|First edition||August 3, 2013|
|First winner||Kristof Allegaert (BEL)|
|Most wins|| Kristof Allegaert (BEL)
|Most recent||Fiona Kolbinger (GER)|
The Transcontinental Race (TCR) is an annual, self-supported, ultra-distance cycling race across Europe. It is one of the world's toughest ultra-endurance races. The route and distance varies for each edition between about 3,200 and 4,200 km, with the winners generally taking 7 to 10 days. Interest in the race grew rapidly from 30 people starting the first edition of the race in 2013 to over 1,000 people applying for a place in the fourth edition in 2016, 350 of whom were successful; since then, these numbers have been reasonably stable.
It is not a stage race, the clock never stops from the moment the riders leave the start to the moment that they reach the finish, so it is a long individual time trial. Riders must therefore strategically choose how much time to devote to riding, resting, and refuelling each day. Being self-supported or unsupported means that drafting is not allowed, receiving any form of support from other racers is not allowed, nor is it from friends or family; all food, accommodation, repairs, etc., must be purchased from commercial sources.
Despite being an individual time trial, there is a mass start, which has most often been in northwestern Europe, two to four intermediate control points must then be reached, and the finish has most often been around southeastern Europe. The 2019 edition went from east to west.
Apart from some sections of "parcours" or route that must be ridden near the start, some control points, and the finish, participants are mostly free to choose their own route that they have independently planned. Even so, many riders use the same roads as each other, particularly when choices are limited. All local laws must be adhered to regarding which roads cyclists are allowed to use and the organizers may ban additional roads that they believe are too dangerous.
For the sake of time and efficiency, nearly all participants ride solely on paved, public roads, and so nearly all use road bikes. However, due to routing errors, adventurous planning, or more challenging parcours being chosen by the organizers, some off-road sections are occasionally used.
During the first 7 editions of the race, the most-often used country for the location of a start, control point, or finish was Italy, which featured in 6 editions. Tied for the second-most often visited country are Belgium and France, each with 5 visits, followed by Turkey with 4 and Montenegro with 3. The race visited Asia just once, with the finish line being on the Asian side of the Dardanelles strait in Turkey for the 2016 edition.
Following the race
Racer positions are monitored using GPS satellite-based tracker devices mounted on all participants' bikes that upload their positions every 5 minutes. This information is then posted on the Trackleaders website for racers and followers to view. Many participants also update followers on their progress using social media websites.
During the race, volunteers are stationed at each control point to register the passage of each rider. Volunteer "dot watchers" remotely follow the progress of each racer's tracker position and inform the organizers of possible rule violations (e.g., individual riders appearing to ride together for extended periods or people riding on prohibited roads).
Rules are listed on the official website and in the Race Manual. The idea of self-supported or unsupported bicycle racing is a key component. Drafting is not allowed, receiving any form of support from other racers is not allowed (which includes sharing food and equipment), and neither is receiving support from friends, family, etc. (again including food and equipment). Social/emotional support is allowed, but information should not be shared between different racers or between racers and their supporters once the race has begun. All supplies, accommodation, repairs, etc., must be purchased from commercial sources that are equally available to all participants. Since the 2015 edition, in addition to the solo race category, a pairs category has existed in which riders may draft the other person in the pair and they may share equipment. The rules concerning the type of bicycle that can be used and the equipment that must be carried are minimal. To ensures that everyone is riding somewhat similar equipment, recumbent bicycles are not allowed and neither are tandem bicycles.
