaumont at midnight local time for around 3-4 hours and rolled into the control shortly before 06:00, followed soon after by another of last year’s veterans; Sergei Konov who was enjoying a lighter, faster ride this year.  Of the first seven riders through three were veterans, underlining the value of experience.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

Rounding out the top 10 were last minute entrant Matthias Muller at 9am, experienced bikepacker and Tour Divider Gunther Desmedt at 10:42 and Mark Collinson.  Mark arrived around ten minutes later along with Andrew Allday, with whom he took breakfast.  The pair were quite surprised to be troubling the top ten.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

Pippa Handley was the first woman to control 1 at 12:07 but not by a large margin, Gaby Leveridge arrived all of 7 minutes later with Ben Thompson and Gareth Baines.  Michael Woolridge was hot on their heels coming in at 25 past noon.  After a stellar first day he had stopped early in Amiens and enjoyed a lengthy sleep but unlike Allegaert was not cruising back to the front of the pack.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

Riders continued to roll in all day and fill the local fast food establishments.  Sundays in France give little options for services and with morning and afternoon shifts came rain, sometimes with sudden and great downpours.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

The first 20 or so riders had clearly invested their time wisely in planning their route through or round Paris but further through the field and the tales of misadventure began to pour out.  For many it was simply getting lost in Paris or stuck at the many many traffic lights through the city.  Chris White a regular visitor to these parts (and a very thorough planner by all appearances) spoke of the benefits of knowing when to take the bike path and when to hit the road.  He and Dylan Hubble at least had visited the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower on their route through the city but still made decent time, arriving early afternoon.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

A few riders found themselves accidentally on motorways, thus becoming examples in our lesson to study routes in detail or not to rely solely on the decision making of electronic devices for navigation.  Thus Andy and Jane Chadwick climbed over Armaco and extracted themselves after the road they were travelling on became upgraded in status and illegal for bikes.  Jonathan Elliot wandered onto the M2 when it stopped being the A2 and was quickly extracted by the local constabulary.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

Kieran Shanahan arrived with Tom Stone, Rob Savin and Nick Busst solving one of our missing rider conundrums.  Kieran’s tracker was collected by his friends but when he failed to report in for late registration at Westminster, the organisation assumed him a non starter.  He told us at control he was so excited and nervous on the bridge that he missed all of the formalities and the megaphone shouts for his name.  A few other tracking swaps last minute accounted for some temporary alter egos but tracking rates remain high and most irregularities are now accounted for.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

The control was due to close at sunset, which was nominally a little after 8pm but a last minute influx had us there until 21:30 during which time another 3 riders sneaked onto the sign in list to bring the sign in tally to 76 riders.

With news of one scratch before control 1, #98 Peta McSharry reaching us later that put 9 riders still out on the road to make control 1.  Peta cited a dead gps as her reason to pull the plug, unable to remain in the fight and ride the times and distance her plan required with navigation by other means.  Transcontinental does not have a ‘cut off’ as such, but there comes a time when the cars must leave and set up other controls, often driving through the night to stay ahead of the leaders as they charge across Europe.  Thus the riders reaching control 1 after the crew’s departure are required to ‘self validate’ by whatever means they can prove their visit.  One such rider was #18 Alberto Varni, pictured, who clocked in still smiling at 10:47 on Tuesday after having rear wheel problems and unable to find an open bike shop on Sunday.  Forza Alberto! – its the fortitude of riders who find themselves near the rear of the field with problems but still keep battling away that we love about this race.

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Meanwhile the leaders continued their unstoppable charge across the continent, heading towards Switzerland by tea time with Allegaert first catching Richard Dunnett as he hit the road after sleeping.  The two rode together for a short time before punctures set Dunnett back and Allegaert pushed on to find Ibbett further up the road as they approached the Voges.

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

Transcontinental 2014 Race. First Checkoint Cafe Au Reveil Matin, Paris

Control 1 Sign in times – 10th August 2014 (all CET)

1 90 Josh ibbett 2:30
2 2 Richard Dunnett 3:06
3 14 Ishmael Burdeau 5:07
3 67 Adrian O’Sullivan 5:07
3 89 Steffan Streich 5:07
6 1 Kristof Allegaert 5:53
7 85 Sergei Konov 6:05
8 50 Matthias Mueller 9:00
9 31 Gunther Desmedt 10:42
10 11 Mark Collinson 10:50
11 42 Andrew Allday 10:51
12 62 Aaron Beard 11:04
13 15 Stephen Bailey 11:28
14 92 Chris Phillips 11:37
15 93 George Michakis 11:37
16 4 Mikko Makipaa 11:40
17 32 Samual Becuwe 11:59
18 78 Pippa Handley 12:07
19 37 Gareth Baines 12:14
20 55 Ben Thompson 12:14
21 56 Gaby Leveridge 12:14
22 21 Michael Woolridge 12:25
23 99 Chris Dobbs 12:48
24 47 Andreas Bader 12:59
25 51 Dylan Hubble 12:59
26 49 Barry Duncan 12:59
27 46 Ethan Stewart 13:08
28 45 Kim Raeymaekers 13:08
29 17 Nicholas Stiles 13:09
30 101 Matt Edwards 13:17
31 52 John Bakewell 13:25
32 24 Chris White 13:25
33 63 Massimillano Fancoli 13:31
34 61 Gianmarco Vignati 13:31
35 12 Daniel Jessee 14:06
37 29 Lee Pearce 14:07
37 13 Gavin Scott 14:39
38 77 Paul Alderson 14:40
39 79 Pierangelo Rivoira 14:41
40 20 John Duggan 14:54
41 6 Rickie Cotter 14:57
42 10 David King 15:09
43 41 Hans-Jurgen Schmitz-Rech 15:18
44 87 Ian Oliver 15:43
46 16 Jonathan Elliot 16:21
47 80 Willem Van Zyl 16:30
48 69 Frederik Van Niekerk 16:30
49 23 Jane Chadwick 16:52
50 22 Andy Chadwick 16:52
51 66 Martin Mcconnell 16:52
52 8 Stephen Phillips 16:56
53 19 Mike Sheldrake 17:12
54 91 Henri van Winkoop 17:15
55 100 Sebastian Gassner 17:18
57 71 Vasiliki Voutzali 17:18
57 75 George Tsekouras 17:20
58 33 Vincent Baroche 17:37
59 44 Ben Underwood 17:43
60 64 Robert Goldie 17:56
61 7 Nick Dodd 18:00
62 3 Tom Stone 18:29
63 34 Rob Savin 18:29
64 35 Nichola Busst 18:29
65 36 Kieran Shanahan 18:29
66 58 Ellie Solomides 18:35
67 74 Martin Cox 18:48
68 68 Mario Zangrando 19:04
69 88 Milko Gennai 19:04
70 46 Chris Bennett 19:36
71 57 Jason Alcock 19:39
72 5 Matthijs Ligt 19:54
73 81 Vincenzo Sannicandro 20:19
74 65 Scott Andrews 21:59
75 30 Silvano Colombo 21:31
76 28 Mattia Biffi 21:31

