|Race director||Mike Hall|
|First edition||August 3, 2013|
|First winner||Kristof Allegaert (BEL)|
Kristof Allegaert (BEL)
|Most recent||James Hayden (UK)|
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 varies for each edition and the distance has been between approximately 3,200 to 4,200 km, and the winners have taken between 7 and 10 days to reach the finish. Interest in the race has grown rapidly: 30 people started the first edition of the race in 2013; over 1,000 people applied for a place in the fourth edition in 2016, 350 of whom were successful.
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 refueling 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 always been in northwestern Europe, two to four intermediate checkpoints must then be reached, and the finish has always been around southeastern Europe.
Aside from some relatively short obligatory sections that must be used near the start, some checkpoints, and the finish, participants are mostly free to choose their own route, and are strongly encouraged to independently plan their own route. Even so, many riders use the same roads as each other, particularly when choices are limited. Certain ferries are sometimes allowed to cross bodies of water, but all land-based forward travel must be completed by bike. 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 checkpoints being chosen by the organizers, some off-road sections are occasionally used.
During the first 5 editions of the race, the start, checkpoint, or finish locations have been spread through 12 different countries. The most-often visited country is Italy, appearing in all 5 editions, but these visits have been spread across 4 different Alpine checkpoints. Tied for the second most often visited country are Belgium and Turkey, each with 4 visits. France and Montenegro have each been visited 3 times and the UK has been visited twice. Countries that have only been visited once are Croatia, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia, Romania, and Greece. The race visited Asia just once, with the finish line of the 2016 edition being on the Asian side of the Dardanelles strait in Turkey.
In total, 19 different locations have been used for the start, checkpoint, or finish. The location that has been visited the most often is Geraardsbergen, with 4 visits in the first 5 editions, followed by Istanbul with 3 visits then London, the Stelvio Pass, and Mount Lovćen have each been visited twice. 14 locations have been visited just once.
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 Male (Time)||2nd Male||3rd Male||1st Female||1st Pair|
|2013||Kristof Allegaert (7d 14h)||Richard Dunnett||Matt Wilkins||Juliana Buhring||N/A|
|2014||Kristof Allegaert (7d 23h)||Josh Ibbett||Richard Dunnett||Pippa Handley||N/A|
|2015||Josh Ibbett (9d 23h)||Alexandre Bourgeonnier||Thomas Navratil||Jayne Wadsworth||Timothy France & Neil Phillips|
|2016||Kristof Allegaert (8d 15h)||Neil Phillips||Carlos Mazón||Emily Chappell||Andrew Boyd & James Stannard|
|2017 ||James Hayden (9d 2h)||Björn Lenhard||Jonas Goy||Melissa Pritchard||Anders Syvertsen & Eivind Tandrevold|
Most of the people who are not competing to win tend to have the goal of arriving before the finishers' party at the end of the 15th day, so the most common finishing times are between 14 and 16 days, which requires an average distance per day of between 220 and 280 km depending on the year.
The race's founder and main organizer was 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. The Adventurists helped to organize the first edition of the race in 2013. After Mike Hall's death in early 2017, the remaining members of the Transcontinental Race team took over the organization of 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 selection. 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. Almost half of the riders who started the 2015 edition (83 out of 172) did not reach the finish for various reasons, which indicates that the degree of difficulty is high or those riders did not prepare enough for this kind of race, but this rate varies each year.
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 900,000 km being ridden in total by participants during the first three 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. The Tour Divide starts in Alberta, Canada, follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through the USA and finishes at the Mexican border in New Mexico. The Trans Am Bike Race started in 2014 and is the event that is most similar to the Transcontinental Race because it uses roads; however, the route is fixed and uses the TransAmerica Trail, which was developed by the Adventure Cycling Association and runs from the Pacific coast in Oregon, USA, to the Atlantic Coast in Virginia.
The BikingMan race series, bring athletes across the Andes Cordillera of Peru with IncaDivide race, in the Hajar mountains of Oman with BikingMan Oman and around Corsica. BikingMan races are self-supported but every athlete gets a survival map of a recommended route and can rest at the base camps of the checkpoints.
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 provide support at the control points.
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