RACE REPORT 16 #TCRNO6

At the start of TCRNo6, 254 riders set off at 22:00 to climb the cobbles of the Muir out of Geraardsbergen. Tonight, the finish Control Point closes exactly 17 days later. That equates to 408 hours and for those feeling every moment their muscles move on the  pedals it’s 1,468,800 seconds from the start on 29th July 2018.

The racers have cut their own paths through Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and finally Greece.

At the time of writing, a few hours before we call time of the official race, 106 riders have finished, 91 have scratched and 64 remain active in the field.

Last night, in the shadow of the Meteora rock formations, in the town of Kalambaka, the finisher party started at the final CP location, Pub 38. Riders looked almost civilian once again as they shed their lycra livery in favour of whatever they could purchase from the shops in the town. The hard tan lines rising up from Greek sandals were too proud to go unnoticed, however. On television screens in the pub revolved photographs from James Robertson and Camille McMillan, triggering a ricochet of anecdotes from the road.

 NIco Deportago-Cabrera and James Craven. Photograph: James Robertson

NIco Deportago-Cabrera and James Craven. Photograph: James Robertson

At 20:30 after the buffet spread that had been kindly donated to the riders by an anonymous donor was swiftly demolished, Juliana Buhring called the riders attention and she thanked each and every one of them that were present, on the road or already on their onward journeys, for their impressive feats of endurance on this sixth edition of the race.

The prizes were announced and James Hayden cap 1, Ede Harrison, cap 179, and the first pair, Charles Christiansen and Nico Deportago-Cabrera cap 256a and 256b accepted their winnings and the applause and admiration of their peers. Before any penalties are added the winners' finish times are as follows:

James Hayden         // 08d 22h 59m

Ede Harrison             // 13d 16h 32m

Charles Christiansen         // 13d 20h 25m

Nico Deportago-Cabrera     // 13d 20h 25m

 Photograph: James Robertson

Photograph: James Robertson

As the celebrations went on the anticipation grew as we waited to see which rider would receive the honour of the famous black jersey awarded to the rider arriving closest to midnight on the night of the party. Brothers Daniel and Guillermo Nicolás Muñoz, caps 258a and 258b, were the surprise arrivals and luckily we had a selection of jerseys supplied by our sponsor PEdAL ED and we were able to provide them with merino wool jerseys.

 Brothers  Daniel  and  Guillermo Nicolás Muñoz , caps 258a and 258b by James Robertson

Brothers Daniel and Guillermo Nicolás Muñoz, caps 258a and 258b by James Robertson

Dan Gregory, cap 58, was celebrating his birthday on Aug. 14 and managed to celebrate in style at the finisher’s party by making it just as festivities were about to get underway.

Jonah Jones, cap 81, is one rider who isn’t going to make the cut-off for General Classification. On Facebook, he said: “A successful early ascent of CP4 was meant to mark the beginning of a solid surge South with designs on making the finish line closing on Wednesday night. Plans went awry in a major way though. Unlike the other riders I summited CP4 with, I did not return to the hotel for breakfast but took a shortcut to crack straight on. I very quickly took a wrong ( or bad data) turn onto a series of logging tracks that dropped me deep into the woods. What entailed was a 13 hour ordeal of grinding up and down 2,500 meters of gravel. I flogged myself up ridiculous inclines and gingerly descended ribbons of loose shale for mile after mile. Fearful of coming off and aggravating my recent fracture. There was beauty for sure but the only beauty I was interested in was my JoJo waiting for me in Meteora and it was slipping away. As hard as the grind uphill was on the energy levels, the downhills were bone jarring.

“I came close to cracking today, very close indeed. But it has occurred to me that Mike is throwing in one more test to see if I got what it takes.”

RACE REPORT 15 #TCRNO6

The women’s podium is complete. Karolina Maciejewska, cap 63, reached Meteora at 19:05 yesterday. She rode in to the finish with one foot unclipped and outstretched, posing ballet-like on her pedals. Throughout the race she has been bursting with energy and she didn’t disappoint. She picked up her bike and bounced it up and down in triumph as she took third.

 Photograph: James Robertson

Photograph: James Robertson

The ride through Meteora has surprised riders in its sparsity. Greece is a larger economy and tourist destination than it’s Balkan neighbours Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia but the journey from the border in Bilisht is little populated. Open, arid country bears down on the riders until they near the final climb towards Meteora.

When female pair 255a Johanna Jahnke and 255b Marion Dziwnik arrived it seemed the beating sun had taken every ounce of energy they had left. When they arrived, Cap 28 Hermann Dopfer knew what to do though. They had seen each other along the road and, having arrived shortly before them, he presented them with beers. The three said cheers and the crowd of riders and partners there to greet them joined in.
 

  Johanna Jahnke and Marion Dziwnik. Photograph: Camille McMillan

Johanna Jahnke and Marion Dziwnik. Photograph: Camille McMillan

At the start of the race they said: “Our ambition is not to pass these 16 countries in less than 15 days, but to enjoy our time on the bike and with each other at the same time.” They did it in 15 days, zero hours and 27 minutes.

Douglas Thomson, cap 147, had a tearful final journey. When he arrived a little earlier in the day he said: “There were moments coming through Montenegro and Albania when I would be welling up because I was imagining the finish line and I was in awe of what I’d seen. Then when I got to Meteora the first thing I thought was whether I was going to get a penalty for riding down a one-way street. I worried they would add an hour to our time but I managed to avoid it.”
 

