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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.