Transcontinental 2016

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© Pedaled Photographer Giovanni Maria Pizzato

This is the long overdue report about my participation of the Transcontinental Race No. 4, my second time I did that race.

I’m currently in the process of polishing my rough notes into comprehensible, separate blog posts, which are appearing bit by bit in the list directly below. This page itself contains an overview about what exactly the race is.

Daily Reports

What is the Transcontinental Race (TCR)?

Mike Hall organized the first TCR in 2013, wanting to create a race replicating the experience he had on his then record setting bike trip around the world, but in a more accessible format. This resulted in a race across Europe, which is supposed to be doable in roughly two weeks. The big difference to the more widely known bike races (e.g. Tour de France) is the aspect of “adventure”.

The adventure starts with the route preparation. There is no fixed course, just a handful of checkpoints sprinkled across the map, roughly leading from North West of Europe to the South East. How exactly to get from one of those checkpoints to another is completely up to each rider, so, sometimes even before the first training ride in a season, routes get drafted on online maps, Google Streetview checked for road conditions and possible alternative routes compared. This process is very important for the race, since it can cost you dearly if you blindly trusted Google Maps and later during the race end up on some goat trail in the Balkans.

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The route I traveled through all the checkpoints

But the far bigger aspect of “adventure” is the spirit of self sufficiency, in which each rider has to act. For a start, this means that there is no support team following you around and catering to your every need. But this also means, that you can’t stop by at your friends place, who owns a bike shop and will repair your bike in the middle of the night. Everything you need, you’ll either have to bring yourself or have to buy from places which are open for the public, otherwise it would be unfair for people living along the route. Oh, and drafting from other racers is forbidden as well.

Additionally, the clock never stops after you start. In my opinion, this is what makes the race so interesting, since you are nonstop under pressure for two weeks, not just whilst cycling. Sleep becomes a luxury good, and every stop, whether rest room, groceries or repairing the bike, is part of the race.

All these points make for a very exciting bike race, since it isn’t the guy with the strongest legs winning. Instead, each rider has to juggle multiple tasks at once and isn’t allowed to drop a single one:

  • Ride reasonably fast
  • Keep your bike from breaking
  • Keep your body from breaking
  • Keep your emotions in check (anger or self-pity can cost you a lot of time)
  • Stay alert enough to
    • Not get lost
    • Not get into an accident
    • Adapt your plan on the fly (e.g. Headwinds? => Sleep)
  • Make sure that you have enough food and water with you at all times.

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Release the riders!

Oh, and if you can, maybe enjoy the awesome scenery you are riding through. And appreciate meeting the hundreds of strangers from all walks of life during your trip.
Each rider is carrying a GPS tracker, which broadcasts its position to Trackleaders, allowing everyone at home to follow the race. The people following the race online refer to themselves as “Dot watchers”, and here is a guide of how to become one of them (Could be helpful when I race the 2017 edition).
Additionally to the GPS there’s a “brevet card”, a slip of paper, which gets stamped at every checkpoint.

For most of the roughly 250 starters, it’s their goal to arrive in time for the finishers party 15 days after the start. Usually only around half of the starters make it to the finish at all, with even fewer arriving in time for the party, making it a very special place to be.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Where do you sleep?

There’s nothing preventing the riders from checking into a hotel every night, and in fact some of them do. But for me, it’s too much of a hassle to look for hotels all the time and usually they’re quite expensive as well. Instead, I sleep outdoors, next to the road somewhere. Once I either get too tired and fall asleep on the bike, or I know that a huge mountain pass I won’t be able to complete is coming up, I start looking around for suitable spots to put down my bivy bag. Preferences lie on being somewhat hidden from the road, have some soft ground (since I’m not carrying an insulation mattress) and ideally have something where I can lean my bike against (as rack for drying & airing out clothes, and less likely that bugs will crawl into my food stash). If I’m really short on time, I’ll just put on my rain clothes and lie down in the grass.

What do you eat?
Mostly stuff that’s easy to snack and has a high density in calories. So, Haribo & Nuts. They’re widely available, and you don’t have to hassle with wrapping paper of energy bars and such. After a couple of days, if the stomach get’s too upset/too much acid reflux, I throw in a mixture of Cookies & Croissants, which are also available at every gas Station. Oh, and ice cream. Lots of ice cream.
Besides snacking on the bike, I’ll probably eat around once per day something warm from a Restaurant. McDonalds is a popular choice, because it is the same everywhere. This is a good thing, since you can expect food to get prepared reasonably fast, already know the menu, you don’t have any language barriers, get guaranteed WiFi, clean toilets and no one will look at you because you smell like a Hobo.
How is your butt / how are your legs after the race?

Surprisingly good. No seriously, my body doesn’t feel that bad in the days after the race. Instead, it takes the longest for my mind to recover. In the days directly after it’s exhausting for me to have either long conversations or conversations with multiple people at once in a group, since I had spent the past two weeks almost exclusively with my thoughts as the only company, and it takes a while for me to come around.

I prefer modern media over reading your endless texts, is there something to watch?
Sure, there’s lots of stuff out there. The official Youtube channel of the race has 13 vlogs from the road, and I even get the honor of mumbling into the camera for a couple of minutes just moments after I arrived at the finish.
Additionally, there’s a 30 minute documentary about Jacopo, one of the riders, who was one half of the team who left me a present on the last day of last years TCR.
Besides, here are tons of selfies some pictures:

The Gear/Kit-List:

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All the stuff I brought along

Sleeping:

– Alpkit Hunka bivy bag & a sleeping bag liner (no need for a real sleeping bag)
– 2 emergency blankets (Could be used as tarps, since the bivy bag alone can only sustain light rain)

Clothes:

– 2 sets of bibs & jerseys
– Adidas arm & leg warmers
– 2 Buffs
– Thin workshop gloves (I rarely have issues with cold hands)
– Set of heavy duty long underwear (sleeping outside might get pretty cold in the alps)
– Synthetic insulating vest (no down, since I’m worried about moisture)
– A pair of Shorts for sleeping/Walking around
– Thin windjacket & rain pants
– Toe covers
– Reflective belt harness (mandatory in France, highly recommended on the Balkan)

Navigation & Electronics:

– Phone with RideWithGps as navigational app
– Sony Smartwatch 3 as Heads-Up Display, connected to phone
– Normal bike computer as fallback / additional data
– Printed maps & cue-sheets as backup
– 2 USB Wall plugs
– Couple of USB-Cables
– 3 Powerbanks (I went a bit overboard here. One is None, Two is One. But three was unnecessary)
– BuM Luxos IQ Lamp (Allows charging of USB devices)
– 2 Sets of headphones (I rely on audio cues for navigation)

Tools & other stuff:
– A backpack which can be packed into the size of a cigarette box (For when I was so hungry that I bought the whole supermarket and can’t store everything in the bags)
– Leatherman
– Parktool toolkit
– 2 Spare tubes
– Toiletery
– 2 Battery powered rear lamps (bad memories from last years race)
– Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp (AAA & Micro-USB rechargeable)
The Bike:

– “Quantec Race Comp”, your average aluminium entry level road bike
– Shimano 105 10x Groupset, except the cranks are Deore XT, to allow for lower gears for the mountains. In total the gearing was 40-28 x 30-12, allowing easy spinning in the Alps
– SON delux as hub dynamo
– Continental 4 Season 28mm Tires
– Profile Design T3 Triathlon Bars
– Apidura Saddle Bag (The large one)
– 2 Vaude Frame Triangle Bags
– Profile Design Triathlon Drinking System
– Alpkit Stem Cell for Nuts & Haribos