RACE REPORT | DAY 10

Heartbreak Hotel

On Sunday evenings, the Hotel de Milan is a peaceful place. While out on the streets of Bourg-d'Oisans, where a handful of holidaying families idle from one patisserie to the next, on Day 9 of TCRNo.7 all that disturbed the hotel was a trickle of weary cyclists making their way through Control Point 4. 

First came Kosma Szafrania, the Polish rider who lingered at the CP for just minutes. Sitting down on the hotel patio, Kosma quietly phoned ahead to a hotel in Grenoble, filled his water bottle from the spring in the town square and then quickly remounted his bike.

Kosma Szafrania cruises away after stamping his brevet card at CP4. Photo: Angus Sung©

Kosma Szafrania cruises away after stamping his brevet card at CP4. Photo: Angus Sung©

Just minutes after Kosma’s had done the same, it was Chris Thomas (cap #18) passing his brevet card across the Control Point desk.

“You and Anna have concocted the evilest race in history,” he said, sagging down into a plastic chair beside race organiser Rory Kemper. He shook his head. “The rain in Austria… Did you organise that too?”.

The Transcontinental Race Brevet Card, a small but very important part of the race. Photo: Angus Sung©

The Transcontinental Race Brevet Card, a small but very important part of the race. Photo: Angus Sung©

“I didn’t bring any warm clothes with me. Didn’t think I’d need them. Top of the Timmelsjoch, I had to get two men to wrap me up in my sleeping bag. I rode down looking like the bloody Michelin Man.”  

“Seriously though, everyone was pissing me off that day. I was looking at the tracker, thinking ‘why are you doing this? Why are you still riding in this rain? That means I have to ride!’”. 

Coffees and cokes - cycling essentials. Photo: Angus Sung©

Coffees and cokes - cycling essentials. Photo: Angus Sung©

Shortly, Chris headed to the bar in search of a triple espresso and a glass of coke. After a sign language run-in with the Hotel de Milan’s stubbornly French waitress, he returned with a tray laden with 3 double espressos and 3 individual glasses of coke – not a million miles away, in fairness to her.

Chris Thomas arrives at CP4 desk. Photo: Angus Sung©

Chris Thomas arrives at CP4 desk. Photo: Angus Sung©

Chris’s arms and neck were mottled red with blisters – the mark of repeated sunburn – and turning up the palms of his hands you could see the thick, red welts left by ten days on the handlebars. Gloves, he said, were a luxury he couldn’t afford. “They slow you down too much. Every time you get on the bike, faffing with your little gloves, taking them off for every coffee… Nah, too much time”. 

The next rider through the control was Pawel Pulawski, the bike messenger from Poland (cap no.160). At the Control Point, Pawel looked fit, lean and impressively at ease. 

Pawel Pulawski refuels at the bar of Hotel de Milan. Photo: Angus Sung©

Pawel Pulawski refuels at the bar of Hotel de Milan. Photo: Angus Sung©

Already this race, Pawel had lost two phones and the third one he bought to replace them had already broken – although, at CP4, he still had it tucked into his bib shorts. “It’s my alarm clock,” he explained.

Heartbreakingly for Pawel, his impressive ride at TCRNo.7 would not last much longer. The next morning, on Day 10, Pawel came off his bike whilst riding along a bike path near Grenoble – incredible bad luck given that there was no vehicle involved at all. Later that day, he would be taken to hospital for surgery on his broken leg. 

Another rider facing dark moments on Day 10 was Sam Thomas (cap #20). Sam, who had held to third place so bravely back in Austria, has suffered badly over the last few days. After a bout of food poisoning he has been consistently unlucky with mechanical problems and the mental fatigue seems to have taken a toll. “For me, the low points are never the riding itself but in other things happening outside your control. Yesterday morning, I was actually crying on the phone to my girlfriend.” 

He smiled. “I felt amazing afterwards, though.”

CP4 Parcours, the gravel tracks of the backside of Alpe d’Huez. Photo: Angus Sung©

CP4 Parcours, the gravel tracks of the backside of Alpe d’Huez. Photo: Angus Sung©

As he spoke, Fiona Kolbinger was riding in the far west of France and rapidly closing in on the finish line in Brest. For all his efforts, it seemed that Ben Davies would have to settle for second-place on GC. 

