The Transcontinental Race: rediscovering the roots of cycling

by Alain Rumpf


If you’re feeling saturated with the Tour de France and want to follow a story that’s much more pure, I’m happy to introduce you to the Transcontinental Race. For the next two-and-a-half weeks we’ll be following Alain Rumpf’s self-supported journey from Belgium to Turkey in this event that’s sure to capture the imagination of everyone and anyone who rides a bike. In this first instalment, Alain introduced the race, his personal goals, and the reason he’s putting himself through this extraordinary feat. –Wade Wallace


 

It all started on a Saturday morning last November, as I was having coffee with my friend Chris. “Today is the last day to enter the Transcontinental Race,” he said casually. He had ridden the 2014 event and was planning his 2015 participation.

I was between jobs and had the time and the energy for an adventure. So I logged onto the race website and entered. Only after that did I realise that I would have to ride a minimum of 280km for 15 days to make it in time for the finishers party. But I was in. I had a goal – a BIG one.

iPhone screenshot

The third edition of the Transcontinental Race will start at the  Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium at midnight on July 24. The finish will be in Istanbul. When? Nobody knows. This is where the fun begins.

First of all, the clock never stops and there is no route in the TCR. We will navigate our way between the start and the finish via 4 mandatory check points:

  • Mont Ventoux
  • Strada dell’Assietta, a 40km gravel road above Sestrières (Italy)
  • Vukovar (Croatia)
  • Mount Lovcen (Montenegro)

The finish in Istanbul should be fun:

This is what it looks like on a map.

I plan to ride across Belgium, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Turkey, via a route that should be around 4200km. This is more than the Tour de France. The fastest riders will probably finish in 9 days. This is much less than the Tour, and represents an daily average of 400 to 500km.

Also, drafting is prohibited and the race is unsupported. According to the race website, « racers can only use what they take with them, or what they can find en-route at commercially available services ». No manager, no team car, no mechanic, no masseur, no feeding zone. We carry what we need, we fix our mechanicals, we find our food and drinks as well as our accommodations. For me it will be hotels as often as possible. For others, a bus shelter or a field on the roadside for a few hours of rest. This video from last year says it all.

Why the hell am I doing this? As a kid, I sucked at every sport I tried. I was a lousy soccer player, I survived one judo lesson, and I don’t even want to start talking about gymnastics. Then, when I was 12, my mom gave me a newspaper article about weekly rides organised by the local cycling club, the Vélo-Club Vevey. I joined, and it was love at first sight.

Cycling has been part of my life ever since. After racing for a decade at regional and national level, I have been privileged with a 20-year career at the UCI. Most of my friends are cyclists, and I met my wife at a velodrome. We live in the Swiss Alps, an absolute paradise for outdoor sports, and we are lucky to ride all year round, with the occasional ski, hike or run just to mix things up.

Training at home in the Swiss Alps
Training at home in the Swiss Alps

Bikes made me the person who I am today – a passionate advocate who strives to improve cycling in multiple ways: hosting rides in my local cycling community, guiding cyclists on their bike holidays, or blogging on A Swiss With A Pulse.

With the Transcontinental Race, I will explore a new dimension of cycling. Or maybe an old one, as this is how the sport must have been one hundred years ago. In a way, it is a personal quest to find the romanticism and the authenticity that is desperately missing in today’s professional cycling.

So, as I am starting a new job and preparing to be a dad again soon, I will be one of the 190 starters in Geraardsbergen.

I am not racing to win, because I have too much respect for this huge challenge and my experienced competitors. Still I will test, and certainly find my limits. My goal is to make it to the official finish party on August 8 (day 15). For that, I will be in lycra from 6am to 9pm, in order to cover at least 280km per day. As much as possible, I will sleep in hotels to try and get some decent rest (hopefully 6-7 hours of sleep).

I trained hard to prepare for this challenge. After a solid winter spent ski touring and cross country skiing at home, I went on a 5 day, 1000km bike tour in March across France to discover the art of ultralight bike touring. This gave me the confidence that I could tackle the TCR. I did a few more monster rides, including a Tour du Mont Blanc in 2 days, but not too many to avoid fatigue, illness and injury. The rest was my usual regime: hard, shorter rides in the mountains, the most time effective training plan I know.

Tour du Mont Blanc-1

Today, I can say that I have never felt so fit in my life. I can ride 400km across Switzerland, I can finish in the top 50 of the Maratona dles Dolomites, I can beat my PR on my home climb. But can I reach Istanbul? You will find out by following my race, which you can do in several ways:

Finally, if everything goes well and I make it to Istanbul, I’ll be posting a report on this same space after the race. No doubt it will be filled with adventure, beautiful landscape, great encounters and hopefully not too much drama. Stay tuned!

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