The sweet science
Over its first three days, TCRNo.7 has often felt like a drag race. By the end of Day 4, it had started to look more like a boxing match. Four days of punishment – across all terrains and in all conditions – were beginning to wreak their toll, on minds as well as bodies.
Control Point 2 closed at 9am on the morning of Day 4. At Hotel Inn Zormaris-M, riders were strewn across every surface that could support a body – on benches, beneath restaurant tables, on seats in the hotel lobby. Weary as they were, these riders could at least enjoy the warm satisfaction of having made the cut-off time. As hard as it had been, they were still in this race.
But as TCR volunteers began to pack away CP2, new arrivals were still pulling up the hotel gates. Some of them missed the cut-off time by a matter of minutes. They would still be allowed to ride on and should they reach the finish line in Brest they’d register a finish time – but from now on, they ride outside the GC competition.
For Alina Kilian (cap #53), it was a bitter pill to swallow. Alina had been riding solidly through the night a bid to reach CP2 in time, scaling the mountain of Besna Kobila and making her descent just as the night sky began fading into grey. After a long, cold and hard ride in the dark, to miss the Control Point was a kick in the teeth.
Denmark’s René Hinnum (cap #237) was another to miss out by moments. His quiet disappointment might have been subdued, but it was clear he felt it hard.
Far, far up the road, the leading riders of TCRNo.7 were locked in a three-way battle for the lead. After barely four hours of sleep, Jonathan Rankin (cap #15) went about reasserting his authority on the race with a mammoth push through Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. At the time of writing, he is crossing the border into Austria to begin the long run in towards CP3.
Behind him, Fiona Kolbinger (cap #66) was digging in, determined not to be shaken off. Her march northwards has often felt relentless, and still she gives very little sign of easing the pace.
Late in the day came reports that third-placed rider Ben Davies (cap #10) was suffering from saddle sores. In a bid to let some air to the wound, he had foregone his cycling bibs for a pair of red football shorts and was pushing on through the pain.
Given Björn Lenhard’s early scratch, Ben’s issue is surprising. Both are experienced endurance racers and their set-ups have been dialled to perfection - for them both to come unstuck with saddle sore issues is unusual. We can only guess that the extreme heat of the first two days is to blame, and only time will tell if more of the front-runners will fall victim.
If this year’s TCR is feeling a little like a boxing match, it is down to more than just the physical punishment. Like the middle rounds of a bout between tiring fighters, the run-in to the mountains is a tactical game of cat and mouse where every exertion must be measured against potential reward. Come the end, it’s likely to be the rider who races smart – as well as hard – that is still standing.