Transcontinental No.2 is GO.

Riders assemble and start the second Transcontinental race.

88 riders assembled in London ahead of Transcontinental No.2, at Look Mum No Hands EAST for rider briefing and registration.  A mixture of 16 nationalities and significant showings from Belgian, German, Greek and Italian contingents meant that around half the field had travelled from outside the UK to make the start in the British capital.

Riders received their personal satellite tracking devices which will transmit at twice the 2013 frequency for improved tracking rates and were given details of the three controls.

Look Mum Mike on Chair Look Mum No Hands  Reg desk italian hands

Removed from the second edition are the cobbles of flanders and the Muur Van Geraardsbergen.  Riders will take a southerly exit from the channel, staying in France to steer around Paris to end up in Montgeron which is home to the starting line of the very first Tour de France in 1903.  Today the Cafe Reveil au Matin which hosted the auspicious meeting of likely challengers is a very different place, there is little of the original character remaining and it has been restyled as a Brazilian themed restaurant, but the history is significant and it is here that the riders will get their Brevet Cards signed for the first time.

Onwards to control 2.  The East side of the Stelvio Pass will again feature; being something of a defining feature of the race.  Racers will be plotting a trajectory from much further South however and it will be an altogether different ride from last year, until they are well into the Alps.

Once again they will have to climb to reach the Cima Coppi – be it via Fluela Pass and Oftenpass, or via another route and many of them will make their way down via the same route to progress on through Italy and to the Balkans.

Ferries are permitted again and will provide dilemma and discussion over the best way to tackle the Adriatic.  The Dalmatian coast is a beautiful ride, but not an easy one.  Navigation is at least simple and versus the flatter spin across Italy there is less risk of delay to missed or rescheduled ferries.  Another option is moving inland through Croatia but riders aren’t going to be able to hide from some substantial climbing getting into Montenegro that way.  There’s a reason they call it that.

Control three is the beautiful climb from Kotor Bay to Lovcen National Park via 25 switchbacks, from here the decisions to be made are to head west inland through the mountains of Montenegro and through Serbia or Kosovo to Bulgaria, or to head south through Albania and into Northern Greece.

   Big Ben Blur

On Saturday morning at 8 am sharp Big Ben chimed the start of the race.  Riders nervously counted seven strikes before putting their best pedal forward on the eighth.  Favourable winds pushed the those destined for Dover in a South Easterly direction making even the more ambitious sailing schedules achievable and a few wish they’d been more bold at booking time.  Quick out of the blocks and confident enough to bag a noon sailing were likely contenders Richard Dunnett, Josh Ibbett and Kristof Allegaert.  Also on board was Michael Woolridge who was giving them an early run for their money.

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 The 12:55 sailing from Dover disembarked 40 minutes late adding to the margin further and putting the leaders approximately one and a half hours ahead of the chasing pack after the first seven hours.

To the west another group of riders had taken a southerly exit out of London over the downs and experienced cross winds as they made their way to Newhaven but sailings to Dieppe occur only twice a day, saving energy and an easy 90km ride to wait for the 10:30pm sailing was the order of the day.  Waiting for the sailing would put them back around 8 hours but ultimately save them 100km.  Further west still a third group of riders had opted for Portsmouth and while they didn’t have the same wait they were riding into the wind and taking a 5hr crossing.  Some had the plan to take a nap and save themselves needing to sleep later.  They would also arrive on French soil with a shorter, faster run into Paris and avoid needing to negotiate its middle.

Of the strategies Dover – Calais was clearly the favourite of the serious racers, choosing not to spend any time waiting and more time cycling, putting down the extra miles in much less time than would be saved.  Arguments of fresher legs for those who rode shorter distances won’t stick the longer the clock runs and the more miles that accumulate for all.  It was Michael Woolridge of the four front runners who stopped first near Amiens, 120km North of Paris for a 6 hr stop.  Kristof Allegaert also stopped to the North of Paris near Beaumont around midnight local time, while Ibbett and Dunnett pedalled into day two and through the centre of Paris towards the first Control.

Across Europe in a Fortnight: Rimas Grigenas

Ever since I heard about The Transcontinental I knew it was my kind of race. Organised by Mike Hall, a supreme endurance cyclist himself, and The Adventurists (a bonkers events outfit) it had to be one cracker of an event! Only – how do you prepare for such a race? You are on your own most of the way, no pre-arranged support or bag drops, you carry bike survival kit, food rations, your wardrobe for two weeks (not much of it), navigation aids – all has to be small and light enough so you can still “race” rather than “tour”. So, London to Istanbul – home to Asia. 3400km! How hard can it be to ride the distance in two weeks? Having taken part in long distance cycling events (audaxes or randonees – up to 1600km) before, I knew I could ride the distance (provided that everything went well), so filled out the entry form, clicked “Enter” and started looking forward to August with excitement.

