Tonight, Geraardsbergen will play host to a diverse collection of people hailing from all over the world with one, crucial thing in common. They are all about to attempt one of the biggest journeys of their lives – the Transcontinental Race. As the riders pack their bikes and make their way to the Muur, they’ll be experiencing a range of emotions that we mere by-standers can only begin to imagine. Even the most experienced riders will be feeling the apprehension, excitement and occasional ‘what-the-hell-am-I-doing’ moment that comes with undertaking such a race. But that, is the attraction (so I’m told).
Family, friends, colleagues, and general interested parties, will also undertake something extraordinary in the next few weeks. Something that will disrupt your sleep, make you skip meals, and hit refresh on your browser more times than you knew was possible. You are about to encounter: Dot-Watching.
This blog is for those of us who will be watching the race through our screens, willing on our favourites, watching in awe as riders take huge leads, gasping in horror as we watch others take the wrong road. It’s also an opportunity to share some of the stories that riders themselves contribute, giving you a flavour of the challenges these riders are facing in their long, gruelling ride towards the finish in Canakkale.
Who are we watching?
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of TCR04 is that we have for the first time, two previous winners competing against each other. Kristof Allegaert (No.3) won in 2013, in a time of 7days, 14hrs, and in 2014 in 7days, 23hrs. In 2015 Kristof was busy winning the Red Bull Trans-Siberian extreme, opening the doors for Josh Ibbett (001) who won in 9d, 23hrs. This year, Josh returns with strong experience (in both riding and getting bitten by dogs), so the race is very much either man’s. There are other very strong contenders who come back this year with experience, including Alexander Bourgeonnier (002) who came 2nd to Josh in 2015, UK national time-trial winner and Rapha designer Ultan Coyle (004) who came 4th in 2015 riding a time-trial bike, James Hayden (075) another fast TT rider who rode ahead of Josh for 3 days in 2015, finally giving in to a case of Shermer’s Neck. There’s also Stephane Ouaja the French professional courier (012) who came 12th in 2015 but unbelievably on a fixed-wheel bike, and this year he’s riding a geared road bike.
Not forgetting some wildcards – they may not have placed in TCR before but they’ve got pedigree. There’s Stuart Birnie (142) – the World 24hr TT Champion. Will he maintain his stamina for the 7-8 days needed to be in with a chance of the win? Then there’s Peter Sandholt who came third in RAAM in 2015 and 4th in Race Around Ireland. Last year riders came out of nowhere to take a podium place, so there’s all to play for. There are too many excellent riders to name everyone, but we can be sure there will be some surprises this year.
This year, there are a number of incredibly strong female riders who are eager for a bite of the TCR cherry. We can expect good things from Jayne Wadworth (005) who was the only woman to finish last year’s race in 16 days, 12hrs. Last year Jayne began the race riding as part of a team, this year she’ll be solo from start to end, helping or hindering her chances (discuss). There’s also Emily Chappell (007) who entered in 2015, and has definitely got the mileage to see her finish. This year there’s also Rishi Fox (152) and Rose McGovern (136) to watch out for, as well as Franziska Kühne (029), all very solid riders.
All riders with numbers 201 – 231 are pairs, which means they have each other for support, and of course are allowed to draft. It’s always interesting to watch the pairs category as some riders can be so perfectly in sync that their combined efforts improve each other’s performances. Other pairs can find that their own needs are grossly mis-matched with their partners leading to frustrations and arguments. We’ve never seen a pair win, though Timothy France & Neil Phillips came in the top twenty last year.
At the risk of sounding cliche, it’s really not about the race, it’s about the taking part. Last year only 84 of the original 176 starters actually finished the race at all, that’s only an incredible 48%, which just shows how difficult this race really is. Some riders’ goal is make it to the finisher’s party on 14th August, others are just hoping to finish at all. As dot-watchers I think we can all agree that these riders are all superstars for even contemplating taking part.
So let’s talk a bit more about dot-watching. As a dot-watcher, you’ll have your own issues to encounter. Here are some of them:
1. The Obsession.
If you actually know someone in the race, you’ll be most affected by this infliction. You may find that your day slowly mirror's your dot’s journey, late nights, mid-day kips and lots of fast food crammed into breaks. The top tip here is simply to go with it, embrace the obsession. If you attempt to live a normal life through this period you’ll only kick yourself that you missed that all important moment when they overtook 5 people in a mad McDonald’s-fuelled sprint (*other fast food outlets available). It’s also important to try not to complain about your lack of sleep and poor diet, and get some daylight from time to time, remembering that your pain is actually by choice.
2. The Emotional Rollercoaster.
Sometimes, dots will stop moving. It’s highly likely that the rider is just resting, eating or sleeping. But for those times where the dot hasn’t moved for a long amount of time, try not to panic. The trackers can sometimes fail, the batteries can sometimes run out, and they can sometimes be lost on route. All of these scenarios happened in previous Transcontinental Races, and they’ll happen in this one too. They’ll either eventually get in touch (when they’ve finally been able to charge their phone) or they’ll notice that they haven’t switched the tracker on, or that the tracker light isn’t flashing so they need to replace the batteries. They will all have been fully briefed on this and know exactly how the tracker works so trust that they’re okay for now, and wait for the call when they’re next able to get in touch.
3. Resisting The Temptation To Help.
Family, friends and colleagues beware. You may feel so at one with your dot that you want to contact them with advice. This is strictly outside of the rules and spirit of TCR, and I know I speak for all the riders when I say that they don’t want you to do this, as it can unintentionally compromise their own race. Telling them their position? not allowed. Giving them route tips? not allowed. Organising a hotel for them to sleep in? most definitely not allowed. Keep the messages to words of encouragement only and they’ll thank you for it. Click here for a full explanation of what unsupported really means.
4. Understanding Dot Behaviour
Sometimes you may see the dot do strange things, so here’s a few top tips edited from the excellent Burley Cross Blog by Jack Peterson:
- The dulled out dots show the person is resting.
- Female riders are shown as pink, male blue.
- If you hover over a blue dot – it gives you the last tracking update info. This can tell you how long a rider has stopped for, or current speed.
- Click on a dot and you get more detailed personal info on the rider.
- The “zoom to rider” in that box is a quick way to see their exact last known location. You can then drag the Google street view man Icon onto the road and put yourself on their location.
- The rider lists on the right show all riders in contention, these can be filtered into classes.
- If you hover over a name the riders dot jumps up and down to help you find them. Click on their name and the riders full history of track points is opened in another window.
If at any time you see the dot moving at much larger intervals indicating faster speeds, it’s likely they’re on some other form of transport, a train or plane to get them to the finishers party or home for instance.
5. Trying To Explain What Your Partner/Friend/Son/Daughter/Colleague is Actually Doing
The Transcontinental race is so epic, that many can’t even comprehend what these people are undertaking. It’s not just the distance but the unsupported element, the types of terrain they’ll have to ride on, and the problems they may encounter on the way. Here’s a typical conversation had.
If you find this conversation occurs, refer confused party to this clip:
Broken bones, pulled ligaments and a concern over Turkey’s political position have seen some not even make it to the start line. Just the ride to Geraardsbergen alone has seen flat tires, pringled wheels, ferry delays, closed roads, lost luggage, lost passports. Just imagine what the actual race will produce…!
Bring it on.
Start your dot watching, right here: trackleaders.com/transconrace16
P.s. If you still can’t get enough of TCR watch this film of the 2015 race, just released.