– A 4200km un-supported one stage bike race from Belgium to Turkey.
In January 2015 I sent off for an entry for the Transcontinental Race (TCR) across Europe, a 4300km self-supported bike race. Despite being the most inexperienced cyclist in the field by far, my experience in expeditions led to the organisers giving me one of the 200 precious places. Until that day my longest ever ride had been 145km with 3600m of climbing during L’Etape du Tour. However just a few months later I raced for 11 days, covering a total of 3200km, averaging 300km a day with my longest day on the bike of 350km.
The organisers describe the TCR as “a bike race where riders can simply shake hands on the start line and race thousands of miles for the pure satisfaction of sport and no other motive but for the learnings of one’s self. It will be a beautifully hard bicycle race, simple in design but complex in execution. Factors of self sufficiency, logistics, navigation and judgement will burden the racers’ minds as well their physiques. Even experienced riders may only be so bold as to target a satisfactory completion.”
It’s a one stage race, the clock never stops. Racers choose where, when and if at all to rest. There is no support, racers can only use what they take with them, or what they can find en-route at commercially available services. There is no route, only mandatory checkpoints ensure that racers visit some of the most famous pieces of road in Europe and connect with the suffering of their forebears. The rest is up to you the racer.
Sadly after 11 days in the heat of Albania i collapsed off the bike with chronic dehydration and was forced to withdraw from the race. Of the 172 starters, 70 riders finished by the race cut off times. Of the 10 women who started the race only 1 made the finish. of the remaining 9 woman I was the only other to pass through the penultimate check point 4.
If the challenge was great enough as it was, my race differed a little from the norm by meeting me race partner at the start line! I had entered as a pair (my parents where concerned about me racing solo for my first big ultra endurance bike race). Sadly with a month before departure my race partner had to pull out. I spent the next few weeks searching for a partner. Eventually through a Facebook campaign i found Jayne. We didn’t know each other we weren’t even friends of friends, just two strangers who where going to race across a continent together. Jayne signed up 10 days before the start and because we live in different countries we weren’t able to meet until the day before the race on route to the Belgium start. Jayne is a brilliant cyclist and has so much experience in so many disciplines of cycling. She has been riding a bike for more than 15 years and rides most days a week all year round. In comparison when i added up my cycling rides to a similar frequency to Jayne, it equated to 10 months of cycling! This massive difference in experience and ability obviously meant I really struggled to keep up with Jayne in both speed and stamina, but on the flip side, in those 11 days on the bike she taught me so much, I learnt years worth of experience from her. Jayne went on to be the only female finisher which was very much deserved. Oh and then there was the small matter of my carbon framed bike cracking in 5 places during the flight over! Not what you need to find when you unpack your bike 6 hours before the start of the race! Find out more in my race diary below…
So we are currently on the way to the famous cobbles of Flanders, to the Muur Van Geraardsbergen start line. The organisers didn’t want to ease us in gentle, so we start at midnight on heavily ladened bike going up cobbles at 20% gradient! …Nerves kicking in now. Here are some answers to your questions answered by the race handbook… What if my bike breaks? Fix it. What happens if I get lost? Get unlost. Sounds like a nice cycle tour, why race it? Why race anything? The Tour de France would probably be a nice bike ride too, but its not; its a race and so is this. Why unsupported? As such the race is more than a measure of leg power, it’s a journey of self sufficiency and a challenge of fortitude and competence. Being alone and self reliant is part of the test and part of the adventure. It is a bike race where riders can simply shake hands on the start line and race thousands of miles for the pure satisfaction of sport and no other motive but for the learnings of one’s self.
First catastrophe … Just unpacked bike from flight and carbon frame has 5 cracks!!! On my way to a bike shop.
So I have just returned from collecting my bike from bike shop. Frame has been drilled, filed, filled and glued, so here’s hoping it gets me to Istanbul. 3 hours to go till the off!
DAY 1 – Sooo much harder than I expected the first day (with fresh legs) to be. The broken carbon frame yesterday, meant the day was busy and stressful with no time for sleeping. The amazing start at midnight on the Muur was lit up with flame torches. It was nerve racking but exciting! However, with the lack of sleep it was only 4 hrs in to the race that we were both nodding off on the bikes… scary!! 5 hrs in the torrential wind and gale force winds started. Making our tired eyes close even further, squinting the best we could to see anything at all. 9 hrs in the rain stopped and we hit the vast agricultural plains, not a hedge in site, and we spent the next 6 hrs fighting against a cross wind that was gusting the bikes across a whole lane of traffic, and I was forced to ride the bike heavily tilted into the wind. Therefore I am well and truly knackered …in fact beyond knackered!!! Jayne is just a machine on a bike and hopefully has the patience of a saint, as she has to wait for me constantly!! 325km done, now for bed.
Continue reading race diary here.