Do I need a new bike for this race – probably not, my current audax bike will be fine for the job – very comfortable and fast enough. What distance can I cover per day? I was hoping to average 350km/day, given that previously I have averaged 480km/day on Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km ride, but there you’ve got food stops arranged (big time saver!) and shelter if you need it. Can I complete The Transcontinental in ten days then? Let’s see!

I have looked at the possible route (which was free to choose) several times, but in the end let the Bikeroutetoaster website draw the one for me two days before the race – there was no way to check out all the roads/surfaces suitable for cycling over such a vast distance. Then downloaded the route onto a Garmin GPS and also took a spare GPS unit with me just in case. With the bike set up for the challenge I was raring to go! Sunny morning on Westminster Bridge, few pre-ride photos taken before Big Ben tells it’s 8:00am and we’re off!

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Thirty riders have started the race, all heading towards Dover first to take a ferry across the channel. First 50-60km we rode together with Juliana and Iain, last few before Dover with Richard and Edward. 12:30pm at Dover, I was glad to persuade the ticket lady at the port to let me on 2pm ferry to Dunkirk (I had a flexible ticket, but all the places were already booked for that ferry). Soon other riders joined us, all looking forward to what lies ahead – I could sense the trepidation. Once off the ferry I reached for aerobars and rode 150km non-stop in 5h13m towards the first checkpoint in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. I learned Belgian drivers are not used to see cyclists on the road, so I was forced to take somewhat slower cycle-paths. I’ve gone past two bike shops (closed as it was Saturday evening) in Belgium – the only ones I’ve noticed in my entire trip! There was Transcontinental crew waiting at the checkpoint as well as Kristof who’s got there 20min ago. The kitchen at the restaurant agreed to prepare the last meal for me before they closed and with energy levels restored I decided to carry on instead of sleeping the first night. Saturday night is party time as I could see going through the towns and villages; our party however will be in two weeks time – and there’s still a long way to ride to take part. Eventually I had to stop for a 1hr nap on a chair of an outside cafe at 4am to keep going. French Ardennes hills have started to take their toll on my legs and 24hrs/415km since the start in London I stopped for a breakfast at the roadside (i.e. two sandwiches that I carried from the restaurant the night before). The temperature was rising rapidly into mid thirties and with no shade to hide in I was struggling more and more – overheating climbing up the hills as well as tired from the lack of sleep.

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Eventually the evening came and I had good few hours of riding through gently rolling French landscape. Next sleep stop was at midnight at Neufchatel, where slept for couple of hours in the park. I got quite cold at night and I had to go to the supermarket in the morning to get some leggings, cut the leg part off them and use as leg-warmers for the forthcoming nights. It was one of the best “usefulness-to-weight” ratio things to carry, the best being silver survival blanket which I used as my “accommodation” during night stops. However, even if it’s scorching hot during the day the mountain valleys get really cold and foggy at night (below 10 degrees Celsius), so I would wake up shivering after few hours and needed a lot of motivation to get going again – first few kilometres were very cold to ride with the wind chill! In the evening of day three I crossed the border town of Basel into lovely Switzerland and found my night stop on a temporary stage (scaffolding and wood planks) on the shore of Lake Zurich. Fantastic views and sounds of waves crashing into the shore have drowned me into a deep sleep and two hours later I woke up feeling great, would you believe it! It was a tough day ahead with 240km and 3800m of climbing in blazing sun. Picture-perfect mountain towns of Klosters and Davos, Fluela pass – the beauty of Swiss Alps, which your eyes appreciate, but legs are grumbling, if you are on a bike that is. This was my first time cycling in proper mountains… Another rider Mikko has caught me up briefly and it was great to bump into a fellow rider again.

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Smooth descent towards Prato Allo where the ascent to the second checkpoint will begin. It was 10pm and I decided to climb the famous mountain pass in the morning to appreciate the breathtaking views, the splendours that surround me. I was still ranking third in the race after 1200km and 85hrs (Kristof and Richard were quite far ahead), stopped at a cafe at Prato Allo for a snack and was soon joined by Matt and Mike Hall – happy to see familiar faces and catch up with things as I was not carrying smart phone to cut the weight!

The bed time came at midnight in the apple tree garden and I had a plan to get up at 3am and start ascending the Stelvio pass (2758m) – second highest in the Alps. However, I slept in and got up at 4:47am, hrrrrr! Immediately jumped on the bike and started ascending the mountain. I was careful though as without any breakfast I could bonk quite easily if I try too hard too early. There were a handful of raisins in my tri-bag which saw me through to the top, thankfully. The climb itself is gorgeous – I wish I could have a proper go at it with fresh legs! I spotted a Transcontinental Volvo waiting near the top and got adrenaline rush to attack the last few hairpins, ha ha! All good fun and thanks to Richard (Brandon-Cox) our photographer for the pictures!

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Got my brevet card signed and went down the same 48 hairpins that I’ve just cycled all the way up. Replenished my food supplies at a shop at the bottom of the climb and started my journey for the remaining 2200km. Will I see a familiar face again until I reach Istanbul?

The roads in Alpine valleys turned out to be extremely busy with lots of heavy machinery – lorries, cement mixers, tipper trucks, you name it – and not much space on the roads, I could have touched some of them with stretched-out arm when being overtaken. London in comparison, feels like a cycling paradise! Once the GPS route started taking me through the tunnels which are proper scary even when you walk on the pavement I decided not to risk it anymore and went to find the nearest alternative road. The problem was that I did not have a cycle path route/map in my GPS and had to rely on directions to the next town, which I wouldn’t know – I just needed to get to Austria, then Hungary etc. I realised I’m well and truly stuck in these valleys. The cycle paths are designed for touring/family type of cyclist, slow, sometimes with gravel, going through cobbled busy high streets of towns and winding their way left and right instead of going directly where I need to go. Hey ho. Got my rear tyre punctured on one of those paths (caused by a thorn), but it was the one and only puncture in the entire trip – can’t complain about that!

