Racing bikes across a continent
I’m afraid I’ll never be able to fully and comprehensively explain what the Transcontinental Race means to me, but I’ll try.
“The Transcontinental Race is the definitive self-supported bicycle race across Europe. At the sharp end it’s a beautifully hard bicycle race, simple in design but complex in execution. Factors of self reliance, logistics, navigation and judgement burden racers’ minds as well as their physiques. The strongest excel and redefine what we think possible while many experienced riders target only a finish.”
Six years ago, a youtube video about the second edition of this race changed my life. I didn’t know it back then but it was the beginning of the most incredible journey. I saw ordinary people with day-to-day jobs, not professional athletes, achieve something that I wouldn’t even have thought possible. Crossing the continent on bicycles, self-supported and as fast as humanly possible, just for the sake of it. No prize money. I started to wonder. What does it take these riders to finish the TCR? What does it even mean to them? And how does it feel to be one of them?
In these six years I have cycled pretty much exactly 80,000 kilometers myself. I’ve been around the TransAtlanticWay course in Ireland 3 times. Just in the first half of this year, I’ve racked up over 8,000 kilometers. So I’m not a stranger to long distances anymore. It was an evolution and I still like finding new boundaries. But it’s not really about the sport.
The power of bicycles and how they connect people in ways I never thought possible before keeps inspiring me endlessly. I like to think that it made me a better person, at least I’ve seen it happening in others. I never saw myself as an athlete, still don’t. It was the draw of the great outdoors and pure curiosity that made me pick up a bike in the first place. What’s behind the next corner? How far can I go? Looking at maps, wondering how these winding roads feel when you’re on them. The curiosity never seems to fade. I want to ride everywhere. What keeps me riding bikes is so much more, though.
I like being on my own. You kind of have to when cycling long distances. Riding with others is great, too – you get to draft, chat, motivate each other and stop for coffee and cake. That’s actually one of the best parts about it, it’s a great thing in company and still great without. The social aspect of cycling is one of its foundations. But there’s much more to that. Cycling brings with it a particular appreciation for people and how we are all connected. It’s rarely been as evident to me like on bikepacking events when rivals become the best of friends and still sprint each other to the line. When total strangers wait for you in the middle of nowhere with some food, water or encouragement. When the storekeeper lets you in early because you have been riding all night and it’s still raining. When you’re utterly exhausted and the smallest of gestures or just a kind smile brings you back down to earth. Long distance cycling does just that in the most unlikely ways. It brings out the best in people. As my good friend Adrian O’Sullivan puts it, “it’s about being human. It’s about what’s left when you take everything away, except the will to survive, the will to carry on.”
So for the last 6 months since learning of my spot on the startline, I know that this is it. I’m going to find out what it means. What it takes.
It’s self-supported, so you can’t give me any physical help or even advice during the race, the rules are very strict about this. But you can still help me in other ways, if you’d like. As a freelancer, it was always going to be a struggle making all ends meet with so much time away from my desk. In this case, the combination of putting in many hours of work into Taunus Bikepacking and ever-amounting costs of a new bike, kit and parts has left me going into this with a far lower budget than planned. Many people kept asking how to support my effort, so I’ve reluctantly set up a Gofundme page, where people can buy me a coffee or two along the way to keep me going. I’m prepared for winging it in any case and completely responsible for myself, so please, only even consider donating if you absolutely feel the need to support a crazy idea like this. Note that the only way I can pay you back is by riding as hard as I can.
You’ll be able to follow the race online from the TCR webpage as it unfolds, starting on the morning of July 27. The goal has to be the finisher’s party on August 11 and giving it my very best shot. A lot can and will happen. I’ll try to not let it stop me. For nothing that’s worth anything is ever easy.