The main results are summarized in the table below:
|Year||1st Overall (Time)||1st Woman||2nd Overall||3rd Overall||1st Pair|
|2013||Kristof Allegaert (7d 14h)||Juliana Buhring||Richard Dunnett||Matt Wilkins||N/A|
|2014||Kristof Allegaert (7d 23h)||Pippa Handley||Josh Ibbett||Richard Dunnett||N/A|
|2015||Josh Ibbett (9d 23h)||Jayne Wadsworth||Alexandre Bourgeonnier||Thomas Navratil||Timothy France & Neil Phillips|
|2016||Kristof Allegaert (8d 15h)||Emily Chappell||Neil Phillips||Carlos Mazón||Andrew Boyd & James Stannard|
|2017||James Hayden (9d 2h)||Melissa Pritchard||Björn Lenhard||Jonas Goy||Anders Syvertsen & Eivind Tandrevold (13d 21h 05m)|
|2018||James Hayden (8d 23h 59m)||Ede Harrison (13d 19h 32m)||Matthew Falconer (9d 23h 42m)||Björn Lenhard (10d 0h 36m)||Luca Somm & Oliver Bieri (14d 08h 23m)|
|2019||Fiona Kolbinger (10d 2h 48m)||Fiona Kolbinger||Ben Davies (10d 13h 10m)||Job Hendrickx (10d 15h 48m)||Espen Landgraff & Emmanuel Verde (13d 13h 46m)|
Many people who are not competing to win tend to have the goal of arriving before the finish party at the end of the 15th or 16th day,. Since 2016, a distinction has been made between people finishing in the "general classification" and those that are simply "finishers". To be awarded a place in the general classification, riders must adhere to the principles of being self-supported and also pass each of the checkpoints before it officially closes, which requires riding approximately 250 km per day.
The race was founded by the English cyclist Mike Hall, who won several similar events: In 2012 he set the Around the world cycling record, in 2013 and 2016 he won the Tour Divide, and in 2014 he won the TransAm Bicycle Race.
Mike Hall was the main organizer from 2013 until 2016, with The Adventurists helping to organize the first edition. After Mike Hall's death in early 2017, the remaining members of the Transcontinental Race team created the Lost Dot organization to administer the race.
Criticisms and risks
Contact between the organizers and participants is minimal outside of the checkpoints (although an emergency number is provided to all riders) and not all checkpoints are staffed 24 hours per day. Riders' satellite trackers can also fail, which is typically due to the tracker's batteries going flat despite riders being encouraged to carry spares and to change them at certain intervals. Many forms of cheating are possible due to the lack of monitoring, including the use of performance-enhancing substances. The organizers hope that an honor system is sufficient to curb violations, and in 2015 an online form was created for people to submit reports of rule-breaking. It is impossible to know how big a problem cheating actually is, but it is hoped that it is low since winning has no monetary value.
Organizers have given a thorough explanation about the process used for selecting which applicants are awarded a place. Previous volunteers are given preference, followed by applicants who improve the demographic diversity. The remainder who display sufficient understanding of the requirements and risk in their application are entered into a simple lottery.
Up to half of the riders who start the race may not reach the finish for various reasons, but this proportion varies every year. This indicates that the degree of difficulty is high, that some riders may not have prepared sufficiently for this type of race, and that so many different things can go wrong in an event of this length.
In 2017, Frank Simons was killed in a hit and run collision 5 hours after starting the race in Belgium. Other serious accidents have occurred leading to participants receiving hospital treatment.
The frequency of such incidents should be contrasted with the distances ridden, with an estimated 2,000,000 km being ridden in total by participants during the first six editions of the race. The organizers have addressed safety issues by being more explicit about which roads are allowable and attributing penalties to participants who rode on sections of roads forbidden to cyclists. For 2016, the finish was moved away from Istanbul due to safety concerns. also, the control points for 2016 were chosen to keep riders away from areas that have been found to be particularly dangerous in the past.
This form of ultra-distance, unsupported bike racing first became popular with the Tour Divide mountain bike race, which was first held as a mass-start event in 2008 and goes over the Rocky Mountains from Alberta, Canada, through the USA and finishes at the Mexican border in New Mexico. The Trans Am Bike Race started in 2014 is more similar because it is primarily on paved roads, but it uses the TransAmerica Trail as a fixed route from the Pacific coast in Oregon, USA, to the Atlantic Coast in Virginia. Following the success of these events, many others were launched in subsequent years.
The self-supported nature of the TCR makes it very different from supported ultra-distance events like the Race Across America (RAAM), in which each racer has a large support crew with multiple vehicles. All such support is prohibited in the TCR and similar races that are described as self-supported or unsupported. Ultra-distance audax and randonneuring cycling events are somewhat similar, except that drafting is allowed in those and the race organizers may provide support at the control points.
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