 Pub 38 in Meteora. Photograph: James Robertson

Pub 38 in Meteora. Photograph: James Robertson

Cap 4 Mikko Mäkipää celebrated his Transcontinental achievements reaching 666 - the number of the beast. His brevet card shows six stamps at six control points in his sixth race. Known for choosing the most scenic roads when planning his Transcontinental, this year Mikko had planned to make life easier for himself. However, on finishing he said: “Looks like my route still evades other riders, and/or common sense, even when I try to take it easy.”

“I planned my route mainly on cycle paths and quiet tracks and from Austria to Hungary I barely rode on roads with cars until I neared the controls. There were times when I would be riding down a track and I’d see the footprints in the mud of another rider. I think they walked less than me because there weren’t as many tracks as I must have left,” he said.

Aimerick Stanisiere wins the award for the most unusual route between Control Point 4 and the finish. From Sarajevo he went East to the border of Serbia and then South to Kosovo and Skopje before then cutting back West through Macedonia on his way to joining up with the well-trodden route.

Further back in the race, James Illman, cap 131, had a testing journey over to Control Point 4. On Twitter, he said: “That climb was my Room 101. Turned out the 2 most terrifying dogs were police dogs, and the night watchman led me past them when I went back. Must admit I cried at the hotel. Stamp and patches are nowhere to be seen either 😔. This race is so hard.”

It’s the party at Pub 38 and we’re looking forward to seeing who will arrive closest to midnight and pull on the revered black jersey. It’s around 12 hours from the Greek border to the finish and there’s plenty of riders within reach of making the party and, right now, it looks like a battle between cap 187 David Fairweather and cap 47 Douglas Migden for the prize.

RACE REPORT 14 #TCRNO6

Following yesterday’s arrival of the fastest woman in this year’s race, Ede Harrison in cap 179, we also welcomed the first pair - American double-team Charles ‘Chas’ Christiansen, 256a, and Nico Deportago-Cabrera, 256b. They whooped their way down the hill to Pub 38 then hopped off their bikes and stripped their tops off, celebrating with a hug in a bundle of skin, hair and tattoos.
 

 Charles Christiansen and Nico Deportago-Cabrera. Photograph: Camille McMillan

Charles Christiansen and Nico Deportago-Cabrera. Photograph: Camille McMillan

“That was unreal,” they said. “It’s been a long time coming. We missed it last year and it’s been a long wait but we’ve been laughing the entire way round. When we rolled down the hill we were screaming, scaring people probably.”

It’s always interesting to watch the pairs because relationships often fray as the weariness builds and the differences between the two riders become more pronounced. These two have been riding races together for nearly a decade so they know exactly they each roll.

Chas said: “He’s faster on the shorter, punchier climbs. I’m better on the longer ones and then on the flat we’re just good.”
 

 Charles Christiansen. Photograph: James Robertson

Charles Christiansen. Photograph: James Robertson

There were times when the partnership wasn’t quite so harmonious though: “There were definitely a couple of moments when it went quiet for a couple of hours,” Chas said.

Nico chipped in: “I’ll just let him be and then we’d stop and say I’m sorry for being a dick there. I’d go eat a Snickers bar and come back and say I’m sorry about that back there.”

“Our bodily cycles synced after like two days,” Chas said. “We know as soon as we leave a coach stop, 5 minutes later we take a piss. You don’t even need to say it. We’re pulling over. ‘You got napkins? Tight.’ It’s perfect.”
 

 Photograph: Camille McMillan

Photograph: Camille McMillan

They arrived at 19:29 on Aug. 12 though could have been earlier were it not for being blocked at the Bosnian border.

“We had this amazing tailwind and we were flying along the gravel and then we reached the border. We should have just cruised past the office but stupidly we were like: ‘Hi, we’re American. Can we cross your border? The guard wasn’t letting us past. We were gonna push it and then he just stepped backward and put his gun holster on and we were like ‘OK. We’re not getting through so we had to do a 70km diversion to another border control.”
 

 Photograph: Camille McMillan

Photograph: Camille McMillan

David Sherrington, cap 77, was next to arrive despite being on the verge of scratching the day before. “I had five punctures in a row,” he said. “I’d ripped my tire and repaired it but the fix was causing some friction that would wear the tube down until it punctured, again and again. In the end I found someone who could fix it - a car mechanic of all things and now here I am.”

At 06:46 on Aug. 13 Anisa Aubin was the second woman to reach Meteora. She arrived feeling forlorn that the adventure was ending.

 Anisa Aubin. Credit: James Robertson

Anisa Aubin. Credit: James Robertson

“It feels so sad for it to be over,” she said. “I was using this hill up to Meteora to think about what it meant last time and what it meant this time. My mind’s not clear enough to sort it all out yet but it’s huge and suddenly it’s just gone. It’s really exciting to have improved so much in a year. Last year I got food poisoning at the end and I did it in 19 days so this year I cut five days off. Five days! Hahaha.”

She thanked Ede Harrison for a good race. It was a shame Anisa had a broken shifter early in the race as otherwise the two might have been even closer, though Ede did say Anisa had her worried when her race started to have its problems towards the end.
 

