something to prove…

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It’s half five in the morning, having ridden across Edinburgh I meet Jonathan Rankin just as he walks out of his front door, heading to his garage. It’s cold and still dark, a training bike takes centre stage surrounded by various touring and commuting bikes each with the distinctively tall headtube and numerous spacers necessary for a 6’7” rider.

“I should not be good at… I am not good at… I’m not designed for cycling at all”, he tells me. Considering his performance in last years Transcontinental it’s necessary to disagree with at least one of the these points. Jonathan was the 10th rider out of the 134 who reached Meteora in Greece; although finishing without his partner, James Craven, saw him finish out of classification; leaving him with some unfinished business. “There's a difference, it's a big difference in my head, between starting as a pair and racing as a pair [and] starting as an individual and racing as an individual. And I think that, you know, for me it's a race.” A category finish is the ultimate goal of any serious TCR competitor, the badge of a true unsupported solo or pairs effort.

Having both made unsuccessful solo applications for the fifth edition of the race, Jonathan and James applied and were successful in their pairs entry for TCRNo6. When first introduced as a category in 2014 there was concern amongst racers that pairs would benefit from advantages over solo riders, they can draft as a pair, share equipment and support each other through difficult times. However, it has since become obvious that riding as a pair has its own disadvantages that generally sees solo riders filling the top ten finishers.

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James and Jonathan quickly established themselves as a strong pair last summer along with Nico and Chaz from the USA and the winning pair Luca and Oliver from Switzerland. Having met both men looking fresh and strong at control point 1 (CP1) in Austria and PEdAL ED’s CP2 in Slovenia, I was surprised to see only Jonathan winching steadily up the steep climb to KINESIS’ CP3 in Poland. Jonathan explained they had spent the night in a hotel; James suffering from a chest infection, later confirmed to be pneumonia and, as Jonathan tells me very matter-of-factly,  they made the decision that Jonathan would continue while James rested and recovered enough to to cycle onto the finish “...he took a bit of time to get... I'm going say ‘well again’, but like he was, you know, he was not 100 percent - we raced, just separately, as hard as we could to the finish”. Jonathan is very pragmatic about the enforced split “ It would be very difficult if you based everything on it going perfectly because it's not going to go perfectly and our race went perfectly up until James was ill, and he was ill, there was nothing we could do about it.”

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Jonathan’s TCRNo6 training took place while he was living in Tokyo and consisted of a combination of weekday track sessions and weekend bikepacking trips: On a Friday night he would pack his bike bags and head out “ would get to about midnight by the time I got out of Tokyo and I would sleep at the side of the road and then I would wake up [and] ride all day Saturday, bivi again and then ride all day Sunday and get back into the middle of Tokyo by Sunday evening.” This year his approach is more methodical; something his current situation allows him plenty of time to do. Having recently moved up to Edinburgh for work, while his partner still works in London, his parents garage has become the focal point of his training regime.

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Each weekday Jonathan fits in 2 hours of training before work while weekend riding varies between recovery rides, long intervals and distance rides. During harder weeks he is back on the training bike for another 2 hours after work as well. He says he enjoys the consistency, missing only one days training since October even going as far as taking his training bike on holiday. He is quick to point out he doesn’t really see this as an intense schedule; “before I ever cycled I rowed and the training I am doing at the moment would not be out of the ordinary for a very amateur rower.”

Jonathan’s interest in long distance cycling started with a post university cycling trip across Europe on a hastily assembled second-hand bike and grew through a love of holiday touring, the desire to eat more and the chance to see the “in-between parts of countries”. He and James first came across the TCR while cycling through Montenegro on a trip from northern Italy to Bulgaria in 2016 during TCRNo4; “we chatted to the owner of the campsite and he was really annoyed because someone from the race had come and slept on his porch without paying for anything and had left after a few hours. We were aware that the race was happening all around us… [we] sat with, I think Camille, for like an hour or so and just chatted a little bit.”

A veteran TCR top ten finisher, with something to prove and a focused training regime… Jonathan is definitely a rider to watch on this year’s Transcontinental Race No.7.