The percentage of people who start but fail to finish ultra-distance bike races tends to be about 25-50%. Certain weather and route conditions can make the rate higher or lower, but interestingly the probability is similar for the fastest, slowest, and mid-pace riders – it can happen to anyone.
People cite a wide variety of reasons for scratching/withdrawing from a race, most of which are covered somewhere on this website. The most common cycling-related injuries are joint problems, and nerve problems. Bike accidents are discussed below, including what to do if you need to seek assistance for any medical problem. These races can also be mentally and emotionally difficult, so see the page on Mood, Motivation & Emotions. If the problem is with your bike then the Bike Repairs page might help and also contains what to do if you cannot fix the bike yourself.
The manual for the Transcontinental Race (TCR) includes the wise advice to “Never scratch at night.” If the race is becoming too much and you feel that you cannot continue, then don’t take any decision when you are in your weakest state. When the sun has risen the next day, you may feel quite different, mentally and physically. Obviously, certain injuries may happen that mean that you have no choice but to scratch regardless of how long you wait.
On the page on Schedule & Goals, I recommend starting the race at a pace that gives you at least half a day spare in case problems are encountered, so you may be able to take some time off of the bike and still get back on schedule before the end, or not far behind. In addition, there is normally no deadline by which you must reach the finish to be recognized as completing a bikepacking race. The TCR manual does state that “2+ days of inactivity without contact will be deemed a scratch”, so make sure that you send a message to the race organizers to explain the situation if necessary.
If you do get well behind schedule and you just want to get to the finish with everyone else then you may have the option of scratching from the race and making an entirely new, much shorter route that skips one or more checkpoints and heads directly to the finish. You could still be proud of an excellent ride even if you have not completed the whole race. You may also consider skipping the official finish line entirely to go directly to the airport if you have pre-booked a flight or other transportation for which you are running behind schedule.
You should consult the race manual for details on exactly what to do if you do decide to scratch from the race, but sending a message to the race organizers with your information and the reason for the scratch is the typical practice. In bikepacking races, you should not expect any assistance with finding your way home. Obviously, if you scratch in a larger town or city then you will have more transport options. If you scratch from the TCR then you should consider going to the finish to meet up with everyone else instead of going straight home – you will be welcome at the finish party regardless of how you got there.
Remember that the race is just a race, it is not more important than your health. After a an accident, crash, or simple fall, you should take at least a couple of minutes to assess the damage and decide what to do next. Help should be sought if there is any chance that you have an injury that needs medical attention. Throughout Europe, phone 112 to contact the local emergency services, who should be able to find someone who can speak English, or ask a passerby to explain the situation to them. In North America, the number is 911, and in Australia it’s 000.
If you are doing the TCR then the medical certificate that you submitted during race registration is no longer valid once you receive medical attention, so if you wish to continue in the race then you need to have the doctor sign a new certificate. You should not avoid seeking medical attention because of this; again, your health is far more important than any race and this rule is for your safety. If you do decide to continue with the race and are able to obtain a new medical certificate then if you took transport to get to the medical center then you should ride your bike back to where you took the transport and then continue on your route.
Some particularly worrying stories involve people who have had trauma to the head, report several symptoms that are consistent with having concussion, but then continue to ride and then sometimes crash a second time, likely due to being unable to ride safely. Unfortunately, if you are concussed then you’re probably not in the best condition to be thinking straight to properly diagnose the problem. In addition, several symptoms of concussion are similar to those of exhaustion, which you were probably already experiencing before the crash. See WebMD.com for a list of symptoms. In general, be very cautious in these situations and prioritize getting the correct medical diagnosis and help rather than worrying about whether you’ll finish the race or in what time.
It’s a good idea to carry a few simple first-aid supplies to handle minor problems, including something to cover small wounds, painkillers and anti-inflammatories. In most races, you are not going off into the wilderness (or, at least, not intending to), and if that is the case then your first aid kit doesn’t need to contain any serious equipment. Road rash is a common injury for cyclists when they fall, so see the information about treatment on the Sports Medicine website and Bikeradar.
The most common types of injuries that occur in bike accidents are covered in the following video from a seminar given at the University of California:
Some people discover that they simply don’t enjoy the kind of riding that being part of the TCR encourages you to do. They therefore scratch from the race and choose a different route to ride at their own pace, which is also an admirable decision.
Some people scratch from a race due to running out of money before reaching the finish, but hopefully the next page on Race & Training Costs will help you to estimate and manage your budget to avoid this.