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^ sleep stop in South Tirol (on that wooden ramp)

In the end I’ve spent almost three days in South Tirol and Austria instead of planned two and thought I was way down the leader board, but to my surprise found out that I was sixth! Others might have struggled as well in 40 degrees heat, with navigation and nutrition challenges (although this does not apply to cycling machine Kristof who seemed to have the best tactics in addition to being super-strong rider!). There were many times when I would stop from exhaustion, go into supermarket, rest my back against the fridge for some time, grab and scoff a tub of ice cream/watermelon/milkshake, cool down a bit, then do the same in the next town after 10km – I would hardly call this a race.. However, knowing that my friends, family, colleagues at work, fellow cyclists etc. are seeing my location in real time and rooting for me has given strength to pick myself up and carry on time and time again. Well wishes go a long way and carry an immense power – a massive THANK YOU for all your support!!!

Riding through Austria I was stopped by a diligent policeman to be told I’m not allowed on this road as this is an “autostrada”. It looked the same as any other road (one lane each way) so I was a bit puzzled why I am not allowed here. “-You will have to pay a fine of 36 euros now” “-Can I have a warning instead?” “-No, I have logged it as a traffic offence and you must pay a fine now”. Money exchanged into a ticket, I was asked to go down a steep slope off the road (which I could only manage sliding on my bum), across a corn field and onto a parallel road, fair enough… Before leaving Austria I had yet to tackle the last major climb – Magdalensberg (road no.69) with the inclines reaching 15% and it felt like a hardest climb of the race.

I was relieved to reach Hungary for many reasons. The traffic was low, there were road signs telling bikes/tractors/horses are not allowed, but I could see locals riding their bikes, driving tractors therefore I thought I will blend in no problem. Good road surfaces, lots of places to get food (shops/csardas) – I was enjoying the trip again! I reached Lake Balaton around midnight and slept in a bus shelter until the early morning. The night was very windy, sky lit with lightning in the distance – it was the same weather front that caught other riders out in the Alps. Hungary was flat and not very big country so I reached the border of Romania by the evening. First passport control since Dover, but no problems there, although there was a long queue of lorries waiting. The streets of villages were scarcely lit in Romania, but full of life – children still playing outside at 10pm. The roads were good and temperature perfect and I wished I could carry on, but started to feel very sleepy and had to stop to sleep at around midnight. Found a place in one village near a creek and under a plum tree (hey dog – stop barking there!) and fell asleep as soon as I put my head down. I was woken up by bells. Opened my eyes – there’s a cow almost above me trying to carefully go around, then another and another, it could be eight of them. There was a farmer at the end herding them who mumbled something to me I mumbled something back still a bit confused if I’m dreaming this or not. I slept right next to a singletrack which they probably used to go up and down daily and were surprised to see an unusual shiny obstacle in their way (survival blanket that I had wrapped myself in). “A cow mangled my bike” – is that a good enough excuse for not finishing the race? Luckily the bike stayed safe on the other side and I was promptly on the road again. Got some local cash in Timisoara as well as stocked up with food for the day. The weather was hot around 40 degrees, tarmac bubbling, and I was just plodding along occasionally stopping for water at mini-markets or asking locals. There were some lovely hills along river Cerna and approaching river Danube. It was late Sunday evening by the time I reached a larger town Drobeta. Are there any shops open at this time? Lidl was shut, other shops were shut as well. I saw the directions to Carrefour hypermarket on lamp posts – please be open!.. Yesssss!! It was one of the best shopping stops where I could get good quality food and drink. Locals seemed amused by my grubby lycra outfit and clac-clac shoes though. After hearty feast the sleep took hold of me and I stopped at the park and slept for almost five hours – there was a stray dog sniffing around when I woke up, probably sensing the food that I had in my bag. Cleaned the cleats off clay and set off while it was still dark. Another scorching hot day through uncultivated fields ahead; it will hopefully get me to the bridge across Danube to Bulgaria. Except, as it turned out there was no bridge (as I have assumed), only a ferry that goes five times a day and I was extremely lucky to just make it to the last one by chance! Once through the border control of Nikopol in Bulgaria I was on my way, only the roads were not very cooperative – sharp craters and constant potholes one after and inside another – I thought I might just get off and walk. It took me 3.5hrs to cover 45km (it would normally take 1.5-2hrs)! Once on the E83 road, I could go fast again, but I felt I’m getting sleepy and it’s time to look for a rest stop. It happened by chance that I found myself lying in a field of thyme!.. Heavenly smell, I could clearly see Milky Way and there were August meteor showers on display – aroma therapy and fireworks by Mother Nature – mesmerizing! I was happy to live in that moment, grateful to be a part of it all!

Four hours later I was awake again and had to keep going – Istanbul was not too far away now! I had a pleasure to witness a shepherd and his two dogs herding a flock of sheep along the village – three of them working in harmony were controlling what must have been over a hundred sheep. Tried and tested method for hundreds of years. The day in Bulgaria was as hot as any other on this trip and I was still not acclimatised to such a punishment. There was a mountain range to be crossed, not too high though at 700m. I met a cycle tourist from Birmingham pushing his bike up the climb – he was also heading towards Istanbul. The road side sellers were offering big ripe juicy peaches and I stopped few times during the day to indulge myself, I appreciated invigorating succulent fruits as by then had been fed up with energy-dense food which was staple diet on this trip.

