Words by Marin de Saint-Exupéry.
On Sunday the 24th of July at 10pm, edition no.8 of the Transcontinental Race will start in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. It takes place after two white years because of Covid. The bikepacking community is pretty excited about its comeback, and so am I as I’ve had to postpone twice.
But what is the Transcontinental Race (aka TCR)? It’s pretty easy to define in a short way: it’s a bicycle race across Europe, a start, a finish, four checkpoints in between, all that by your own or in a pair, self-supported. This year, after the start in Belgium, the racers will have to complete checkpoints in Czech Bohemia, the Italian Alps, Durmitor in Montenegro and Carpates in Romania to finish in Burgas, Bulgaria, along the Black Sea. In between each of those mandatory checkpoints, racers are responsible to plan their own route. It’s about 4,000 kilometres, 40,000 metres of elevation. Faster riders might complete it in under 9 days, and there is a finisher party after 15 days but some riders might take longer.
TCR is the reason I took on long distance cycling. The dream of a 17 year old Parisian kid that was nothing of an athlete, but got hooked on this stupid idea of crossing Europe human powered, self-supported, by bike, as fast as possible. The great adventure mixed with a sense of competitiveness.
It took me a few years to make it as I raced it for the first year in 2017, and by this time I was 20 years old, a younger of the race, totally underprepared. My only dream was to complete it by the 15 day cut off, which I did by a few hours. In love with the race and willing to improve, I came back the next year and finished in about 11 days. I knew I would come back again. After a few years discovering some new horizons and waiting for the race to happen despite covid, here it is.
Even with some experience, to set the bike up takes forever. Each item you take seems to weigh far too much and you will have to carry it for 4,000 kilometres. But at the same time you might regret that third spare tube you left at home, if the two first get used… be prepared for the unprepared. At the contrary of my two firsts attempts, where I used an emergency bivy bag as my sole sleeping system, I go with a 5 star setup: a sleeping bag combined with an inflatable mat.
With the heat wave in Europe I might be tempted to leave at home some clothes. The basics I will have with me, whatever the weather forecast, are the rain jacket and ultralight insulated jacket for cold nights and high mountain passes. I will also bring some accessories like a neck warmer, arm warmers and the ultralight backpack for extra carrying capacities during long stretches without refuel.
Each racer has a number tag on his cap. As for my two firsts ride I will be cap number 42.
En avant toute!
Shop a selection of kit that Marin will be riding on this year’s TCR here.