Tonight, Geraardsbergen plays host to the 6th edition of the Transcontinental Race. At 10pm CEST the race will start again and the riders will commence a neutralised loop of the town of Geraardsbergen before climbing the famous cobble-stoned Kapelmuur and setting off in search of Check Point 1, and ultimately, Meteora. As the riders check in, grab their caps and gather to listen to a debrief, dot watchers across the world are grabbing their laptops, snacks, and strapping in for one of the most exciting events of the cycling calendar.
The Transcontinental Race is a beautifully hard bicycle race, simple in design but complex in execution. Riders have to manage self-reliance, logistics, navigation, judgement, and the physical impact of such long distances. The strongest riders excel and redefine what we think possible while many experienced riders only hope to finish. Every year the completion rate increases, as does the number of riders who enter, but in true Mike Hall style, so does the intensity of the course, which is why the possibilities of this race are wide open.
This blog will give you an honest dot-watcher’s perspective with a view of the front, middle and back of the race, a mention of every single rider if possible, with an injection of fun. For those of you new to dot-watching, you don’t know what you’ve let yourself in for. Here’s a breakdown of what’s about to happen to you:
- ADDICTION: Dot-watching is like opening a can of Pringles, once you start you wont be able to stop.
- SLEEP: Remember when you used to sleep at a normal hour? Expect 1am, 2am and sometimes 5am bed times now.
- FOOD: Remember when you used to eat a balanced diet? You’ll soon fill your cupboards with any food that requires no cooking whatsoever, ideally something you can shove directly into your mouth without having to move your eyes off the screen in front of you.
- OBSESSIVE REFRESH: You will refresh your browser more times in the next 2-3 weeks than you have in the past 2-3 years.
- FRUSTRATION: Ever watched a TV game show and you know someone’s answered a question incorrectly, and you’re screaming at the screen “You idiot! It was Buzz Aldrin not Buzz Aldridge!" (see my appearance on Tipping Point for reference), but the person cannot hear your screams of idiocy? It’s a similar feeling of frustration you’ll experience when you watch in horror as your dot takes a wrong turn, doesn’t move for hours or gets overtaken by a rival.
- SHEER PANIC: Your dot will stop moving and you’ll have a complete freak out as to why it’s stopped. Remember to breath deeply through these times, and try not to overreact. They are often sleeping, have no battery on their phones, have no battery on their trackers, or have been eaten by a bear.
- WORK: Within a week your entire office will have the Trackleaders screen up from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave. Some will attempt to get it up on a big screen so you can all stare at it together whilst you share your pearls of cycling wisdom amongst each other.
- SMELL: As the structure of the day completely unfolds, so will your routine and personal hygiene.
- PERSPECTIVE: Your current ideas on what you can achieve will go completely out of the window. Suddenly you’ll realise you need to realign your own goals once you see what your normal humans friends are capable of.
- RELATIVES & FRIENDS: You’ll explain the race to some friends and relatives, and they’ll look at you in confusion. You’ll try (and fail) to explain the race to them in terms of distance, endurance and adventure. They’ll continue to look at you with a furrowed brow and ask if it’s similar to Tour De France. You’ll slap your forehead, roll your eyes and walk backwards slowly.
- MORE FRUSTRATION: The worst part for a dot-watcher, the most crucial part, is that you CANNOT offer any help or support during these times. This is a fundamental element of the race and any racer who receives outside support can be penalised. Offer only words of encouragement and your rider will thank you for it.
As for new riders reading this, multiply the above by 1000 and you’ll get some idea of what will happen. You’ll get no sleep, your diet will go out of the window, day will become night and night will become day with no 24 hour structure, you will feel frustrated and obsessed, your perspective will alter and you’ll stink, oh boy will you stink. There will be tears of pain and tears of elation, bum rashes, dog chases, wind, rain, sun, lightening and hail, amazing views, terrible road surfaces and the seven day croissant will bring you such joy you’ll love it like your first born. Just remember that we’re all in complete awe of you and in times of loneliness remember that we’re always watching you… (not in a creepy way. Well, sort of.)
Ones to watch
We like to do a little prediction of those to look out for before the race starts, even though it never looks anything like the finish line.
The big favourite this year is of course, TCRNo5 winner and all round legend James Hayden. A strong TT rider, James was a bit of a wildcard 3 years ago, he came in super strong and people started to notice him. He rode so hard that he got Shermer’s Neck and despite trying to strap it up and continue to ride like this, he had to scratch. 2016 saw him put in another huge effort only to get a chest infection and have to rest up at CP1. This didn’t stop James though as he checked into a hotel, got himself better and continued to ride, from a position towards the back, so strong and hard that he finished overall in 4th place. 2017 was James's year, he absolutely smashed his way through to win with a time of 8 days 23 hours. James learnt a lot in his two previous attempts, this is what he says about his 2017 performance:
"Racing in 2015 and 2016 allowed me to find my limit, which was the greatest possible effort that I could do. In ultra endurance racing, that limit doesn’t last a few seconds or even minutes. It can last for hours. Finding it involved severe suffering. That experience gave me the skills to be more efficient and successful. In 2017 I looked after myself well. [In 2017] I rested, sleeping mostly in hotel beds. Having a shower. Having breakfast. I recovered."
Bjorn Lenhard is James's known rival this year having come second in TCRNo5. Bjorn won the Transatlantic Way in June this year (again) and we all know that this is the man that won Paris Brest Paris all on a single Nutella Baguette. Here he is being interviewed yesterday by Netwerk Geraardsbergen:
Zondagavond 29 juli 2018 start de zesde editie van de racewedstrijd Transcontinental Race: van de Muur van Geraardsbergen naar Meteora in Griekenland. De Transcontinental Race start om 22u (10pm)...
This year sees a fairly fresh set of names, but a few riders we've identified who have previously made a top ten position are Matthew Falconer (5th TCRNo5), Alexander Bourgeonnier (2nd TCRNo4) and Stephane Ouaja (9th TCRNo5) - Ouaja famously rides a fixed wheel so we'll all be interested to see what bike set up he has this year. In March he finished second in the individually attempted Indian pacific wheel race so he has good form for TCRNo6.
There are more ladies than ever this year and we want to make it absolutely clear that there technically isn’t a ladies category. In ultra-endurance cycling female riders have proven themselves to be in the same league as male riders, it’s something that makes ultra-endurance races so unique. So look out for Isobel Jobling who was second lady in Transatlantic Way 2017 and Meg Pugh came third in Transatlantic Way this year.
Other ladies to look out for are Sheila Woollam and Anna Petters who both have clearly put in the miles this year if we're stalking them correctly on Strava.
In terms of pairs, we've heard good things about Anton Lindberg and Amy Lippe (251 a&b), and James Craven and Jonathan Rankin (253a&b).
There are so many to mention and we’ve probably missed out some really obvious riders, but it’s time for us to put our feet up and get the tracker on as the race has just started. Good luck everyone!