 Ede Harrison. Photograph: Camille McMillan

Ede Harrison. Photograph: Camille McMillan

They didn’t dwell on the competition for long and conversation turned to how much cycling kit has been inadvertently gifted to Albania by riders who have left their belongings lying around. Anisa joked that her organisation had reached near obsessive levels to make sure she didn’t lose her stuff.

“I get into this system where everything has its place,” she said. “My phone usually goes in my jersey pocket but by the last few days my jersey had stretched and the phone was dangling so low it was banging on my seat and I had to tuck it into my bib shorts. On one the last few days someone said to me ‘why don’t you just move it to your frame bag’ and I was like: ‘No. It’s way too late in the game to change my system now.”
 

 Anisa Aubin. Credit: James Robertson

Anisa Aubin. Credit: James Robertson

Shortly after Anisa the second place pair in the race, cap 259a Luca Somm and 259b Oliver Bieri, reached the finish a little drained. Greece had not been kind to them.

“Greece was just shit. We had shit routing. We were in small villages with no food. We were just stupid because there is a route right next to he highway - the old highway - and we took that and it started to get gravelly and Oliver’s tyre was really low pressure and I think we destroyed one body and half a bike,” Luca said.

They also added to this year’s bank of stories about dangerous dogs in the route: “We went down a road into a field and as we went deeper there were 10 dogs in the grass and they all started barking at us. We slowly started creeping backwards and luckily they just barked and let us go,” Oliver said.

A little later we saw cap 194 Stuart White. He said: “My legs felt pretty good but discomfort on the saddle was the main thing. Oh, and getting on my way each day. I’m a terrible faffer and it took me ages everyday until, basically, yesterday. I got it dialled by the end.”

We’ll be telling more stories from the arrivals in the Transcontinental Podcast. Among the finishers expected today are the third fastest woman in the race so far, cap 63, Karolina Maciejewska and two more pairs due in the early hours. They are 251a Anton Lindberg and 251b Amy Lippe and 255a Johanna Jahnke and 255b Marion Dziwnik.

Shortly after them we’ll welcome cap 4 Mikko Mäkipää who saw a bear cub walking in the road and posted pictures on Twitter last night.

Lastly, we send positive energy to Anna Petters, cap 97, who didn’t make Control Point 4 but is going to carry on to the finish regardless. On her Instagram account she said: “Good morning Bosnia. I like you better now when you don’t chase me with dogs and put slugs in my hair. Riding Bosnia at night was an experience... As you figured I didn’t make it to CP4 on time but I’m getting there! Sending strength to all of you!”

RACE REPORT 13 #TCRNO6

There’s a sub £500 budget car rally making its way along the route to the finish at Meteora. They’ve driven from Edinburgh, led by a J-reg Volvo estate. The convoy of pimped-up rust buckets pulled in to a service station in the middle of the Greek countryside where we were hoping to catch sight of Ede Harrison, cap 179, on her final few kilometres of the race. 
 

 Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

It must have been a strange sight for her. First, a Scottish photographer snapping her as she was stood up out of the saddle putting the power down and then the sight of a dreadlocked Scotsman and 20 other pale-skinned retro car lovers looking back at her as she passed the services.

Ede is a bike messenger in Manchester who recently came fifth overall at TransWales 2018. In the midday heat she was on the way to become the fastest woman in this year’s race. 
 

 Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

When she rode past the services without stopping race co-ordinator Juliana Buhring said: “She can smell the finish. She’ll just be eating all the food she has left in her bag until she reaches it.”

On Twitter, @mrjustinpitts tweeted: “Watching #TCRNo6cap179 as she heads toward the finish. You've got this!”

She climbed through 32 degree heat up to the coaches dropping off tourists to the monasteries built on top of Meteora’s giant stone structures before the undulating roll to the end. As she came into view of the cheering crowd she cruised down the hill with an easy smile tinged with weariness.

 Ede Harrison. Credit: James Robertson

Ede Harrison. Credit: James Robertson

It’s been a rough few days for Ede. On arrival in Bosnia she forgot to switch her mobile data off and she got a £150 bill within a few hours. Then when she went on to Control Point 4 things got worse.

“I got two punctures and fell off on the parcours. I used my last spare tube on one wheel and patched up the other but it wasn’t a very good fix. Then I rode off from CP4 in the wrong direction on gravel and I had to come back to the control point. I set off again at about 19:00 that night but at midnight the fix gave up the ghost and went flat so I had to fix it again in the dark,” she said.
 

 Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

“Then I got sick in Montenegro. There were a lot of climbs and I had to pull over to be sick and I couldn’t keep my food down. I was worried because I’ve had this condition before and it took a week to recover and that was as close as I got to thinking: ‘That’s me done. I can’t continue with this. I’m going to have to find some hotel in montenegro to suffer in.

“For the next few hours I was trying to sort myself out got some drugs in a pharmacy and then cycled close to the border of Albania. I stayed in a nice hotel and that sorted me out and I left early the next morning and got back to cycling again.
 

 Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

Ede Harrison. Photograph: James Robertson

“The last stretch is hard because you’ve got it in your head that it’s the end but it’s still 100 miles and that’s actually a really long way. I think my body had just stopped and wasn’t giving me the energy it needed.”

Behind her was James Craven, 253a. It was a sensational ride from James to climb closer and closer to the front of the pack having lost time stuck in a hotel room with suspected pneumonia just before he reached Control Point 3. His former race partner Jonathan Rankin was waiting in Pub 38 at the finish with his partner and James’s family.
 

