RACE REPORT | DAY 12

Local heroes 

Close – but for the third time, no cigar. 

As Ben Davies rolled down the race finish on the evening of Day 11, it was his third year of wondering ‘what if?’. Two years ago, in TCRNo.5, Ben placed 44th. Last year he had climbed to tenth place even though a serious routing mishap nearly derailed his race. This year, to come in second and barely 12 hours down on the winner – virtually a photo finish by TCR standards  – must have felt agonisingly close.

Although you wouldn’t have guessed that, watching him arrive. Today – just like every day of this race – Ben is all smiles. 

BEN_DAVIES_FINISH_TCRNO7.jpg

What’s more, he seems more than at peace with his second place. “It’s pretty cool. I’ve worked so hard this year and to come second... yeah, I’m really chuffed actually.”

Ben_Davies_Finish_Angus_Sung_Photo.jpg

We didn’t have to wait long for this year’s podium to be completed. Just a couple of hours later, the young Dutchman Job Hendrickx is locked in an embrace with his waiting family. 

Job_Hendrickx_Finish_Angus_Sung_Photo.jpg

Job has been one of the most intriguing characters of TCRNo.7. At every Control Point of the race, he would invariably arrive looking relaxed, cheerful and almost implausibly fresh – somehow, even his cycling shoes managed to remain gleaming white from Burgas to Brest. 

Job_Hendrickx_Finish_Angus_Sung_Photo.jpg

Back in Austria at CP3, Job had explained that he wasn’t riding for the GC – that he was sleeping lots, riding within himself and keeping his own pace. 

Job_sign_finishline_Angus_Sung_Photo.jpg

But by CP4 in Le Bourg d’Oisans, when that pace had taken him all the way into the top five, his mindset changed – he decided to pull out all the stops and chase the leaders hard to the finish.

It almost paid off. At CP4, Fiona Kolbinger held a lead over Job of nearly 23 hours. By the finish line in Brest, Job had cut that lead down to just 13 – a quite remarkable turnaround that very nearly pushed him in front of Ben on GC.

Job_Hendrickx_Brest_Angus_Sung.jpg

“I’m quite happy I started focussing on the GC actually,” said Job, “because I was worried at CP4 that I would arrive at the finish in the same state, feeling fresh.” 

He holds up his brevet card. “I think that would have left me wondering if I had suffered enough to deserve this. I think for this, you need to suffer and for the last two days I have very much suffered.”

The next morning, on Day 12 of TCRNo.7, Brest sits enveloped by a bank of thick, Atlantic cloud. As the sun rises higher in the sky, a few fragments of sunshine begin to peek through the cloud cover – in that weak morning glow, David Schuster arrives to claim 4th place

David_Schuster_AngusSungPhoto.jpg

The Transcontinental is always full of stories, but David’s is one of the most charming of this year’s race. His wife is expecting a baby in a little over a week – his race to the finish has also been a race back to her side in Paris. 

David_Schuster_Arrival_Angus_Sung_Photo.jpg

Understandably, he wasn’t hang around for long either. “In one hour, I’ll be on the train,” he promises. 

He might have taken 4th place, but David’s ride has been far from plain sailing. Under his arm warmers, David’s skin is an angry, blistered red – he rode up the exposed face of the Galibier when the sun was at its highest and this morning he is still paying for it. 

Schuster_Sunburn_Angus_Sung_Photo.jpg

Later that day, Chris Thomas also finished his Transcontinental adventure. Having placed 18th in TCRNo.6, Chris rode an accomplished race this year – the third rider to Control Point 2 and rarely slipping out of the top five, he always looked set for a high placing. His fifth place is a just reward for a fine ride.

Chris_Thomas_Finishline_Angus_Sung_Photo.jpg

When asked what had changed between his two TCR attempts, Chris’ answer was surprisingly simple. “A GPS computer, actually”. As it turns out, Chris rode most of TCRNo.6 using paper maps as his guide after his Garmin failed in the first few days. “Yeah, the new computer was great. Saved me about 400km I reckon.” 

He was slightly less effusive about some gravel parcours on this year’s race. “I don’t mind the gravel when it means everyone is lugging their bike up the hill. But I didn’t like it when it meant I had to actually be good at bike handling,” he laughed. “Then I was just shipping time”.  

Alexandre_LeRoux_Finish_Angus_Sung_Photography.jpg

Finishing not even an hour after Chris is the most warmly welcomed rider of TCRNo.7 – Alexandre le Roux, this year’s régional de l’étape or ‘hometown rider’. Born and raised here in Brittany, he was cheered into the finish by a large welcoming party of family and friends, many of them sporting the iconic stripes of Brittany. 

FIN_2019_08_07_BA1I8280.jpg

In sixth place, Alexandre might not have improved on his ranking from TCRNo.6, but his ride has been one of the bravest of this year’s edition. When his own bike was broken beyond repair in a collision with a car, he had all the excuses he needed to quietly scratch and return home. Instead,  he rented a bike from a local shop and carried on to finish what might well be one of the toughest and most selective editions of the TCR to date.

Champage_Leroux_AngusSungPhoto.jpg

His display of tenacity, determination and grit is an incredible tribute the Transcontinental and the spirit in which it is intended to be raced. 

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. 

CP4_Day_1_03_08_BA1I5875.jpg

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

CP4_Day_1_03_08_BA1I6111.jpg


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. 

CP3_Day_3_02_08_BA1I4189.jpg


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. 

CP4_Day_1_03_08_BA1I6180.jpg

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.  

DSCF0312.JPG

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. 

