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The transcontinental race completed its ninth edition, with Cristoph Strasser once again the first rider to complete the nearly 4,000km distance between checkpoints running from Belgium to Greece.
Founded by ultra-endurance leader Mike Hall, who tragically lost his life on Australian roads 6 years ago, the self-sustaining race has continued to grow and evolve, with riders facing a shorter but more mountainous course in 2023. The field Around 350 riders this year also faced mandatory gravel during the journey from the start on the continuous cobbled climb of the Muur-Kepelmuur in Geraardsbergen on July 23 towards Thessaloniki.
Between the two points, the riders plotted their course across the continent through four checkpoints, extreme climates and up to 11 border crossings. Icy conditions came early on in the journey, with the first checkpoint taking the riders into the heights of the Italian Alps and over some of the highest tarmac roads in the region to reach the Passo dello Spluga and register in Livigno.
Then, while competitors may have been in control of their own course, the location of checkpoint 2 meant there was no option but to take a mountain route to the checkpoint at Zgornje Jezersko in the Slovenian Alps. This led the riders into the Carinthia region, a place of rugged peaks and dense forests where paved roads give way to rougher surfaces, sometimes gravel and sometimes rough rock.
After that, the race headed to checkpoint three in Albania, in a remote area and through the mountains in Peskopi before moving on to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meteoria in Greece. The monasteries perched on the giant sandstone cliffs were actually the finishing destination in the fifth and sixth editions of the race, but this year, as the fourth checkpoint, it marked the final stretch. From Meteora, the riders turned northeast towards the coast and Thessaloniki to dip their wheels in the Aegean Sea as a symbolic end to a journey in Europe.
The winning rider, Strasser, pedaled his last race after 8 days, 16 hours and 30 minutes, and the last rider in the official GC came close a week later. However, even now, some of the tracking dots still work on the map, as while the race for GC places may be over, the great sense of achievement for those who complete the journey remains.
There are many notable achievements that happen along the thousands of kilometers between start and finish, apart from who wins the race, but for now, let’s take a look at the top and last GC finishers, the first pair, the fastest woman and green scoreboard winner.
Neck and neck in Greece for Strasser and Geberle
Austrian rider Christoph Strasser won the 2022 edition of the Transcontinental in 9 days and 15 hours, more than eight hours ahead of his nearest rival Adam Bialek, even with a one-hour penalty after shouting at rival Ulrich Bartholmes a can of Coke when The card didn’t work—no doubt a sportsman-like gesture, but one that ran counter to the strict requirement of self-support.
It was an impressive result, as while Strasser was an accomplished ultra-endurance racer, being a six-time winner of the Race Across America, self-supported racing was a whole new ball game back then.
“Last year feels like a warm-up ride for this year,” Strasser said in a statement from Transcontinental Race organizers.
Then in 2023, while he had the experience, there was another element that threw in an unknown element, and that was the mountains and the gravel – an area the rider considered a weakness before the race. Although perhaps not so much anymore, given that he took victory in Thessaloniki after eight days, 16 hours and 30 minutes.
It was a close battle for much of the journey, with Robin Gemperle in front at checkpoint 1, Strasser taking the lead with just 19 minutes to go in Zgornje Jezersko and while close on the way to Greece, Strasser continued to push for to open the gap further and finished a further six hours ahead of his Swiss rival, who had won the Atlas mountain race earlier in 2023.
“In the race, it was the excitement of pushing myself, the excitement of fighting and challenging Robin. I think we motivated each other – when you see the other person go deep, you want to do your best and vice versa.”
Now the question is will he return for the tenth edition of the Transcontinental in 2024 and make it three wins?
“I can imagine coming back,” Strasser said. “Maybe we will see other strong riders besides me and Robin. After two successful races, there is no reason to stop and if there are strong people, I am very motivated to come back.”
The green Leaderboard
A new category was introduced to the race this year, with the first ever Green Leaderboard. It was designed to incentivize and reward riders who choose sustainable travel approaches, avoiding flights and overland travel to and from the race as part of an effort to reduce their overall carbon footprint.
“We have experienced first-hand the effects of climate-related extreme weather on our venues, with severe flooding in Slovenia putting riders at risk, while blistering heatwaves in southern Europe exacerbated rider woes in an already arduous journey.” TCRNo9 race coordinator and head of GL Hannah Larbalestier said in a statement.
About a quarter of the field was part of the Green Leader board, which was won by the third GC rider, Tim de Witte, who went home from Thessaloniki. on buses and trains. De Witte finished in nine days, ten hours and 12 minutes.
The fastest women
The Transcontinental does not have a women’s division, as it is a type of competition where women have a history at the top of the overall standings. In fact, it was Fiona Kolbinger who won the Transcontinental in 2020, while in the United States Lael Wilcox won the Trans Am while Sarah Hammond won the Race to the Rock, through the Australian outback three times in a row.
In the 2023 Transcontinental it was Jaimi Wilson who was the fastest woman, finishing in 11 days, seven hours and 39 minutes or 25th overall on the GC. Then it was Marei Moldenhauer who was next, just three hours before. The British rider had hoped to post a result higher in the general classification, but next year could perhaps provide that opportunity.
“Despite the disappointment, the most important part is that I really had an amazing two weeks or so, including riding up to the start of the race, going through 11 very different countries traveling as best as I can, as always on a bike,” Wilson told an Instagram post.
“The landscapes were breathtaking at times, the legends of the people and the animals even more so (apart from the stray dogs), the chaos of the Balkans threw me back in time and I loved the chaos and freedom that comes with it.”
The fastest pair
There were only two pairs to finish the Transcontinental within the GC in 2023 and the first of these, Sherry Cardona and Gereon Tewes took a clear lead and finished after ten days, 21 hours and 42 minutes.
“The TCR was a bucket list experience,” the Colombian-German duo said in a race media release. “I thought it would be harder physically, but it was more challenging mentally… This was kind of the first race where we wanted me to race really well [rather than simply finish it]which introduces more conflict into a Couples situation.
“It’s all a joint decision and the communication and experience has really helped – we’ve agreed that it’s a struggle and an adventure together and if things don’t go as planned it’s still a good journey. We’re a couple so that helps with those the conflicts along the way”.
The Maglia Nera was awarded at the Giro d’Italia, between 1946 and 1951, going to the rider who finished last in the GC. While it may be many years since it was worn in the Italian Grand Tour, the Transcontinental awards it to the last rider on the line within the GC cut-off. There were 125 riders who finished within the limit, the last being James Vernon, who rolled into Thessaloniki and was greeted by those who continued the finishers’ party late into the night, stopping the clock at 15 days and 18 minutes.
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