 James Craven. Photograph: Camille McMillan

James Craven. Photograph: Camille McMillan

Earlier when we’d seen James in Czechia he said his family had had mixed feelings about whether he should ride on. His Mum Jenny said: “What I didn’t want to say was ‘you’ve got to stop. Both myself and my husband said to him ‘you’ve got to make the decision. Nobody else can make that.’

“I think the fact the hospital let him go and he’s got youth on his side meant his rest in the hotel did enough to give him the strength to cycle on. I think it showed true grit.”

His partner Grace said: “The last few weeks have been very emotional. Since the pair separated he’s been so mentally low and I’ve never heard him like this before. I think knowing how well he was doing and then to drop back nearly 100 places at one point... he was constantly thinking he could be 800km further on from where he was.”

When he arrived at 15:21 on Sunday Aug. 12 his former partner Jonathan Rankin joked: “Instagramming all the way down James you lazy b*&st$rd.”

“Sorry for waking you up,” James said, referring to the morning they split when he woke Jonathan up to tell him how bad he was feeling at 04:00 in the morning.
 

 James Craven and Jonathan Rankin. Photograph: James Robertson

James Craven and Jonathan Rankin. Photograph: James Robertson

“I can’t believe it to be honest,” James said. “There’s been some mixed days. The first day back on the bike was pretty good and I did 400km but the next day was horrendous. There’s been struggles. I just felt so tired today so I had to sleep in a hotel last night and then take another nap this morning. I just can’t believe I did it.”
 

 James Craven. Photograph: James Robertson

James Craven. Photograph: James Robertson

At 19:09 local time a trio came in close together. Adam Green, cap 105, Constantin Schütt, cap 84, and Tom Probert, cap 135. Tom rode the Transcontinental last year and said this year he'd wanted to get through it without any rookie errors and was happy to say he had.

Asked if it was luck that nothing had gone or the benefit of experience he said: "Experience means you make your luck. I made better decisions this year." 

Adam Green said he'd been on the edge of scratching a few days back because of an agonising knee. He couldn't stand up as he rode through Macedonia and Albania because of the pain but said when he got to the last day it left his mind altogether and he was out of the saddle on the final climbs. He said it was a seriously tough day in the heat but he was beaming to have been able to finish.

Later tonight we look forward to welcoming the first pair in to Meteora. Charles Christiansen, 256a, also known as  ‘Chas’ is a messenger in San Francisco and races for Mash SF. He’s won alleycats on the streets of Jakarta, Puerto Rico and Minneapolis and recently took second in the Mission Crit. His partner Nico Deportago-Cabrera is based in Chicago and has a similarly strong pedigree in crit races. He rides for Red Bull and All City Cycles. The two of them have left a trail of laughter behind them as they’ve taken the ride in the best humour going.

Last but not least, a nod to race veteran Mikko Mäkipää in cap 4 who shows that as the race goes on the unexpected stories from the road keep rolling in. He tweeted about his surprising arrival he had when he got to Ostrog monastery in Montenegro at 22:00 last night.


“I expected to see a few tourists. Instead I saw 500-1000 people sleeping out. Young, old, and more were on their way. Normal Saturday?” he said.
 

RACE REPORT 12 #TCRN06

It’s day 13 and the top 20 have crossed the finish. In Meteora, we’re preparing for a steady flow of racers now, with one expected every half an hour for the rest of the day. The hotels are filling up, bottles of Crazy Donkey beer being popped and the riders are lining the street to cheer in new arrivals.

 Photograph: Camille McMillan

Photograph: Camille McMillan

Last night, just as the celebrations were getting going in Pub 38 we saw Chris Thomas. When we caught up with him at the start in Geraardsbergen he’d just pulled on cap 18 and he said was feeling a little anxious about having such a top-ranking number. “I’ve been looking through the list of riders, people I’ve been in awe of for years, and thinking I hope they’re not expecting me to finish there. It must be because my birthday’s the 18th.”

Fast forward 10 days and Chris was nearing the Greek border in a duel with Marin de Saint-Exupéry to reach the finish. What position were they fighting for? It was 18th. Well, technically 17th, as Jonathan Rankin’s 10th place can’t count in General Classification as he was in a pair, but as far as Chris was concerned he had to reach 18th place.

He woke early on Aug. 11 and shifted his way through Greece, past the barking dogs, up the brutal parcours and into Meteora. He said: “I can’t believe I’ve made it. It’s just riding a bike all day long and that’s really painful, actually. But next time tri-bars so I don’t end up with the claw.”

He held up his hand and his little finger was pointed 45 degrees away from others and his ring finger resembled a hook. With no dynamo his lights were running low, his Garmin was flat and he was asking people for directions for the last 100 kilometres.
 

 Photograph: Chris Howard by James Robertson

Photograph: Chris Howard by James Robertson

Chris joins James Hayden in the very small group of riders to claim they enjoyed the gravel climb at Control Point 4. He said: “I absolutely loved that first parcours. Why would you walk your bike up a mountain? I was walking up it thinking ‘who would choose to do this?’ It’s like arriving at Mount Snowdon and saying ‘I’m going to carry a cumbersome bike on a path with no steps and rather than doing it in hiking boots I’ll do it in cleats’. It was ridiculous.”

