This is a folow-up to my post previewing the Transcontinental Race (TCR) No5, 2017. There are also pages on this site containing general information about the TCR and information on TCR No5 specifically.
You can follow racers’ positions via their satellite trackers on TrackLeaders or Free Route and read discussions about the race on the Facebook Group. The organizers have posted several reports on the TCR blog and videos on the YouTube channel.
Rider safety has been a major focus of this year’s race after the deaths of the event’s founder and organizer Mike Hall and also Eric Fishbein in similar races in Australia and the USA earlier this year. Tragically, Dutch rider Frank Simons was hit by a car in southern Belgium and died during the first night of this year’s race. It was around 3am, five hours into the race, during which Frank had ridden about 90 km, see Trackleaders. The driver fled the scene, but the next day turned themselves in at a police station and an investigation is ongoing.
Everyone’s thoughts are with Frank’s family and friends. Frank was an experienced audax rider / randonneur and his family told the race organizers that Frank would have wanted the race to continue, so the organizers decided not to cancel the race and leave the decision up to each rider to make individually and they made sure that everyone was aware of the situation when they passed through Check Point 1 (CP1). Having three such events in one year has been a major shock to the community.
Most people chose to continue the race, but a few decided that the risks were too great or they no longer had the motivation to continue. The race leader at the time, Björn Lenhard, summarized one point of view quite clearly that if he were to stop racing now then he may as well stop cycling completely because these instances can happen at any time, when cycling to work, riding for fun near home, or anywhere. Other riders decided that the perceived risks were too high either for them or for their family to tolerate and so either scratched from the race or chose to continue but at a more leisurely pace without trying to race.
Due to the heightened concerns for rider safety, it was announced before the race started that several roads that cyclists can legally use would not be allowed during the race. During the race, the organizers took the unprecedented decision to ban the use of a road while the race was taking place. The first and second place riders both used a section of the E81 in Romania but found it to be one of the worst roads they had experienced anywhere in terms of safety and so informed the organizers, who then attempted to warn all other riders as they passed through the previous checkpoint. The first and second place riders agreed to receive a time penalty so that other riders would not be at a disadvantage due to being forced to find a longer route.
Given all of the comments that I’ve seen during the race of people encouraging others to “Ride safely!”, I wanted to make some comments about Why you should never tell anyone to “Ride safely!”, but decided that it belonged better in it’s own post, so please read that.
In my post previewing TCR No5, I speculated as to who I thought was most likely to perform best. I identified James Hayden (UK) as the pre-race favorite and Björn Lenhard (Germany) as being the most likely to challenge him. Björn was third to CP1 and was in first place at CP2 and CP3. James Hayden was behind Björn at CP1 and CP2, but had almost caught him at CP3, then passed him shortly afterwards. They were both on the parcours of CP4 at the same time, but then James started to pull away, eventually winning by over half a day.
This edition of the race was therefore the closest-fought of the five editions so far, with the final lead change being the furthest into the race and the winning margin being the smallest. Please be aware that these are initial, unofficial results. Penalties could be added and the official timings of people passing each checkpoint will be slightly different to those estimated by Free Route, which is what these initial results are based on.
James completed the race in just under 9 days, having ridden about 4000 km at a rate of about 445 km per day. James has posted some detailed analyses of his previous two attempts in the race, so hopefully he will do the same for this winning effort and we will get to know more of the details behind this incredible performance. Amazingly, James had enough strength left for the final climb up to Meteora above the finish line to take the “King of the Mountain” (KOM) for the fastest time recorded for that segment on Strava, with an average measured power of 268 watts for 37 minutes. In a light-hearted way, he challenged everyone who was still on the road to beat his segment time – he’ll buy anyone that does all the beer that they can drink. Most people couldn’t sustain that power for that long when well-rested, so it’s going to be difficult with 4000 km already in the legs.
