It’s blowing a gale on the morning of the 14th day of Transcontinental Race No.7. Rapacious white waves crash against coast. Brest is rendered sullen by a blanket of rain, while leaden skies dilute the Finistère port town to a palette of greys and browns. Across floors and benches the riders of the TCR lie in recovery. The Auberge de Jeunesse du Moulin Blanc is strewn with bodies. Some covered by blankets, others still clad in lycra, unable to summon the strength to disrobe.
Last night, between midnight and six o’clock, five riders had their brevet cards stamped for the final time.
David Brinkman, Samuli Mäkinen, Samuel Gerard, Grzegorz Rogoz and Nick Van Mead take places 24 through 28.
Once the top ten is decided, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking the race is over. Those mid-pack are not so easily conned: The two Sams duke it out for minor placings; the Fin manages to sneak into 25th place, just twenty three minutes ahead of his French adversary.
At around a quarter to nine, the finish line volunteers see something on the horizon, though they couldn’t agree on who or what it was. Some said it was a welty salad. Others, a frumpy tortoise. As the indecipherable figure approached the finish line, it becomes clear that it is Transcontinental Podcast favourite, Clayton Anderson. The Alabamian claims 30th place.
An hour later, Gail Brown arrives. She is the third woman to cross the line, grinning, wearing an inexplicably fresh demeanour, to record a time of 13 days, 5 hours and 1 Minute. The rain eases by midday and patches of sunlight begin to break through the clouds, slowly drying out shoes, socks and other miscellaneous bits of kit spread out across the main hall of the hostel. A subdued buzz fills the room - not just from the Apidura sewing machine re-attaching zips and re-sealing broken saddle bags - but from the riders regaling one another with stories from their respective races.
It was point at this point Jonathan Kambskard-Bennett arrives. He made it to Brest in 13 days, 8 hours, and 8 minutes “…but I could have been faster.” he said.
“I…well…I sort of cracked last night…I planned to go all night as I only had 170km to go but the rain was so bad that I ended up bivvying in a bus stop. I slept for 6 hours!”
The Transcontinental debutant never expected to place as well as he did. “Last night, during the storm, I knew stopping would mean the difference between 25th and 35th place. At that point it didn’t matter. It’s my first ever race. When I started, my only goal was to finish. The desire to sleep was greater than the prospect of a better placing.”
Jonathan may not have had any previous racing experience but he had cycled around the world. He suggested this experience could have been a factor in a respectable first performance.
“I thought the race was going to be all about lycra, skinny tyres and aero bikes. In reality, to do well at the Transcontinental…you need a combination of luck and common sense. The more common sense you have…the more luck you have.”
It’s not all good news, however. After suffering a mechanical near Loudeac, Daniel Welch scratched under 170km from Brest. He couldn’t get his bike fixed, get to the finish line…and get back home in time to start his new job.
At five to seven that evening, Emanuel Verde and Espen Landgraff cross the finish line. The Norwegian Duo are the first registered pair to finish. The secret to their race? A bluetooth speaker. “That has got us through some difficult times” said Espen.
Their playlist was stacked with everything from She Wolf by Shakira to the full discography of Steely Dan. For the darkest moments there was only one choice though- the Michael Boulton power ballad, Go the Distance.
By Jonathan Rowe