 Marin and Chris. Photograph: James Robertson

Marin and Chris. Photograph: James Robertson

He said his Canyon Aero was a long way from its comfort zone on the mountain. That seemed a bit ironic given the way he says Canyon Aero makes it sound like he’s referencing the classic song from the The Simpsons about Crusty the Clown’s off-road vehicle:

Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
smells like a steak and seats thirty-five
Canyonero! Canyonero!
Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down,
It's the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown!
Canyonero! Canyonero!

Turning to Jonathan Rankin, Chris asked: “What happened to your partner?”.

“He got pneumonia,” Jonathan said.

“Pneuomonia?! It’s bloody boiling,” Chris quipped back. As he held court outside the pub my mind wandered to the prospect of him doing a stand-up slot and a rendition of Canyonero at the finisher’s party.

Half an hour later at 20:55 on Aug. 10, Chris’s nemesis for the past few days, Marin de Saint-Exupéry, rolled in wearing cap 42 and riding the bike he had made himself as his final project of his mechanical engineering degree. Green with go-faster white stripes that segued beautifully from the frame and across the frame bags it was a custom setup dialled to perfection for long hours on the road. The fact that his baby had taken a turn as a mountain bike on the rocky singletrack of Control Point 4 had riled him a little, he said, but he was good-natured about it.

 Marin's handmade frame and luggage. Photograph: James Robertson

Marin's handmade frame and luggage. Photograph: James Robertson

After Marin, there was a gap until Ed Wolstenhome, cap 167, hopped off at Pub38 in Meteora at 02:36 local time. He said: “I didn't want this to finish really, I was enjoying it so much. My low point was on the Greek border where I made a routing error and ended up on a gravel road. That held me up by an hour or two. I also had a double puncture in a dark back lane just outside Tirana. I had to mend my tubeless tyres, in the dark, with my last 2 tubes. That town is like the Wild West... powerful sports cars screaming around all night.

“At the Greek border I knew I was just a couple of hours ahead. I started steadily and then realised I needed to push on. I raced all the way to the finish and moved up the field by around 10 places. I would have been delighted with a top 30 finish. I can't quite believe what I've achieved by hitting the top 20.”

Next in at 04:04 was Ben Snodin, cap 114. He said: “I realised after CP3 that I had to really start racing and since then I've been pushing it really hard. I think I've pushed up from the forties to finish 20th. My aim was to finish in the top 20 so I've achieved that. I am really pleased though I feel a bit confused after endless dark Greece, with f`#*%ing dogs. I just ignored them in the end, they just make a lot of noise.”

As the morning shift began on Saturday Aug. 11 Paul Hoffman rolled in at 08:45. Race co-ordinator Juliana Buhring offered him some clean socks and he was thrilled but said he didn’t feel too dirty because he’d stopped for a swim at lakes along the way whenever he could to freshen-up and wash his bib shorts.

 Anisa Aubin. Photograph: Camille McMillan

Anisa Aubin. Photograph: Camille McMillan

Elsewhere in the race, there was a scare when it looked like the lead pair 256a and 256b had split until they posted a Twitter video explaining they’d lost a tracker way back on the bumpy roads. Ede Harrison, 179, has been doing a powerful job of making up for her lost time due to routing problems and she’s set to reach the Albanian capital of Tirana today. Anisa Aubin, cap 21, is a little under 100km behind Ede and cap 63 Karolina Maciejewska is the third woman in the race at 150km behind her.

 Karolina Maciejewska. Photograph: Camille McMillan

Karolina Maciejewska. Photograph: Camille McMillan

RACE REPORT 11 #TCRN06

The journey up to Control Point 3 in Poland then back down south to Bosnia for Control Point 4 caused the string of riders to stretch out like no other section of this year’s race. After the challenge of the CP4 parcours, riders have been singing the praises of the calm roads and gentle descents on their routes through Montenegro.

 Photograph: Ede Harrison by Camille McMillan

Photograph: Ede Harrison by Camille McMillan

For most, that tranquility ended when they reached Albania and they were met with rough roads and traffic-clogged streets in the capital city of Tirana. However, they focused on the fact that when they reached the Greek border at Bilisht all that was left was a 170 km stretch to Meteora.

Jonathan Rankin, 253b, said: “I saw Josh Cunningham at the Greek border and I asked if he was going to ride all the way on to Meteora. He said he was. I knew I would need a rest before I got there and that was the difference between him coming in sixth early in the morning and me arriving later that afternoon a few places behind. It’s not just how kilometres you are ahead but how much recovery you’ve had on the way to that position.”

Jonathan chose to rest and so we welcomed in Martin Temmen, 143, in seventh place at 09:10. In eighth place Mohamed El Alami, cap 214, arrived at 11:32, then Thomas Dupin, cap 157, was ninth at 15:42.

Thomas Dupin said the climb on the final parcours in the midday sun was tough. “The gradient was around 10 per cent for a long time and I would have preferred to do it at another time of day but the long descent meant I could discover Meteora’s sights. I had no idea it was so big. I thought it was a few stones but this is spectacular.”

Jonathan Rankin was the tenth rider to arrive at 16:44 local time but is out of general classification after his pair split. He and James Craven were unusual in being so close to the front before James picked up a chest infection and had to wait behind.

 Photograph: Jonathan Rankin by James Robertson

Photograph: Jonathan Rankin by James Robertson

Asked how he found competing with a co-rider he said: “I was turning it over in my head. I think at the start if you make up enough ground while everything is good then you could do really well. You start to become two ones when your bum gets sore and you’re not able to sit 10 inches apart from each other’s wheel.”

