Europe’s toughest challenge: The Transcontinental Race


11.08.22 at 9:21 am

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Imagine riding 4,000km across 13 countries, carrying your own equipment, relying on your own mechanical know-how and plotting your own route between key points along the distance. Sounds utterly bonkers, right? Well, that’s what 280 cyclists from all over the world class as a good time in Europe’s definitive endurance event, the Transcontinental Race.

On paper, the TCR is simply a race from A to B, but in practice, like many endurance events, it soon becomes a race between rider, machine, the elements, and the physical and the mental. Still interested? Here’s what the continent-spanning race is all about.

What is the TCR?

A one-day stage race where the clock never stops, with no support and no set route, the TCR is the lord of ultra-bike races. Established in 2013 by the late Mike Hall, a legendary figure in ultra-distance cycling, there have been eight editions with the challenge seemingly more extreme every year. Cyclists can race solo or in pairs with the vast majority of the field just setting out for a finish rather than any result.

Conquering this vast distance and being self-sufficient in such an adventure is a result of its own as it proves what we think or hope is possible and redefines athletic ambitions. With self-reliance, logistics, navigation, physique and judgment all under constant stress, the TCR is an awesome undertaking for any cyclist. This may all sound extremely challenging, but there is no better way of exploring the continent than by bike, and events like these fill countless books with the experiences collected along the way.

The route

The TCR somehow becomes even more epic when you look at the route, which varies each year. This year it began at the foot of a cycling icon, the Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium, a cobbled climb that defines the Spring Classics, the race headed east to the Black Sea via five mandatory control points.

The riders plot their own route between these points but the must tackle the associated parcours. This year those points took competitors over the rolling hills of Czech Republic to Krupka, before turning south to the breath-taking Dolomites, where they crested one of the most famous climbs of them all, the Passo di Gavia. The next stage of the expedition involved the gravel roads of Romania and the Durmitor mountain range, before crossing the Danube River to the epic and twisting Transalpina climb on the way to the final dash to the Black Sea and the finish line in Burgas, Bulgaria.

The route and design is simple enough on paper but very complex in execution once you consider that all riders must plot their own road.

What sets the TCR apart?

What makes the TCR so different is its founding aims. The bike races of yesteryear, like the Tour de France in its infancy, were raced across dirt paths, over inhospitable mountains during which a rider would have to fix their own bike and provide for themselves along the way.

The TCR taps back into this early racing culture and strives for three main objectives, to be credible, accessible and responsible. These founding aims of Mike Hall were then neatly wrapped up in his ‘spirit of the race’. This a commitment to the objectives so that racers stay honest to their values, can complete the route on just a bike, while being respectful to their fellow competitor and the environment in which they compete.

To this end, what sets the TCR apart is that arguably the race aspect is the least important thing. Instead, the focus on community, companionship, growth and self-discovery far outweigh what time or position you come over the line in Burgas.

There are rules to brush up on before starting out on the mammoth adventure.

1. Ride from start to finish via control points
2. No third-party support, resupply or lodgings
3. No drafting, other than in a pair
4. All forward travel must be self powered
5. Travel by ferries only on approved routes
6. All riders must maintain evidence of their ride
7. Inactive for two days without contact = DSQ
8. No insurance, no helmet, no lights = DSQ – that’s where we come in!
9. Riders must know and obey local traffic laws
10. Ride in the spirit of self reliance and equal opportunity

Who won this year’s race?

The 2022 TCRNo8 has been completed by a number of athletes but the route is still being conquered by a few intrepid athletes at the time of writing. By just taking one look at the live tracking map, you begin to get a better understanding of how difficult a task this really is.

This makes the achievements of the first finishers even more impressive. German Christopher Strasser completed the race in 9 days and 14 hours, meaning that he cycled an incredible daily average of 477km. Historic 2019 winner Fiona Kolbinger also finished in the top 10 and was the first woman across the line in Burgas, but could not defend her overall crown. That only tells half the story though, as halfway through the race, Kolbinger had her purse and tracker stolen in the Czech Republic.

How to get into ultra-distance bikepacking

Getting into ultra-distance bikepacking is a process of building blocks: start slow, learn the basics of bikepacking, and build the aerobic fitness and skills needed to undertake a self-serviced solo challenge, before making your way through the ranks over time.

It’s all about getting the basics right, which means going for increasingly longer endurance rides to build the fitness you will need and also to test your mental resolve as a rider. Next comes developing the day-to-day bikepacking skills. Learning to become an expert in riding with bike bags, cleaning kit and yourself on the go, cooking in the open and contending with the environment. Developing a daily and weekly routine for your training will help you begin to think like a bikepacker so that eventually you can nail that crucial logistics stage.

Once you’re confident enough you begin to plot epic rides and routes for yourself.

How Yellow Jersey covers ultra rides

If ultra-distance cycling sounds appealing to you, it’s crucial that you are covered by Yellow Jersey’s comprehensive cycle travel insurance. In fact, as the rules above show, you literally can’t enter the TCR without it. The factors involved with travelling across countries and plotting your own routes, let alone actually completing the ride, are numerous so give yourself peace of mind and allow yourself to simply focus on the trail ahead and the freedom of cycling. Our ultimate bicycle insurance policies will cover your pride and joy when racing while our cycle travel insurance will cover any travel or medical related mishaps.

All that’s left is for you to break out the tent and bike bags, and point yourself in the direction of your next two-wheeled adventure.

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