In an incredibly tight finish after 7,080 kilometres (4,400 miles) of racing Lael Wilcox won the Trans Am, making her the first woman and first American to win the brutally tough unsupported race across the United States.
The experienced Alaskan bike packer rode from Astoria, Oregon across to Yorktown, Virginia in just a little over 18 days, taking a huge chunk of almost three days off the former women’s record, which was set by Juliana Buhring in 2014.
Right up to the last hours of the long race, it was uncertain who would come first in 2016 with Wilcox, who also holds the women’s record for the Tour Divide, catching Greek rider Steffen Streich in the middle of the night.
When Wilcox came across Streich on the course, he waited for her after she briefly took a wrong turn and proposed that they ride over the line together. “I was like ‘no it’s a race,’” Wilcox said on the Trans Am Facebook live feed as she sat at the Yorktown Victory Monument finish line. “And then I just took off.”
Wilcox quickly built a gap that had her well clear by the time she made it to the finish to receive the well-earned congratulations, both in person and online, from the many who had watched the race unfold via live tracker.
This incredible badass @laelwilcox won the @transambikerace today, becoming the first American to do so. I'm so excited for and proud of this woman, and congratulate all the finishers on an incredible race!!! Congrats Lael! #bikepacking #transambikerace2016 #congrats ? photo credit: Nathan Jones and Anthony Dwyer
Streich, who spent most of the race out the front, arrived at the finish mid-morning around two hours after Wilcox. In third place it was American rider Evan Deutsch, who Wilcox had been riding with up until the final couple of days.
The rest of the riders are still out on the course, but even with days to go for the remainder of the top ten it seems certain that this will be a ground-breaking year for female cyclists at the Trans Am in more ways than one. Not only has Wilcox won the race, but two more women are also currently holding top ten positions. It’s big leap ahead from last year’s race when there were no female solo finishers.
High mountains, windy flats and power climbs
The riders who ended up battling for the top positions didn’t take long to leap out of the pack once the race left the start line at Astoria and headed into the mountains.
Streich took an early lead and in the initial week of the race it was Streich and Sarah Hammond duelling for first place, however a wrong turn which added more than 120 kilometres and then the mountains of Colorado took a heavy toll on Australia’s Hammond. She was unused to riding at altitude, so struggling for breath she fell back through the field. From then it was Wilcox and Deutsch in second and third as they paired up in pursuit of Streich.
Across the hot flats of Kansas Streich held the lead and he was lucky enough to have the all-important ferry crossing over the Ohio River fall in his favour at the end of last week. He made it across, while Wilcox and Deutsch missed the last ferry and spent hours on the other side as they waited for the first ferry of the morning. However, as he neared the end of the race and the short punchy climbs, his luck turned as he was riddled by flat tyres and navigational issues.
The gap shrank and Wilcox, who consistently seemed to fare better on less time at rest, forged ahead of Deutsch and was then in constant pursuit as she and Streich forfeited sleep in the dash to the finish line.
The race continues for the rest of the top ten. Kai Edel looks sure to take fourth place as he has a buffer of well over 300 kilometres, while American rider Benjamin Colwill currently has the upper hand in the battle for fifth with early race leader and the second-placed female rider Hammond. Then rounding out the top ten on the road it’s Ken Bathurst, Massimiliano Fancoli, third-placed female Janie Hayes and Jay Petervary.