“Our only real expectation had been to ride for a certain number of hours every day and it just happened to be that by riding that number of hours we covered enough distance to do reasonably well. But we had good days and bad days and some I could go further and others I felt like I’d been riding all day and we were nowhere near our mileage.

“The morning we split we were both feeling really good so there was no excuse but to go hard. My inexperience showed through a few times though. Coming through Hungary I had to stand up for almost 300km while the road was bouncing around beneath me and I exacerbated all my problems. My achilles started to hurt. I was aching.”

Asked if he knew how the other half of his pair was getting on since he returned to the road, he said: “I was coming through Bosnia and it was really hard work and my Mum and Dad text me and said James started in 86th place today and now he’s in 52nd place. I was working so hard at that I had to send a message saying ‘I’m having to concentrate so much on my own ride now that  I can’t concentrate on how James is doing right now. I’ll find out at the end’.”

The next rider due in was Christoph Fuhrbach, cap 146. Shortly before his arrival we heard some unlikely dotwatchers had arrived to cheer for him at the finish. When we got to the finish we found Pub 38 had been taken over by a convent of German nuns working as Catholic missionaries in Albania. Christoph was a supporter of their charity and the sisters had caught the dotwatching bug and decided to pile in their minibus and drive two hours to meet Christoph for the first time.
 

 Photograph: Christoph Fuhrbach by James Robertson

Photograph: Christoph Fuhrbach by James Robertson

Behind Christoph, there was a battle brewing for places 12 to 15 with four riders, Paul Ferguson, cap 212, Ben Davies, cap 195, Stephane Ouaja in cap 12, and Alexandre Bourgeonnier, cap 148 all within 8km of each other as they came through the border into Greece at Bilisht.

They were neck and neck on similar routes until the village of Katafygio, which lies at an altitude of 620 metres on the eastern foothills of Makryoro Mountain. Paul Ferguson appeared to take a route to the west of the main 15 road and when he rejoined in he had edged a good distance from the others and held his lead on the final climb and rolled into Meteora and into the arms of his partner. He let a roar and said: “I’m a ball of emotional juices.”
 

 Photograph: Paul Ferguson by James Robertson

Photograph: Paul Ferguson by James Robertson

We congratulated him on beating the others to the finish and landing 11th place.  He said: “Really? I’ve been chasing them in my head. I got dropped earlier by a few guys and something took over and I put my whole body into it. Coming down that hill I was screaming at the top of my voice and scaring campers.”

Stephane Ouaja arrived next. His past few days had been hellish. He got a puncture on the gravel and had fixed it seven times but it was still going flat. Eventually he managed to buy a huge pack of car puncture repair patches and used almost all of those. He said he must have used 30-40 inner tube patches in the last two days of his ride because the patches just wouldn’t stick. He then took his bike to two bike shops and the second one finally got him back on the road. For him to roll into Meteora in 12th place took real courage and strength.
 

 Photograph: Stephane Ouaja by James Robertson

Photograph: Stephane Ouaja by James Robertson

Next in was Alexandre Bourgeonnier. He had been further out in front but for the second time in the race had been hampered by the rough stuff. It was the last thing he needed after battling through the R440 road that caused Björn to lose so much time when he was in pursuit of James Hayden.

The R440 club, as it’s now known has 10 members: Cap 148 Alexandre Bourgeonnier, cap 20 Sam Thomas, cap 130 Lorenzo Gamberini, cap 95 Emiliano Baravalle, cap 179 Ede Harrison, cap 30 Daniel Nash, cap 4 Mikko Mäkipää and cap 132 James Jinks.
 

 Photograph: Alexandre Bourgeonnier by James Robertson

Photograph: Alexandre Bourgeonnier by James Robertson

Ben Davies, cap 195, didn’t take the R440 but had endured his fair share of routing problems during the race and it was evident that he was frustrated he didn’t place higher as a result. But it was an impressive ride from Ben to come in in 14th place and we’ll be keeping an eye on him in the future.

John Sherlock, cap 216, and Thomas Egger, cap 68, are the latest to arrive in 15th and 16th place respectively. John probably taking the prize for the grubbiest man through the gate so far.

Elsewhere in the race, lead pair Charles Christiansen, 256a, and Nico Deportago-Cabrera, 256b, are at the border about to enter Montenegro 450km away from the finish. Ede Harrison, cap 179, still leads among the women despite her routing problem on the R440 and is 410km away as she makes her way through Montenegro.
 

RACE REPORT 10 #TCRNO6

Life is slow in Meteora. Balearic low tempo house floats from the bar at Pub 38. The locals stroll by and smile at us in our uniform cycling caps and bad sun tan lines like garters on our legs. As Aug. 8 rolled around there was only one rider who could start to relax though. Winner James Hayden, cap 1, was all charm, buoyant chivalry and totally transfixed by the dots. The race for second place was tense.

 Photograph: James Robertson

Photograph: James Robertson

In the early hours of the morning Björn Lenhard, cap 2, was ahead but when he stopped to rest just after Tirana in Albania there were three who pushed on. When Björn stirred at 04:00 Matthew Falconer in cap 5, Alexandre Le Roux in cap 186 and Rene Bonn, 158 were all right on his tail.

A decisive moment came at the Albanian town of Elbasan when Björn chose to take a more westerly route on the SH71 near Valamara mountain while Matthew Falconer and the rest of the chasing pack went east and skirted around the edge of Lake Ohrid.

