Transcontinental Race 2017: Spirit, sweat and sadness

by Simone Giuliani


This year’s Transcontinental Race was never going to be easy. Of course self-supported ultra-endurance racing never is, but usually the hardship begins after the race starts, not before. Not this time, as the founder and organiser of the Transcontinental, Mike Hall, died on the roads of Australia while racing in March, and now, for the first time, the event he built would go on without him.

Initially there were questions over whether the race across Europe would happen at all. Not only was it Hall’s hard work organising the event that made it a reality, but it was his spirit and inspiration that helped drive so many to give this enormous challenge a go. As it turns out, the man may be gone, but the mark he left on so many is as present as ever.

Friends and colleagues gathered to make sure the race went ahead in the way that Hall had envisioned and riders lined up in larger numbers than ever before. Simply, a community had gathered, not just for the adventure of a lifetime, but also to honour a man whose remarkable habit of breaking race records was combined with an unrelenting determination to help nurture the sport.

The race started on the cobbles of the Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium. After the crowd raised a cheer for Hall, riders set out bathed by the lights of spectators. They were heading toward the first of the four checkpoints along the way to the finish around 4,000 kilometres away, amid the monasteries of Meteora in Greece.

But only hours into the race, which was tinged with sadness from the very beginning, Frank Simons died in a traffic collision. There had never before been a death in the event; now the first had come at a time when emotions were already so raw.  It was undoubtedly a devastating blow for all those involved, and thoughts of course were clearly with those nearest to Simons.

The organisers grappled with what to do and eventually made the decision to go on. It was what those near to Simons thought he would have wanted. Riders made their own call on whether they wanted to continue or not. Most did.

So now the riders are out on the road, finding their way from checkpoint to checkpoint. Given the riders make their own varying route choices, its difficult to say emphatically who is in the lead at any given time, but it is always clear who is the first rider into the latest checkpoint.

At checkpoint two and three it was TransAtlanticWay winner Bjorn Lenhard. He had carved out a lead of over three hours on Jonas Goy by checkpoint two in Italy, but pre-race favourite James Hayden jumped from fifth to second and cut this lead right down to just over an hour by the Slovakian checkpoint number 3. Goy rounded out a tight top three at the checkpoint in Slovakia, making the stop comfortably within four hours of Lenhard.

In ultra-endurance race terms that’s a very tight front group, given the number of kilometres they have already ridden. And it looks like there could be a lead change at checkpoint 4, with Hayden (rider 75) pulling ahead.

The riders will have covered close to 3,000 kilometres by the time they have reached checkpoint 4 in Romania. By the time they ride onto the finish line in Greece, their totals will be closer to 4,000.

These memorable photos of the first five days, taken by the Transcontinental team, tell the first part of the story of the approximately 280 riders that set out to ride across Europe. We watch and wait for the final instalment to unfold.

 

 

You can follow the race as it unfolds on the tracking map here, and of course there will be more coverage of the final stages on CyclingTips.

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