Jonas Goy (Switzerland) finished third. He reached CP1 in second place, but took a long rest while deciding whether to continue after hearing the news about Frank Simons. He was still in second at CP2, and was then third for the rest of the race, reaching the finish line about 24 hours after Björn.
Several of the people who I mentioned in my preview as having previously finished in the top 10 again did so, with Geoffrey Dussault in 4th, Matthew Falconer in 6th, Nelson Trees in 7th, and Robert Carlier in 8th. Stephane Ouaja and Samuli Mäkinen both moved up from finishing just outside the top 10 last year to being 9th and 10th, respectively.
Rory McCarron finished 5th and so was easily the best rookie; I don’t know much about him, but his Strava profile shows that he put in a lot of distance in training for the event this year. Ian To and Liam Glen were the two rookies that everyone was talking about before the race started. Ian was in the top 10 for most of the race, but eventually finished 11th and Liam reported losing motivation to race after hearing about Frank’s death and scratched after CP3.
I mentioned three women that I expected to do well in my preview post, but last year’s fastest woman Emily Chappell and RAAM-veteran Shusanah Pillinger both scratched after CP2, having not been that close to the front in the overall standings. The other woman that I mentioned was Paula Regener, who is still riding and is on pace to reach the finish before the party.
A pleasant surprise for me is how well my friend Melissa Pritchard has been doing. She arrived at CP1 in the top 15-20 overall and has been the leading woman throughout the race. She’s currently inside the top 30 and only half a day from the finish line.
It is currently the 13th day of the race and almost 20 people have reached the finish in Greece. About 120 of the 280 or so starters have scratched, so the scratch rate may eventually be close to 50%, which was the case in the 2015 edition of the race (see the page on Overall TCR Results). It’s likely that 80-100 people will finish before the finisher’s party at the end of Day 15, which will be a higher proportion than in 2015, but slightly lower than 2016.
As always, there are a wide variety of reasons for people scratching, but an important factor specific to this year has been the heat. Temperatures have been over 40 degrees C for multiple days in the countries of eastern Europe that the majority of riders are currently in. The direct sun from above and the heat radiating off of the tarmac can make riding in the middle of the day extremely uncomfortable, so some riders have been shifting their resting and riding schedules to avoid the worst conditions. Road and traffic conditions throughout Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria have also been reported to be challenging in some sections.
Another factor that is different this year is the focus on reaching every checkpoint before it officially closes. In previous years, all riders were listed in the general classification who passed all checkpoints and reached the finish line, regardless of when they did so. Riders who passed a checkpoint or the finish after the race organizers had left were required to self-validate their time.
In 2016, solo riders who were deemed to have ridden as a pair for a significant proportion of the race or who violated other rules were put into a category of “unclassified finishers”; in addition, many time penalties were attributed to riders who used sections of forbidden roads (see the page on TCR No4, 2016). To reduce the amount of work for the organizers when processing the results (which continues to increase as the number of participants keeps increasing), for 2017 it was announced that anyone who passed a checkpoint or the finish after the official closing time would still need to self-validate, but they would all be put into the category of “unclassified finishers” without receiving an official time or position.
How this change has affected the racers’ approach this year compared to previous years is that it appears that far more people have decided to scratch from the race once it becomes obvious that they would not be able to reach each checkpoint in time. There seems to be an increased focus on the riders’ rate of progress and there appear to be fewer people who have a touring focus rather than a racing mindset. This seems appropriate given that the word “Race” is in the title of the event, but it is partly what has contributed to the increased rate of scratches this year. [EDIT: Some people have misinterpreted this section as suggesting that anyone that doesn’t reach a checkpoint before the closing time has a touring focus and is not really racing. That was not my intent, and I apologize to anyone who was inadvertently offended.]
I have great respect for all participants, regardless of how far they got or how quickly they got there. Testing yourself, finding your limits, and learning about yourself and the world are all essential aspects of the Transcontinental Race, regardless of where your limits are. I wish everyone who is still out there on the road all the best.