In the pack
In concept, the Transcontinental Race is a straightforward idea – it’s a bike race, from one side of Europe to the other. First one to the finish wins.
In reality, seeing the TCR as just a race is hopelessly simplistic. A race is a two-tone story centred around winners and losers – when it’s over, the winners are vaunted. The losers are resigned to the anonymous scrapheap of the not-quite-good-enough.
The Transcontinental Race might be simple in sporting terms but in an event as challenging as this – where simply finishing is a victory in itself – there is far more at play than simply winning or losing.
The TCR is not just a race, but a spectacle – endlessly diverse and vividly textured with every conceivable peak and trough of human experience. No matter where it sits in the standings, each and every TCR journey is worth celebrating.
On Day 7, race leader Fiona Kolbinger continued her westward push through Switzerland and into France with Ben Davies close behind. Tonight, one of the two official race vehicles (CC2) will set off in pursuit.
Until then, CP3 is alive with riders from the chasing pack – and they all have stories to tell.
Late last night, at the end of Day 6, the volunteers at Control Point 3 were huddled under an awning, watching the dot of Sam Thomas edge closer. Having crested the Timmelsjoch that afternoon, he could enjoy the long, free-flowing descent into the valley below.
But soon, a storm was sweeping up the valley floor. As the rainfall intensified, Sam’s dot slowed, slowed further, and then finally stopped for the night outside a hotel a couple of towns over.
When Sam finally made the Control Point early on the morning of Day 7, he looked more ghost than man. He walked unsteadily, gilet hanging loose over his thin shoulders, and when he spoke it was slow and slurred.
Sitting down for the hotel breakfast, he looked like a man in need of coffee. Unluckily for him, he couldn’t stomach one.
“I ate a donner kebab yesterday and I think there was something wrong with it,” he said. “Now my stomach feels really bad. I can’t keep anything down.”
Tired as he was, he was still able to laugh about the vicious gradients of the CP3 parcours.
“I was stood in front of my bike, leaning backwards, pulling it up the slope. Even walking it, my legs were hurting!”.
Arriving a few hours later is Job Hendrickx (cap #240). Every year, one of the most intriguing things about the TCR challenge is the unique approach each rider brings with them to the start line, and Job is no different.
On the face of it, he seems to be cut from the same cloth as James Hayden – methodical in his preparation, meticulous in the execution, every detail planned for and taken care of. Job rides every day with a close eye on his power meter, tapping out his own pace and measuring out his efforts day-by-day.
That similarity with Hayden finishes with the end goal. Job might well be sitting in 5th place, but has absolutely no interest in the GC. Talking to Job over his bowl of pasta, he seems a rider totally at ease in himself – for him, the TCR is less about beating other riders home, but building a performance he can be proud of as an individual. He’s here to ride his own race, and in his own time.
Arriving at the same time as Job is Pawel Pulawski (cap #160). From the sounds of it, Pawel has had a night from hell – he was caught in the same rainstorm as Sam Thomas, but he was still ascending the Timmelsjoch when it struck and spent the night shivering in a rickety mountainside hut. He’s also managed to lose two mobile phones, dropping one over the gravel section in Bulgaria and leaving the second outside a Serbian petrol station.
You would never guess all that though – at Control Point 3, Pawel has a smile for everyone.
Shortly behind Job and Pawel comes David Schuster (cap #112). Every rider in the TCR has their own unique motivations, but David’s are particularly strong. His wife is expecting a baby in two weeks – the sooner he gets to Brest, the sooner he can be with her in Paris.
Down on the CP3 parcours, second-placed Tanja Hacker (cap #222) is pressing on grimly through the mid-pack.
Her legs are burnt red raw from the sun and in an attempt to protect them she has fashioned some homemade bandages out of plastic wrappers and tape. In spite of this, Tanja is in good spirits and not even the 30% hairpins out of Bolzano can dampen them.
Tanja has her lead for now, but Stina Svensson (cap #216) is by no means giving up the chase. Stina has only been cycling for three years after previously specialising in ultra-running but seems to have found a natural affinity for the bike. After serious mechanical issues derailed the early part of her race, Stina is back on the road and now averaging a fast 300km a day, despite getting at least twice the sleep of the average TCR rider.
At the time of writing, Fiona Kolbinger is stretching out her lead – and yet here’s one number worth remembering. At Control Point 3, the first 10 riders were separated by just 27 hours. In the context of the Transcontinental Race, that is just one bad mechanical, one routing nightmare or one bout of illness.