Björn’s route was 20km longer and peppered with rocks and when the routes rejoined just south of the lake, Matthew’s road spat him out ahead of Björn and Alexandre Le Roux was within a whisker of giving Björn the slip.

 Photograph: James Robertson

Photograph: James Robertson

Could Björn catch up with Matthew? Could the front pack sustain their effort? The tension was ramping up and Twitter went into overdrive with support for Matthew ‘birdman’ Falconer.

“COME ON @B1RDMN !!! You’ve got this!!!! 1hr 15m predicted finish.... GO MATT GOOOOOOO!” - @Annelovesthegym

“There's basically only a single path to the finish for Falconer #TCRno6cap5, Lenhard #TCRno6cap2, and Le Roux #TCRno6cap186. All within 30km of each other. It's not about routing now; it's pure cycle racing! Will a ~4000km race come to a sprint for silver‽ #TCRno6” - @GrumpyGrimpeur

Matthew looked to have clinched the ride and we waited in the street, watching dots, pacing the pavement and staring up the road. We waited and every now and then jumped up when a scooter turned the corner, until finally we saw the birdman.

Matthew Falconer. Credit: James Robertson

We cheered and a grin swept his face. “I came off 2km from the end,” he said. On the descent into Meteora a rock was lying in the road and he caught it on the way down. ‘Bang’ went his tyres and he was thrown from the bike. Both tyres punctured, he scrambled to fit new tubes whilst looking over his shoulder to check if Björn was coming through to overtake him. He finished the job and Björn still wasn’t in sight so he rolled down the hill, tyres half inflated, a bruised and courageous hero taking second place at 22:12 local time [GMT +3].

His phone was like a light show as the congratulations came flashing in: “@B1RDMN TAKE A BOW 2nd place in the @transconrace. I’m so unbelievably happy and proud of you! Chapeau you absolute legend #TCRNO6.” - @chrishallrides

Before Björn arrived race coordinator Juliana Buhring had to make good on a promise she made him after his disaster on the way to control point 3 to buy him a chocolate milk. When he reached the finish at 23:37 local time he slurped it down in one.

He said: “Mentally, this TCR has been the hardest but physically this one has been the easiest.” We weren’t sure we’d be saying the same after riding an extra 200km due to routing issues but thanked Björn for a making this year’s TCR a thrill of a race and a rollercoaster of emotion. Be sure to listen to our Moments of Despair podcast to hear more from him.

Bjorn Lenhard. Credit: James Robertson

James Hayden said: “If there's a spirit of the race award (I'll petition for one) Björn has earnt it 5 times over. Displayed true grit and humility over and over. What a gent and what a racer. Chapeau Björn.”

Just after midnight cap 186 Alexandre Le Roux took fourth place in an outfit rivalling Stephane Ouaja and James Jinks for most rock ‘n’ roll look as he rolled in with his jersey wide open to show off his black polka dot vest and amber neck beads.
 

 Photograph: James Robertson

Photograph: James Robertson

He was followed by René Bonn, cap 158, at 05:12. Rene rode the TCR last year but had to scratch on day three. He said this year had been a dream.

“It was weird. I was feeling less and less tired as the days went by. I came to the race quite tired out because I was working on the harvest at our family farm  but I just started to feel better until the last day, which was really hard,” he said.

He advocated the slow burn approach to ultra racing: “On day one my power meter showed I was doing 300 watts on a climb and people passed me. I think I was in 40th or 50th place at the start. I didn’t really increase my pace but the people in front just kept falling behind.”

 Photograph: James Robertson

Photograph: James Robertson

Cap 98 Josh Cunningham started the Transcontinental Race with a knee injury and his ambition was simply to finish. His tennis ball massages along the route kept his ailments at bay and he put in a hard final push to land himself sixth place in the race, arriving at a more civilised 07:45 to the sound of cheers down the street.

 Photograph: James Robertson

Photograph: James Robertson

Cap 143 Martin Temmen came in seventh at 09:10 and cap 214 Mohamed El Alami  was eighth at 11:32. Both men hid their exhaustion well, chattering away all chipper about the beautiful lake and downhills of their journeys through Montenegro. Martin, like many of the riders, had lost some feeling in his fingers due to the pressure on the nerves in the palm of his hand over days of holding his handlebars. He didn’t seem too perplexed about it though, other than the issues it caused shifting gears.

While we welcomed the finishers into Meteora, 660km away at Control Point 4 it was a busy night on the parcours with nine riders vying for positions 20 to 29. One of those was cap 114 Ben Snoddin who came 28th in TCRNo.5 and was looking to improve in this year.

At first light he slung his leg over his bike and would have been feeling thankful for his wide 32c tyres but it seems even those best prepared for this parcours are shown little mercy. Ben had a mechanical and was left walking on the stony path.

We’re suggesting the Bosnia and Herzegovinian government installs a swear jar halfway up the Bjelasnica mountain as a funding strategy after the volume of profanity the climb has been subjected to. You can order your copy of our insults vocabulary guide in case you want some inspiration from our riders on the harshest ways to swear at a Bosnian mountain. Be warned though, it’s a little big to carry on an ultra race.

 ‘Hippy’ wearing cap 142 cussed enough to fill a few pages all by himself. “I'm like f.......g shell shocked, I don't even know what to do now”. Famous for his Twitter outbursts, seeing Hippy in the flesh was quite spectacular said Apidura’s George Huxford. “He almost lost his voice from shouting at the gravel.”

