The race started on the eastern edge of Europe, in Burgas, Bulgaria next to the Black Sea and headed west to Brest, France on the Atlantic Ocean. This was the most dramatic route change in the history of the TCR, with not only the start and finish never having been used before, but also the direction of travel was reversed. The total distance was around 4000 km with about 40,000 meters of climbing.
The first intermediate control point was located in Bulgaria not far from the end of the start parcours and passed the Buzludzha abondoned monument to the communist party. CP2 had 80 km of mostly dirt/gravel roads and a climb up to the peak of Besna Kobila at over 1,900 m elevation in Serbia. Many people reported that the climb was too steep and rough to ride and so they walked most of the upper 2 kms.
The CP3 parcours was a long succession of Alpine climbs that started in the Italian Dolomites with the Passo Gardena and went into the Ötztal region of Austria via the Timmelsjoch pass. The control hotel was 110 km further from the Timmelsjoch, on the way up the Arlberg pass. By the time riders reached the CP3 hotel, they had climbed over 8,000 meters of elevation in the previous 300 km. The scenery was fantastic, but most of the riders’ memories were focused on a 2 km-long wall leading out of Bolzano in the middle of the parcours where the first km averaged over 20% and the second was just under 15%. With tired legs, only a handful of riders even attempted to ride up the steepest ramps.
The CP4 parcours in France began by climbing the iconic Col du Galibier from the north, which at 2,642 m elevation was the race’s highest point. The parcours then continued to Alpe d’Huez via a little-known dirt road before descending the classic climb and finishing with a dramatic ‘balcony road’ on the opposite side of the Oisans valley.
The finish was in Brest, a couple of weeks before the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) audax race arrived there. PBP is 1200 km long and is the most historic ultra-distance cycling race/event, having first been held in 1891 and is now held only once every 4 years. The 80 km-long finish parcours paid homage to the race by following part of the PBP route.
Here is the simplified map of the 2019 TCR:
As of late August, 2019, official results have not yet been announced. The following is based on the unofficially announced results, plus the tracker data at TrackLeaders and some rider reports.
The pre-race favorites included Björn Lenhard, who had lead for long sections of the previous two TCRs before finishing on the podium each time, plus Jonathan Rankin, who was one of the first 10 finishers the previous year, but had started in a pair and then been delayed when his partner got sick and they had to decide whether to split up. They each started strongly, reaching both CP1 and CP2 with Björn in 1st and Jonathan in 2nd. Unfortunately, Björn had to scratch shortly after leaving the CP2 hotel due to intolerable saddle sores, a problem that he said had started during training.
During the second night, Fiona Kolbinger, a first-time racer, briefly moved into the race lead while the other front-runners were sleeping. A few hours later she herself stopped to rest and Jonathan Rankin re-took the lead.
Things stayed reasonably close between the leaders across the Balkans. Early in the morning of the fifth day of racing, the top 3 had established a slight advantage over the rest and they now consisted of Jonathan Rankin and Fiona Kolbinger plus Ben Davies, a two-time veteran who had finished in the top 10 the previous year. The 3 of them spent a tense couple of hours less than 10 km apart while passing near Klangenfurt and Villach in SE Austria. By the end of that morning Jonathan sadly had to pull out of the race due to severe foot problems, which left Fiona in the lead and she was starting to increase her advantage over Ben.
Fiona’s lead was over 4 hours by the time she reached the CP3 control hotel. She continued to gradually stretch that lead throughout the rest of the race, eventually winning by more than 10 hours in a time of 10 days, 2 hours and 48 minutes.
The fact that a woman won the race sparked a lot of media interest (see below), but those familiar with the sport weren’t particularly surprised by the result since several women had already shown that they had no disadvantage compared to their male competitors in similar events. Fiona’s performance given her relative lack of experience was the more surprising thing for many people who know the sport well.
Fiona had done long audax rides during the past couple of years (including London-Edinburgh-London in 2017), but she’d never been in an actual race and never ridden in the Alps despite living not so far away in Germany. The fact that someone with relatively limited experience was able to win having done an almost flawless race, with a well-chosen route, strategy and schedule, had very few problems along the way, and was always friendly and smiling whenever people approached her were the seriously impressive aspects, far more so than her gender.
The race for third place got tight coming into CP3. Sam Thomas had established a large advantage over the rest of the pack by the end of the previous day, but he was having problems and slowed down significantly approaching CP3. By the time they all left CP3, 4 riders were fighting for 3rd, with Pawel Pulawski, Job Hendrickx and David Schuster not far behind Sam.
Pawel was the first person to head back down the Arlberg pass after getting his stamp at CP3 to ride via Italy to reach the CP4 parcours (see Route Choice section below); the rest all chose to ride through Switzerland. Pawel’s route didn’t appear to be significantly faster than his competitors’ and it was Job Hendrickx who arrived at CP4 in 3rd place, more than 2 hours ahead of David Schuster, Kosma Szafraniak, and the rest. Unfortunately, soon after CP4, Pawel crashed while on a bike path and had to end his race in hospital.
