It’s wonderful that the Transcontinental Race (TCR) is going ahead despite the tragic loss of it’s founder and race director, Mike Hall, earlier this year, see my blog post: A tribute to Mike Hall: Legend & leader. A team of people have stepped in to fill his massive shoes, and I’m sure that they’ll do a great job and honor Mike’s memory by putting on the race as Mike would have wanted. Read this article on Apidura’s blog to know more about this process and the team.
The start list is now available and makes interesting reading. There are 229 people listed in the solo category and 29 pairs, making a total of 287 people. Not everyone on the list will make it to the start line, but there are likely to be over 250 starters, compared to last year’s 216 (this continues the upwards trend across all five editions).
The position of all riders will be shown on TrackLeaders and FreeRoute. Official updates may appear on the TCR blog or Facebook page. Most of the general discussion of what’s happening will happen in the English-language version of the Facebook group; there are also groups for other languages, but they don’t have as much traffic. Many riders post updates on a variety of social media, with the general hashtag being #TCRNo5 and individual riders using #TCRNo5cap000 (000 = starting number). I hope to post a few race updates on this blog during the race, and the road.cc website often also posts reports.
For a summary of the checkpoints and route for this year’s race, see the Transcontinental Race No. 5, 2017 page on this site.
The Fast Guys
Because this is a race, I begin by mentioning some of the people who are likely to finish at the top of the rankings. Afterwards, I highlight some other riders who should be interesting to watch.
There are a lot of strong competitors in the field, but surprisingly no-one who has previously finished in the top 3 is present. The 3-time champion Kristof Allegaert instead did the 2017 Indian Pacific Wheel Race this year. He’ll be attending the start and he talks about what he’s been doing this summer in this video. 2015 champion Josh Ibbett is currently being a “pro-hobo” – being sponsored to cycle around the world quickly and posting to social media but without trying to break any records.
The most obvious favorite for the TCR this year is James Hayden. James would have had a podium finish in each of the last two race editions if physical issues hadn’t got in the way; in 2015, he was leading for more than half of the race but then developed Shermers Neck and had to scratch. In 2016, he stopped at CheckPoint 1 (CP1) for 36 hours due to illness, but then recorded the 2nd best time between CP2 and the finish to incredibly finish 4th place overall.
I think that Björn Lenhard will be James’ main rival. Björn was in second place overall at CP2 in the 2016 TCR, but had to stop for more than 24 hours at CP3 due to illness and finished the race at more of a touring pace. His results in other races are even better, being the fastest finisher in the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris audax event and he won the 2017 TransAtlantic Way bikepacking race.
Many others could push James and Björn for the top spots, including four others who finished in the top 10 last year: 6th-placed Nelson Trees, 7th Geoffroy Dussault, 9th Vincent Muhlethaler and 10th Michael Wacker. I expect that all of them will try to improve upon those positions this year. Michael Wacker finished the Trans Am Bike Race this year in 12th place about 4 weeks ago; it’s not clear if that will have been good training or if it will mean that he’s still tired.
More people to watch out for include Mathias Dalgas, who was in 4th place at CP3 last year, but then had to scratch, and Jonas Goy, who was in 6th place at CP4 in 2015 but had to scratch before reaching the finish. Jonas was using that race as preparation for an attempt at the round-the-world record, so he has plenty of experience. Rimas Grigenas is coming back to the race for the first time since 2013, when he finished 6th, and 2015’s 6th place finisher, Robert Carlier, is also returning.
Stephane Ouaja is best known for finishing the 2015 race in 12th place on a fixed-gear bike. In 2016, he used a standard bike with gears, hoping to move into the top 10. Although he rode strongly, he lost a lot of time when he took a “shortcut” over the Swiss Alps that turned into a hiking a trail where he carried his bike for several hours in the middle of the night, but he still finished the race in 14th place. He’s coming back for another attempt this year.
Gareth Baines and Lee Pearce are starting for the third time this year. They rode together in 2014 and finished mid-pack, then raced each other hard in 2015, finishing in 8th and 11th positions, respectively, so I expect that rivalry to be renewed.
I don’t know much about most of the rookies, but one to watch is Derek Boocock, who’s set many distance records and won challenges on the Zwift virtual cycling platform. Can he do the same impressive distances when outside of home?