DSCF0338.JPG

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. 



Race Report | Day 7

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.

Volunteers at CP3, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

Volunteers at CP3, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

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.

Sam Thomas, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

Sam Thomas, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

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!”.

Refuelling at Pettneu. Photo: Angus Sun©

Refuelling at Pettneu. Photo: Angus Sun©

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.

Job Hendrickx, #TCRNo7cap240. Photo: Angus Sung ©

Job Hendrickx, #TCRNo7cap240. Photo: Angus Sung ©

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.

Job Hendrickx leaving in CP3. Photo: Angus Sung©

Job Hendrickx leaving in CP3. Photo: Angus Sung©

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.

Pawel Pulawski and Job Hendrickx at CP3, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

Pawel Pulawski and Job Hendrickx at CP3, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

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.

Pawel Pulawski (cap #160). Photo: Angus Sung©

Pawel Pulawski (cap #160). Photo: Angus Sung©

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.

David Schuster (cap #112), CP3, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

David Schuster (cap #112), CP3, Pettneu, Austria. Photo: Angus Sung©

Down on the CP3 parcours, second-placed Tanja Hacker (cap #222) is pressing on grimly through the mid-pack.

Tanja Hacker on the CP3 Parcours. Photo: James Robertson©

Tanja Hacker on the CP3 Parcours. Photo: James Robertson©

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 Hacker protects legs against the sun.

Tanja Hacker protects legs against the sun.

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.

If Fiona falters, the pack is waiting.

Race Report | Day 1

At 6am this morning, Central European Time, the Transcontinental Race began its seventh journey across Europe. Under a pastel pink morning sky, the 263 riders of TCRNo.7 rolled away from the Burgas shore and headed northwest up the long, straight city highway. Led by an escort of local police, the 5km neutralised start had a feeling of eerie calm – a mass peloton, soft-pedalling in the pre-dawn stillness.

TCRNo7_Start_Burgas_JamesRobertsonPhoto.jpg

 

12 hours later that peloton had been comprehensively dismantled. The riders are now scattered across the Bulgarian countryside, edging their way across Europe – for the most part, totally alone.

At the time of writing, Björn Lenhard (cap #3) is the first rider on the road, holding onto a lead of some 20km over Jonathan Rankin with Chris Thomas tucked in a little further behind. 

TCRNo7Cap3_Bjorn.jpg

Björn is well-known at the TCR for his breakneck starts, and this year’s race has played out no differently. Early this morning, he broke free from the chasers with a stinging attack on the gravel track on the hills above Driankovets, utilising his background in mountain biking to escape across the rough dirt roads. 

Having won a gap, Björn then forced the pace for the rest of the day and was the first rider to crest the tough switchbacks up to Buzludzha peak. Standing 1,000 metres high, it is a hard grind up to the top –and what awaits them is worth the journey. 

Sitting atop the peak is the Buzludzha Monument – a hulking, communist-era mass of concrete that feels as if it has been transported here from another world. Perched high above the valley floor, the Monument dominates the skyline and this year, acts as Control Point 1 of TCRNo.7. 

Monument_CP1.jpg

With his brevet card stamped, Björn wasted no more time at the Control. If he has come to TCRNo.7 with a plan to make others chase, then so far he has got his way. This year TCRNo7 have finally enacted Mike Hall’s idea to provide each CP leader with a coloured cap. Kindly  designed and made by our race partners PEdALED Björn left with the green cap it’s peak emblazoned with the legend ‘Leader’.

TCRNo7_cap_leader.jpg
TCRNo7_Bjorn_Anna_CP1.jpg

30 minutes behind him came Jonathan Rankin (cap #15). His black jersey was stained white with salt marks, and yet at Buzludzha Peak he seemed settled and composed. Having downed a bottle of coke in a single gulp, he remounted his Fairlight and set off in pursuit. 

Jonathan_Rankin_CP1.jpg

Rankin was followed in quick succession by Chris Thomas (cap #18), Job Hendrickx (cap #240), Fiona Kolbinger (cap #66) and  David Schuster (cap #112). Arriving at CP1 as the first woman and in 5th place overall, Germany’s Fiona Kolbinger has had an impressive ride so far and is surely a name to follow over the course of the race. 

TCRNo7_Fiona_CP1_jamesrobertson.jpg

It was telling that all the first riders to reach CP1 were riding on narrower, fully-slick road tyres. While those mandatory gravel parcours around the race start in Burgas certainly seemed to have tested the riders, so far it seems that committing to the fastest setup on the tarmac has paid dividends.

One rider who’s gamble turned out less fortunately was Matthew Falconer, (cap #2). Falconer is one of the pre-race favourites, but fell victim to three punctures early in the day and now finds himself some way back behind the early leaders – which is exactly where Björn wants to keep him. 

TCRNo7_Matthew_Falconer_jamesrobertsonphoto.jpg

Another rider who, unfortunately, has had a day to forget is cap #120, Fridtjof Harwardt. Having suffered from sunstroke in the days leading up to the race, Fridtjof was unfortunate enough to suffer two punctures in rapid succession within 20km of the start. Although he quickly climbed back on the bike, he is currently persevering nearer the back of the pack. 

TCRNo7_cap120_Will_Armitage.jpg

While many of the leading riders have already had their brevet cards stamped at CP1, tonight there is no lull to the racing. In the Transcontinental Race, the clock never stops – while some riders will bed down in hotels and bivvy bags for the night, many more will still be on the bike. Meanwhile, the most determined will push right through into Race Day 2, looking to take a lead that they can defend until Brest.