 Photograph: Camille McMillan

Photograph: Camille McMillan

Facing the parcours next was Ede Harrison, cap 179. She reached the hotel at Control Point 4 last night and slept on the floor of the bar in the hotel. On the way there she was chased by dogs in the night that forced her to sprint up hills while feeling their heaving breath and hearing their barks at her heels. It seems there’s no fazing ‘mountain goat’ Ede though as she set off stoically to conquer the parcours this morning.

We look forward to welcoming Thomas Dupin, cap 157, Jonathan Rankin, 253b and Christoph Fuhrbach, 146, to Meteora next. To all our dotty pedallers, ride strong, true and we look forward to more valiant entertainment tomorrow. Allez allez.

RACE REPORT 9 #TCRNO6

Eight days, 22 hours and 56 minutes after leaving Geraardsbergen, James Hayden skidded to a stop outside Pub 38 in Meteora, Greece to the cheers of his family and the crowd that had gathered. He said: “I trained hard, I prepared well and to come back and put all that preparation in place and be successful is really an achievement.”

 Photography  : James Robertson 

Photography  : James Robertson 

“Last year, I had a chip on my shoulder and I had to prove something to myself. I realised in this race that there was nothing to prove anymore. I realised yesterday evening: ‘what’s the point of smashing myself?’.”

James said his hero of the race was Bjorn Lenhard, cap 2: “He’s suffered so much mentally and physically and just kept coming back and back and back and that’s true grit. That’s what this race will teach you. I think that’s one of the things that Mike [Hall] was really keen on. It will push you, especially with the gravel and things like that, it will push you, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and you can take that to other parts of your life and be a better person elsewhere.”

 Photography  : James Robertson 

Photography  : James Robertson 

The final hurdle through Greece was one of the most difficult sections mentally, he said.“I always hate the last day. It takes so long and you just want to be here. This year I had no injuries or anything so it wasn’t painful. Two years ago in TCRNo4 I was completely broken so the last day was horrific because it hurt. Last year it hurt a bit but this year it didn’t. It was just getting here.”

Posting a picture of him and his fiance Isobel hugging at the finish on Twitter he wrote: “Feels amazing to win again. Here’s to everyone that’s believed in and supported me, I couldn’t be here without you so share with me in this. Thanks to @transconrace for putting on a tough race on this year - the legacy lives on.”

 Photography : James Robertson 

Photography : James Robertson 

Meteora is a magical setting for the finish line of the Transcontinental. It translates literally as ‘suspended in the sky’ or ‘in the heavens above’. It is a spectacular and precarious site of six monastery complexes which survive from more than 20 built atop naturally formed stone pillars by Eastern Orthodox monks some time during the 14th century.

Many riders who have spent days alone during the race may feel some harmony with the hermits who lived in solitude in rocky fissures and caves at the top of the mountains, hauling supplies to the top from the fertile land below. It’s a gruelling pilgrimage to pass the monasteries at the top of the final parcours of the race and it’s a rolling gradient rather than an easy descent for the riders to reach the town and receive the final stamp in their brevet card.

Just a day ago, it looked like Stephane Ouaja in cap 12 could be the next rider after James to roll up into control. But yesterday he punctured seven times and ran out of patches for repairs.

On social media, his disappointment poured out and he announced he was on the cusp of scratching but said he’d make up his mind after stopping for the night. We’ve heard nothing from him, but he is on the road heading south through Montenegro.

That leaves cap 2 Bjorn Lenhard, cap 186 Alexandre Le Roux and cap 5 Matt Falconer fighting for silver. Matthew is less than 100km from the finish approaching Lake Orestiada in Kastoria. The other two are a little behind over to the west. All three will be hoping their route choice will give them the edge but it’s so close it’s looking like we could see a sprint for the finish.

Out front among the women, cap 179 Ede Harrison is under 120km away from the rough stuff at Control Point 4 and in 37th place overall. The Czechian side roads caused a broken spoke for cap 63 Karolina Maciejewska forcing her on a diversion to Vienna to get her wheel running true.

That meant Anisa Aubin, cap 21, has put in a little distance from her and is now comfortably in second and a little less over 200km behind Ede. She’s riding in 62nd overall.

At the top of the pairs category and in 50th and 51st place overall are 256a Charles Christiansen and 256b Nico Deportago-Cabrera. They’re currently around 220km from Control Point 4.

We’re signing off today’s report with a salute to the riders who bravely or perhaps foolheartedly tackled the crunching rocks of the Control Point 4 parcours in Bosnia after dark last night. Marin de Saint-Exupéry, cap 42, and Paul Ferguson in cap 212 we’re sending fist pumps and high-fives your way.

RACE REPORT 8 #TCRNO6

The steep gravel harpins of Bosnia’s Bjelašnica mountain parcours at Control Point 4 are the biggest test of the riders yet. The mountain has thrown the lead riders into disarray as they have attempted to scale the rocky ascent to this summit steeped in history

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RACE REPORT 7 #TCRNO6

Both leaders having to walk two separate parcours has to be a Transcontinental Race first! It was the Bielašnica mountain at Control Point 4 in Bosnia that forced rider James Hayden, cap 1, off the bike yesterday while Bjorn Lenhard struggled up the third parcours after a slashed tire.

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