Edit (one day later): A couple of people have been talking about Ian To; this year he’s already won the self-supported Hard Cro race in Croatia and was 2nd in the supported category of the Race Across Italy, so could do very well in his first TCR. Former winner Josh Ibbett has tipped Liam Glen to do well; from what I can tell, he’s a TCR rookie who’s previously done some semi-pro road racing but has since discovered bikepacking.
In similar races around the world, women have shown that they can compete with the best men, sometimes winning or at least coming in the top 5 overall, which is why separate women’s standings are not always shown. Here are three women who will be competing with each other and beating many of the best men:
Emily Chappell was last year’s top-placed woman and is racing again this year to see how high up the overall standings she can get. Paula Regener finished 3rd overall in the 2016 TransAtlantic Way Bike Race in Ireland. Shusanah Pillinger is a veteran of supported bike races including the Race Across America who wants to see how well she can do in a self-supported race.
The pairs category is much harder to predict since there are very few veterans and because pairs have twice the chance of one of them developing a problem that slows them down or causes them to not finish together. Even so, I’ve heard that Felix Burkhardt and Peter Leichsenring have been training hard and should do quite well. Jo Burt has been documenting his preparation with his partner Gavin Peacock on the road.cc website.
Others to Follow
Although the word “Race” is in the title of the event, the majority of people treat it as a personal challenge rather than a competitive event, and they are often the most interesting people to watch and follow. Here are the stories behind a few of those people that I know best, but there are a couple of hundred more that will be interesting for a variety of reasons.
Mikko Mäkipää is likely to follow the most unusual route across Europe as he tries to see as many interesting places along the way as he can while still arriving in time for the finisher’s party. He will be continuing his streak as the only person to start (and so far finish) every edition of the race.
Matthijs Ligt will become only the second member of the 4-time veterans club. In the last three editions, he often rode at a similar pace to me, even though I rarely saw him, so I’ll be interested to see how he does this time.
Melissa Pritchard lives near me in Lausanne, Switzerland. She’s a TCR rookie, but has previously ridden around the world. We’ve talked a lot about the race and I’ve helped her to prepare, plus she’s sought advice from other local veterans. Read her latest blog post.
Rishi Fox lives farther away from me than almost any other competitor (Melbourne, Australia) but she is another person that I’m really hoping everything goes well for. She was very keen when starting the 2016 edition, but unfortunately had to scratch in Italy after contending with various physical problems. She posts regularly on social media (see her Facebook page) and I talked with her at the finish in Turkey, where she went after she scratched to cheer her boyfriend across the finish line. She learned a massive amount from last year’s experience and has prepared even more extensively for this year’s race, so I wish her all the best.
There are also many other people that I’ll be following from afar. I’m quite disappointed not to have the time to be at the start or to be involved in the race this year, I’m sure that anticipation, excitement, and anxiety will be reaching new levels in Geraardsbergen as everyone arrives over the next 24 hours or so.
In 2014-2016, people who had finished a previous edition in a high position were often given that position as their race number. For this edition, that tradition hasn’t continued (probably because it was getting quite complicated to do), but race number 1 has not been assigned because there are no previous champions present.
The tradition of race veterans maintaining their previous race number has been kept. I was the proud bearer of number 24 for the previous three years, so I will be following the progress of Thomas Ettema, the new number 24, and hoping that he can represent it well. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve found his blog.
The most important thing for this race is that all riders stay safe. After tragic deaths in two of this year’s other major bikepacking races when riders were hit by cars, Mike Hall in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race in Australia and Eric Fishbein in the Trans Am Bike Race in the USA, it would be devastating to have any other major incidents. The organizers are doing everything that they can to ensure and encourage safety but most incidents are due to factors that are outside of the control or influence of the organizers or riders. We can only hope that everything goes smoothly for everyone.
In terms of overall predictions for finishing times and rates, the route length is slightly longer than last year but there is a little less climbing, so I expect the results to be similar. That would mean a winner’s time of less than 9 days and maybe 40% of starters finishing before the finish party at the end of Day 15. Because there are such a variety of problems that can happen and these races are so long, having about one third of people not finish / scratch is quite normal in these types of races. I expect to see a similar scratch rate this year, but I’ll be happy if I’m wrong and it’s much lower.