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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.