RACE REPORT | DAY 14

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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By Jonathan Rowe

Race Report | Day 2

On Day 1 of TCRNo.7, Björn Lenhard lit the touchpaper of the race with a breakneck attack almost straight from the gun. By 15:27 CET, the German rider had already covered the 250 kilometres needed to reach Control Point 1. 

He didn’t slow down. Instead, he continued his relentless assault west right through into the night, stopping only for a couple of hours to bed down on the roadside near Sofia. On the morning of Day 2, he was confronted with a full 80km of gravel trails. Those trails led him over the Serbian mountain of Besna Kobila, a climb that reaches 1700 metres at its highest point. 

By 14:17 CET, Björn was having his brevet card stamped at CP2 in Hotel Inn Zormaris-M, near the town of Vranje. In a little over 33 hours, he had covered 750km. 

Björn Lenhard pulls on his second leader’s cap at Control Point 2.

Björn Lenhard pulls on his second leader’s cap at Control Point 2.

Soon afterwards, Björn was back on the road to further ram home his ever-growing advantage. He was in high spirits, and at that moment he seemed ominously strong.

Björn Lenhard leaves Control Point 2.

Björn Lenhard leaves Control Point 2.

And yet, barely an hour later Björn was back at CP2. Climbing out of a van, he walked back into the hotel saying he’d been stung on the ear by a wasp. Somehow, he no longer seemed the unflappable race leader – issues with the heat, saddle sores and the overnight cold that he had brushed off just an hour ago now seemed to worry him more seriously. Despite there being many hours of light left in the day, he decided to check into the hotel.

Björn checks into his room at CP2.

Björn checks into his room at CP2.

A couple of hours later and Jonathan Rankin (cap #15) had wiped out Björn’s hard-won lead, arriving at CP2 at just over 17:00 CET. Having realised Björn was still at the Control, he quickly refilled his bottles and wasted no time in getting back on the road.

Jonathan Rankin stares into the abyss and the abyss looks back in the toilets at CP2

Jonathan Rankin stares into the abyss and the abyss looks back in the toilets at CP2

At the time of writing, Jonathan Rankin is the new race leader.

Jonathan Rankin departs CP2.

Jonathan Rankin departs CP2.

But these two frontrunners are by no means the only riders in this race – behind them, a whole clutch of chasers are within striking distance of the lead. Arriving next into CP2 were Kosma Szafraniak (cap #159) and Fiona Kolbinger (cap #66), who has surely produced the most impressive ride of Day 2. Despite puncturing three times and crashing twice, Fiona is the first woman on the road and now holding her own in third place on GC. 

Fiona Kolbinger pulls on the women’s leader cap.

Fiona Kolbinger pulls on the women’s leader cap.

The highest ever GC placing by a woman in the TCR was Juliana Buhring in TCRNo.1, who placed 9th out of 21 finishers – if Fiona can continue her ride in this vein, she would be making TCR history.

In fifth position on the road, Ben Davies (cap #10) is shaping up to be another major contender for this year. Ben has unfinished business with the TCR – last year, a disastrous routing decision scuttled his chances of a podium place and he seems set on making amends.

Ben Davies - #TCRNo7cap10

Ben Davies - #TCRNo7cap10

A little way down the road, Matthew Falconer (cap #2) has produced a stubborn ride to put himself back in striking distance of the race lead. One of the pre-race favourites, Matthew suffered four punctures on Day 1 and now his hopes of a first win are held together by patches alone – yet he has remained stubbornly on the tails of the leading riders.

Meanwhile, Daniel Welch (cap #261a) and Mike Cannon (cap #261b) are the best-placed pairs riders in the competition. At the time of writing the duo are about 30km from the start of the CP2 parcours.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact on this year’s race of the heavy, stifling heat that grips much of eastern Europe. Many of the riders are passing through Control Points caked white with dried sweat, and these conditions are playing havoc with their bodies.

Jonathan Rankin arrives at CP2, his jersey stained with salty streaks.

Jonathan Rankin arrives at CP2, his jersey stained with salty streaks.

Bagoly Levente, who placed second in 2018’s Silk Road Mountain Race, yesterday complained of intense cramps in both legs, most likely due to depleted sodium reserves. Already, several riders have been forced to scratch.

The first two days of TCRNo.7 have felt almost like a drag race. Three stretches of mandatory parcours combined with the relative closeness of the first two Control Points has meant the early part of the race has favoured straight-line speed over race strategy.

Over the next few days, the race will become more tactical. The journey from Serbian foothills to the Dolomites of Italy is a long one, and the riders are now faced with decisions around both their route and their sleep. Soon, we will begin to see the full value of clear heads and calm minds when legs start to fail.