By the evening I was at the Turkish border – the last border control on this journey. The checks were more thorough here; I had to show the passport four times, but no problems to cross. Most staff was surprised about the lack of luggage on my bike, told that tourists usually carry big bags on their bikes. Well, I’m not exactly a “tourist” on this trip and had to get away carrying the bare minimum. After a quick briefing by a Bulgarian border lady (“It can be dangerous to cycle there, it’s a different culture!”) I set off into the last night of my race. The road was smooth but soon turned into a very coarse chip-seal surface, which has slowed me down dramatically. 23c tyres were clearly not up to the job there and I had to ride out of saddle most part of it (around 140km). I had a hope to carry on through the last night without sleep, but started to nod off and had to stop at the bus shelter to shut my eyes – only to be woken up by a very curious young chap who stopped his car and was trying to figure out what I’m doing here in the middle of the night. We couldn’t understand each other, but body language showed neither of us was looking for a conflict; we discussed something for about half an hour, shook hands and he drove off. I checked my GPS and realised if I push hard enough for seven hours I may reach 3300km mark by 8:00am GMT which would make the average 300km/day for 11 days – a nice round number. I gave it all – up and down the never ending hills and at 8am saw the odometer showing 3302km – yay! The last hundred kilometres to Istanbul was on busy highways, still under construction with thousands of yellow tipper trucks zooming past carrying soil and gravel, it seemed like a massive civil engineering project. Finally the minarets started appearing in the distance and the finish strait (ahem) was just around the corner. I was surprised to hear English words behind me while riding through Istanbul only to look back and found Mike and Richard who came to meet me and followed for the last few kilometres – thanks chaps! No opportunity to stop and wash my face from all the dust before the finish, ha ha (last proper wash being at the Romanian-Bulgarian border while waiting for the ferry..). I reached Rumeli Hisari on Wednesday afternoon; in sixth place and 11d 7h 21m after Big Ben sent us all off!

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Safe and sound (escaped all angry dogs chasing me), body feeling fine (if tired), no saddle sores, no numb fingers or other occupational injuries of long distance cyclist. I was pleased to stay off the caffeine and other stimulants throughout the entire trip (although the amount of sugar I consumed is mind-boggling). The bike was supremely reliable as well, not a single adjustment required, only had to lube the chain every 4-500km and fix one puncture – have I had it too easy?:rolleyes: The Transcontinental was a very different animal to anything I have done before – the most audacious ride so far, by far. You suddenly start seeing a typical long distance brevet as a fun ride after this monster ride. This shift in thinking is not good; it will come back to bite me hard one day (or night, in the rain, in the middle of nowhere stuck with broken down bike), ha ha!

Four months later when writing this report my memories of the race are still very vivid and I still catch myself processing the experiences, landscapes, my state of mind, interactions with people. Ten countries in eleven days have turned under the wheels of a humble bicycle – I call it a result!

Best of luck to fellow racers of 2013 in their future exploits and to all riders who signed up for The Transcontinental 2014 – you’re in for a treat! Bonne route!

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…

TCR Enters Istanbul: We have a winner.

Kristof Allegaert arrived at the Rumeli Hisari last night at 23:45 local time, surprising his welcome party by approaching Istanbul from the South West but arriving at the finish from the north after a last minute wrong turn resulted in one more bonus climb over the hill on which the Ottoman Fortress sits.  Maybe it was the steep cobbled road from the Bosphorus that attracted the Belgian.

Allegaert’s tracker registered no significant stops since Plovdiv, Bulgaria and he rode through the night to record an astonishing finish time a little shy of 7 days and 14 hrs which was many hours ahead of estimations of what the first benchmark time would be set.

Congratulations and Chapeau to Kristof on a stunning ride.

Meanwhile there are 23 active racers still out in Europe. Richard Dunnett enters Turkey today and Matt Wilkins is pushing hard and making ground on Ed Pickup and James Jordan in the battle for 3rd.

Chris Holden became the first to take a ferry across the Adriatic, Tony Hawke was stalled at the Croatian border and will have to make a return ride to continue after finally leaving Slovenia on a train.  Juliana Buhring is now in hot pursuit of the Australian.

Follow all the riders tracking at www.transcontinentalrace.com or on the blue dot mobile app: http://app.bluedot.mobi/

Race Report 3: Finito at the Cima Coppi

Day 5 of the TCR started with more riders at the foot of the Stelvio, ready for a dawn raid on control point 2.  Rimas Grigenas and Matt Wilkins met up in Prato allo Stelvio to enjoy midnight pizza and Ed Pickup got the jump on the pair by making a start at the pass before bedding down 8km up.  In the morning he became the third rider to CP2 at 7:57am CET.  Hot on his heels was Australian Matt Wilkins at 8:11am and the two riders exchanged greetings on switchback number 3 as Ed descended the way he climbed.

Matt Wilkins drained but happy at the pass.
Matt Wilkins drained but happy at the pass.

So far all racers had chosen a 96 hairpin return trip to Prato before continuing East.  Wilkins was tempted to be the first to descend to Bormio and take on the Passo di Gavia but was feeling the last 24hrs of altitude gain in his legs and followed suit, as did Grigenas who revealed that his sleep strategy involved folding a survival blanket over himself and being woken up by the shivering as he became cold in the hours just before dawn.  Perhaps the morning wasn’t cold enough in Prato or the need to sleep was greater, but he crested the climb a little over an hour later (9:22am) after sleeping in.  James Jordan reported in half an hour later (9:50am) and had spent the previous evening in a bus shelter.  All the riders through had been sleeping 4hrs per night on average and felt that is sustainable.