The riders of TCRNo.7 are strewn from one side of the continent to the other, scattered across the valleys and mountains, highways and backroads of six different countries. Over the last 10 days, the race – like a panting, clattering accordion – has heaved itself apart from front to back. From tomorrow, the dots start coming back together. 

Jack Enright is the Transcontinental Race No.7 Reporter

RACE REPORT | DAY 9

Trials and tribulations 

By the time Ben Davies arrived at CP4 on the evening of Day 8, the sun had long since set. It might have still illuminated the rolling fields of central France but here, in the small town of Bourg-d'Oisans, the mountains dominate every horizon. To the west, the towering, sheer rock face of the Prégentil casts a deep shadow. 

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In the failing light, Ben looked cheerful yet physically spent. Through the double swing-doors of the Hotel Milan, a warm bed beckoned.


But Ben knew that even then Fiona Kolbinger was still out on the road, stretching out her lead. As night drew in, Ben remounted his bike and pushed on into the darkness, his front light tracing a lonely, weaving path up the steep cliff-edge road of Hameau du Creux

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When the CP4 volunteers awoke on Day 9, Bourg-d'Oisans was dozing in a warm Sunday morning slumber – and yet over the ridgeline, those two leaders were already contesting their 900km time trial across France’s central plains. For Ben and Fiona, the climbing is largely over. Now, they are locked in a flat out race to the finish. 

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By lunch, CP4 had seen its third rider come and go – the young Dutchman Job Hendrickx. When Job had arrived at CP3 back in Austria on Day 7 it had been striking how relaxed he seemed, and two days later not much had changed. Job looked almost implausibly fresh – his kit was clean, his eyes were bright and his head seemed remarkably clear.

Asked whether he planned to stop for lunch, he declined with a shrug. “I might as well keep going. My legs are warm now anyway, so...”. 

Following in Ben’s wake, up through the tunnels of Hameau du Creux, Job began to whistle himself a song. For a rider so determined to race to his own tune, it seemed a fitting departure. 

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Not far behind him was David Schuster, another rider who has looked impressively strong so far. Earlier that day on his ascent of the Galibier, David had overtaken more than a few riders – nevermind being weighed down by both his luggage and eight full days of fatigue. 

For some riders a little further down the pack, things aren’t going as smoothly. Last night in Austria, Norbert Wortberg (cap #91) had successfully bested the Timmelsjoch but was finding it impossible to find a place to spend the night. Sensing the desperation in Norbert’s voice, one hotel owner offered to let him sleep in his sauna. It was certainly one of the more unusual bivvy spots from TCRNo.7, but at least he wasn’t out in the rain.  

This wasn’t the first time Norbert has been saved by the kindness of a stranger. Whilst struggling with mechanical issues back in Serbia, Norbert arrived late at a bike shop in desperate need of help with his malfunctioning shifter. The mechanic worked on his bike far past closing and late into the night and when he had finally finished his work, he would accept no payment.  

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Also at CP3 is cap #97, Anna Petters, who has a malfunctioning front mech – now, she has to change gear a little more manually. If things were difficult enough, Anna has just ridden through the night to make it to the CP in time – last year she missed the CP3 cut-off, and she was determined not to let that happen again. 

Another rider with a story to tell is Shinichi Chubachi (cap #105). Shinichi a quiet, softly-spoken cyclist from Tokyo who tells his story in a murmured, slightly halting English. For him, the last couple of days have been an ordeal. Yesterday, he was feeling so cold and sick that he was riding in every piece of clothing he had, including a foil emergency blanket wrapped around his torso. Riding through the bright and sunny CP3 parcours in northern Italy and passing local cyclists in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt, Shinichi’s determination faltered. 

Sitting on the side of the road, he was passed by several other TCR riders, all of whom paused to give a word of encouragement. Eventually, he says, “something clicked in my head”. Shinichi knew that he had to carry on. 

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But he also knew the road over the Timmelsjoch closed at 8pm. If he was going to make it, he’d have to ride hard. Shinichi pressed desperately up the mountain, heaving himself from one hairpin to the next, determined to reach the summit that night and continue his journey west. Somehow, he made it through.

As he rolled out of CP3, he left with one final thought: “I learned a lot about science from teachers, but I learned a lot more here on this tour.”

Jack Enright the is Transcontinental Race No.7 reporter. Additional reporting and photography for Day 9 by Thomas Hoffman.