Longer and harder than the TdF
The Tour de France needs no introduction. More than a bicycle race, it’s become showbusiness. Team strategies, dictated into riders’ ears via Race Radio, robbed the event of the almost-reckless spontaneity it used to have in earlier years.
For years, the TdF retained it’s purest form. Riders competed as individuals, and weren’t permitted any outside support. Eugene Christophe was famously disqualified during the 1913 race, after it was deemed he has “outside assistance”. The reason? Simple: a 7yo boy operated the bellows while Christophe set about repairing his bike’s broken forks!
More true to the roots of the original TdF
There’s a new race (well, newish – 2023 is the 9th edition) called the Transcontinental Race. The Transcontinental differs massively from the Tour de France. For starters, there is no showbiz travelling circus with the Transcontinental. However, the difference between the two races are far more fundamental than that.
The Transcontinental is a single-stage race. The clock literally never stops, and the lead riders end the race quite sleep-deprived. After all, while you’re sleeping, you’re losing time to a competitor who chose to forego sleep.
Riders are self-supported. No, they’re not required to use a blacksmith’s forge to repair any defects with their bikes, but there are no support crews, team buses and team cars carrying spare bikes. If your bike completely breaks during the race, that will normally mean you’re out of the race.
No set route
Riders on the Transcontinental need to choose their own route. The race has a set start point, a set end point, and four checkpoints through which riders must pass. Beyond that, it’s every rider’s choice what route to take. Some riders will do extra distance to avoid a big climb, while others prioritise keeping the overall distance as short as possible.
The 2023 Tour de France was 3 406km overall. At the shortest possible route, the 2023 Transcontinental (TCR09) is at least 3 500km in length, but some riders may end up doing nearer to 4 000km.
Unlike the TdF, where cycling is dominated by big budgets, and ordinary mortals stand absolutely no chance of being picked for any of the teams, in theory anyone can ride the Transcontinental. You don’t need a multi-million budget, nor the usual TdF touring entourage of masseurs, mechanics, cooks, team doctors, team directors and more.
All you need is a decent-enough bike, a good degree of physical fitness, some bikepacking bags, and a large helping of masochism. Well, you’ll also need a strong will to complete the Transcontinental.
A race of winners
In overly politically-correct settings, people often let loose with meaningless statements like “everyone is a winner”. Normally, that would usually do my head in. However, the Transcontinental is different: to simply complete this race requires a degree of fitness, toughness and resiliency that most people don’t have.
I genuinely believe the average TdF rider will be hard-pressed to complete the Transcontinental, let
alone win it. These riders are ultra-athletes, and are worlds apart from grand tour riders. In simple terms, just completing the Transcontinental makes you a winner, with the actual race winners being elevated even more.
In memory of Mike Hall
Mike Hall was an ultracyclist, and was the founder of the Transcontinental. Sadly, Mike was killed when a driver hit him from behind, while he was riding the Indian Pacific Wheel Race across Australia.
How to follow the race
Welcome to the world of dot-watching! Each rider carries a GPS tracker, which updates their position every so often, allowing you to see the race unfold almost in real time. If you struggle to go to sleep, or wake up stupidly early, have a look at which riders have stolen a march on others, by sleeping less.
Over time, the riders’ names will become more familiar, and you may find yourself picking a favourite. Sometimes, it may be a rider that you know who’s competing. For example, in 2022, Nadine Ansorg competed, and did really well.
To follow the race, simply visit this site. You’ll be hooked in no time! Remember, you can click on the tags representing each rider for additional information.
When you do post about it on social media, do remember (this year) to use the #TCR09 hashtag. Who knows, perhaps you will be a rider when TCR10 comes along!