Job Hendrickx continued to accelerate across France and arrived at the finish only a couple of hours behind Ben Davies, who had held onto 2nd. Job said that he hadn’t being paying attention to what anyone else was doing before CP3 and it wasn’t until CP4 that he decided to really start racing at full-speed to see how much time he could make up.
The pairs category was won by Espen Utne Landgraff and Emanuel Verde, who finished in about 13.5 days.
Race reports gave the number of registered starters as 265, but TrackLeaders only shows data for about 259 people who started. It appears that about 158 of those people finished (or 61% of the 259). Far more people scratched during the extra-long stretch between CP2 and CP3 than at any other point in the race.
As in the previous edition of the race, the finish party was at the end of the 16th day. To be included in the more stringent “General Classification”, riders needed to reach the finish before it closed exactly 16 days after the start (the morning after the party), otherwise they could only be included in the list of “Finishers”. More statistics will be added to this section once the official results are announced.
The length and number of obligatory parcours sections was far greater than in any previous edition. The lengths of the 6 obligatory sections are as follows, each time followed in brackets by the length that was necessary to get to the control hotel or in/out of the region: Start = 145 km (160 km), CP1 = 155 (175), CP2 = 80 (90), CP3 = 165 (285), CP4 = 115 (145), and Finish = 80 (80). In addition, for the short 100 km between the start parcours and CP1 not many people deviated from the obvious, main road.
That gives a total of over 1000 km of obligatory parcours and sections where there were almost no alternative route options, or approximately one quarter of the race distance. Some participants and dot-watchers commented that this gave the race quite a different feel compared to previous editions, where participants had been given a lot more freedom in their route choices between much shorter parcours.
During the 750 km from the start to the end of CP2, very few people deviated from the obvious route choices, which included the majority of people going through the center of Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. There then was more than 1200 km between CP2 and the start of the CP3 parcours. For this section, most people chose a similarly flat and direct route across Serbia and Croatia, except for a minority of riders who chose to go through Bosnia and one through Kosovo.
The earlier route choices determined how each rider crossed Slovenia and things then became more varied and interesting, as a few people stayed south and rode across the flat plains of NE Italy before heading into the Alps and a few more rode through the NE Italian Alps and over a couple of extra passes. However, by far the majority of riders, including all of the front group, had generally passed near Belgrade and then followed the Danube river; they then stayed further north and went through the long valleys of SE Austria. That trajectory had been used by many participants in several previous TCR editions, but always when riding in the opposite direction.
After doing the mountainous CP3 parcours, the route choices between CP3 and CP4 were the most varied. Most of the faster riders went via Switzerland and around the northern edge of Lake Geneva, which could be quite flat if the route was well-chosen. However, many of the mid-pack riders chose to go over the Maloja Pass into Italy, along Lake Como, through Torino and then over the Col de Mont Cenis into France. The distance and climbing for these two options were quite similar even though they were extremely different geographically. In previous editions, the region around the Italian Ticino and Po valleys had been reported to contain many dangerous roads that are too narrow for the volume of traffic that they carry during the day, so the organizers had hoped that more people would choose the Swiss option.
A few riders chose to be more adventurous in this section and sought out extra mountains. About a dozen people chose the shortest, but far more mountainous route through Switzerland up the Rhine valley and down the Rhone, going over the 2000+ m high Oberalp and Furka Passes in between, then over some lower passes near the French border. Three extremely adventurous souls decided to start with the Italian route but instead of using the Col de Mont Cenis, they crossed into France using the Col des Rochilles between Bardonecchia and the start of the CP4 parcours in Valloire. It was actually a shorter route with less climbing than Mont Cenis, but they had to walk for 1-2 hours on the rough hiking path up to the col. No-one was very surprised that it was Mikko Mäkipää who was the first to use this option because he has completed every TCR and is famous for his unconventional route choices.
There were still more than 1000 km to ride across France between CP4 in the Alps and the finish on the Atlantic Ocean. Initial route decisions centered on whether to head north, south, or through the center of Lyon and how to get through the north-eastern ridges of the Massif Centrale. After that, the differences in route choices made very little difference and the biggest factor was the wind and storms that some people experienced coming off of the Atlantic.
The TCR organizers produced regular text and audio reports during the race, see the links below, but this time no official videos were made.
Once it was clear that a woman was going to win the race, mainstream media suddenly became interested, which is something that the race had never really received before. The story made the front page of major news networks including the BBC, CNN and France 24. Major British newspapers also ran articles, including The Telegraph and The Guardian. There were many articles in other countries and languages, including France’s l’Equipe; do a Google search to find many more from all over the world.
Follow-up articles by road.cc covered Who is Fiona Kolbinger? and Apidura documented her Race-winning kit. The BBC also used the media interest to address the question of Are women better ultra-endurance athletes than men?.
The organizer’s posted a video on Twitter during the race showing Fiona playing a piano at Control Point 4 in France. The fact that the race leader felt that she had time to do that and also the energy and manual dexterity after more than a week on the bike surprised many people.
— The Transcontinental (@transconrace) August 3, 2019
There were no other official videos, but France 24 made a short unofficial video that’s mostly a collection of images with some French text added.
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Last significant page update: August, 2019