Someone who has averaged far less up until recently is Mikko Makipaa “1.5h, 3h and 2h of sleep so far, Real rest before climbing to Stelvio” he tweeted and one could be forgiven for wondering what real rest means for the Finnish Randonneur but a 14hr+ stop followed.  Laundry done, sleep debts paid off and well fed Makipaa rode the pass on the afternoon of day 5 as the weather started to turn and after a large pizza at the Hotel Porego was the first to descend the western side of the pass   Determined to see as much as possible en-route and not afraid of some serious effort, Mikko was headed toward Lake Garda via the formidable Mortirolo Pass which is described by some of the best in the pro peleton as one of the hardest climbs in the Alps.  Respect is due.  Ed Jones was next in for a beer and a feed at 19:00 and also returned the way he came.

Mikko Makipaa
A refreshed Mikko Makipaa at Prato allo Stelvio

Overnight day 4/5 the first race withdrawal had also come through.  Zoran Mihelcic reported in offering no excuses, just a simple “I’m done” and headed to Zurich to catch a flight.  Three other riders; Recep Yesil, Jason Woodhouse and Chris Ellam, who had been struggling to get back on terms with injuries and illness decided to continue but disqualify themselves from the race and get to Istanbul via other means, a mixture of planes, bicycles and automobiles.  These “honourable self-disqualifications” go to show that a transcontinental bicycle ride is bigger than any race and a much personal endeavour.  The riders choosing to set themselves free of the race rules and follow their adventures to Istanbul on their own terms.  From the TCR team this is heartening to see that the will to continue is not extinguished with chances in the race and we look forward to celebrating with them in Istanbul however they get there.

Day 6 started as day 5 finished with howling wind and driving rain settling in for the day, Nicholas Pusinelli and Anton Hunt headed back to Prato after a night in the Albergo Forago, hoping that their brake pads would last the descent in inclement conditions.  Sergei Konov checked in for breakfast starting a TCR’s busiest day of visitors to CP2.  On a sunny day the Stelvio Pass is crowded with cyclists, motorcycles and sports cars during the day making TCR riders difficult to spot, when it rains like this though, only those who have little choice are on the mountain and half of those are in this race.  Erik Nohlin pushed hard and arrived shivering, soaked to the skin and made a dash for the nearest shower and crashed out in the lobby of the Forago to get warm before attempting the descent.  Anthony Hawke arrived with new wheel after a series of mechanical disasters delayed him.  Chris Holden was presented with fresh a Cima Coppi jersey from one of the pass’s souvenir sellers when he summited and she found out what he was up to.

Steely Juliana Buhring checked in for lunch having passed at least two TCR racers on the way up the climb before the afternoon’s check-ins congregated in the Porego Hotel Pizzeria.  Nick Dodd, Shaun Timberlake and Colin Woof joined the party and riders ate pizza and pasta in double portions while trying to wait out the heavy rain.  Colin shared the story of how he came to be in the race – his friends had a whip-round for the entry fee and signed him up after he protested that he would but he couldn’t afford it, then he had to go through with it.  Juliana put the other racers to shame by enjoying a swift whiskey for the road, filling the front of her jersey with newspaper and heading out first.  Dodd and Woof donned bin bags some while later to protect them from chill on the descent.  Shaun Timberlake became the 5th withdrawal with acute knee pain.  He joins Holden to reach Istanbul by rail.  Iain Findlay looked like being the last man to CP2 before the sunset deadline for a crew presence which relieved supporters who lost his tracking signal yesterday, signal restored, he descended again straight away with a gap in the weather.  Other riders tracks seemed to have stalled half way up the climb.  Davidson Kingan reported he would finish the pass in the morning but Eelco Weijmans carried on to beat the departure of the event car.

[Update: Daniel Wilson and Sebastian Gassner just checked in at the pass as the crew were leaving but approached from the west side instead of the classic Stelvio climb of the 48 switchbacks and now face the dilemma of whether to descend and climb the pass again in the morning or head on for Istanbul and miss the CP2 requirements which would relegate them in the standings]

 

Control 2 Standings, all times CET.

 

6th August, (Day 4)

1. Kristof Allegaert [05:16]

2. Richard Dunnett [16:21]

 

7th August (Day 5)

3. Ed Pickup [07:57]

4. Matt Wilkins [08:11]

5. Rimas Grigenas [09:22]

6. James Jordan [09:50]

7. Mikko Makipaa [18:07]

8. Ed Jones [19:00]

9. Nicholas Pusinelli [20:20]

10. Anton Hunt [22:03]

 

8th August (Day 6)

11. Sergei Konov [08.27]

12. Erik Nohlin [10:30]

13. Anthony Hawke [10:44]

14. Chris Holden [11:37]

15. Juliana Buhring [14:35]

16. Nick Dodd [14:45]

17. Colin Woof [16:08]

18. Iain Findlay [18:09]

19. Eelco Weijmans [18:50]

 

Scratches

Zoran Mihelcic

Recep Yesil

Jason Woodhouse

Chris Ellam

Shaun Timberlake

 

Transcontinental Update 2: Leaders pass through the Alps, Navigation separates the field.

Headline news on the break of day 3 is that our leader checked in at CP2 at 5:16am just as the sun was rising, having started just after 3:15am from Prato allo Stelvio, this puts the first bench mark time from London to the Stelvio Pass at a very impressive 68hrs 16min.  Kristof Allegaert timed his climb perfectly for an ascent in the darkness and a descent in the light.  Allegaert is still setting a punishing pace but  keeping a cool head, the event vehicle caught up with him just as headed towards the beautiful Fluelapass, the first of several climbs that would bring him to the base of the Stelvio.  He wasn’t in too much of a hurry not to stop and chat and even offered to buy the event crew drinks, but when questioned about his strategy he’s a man of few words.  “Enough” was the answer when we asked him how much sleep he was getting, we later found out that enough translates to an average of 4hrs a night.  Kristof also revealed that he knew this area very well and hasn’t appeared to miss a turn since Belgium, possibly even London.

