The number of starting places available in the Transcontinental Race (TCR) increased from 101 in 2014 to 250 in 2015. This consisted of 150 solo places and 100 places in the new pairs category (50 pairs). For the first time, people had to complete a questionnaire to register for the race that tested their awareness of what the race entailed and what unsupported means. Applications were open for about one week in November and about 350 were received, so the responses to the questionnaire plus a lottery process was used to award starting places during December, although all veterans who asked to return were automatically given a place. When people dropped out, some places were re-assigned to those on the waiting list during the Spring. 172 people made it to the start line.
During the application process, what being self-supported meant was highlighted strongly and much more emphasis was put on this in the manual and during the riders’ briefing. Volunteer dot watchers were used for the first time to closely monitor where they were riding, whether they were spending extended periods of time with other riders, and whether they were receiving external strategic support on social media.
The map at the bottom of this page shows the simplified routes. For the first time, the race started in mainland Europe instead of the UK, so the complication of choosing and timing a ferry crossing were avoided. The starting venue was the Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium, which had been a checkpoint in the first edition of the race. Everyone did a short loop around the town then climbed the cobbled classic. I used an action camera to make the videos included below.
Instead of the morning start used for the London departures, the race started at midnight on 25th July, 2015. People therefore had to choose whether to rest the first night or push straight through, most chose the latter option. There was some rain in the early morning and strong, gusty side-winds. The second night was much clearer and cooler than the first, with temperatures approaching 5 degrees C for those who were still in northern France.
The first checkpoint was much farther from the start than it had been in previous years, with riders needing to cover about 950 km to get to Mont Ventoux. The field spread out across northern and eastern France, then became more tightly packed as they entered the Rhone valley. The leaders all made it to the top of the historic climb up the Giant of Provence from Bedoin by the end of the second day.
To get to the second checkpoint in Sestriere, Italy, the only plausible route was up the Durance valley. When the main road became restricted access with no bicycles allowed, many people remained on it instead of using one of the two alternative back-roads and subsequently received a time penalty. This was the first year that the roads which people used was monitored closely throughout the race by official dot watching volunteers and many penalties were given out when illegal roads were used.
The checkpoint in Sestriere was at the start of the section that had caused people the most anguish when choosing their equipment. The Strada dell’Assietta is an old military road along the top of a mountain ridge, and when combined with the dirt-road descent of the Colle delle Finestre, it meant doing about 40 km of dirt roads that were mostly above 2000 meters elevation. Everyone knew that it would be unpaved, but many people were not prepared for just how rough it would be on a road bike. Even the fastest people took 3 hours to traverse the short distance, but many others took a lot longer due to punctures and having to walk up and down some of the steeper sections.
After leaving the Alps via Torino, there was 600 km of riding to do across the uninteresting northern Italian plains to get to Slovenia. The front runners again had the best of the weather, while everyone in the mid-pack battled strong, demoralizing headwinds for a couple of days.
The next checkpoint was in Vukovar in eastern Croatia on the Danube river. The town was under siege by the Serbian forces after Yugoslavia was dissolved in the early 1990s, and evidence from the battles is still apparent on some buildings, particularly the town’s water tower.
A few cunning people decided to adopt an entirely different approach and reversed the order of checkpoints 3 and 4. They went down the Italian Adriatic coast to Ancona and took the same overnight ferry to Split that so many people had taken the previous year. From Split, it wasn’t far to checkpoint 4, which was again Mount Lovćen in Montenegro, and they then traversed Bosnia in the reverse direction to get to Vukovar. From Vukovar, they were on the same trajectory to Istanbul that most people had used in TCR No. 1 in 2013. In total, people using this route had slightly less distance to ride and had fewer headwinds, but they had to time their arrival for the ferry well to avoid losing time.
When traversing Croatia and Bosnia, many people followed the more major arteries that lead through Zagreb and Sarajevo, but there were equally good options that avoided the big cities. After Sarajevo, many people tried to take a direct route instead of staying on the main roads, but soon discovered that it was a rough dirt road and lost significant time. This included the leader of the race, Josh Ibbett, who turned around before the road got too bad and returned to the main road, by which time he had lost all but just a few kms of his lead, but the man that he had battled with for the lead for the previous few days, James Hayden, had to drop out soon after due to Shermer’s Neck.
The route options for the final section between Mount Lovćen and Istanbul were well known from the previous edition of the race. Again, the routes basically boiled down to Highway 8 in Bulgaria or Highway 2 in Greece due to the Rhodope mountains being in between. Many of the people who chose to go through Greece had to contend with a lot of headwind and intense heat in the middle of the day. The typical total distance ridden was much further than previous editions at 4200 to 4400 km.
I had to scratch near the Slovenian border, but flew out to Istanbul to see everyone finish, including my friend Alain Rumpf. I joined him for the final 20 km of the route through the Belgrade Forest and then the wild ride along the Bosphorous Strait, as shown in this video.
Official race reports:
- Control 1: Mont Ventoux
- Control 2: Strada dell’Assietta
- Rider Approaching Sestriere
- Lee Pearce at Mount Lovćen
The far longer route of this edition compounded by the headwinds meant that a lower proportion than ever before finished the race: just 89 of the 172 starters (52%). Only 36 finishers were there in time for the party (21% of all starters). Josh Ibbett (UK) moved up from 2nd in 2014 to 1st in 2015, finishing in just over 10 days. Several people who had been near the front or at least in the top 10 had problems and/or dropped out, so Josh ended up winning by more than 24 hours, just as Kristof had in the previous two editions (Kristof was absent due to participating in the TransSiberian race across Russia, which he won). Alex Bourgeonnier (France) was second and Tomas Navratil (Czech) third. None of the three solo women finished (which included the 2013 champion, Juliana Buhring), but Jayne Wadsworth (UK), who had started the race in the pairs category, continued to Istanbul after her partner scratched in Albania and was the only female finisher, arriving after 16 and a half days.
The official results are here. I have done some further analyses of the results that includes the times recorded at the four checkpoints and rankings between each. Many more time penalties were attributed than had been in previous years, mostly for using Prohibited Raods.
To view specific rider tracks, go to Trackleaders and click on the T button at the top of the map. Here is the simplified map:
The next page covers the 4th edition of the race: TCR No4, 2016.