That hasn’t been the case for most of our field, especially Richard Dunnett who reported several wrong turns yesterday including “20 miles in the wrong direction” and suggested that he’d lost too much ground.  Nevertheless he is closing on CP2 having crested Fluelapass at around 9:30am and is on target to be enjoying a lunch at 2800m.  Once the racers clear the Alps Allegaert’s navigational advantage will drop off and Dunnett’s “worldly” cycling experience may see him back in the fight.  Rimas Grigenas meanwhile took a wider turn into Switzerland over the last 24hrs and the unstoppable advance of Mikko Mapaa means that there’s a battle for 3rd step on the Cima Coppi podium that sits at the top of CP2.

Navigational issues have also spread the entire field over a vast distance from Luxembourg to Italy.  Shaun Timberlake reported navigation equipment issues on Day 1 that nearly had him heading back across the English channel, re-calibrated and refocused though he is charging back through the pack, his issues seemingly mitigated.  Brian Welsh’s blog continues to document the RAAM racer’s trials with the unfamiliar world of route finding and feeding himself while Matt Wilkins posted on Twitter yesterday; “Time for some impromptu route planning after too many kilometres of this”

matt_wilkins_corn_field

Ed Jones was feeling the solitude when we caught up with him, another test of long distance solo cycling.  Some are in their element on the long lonely road while as many others crave company and a little human contact, even only if its a few words.  Ed reported that he’d only talked to 2 people all day and both in a different language.  At present we have no reports of riders withdrawing or ‘scratching’ from the race.  Chris Ellam has however reported that he has stopped moving due to sickness and a busted knee but signed off with see you on Stelvio, a clear signal of a determined man.

 

Thus concludes our second report as we await more riders at the second control, the leaders have certainly kept the event team busy over the last few days trying to keep pace with them, but now we have set up a comms base at the Albergo Folgore – we’ll be here until the 8th August and look forward to bringing you all the stories and pictures as riders come in.

#TCR2013: The First 24hrs

Riders left Westminster Bridge under the chimes of Big Ben for a short group roll out before becoming autonomous at the Elephant and Castle and heading for the English Channel.  It was unanimous that the Port of Dover was the most expedient UK jumping off point and despite Davidson Kingan discovering his passport missing presumed stolen, all riders eventually made the crossing safely with destinations split between Calais and Dunkirk.  Kristof Alleaert was the first to port and joined by Anton Hunt as the first to set sail.

Kristoph Allegaert, Right
Kristoph Allegaert, Right

Allegaert was the first rider to appear at control 1 on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, topping the climb at 22:18 CET.  The Flemish rider’s local knowledge clearly proved useful and he enjoyed a short respite at the Taverne Hemelrijk before continuing on to Croiseau before bedding down for the night.  Next in to CP1 was Lithuanian Rimas Grigenas at 22:37 who successfully persuaded the kitchen at the Taverne to extend their serving hours a few more minutes and fuel him on well into the night.  Grigenas pedalled well past 03:30 before a short stop of no more than two and a half hours.  Richard Dunnett was third in, closely followed by Ed Pickup shortly after 11pm and the pair chose to take advantage of the hostel accommodation at de Gavers.  Dunnett was the first to leave and first on the road on day 2 and rolling before 4:30am.

_DSC6407
Rimas Grigenas

Not perturbed by a night on the cobbles riders continued in to the control and the hostel to within half an hour of Dunnett’s departure with the trio of James Jordan, Nicholas Pusinelli and Matthew Wilkins arriving at 23:32 and Chris Holden, Ed Jones and Anton Hunt completing the top 10 either side of midnight.

Finnish rider Mikko Makipaa “fresh” back from London – Edinburgh – London to commence the Transcontinental came through at 2:10, brushed his teeth and appeared to seamlessly start a new day, riding non-stop through until Sunday afternoon before stopping for a little over 3 hours near Bastogne, some 30 hours after departing the English capital.

Miko Makipaa
Miko Makipaa

Sergei Konov opened proceedings on Sunday morning as the Chapel opened its doors.  Shortly after Nick Dodd was spotted climbing the Muur for the second time, this time from the correct side, after becoming disoriented leaving town.  Unfortunately for the approaching Colin Woof, Dodd was offering directions to the Muur.  Woof was the only rider not to report to CP1 but his confused tracks were evident close by.  Juliana Buhring arrived looking fresh a little after 9am before going in search of coffee and the bakery in town.

Brian Welsh took an extended lunch at the Taverne as his RAAM training run took off to a steady start and he got to grips with self navigated travel and it was a wrap at Kappelmuur a little after noon when Zoran Mihelcic carried the lantern rouge to the Kapel along with stories of mis-adventures in Kent and a 400km ‘tourist’ route.  One might expect that the shoe may be on the other foot when riders get close to Zoran’s home of Croatia, something this author has experience of.

Sunday riders have been making steady progress southeast, all except for Nicholas Longworth who’s supporters equipped whether his tracker was faulty as it seemed to be heading back to London.  The source of Nick’s 10 mile starting loop out of de Gavers remains a mystery but it would have to be one good bakery.

Bikes of the TCR

Bike set up for lightweight adventure riding is an exercise in taking as little as you can get away with, yet having all the essentials covered.  Each racer must assess what they can and can’t do without, what they feel is worth its burden to take and what equipment they think is durable enough to complete the distance.  For the weight conscious gram counting can border on the obsessive, while for some peace of mind and confidence in one’s equipment can be just as important as the readings on the scales.  Whilst common methods emerge, the finer details are very much a product of personal choice and while concessions to comfort may be made for those in less of a hurry, here are a few things to consider if you want to be at the sharp end…

Frame

In a race like the Transcontinental, where riders will spend every minute of every day either riding, eating or sleeping, time is very much at a premium.  Unless a racer has an unassailable lead, if their frame breaks, it is very unlikely that they can win as the time required to find the facilities and affect a repair becomes very significant.  The traditional notion then that a frame for long distance cycling would be selected on the basis that its material might be easier to repair become less valid.  With this in mind the performance benefits offered by modern materials and manufacturing techniques become more attractive.  The carbon frame of Shaun Timberlake’s Trek Domane (pictured above) is super light and features a seat tube engineered to flex with a rotating joint isolating it from the top tube.

Anthony Hawke's Cannondale with disc brake.
Anthony Hawke’s Cannondale with disc brake.

Wheels

The wheels are the heart of any bike and little affects performance more.  Racers will look for a wheel set that strikes a balance between weight, aerodynamics and durability.  A deep section wheel rim will give a aerodynamic advantage on the flat, while lower profile  rims tend to be lighter and quicker on the climbs.  Serviceability will also be important here and clincher tyres and traditional spoking methods are likely to be the norm.  Spoke count may be a big factor in durability and it will be interesting to see how light some riders may dare to go.  Heat build up on rim braked wheels is also significant on loaded bikes down big alpine descents.  This may be one reason to avoid carbon clincher wheels or adopt disc braking.

Eelco Weijmans' Cannondale with mimimal luggage
Eelco Weijmans’ Cannondale with mimimal luggage

Luggage

For the front runners as light as possible is certainly the way to go.  Its unlikely that the first bikes to Istanbul will be carrying panniers, likewise stoves and tents are a luxury most will do without in the name of speed.  One set of clothes, frame bags, seat packs and bivvys will the order of the day.  When pack weights are likely to be in the order of a few kilograms, the weight of the empty bags themselves comes under close scrutiny and supporting structures like racks no longer earn their place on a fast whip.  The lighter the luggage, the lighter the bags, the bike and the wheels can be.  When one considers that rider weight limits on the lightest of road racing components can be in the order of 100kg – an 80kg rider might be comfortable that they have a good margin to play with.

 

Richard Dunnett's Titanium Moda with aerobar extensions
Richard Dunnett’s Titanium Moda with aerobar extensions and hub dynamo

Aerodynamics

With so many variables to a race like this, each of them is very difficult to quantify and aerodynamic efficiency will be a product of a rider’s discipline to maintain position versus comfort and power output.  While racers wont be rushing to the wind tunnel or taping up their helmet vents and slipping into a skin suit, aerodynamic advantages over 2000+ miles become significant and the gains from handlebar extensions and deep section wheels can be justified.  The choice of luggage arrangement also has aerodynamic consequences and carrying load in a frame bag and seat pack has the additional benefit of being positioned within the frontal area of a regular road cyclist, which is directly proportional to aerodynamic drag.

Accessories

For most racers a pre-planned route and GPS navigation will guide them to Istanbul after spending much of the few months before the race procrastinating over which way will be faster, flatter, quieter, more scenic or have the best cake shops en-route.  Other’s may show up with a map and compass in London and be happy to make it up as they go along.  None can be 100% sure that weather, road conditions and local events won’t interfere with their chosen path so it pays to be prepared and be flexible.  Racer using electronic devices for navigation will also need to think about how to meet their energy demands.  Rechargeable batteries mean a dependence on finding regular mains supply – at meal breaks or over night, carrying extra batteries means more weight, using disposables means finding them along the way and dynamo systems can give self sufficiency at a small trade-off with efficiency.   Lights will also be essential for any racer wanting to extend their riding time past daylight hours or in poor visibility and the same weigh, power and effectiveness considerations will apply.

There’s a lot of decisions for racer’s to make and no one right answer but when all is said and done and the riders line up on the start line, there will be little they can do to change things.  Despite any nerves they might have of the race, its a calm time for racers when all the stress of preparation is over, the decisions already made and all they will have to do is pedal.

Fuel for body and mind on the TCR…

While clean water is plentiful in Europe, food for endurance is incredibly important and beyond regular nutritional best practice specific geographical and psychological considerations of a race like the Transcontinental throw up some unique elements that over time can become more significant.  The geographical elements will determine what access to food the racer might have.  Cultural tendencies, economic wealth and remoteness of the region all play a part as do opening hours and the proximity of businesses to the racer’s chosen route.  Siestas in many European countries will be an inconvenience for many racers and petrol station convenience stores may feature heavily for the sake of expedience.  On the other hand local cuisine may prove too tempting a distraction for a hungry racer to ignore, but a laid back delivery may cost them time.

Psychologically the battle is one of discipline – to eat the food in the first place and to maintain a healthy mental disposition throughout the race that benefits good judgement and performance.  This is where the taste, texture and satiety of the food can, to a point, be more important than its nutritional composition.  Eating energy products regularly whilst on the bike might be the most efficient way of fueling but it can get boring very quickly and cravings can distract the racer.  As riders become more fatigued appetite can wane and discipline suffers meaning that it doesn’t matter how nutritional the food is, if it doesn’t get eaten, it won’t help the rider.

Eating a variety of foods that the rider enjoys is the best way to ensure a regular flow of calories and as the race progresses over a number of days the metabolism of the rider will change and adapt to the fuel that is being provided.  Fat burning mechanisms come more into play and provide a more steady output meaning that phenomena like sugar spikes and hypoglycemia become less likely and riders have the freedom to eat a wider range of foods with confidence that the body is becoming more efficient at exploiting the energy content of whatever it is they eat, regardless of its make up.

Fueling the brain is as important as fueling the body and towards the end of long tours the effects of lack of sleep and carbohydrate deficiencies can weaken resolve, increase anxiety and bias judgement.  The regular feedback cues from the body to refuel become more subtle though so with experience a racer can use mood as a reliable indicator of their energy levels.

The bottom line though is that well fed is well fast.  Those who can keep the most calories going in whilst staying on the bike for the longest will move the quickest.