Words by Nicky Shaw. Photos by Kristian Pletten and James Robertson.
Most riders who take on The Transcontinental Race (TCR) can refer back to a time they became transfixed on the race, eventually giving into the urge to throw their helmet into the ring of fire. The promise of adventures unknown which arise from crossing an entire continent on a bike is an alluring prospect. For the hundreds of racers who push off with the flaming-torch-lit climb of the Muur-Kapelmuur one Sunday evening in late July, they have been preparing for this grand depart for months, if not years.
Nicky with James Hayden in 2016
My personal journey to the start line of TCR No.9 has been a long one, so long that I have grown and matured in that time. So long that I suspect the original obsession has left; the honeymoon period was over a good few years ago while other priorities have taken hold. I don’t have the same naivety I had when I first lined up to race 6 years ago. And to be naive in this endeavour can be an advantage! However, the flip side of maturity is an even greater advantage, I’m back with a calm excitement and better understanding of what it means to live on the bike for days on end.
Race Leader, Kristof Allegaert, with Race Director, Mike Hall (2016)
The race itself has evolved massively since its original inception back in 2013. Crucially, Mike Hall’s vision has always remained at its core; a definitive self-supported bicycle race across Europe with integrity and community at its heart. In 2013, just 30 riders set off from Westminster Bridge, from where they would make a beeline across Europe to the finish in Istanbul via the Muur Van Geraardsbergan and Stelvio Pass. Juliana Buhring was the only woman to take part and finish. This year we see the TCR magnified ten times, with well over 300 participants on the roster. The vast interest is amazing to see, and personally the start will feel equally overwhelming and awe-inspiring. What I really look forward to is being out there on my own, charting my own path to Thessaloniki alongside 300+ other likeminded riders.
Over the years the course has taken on various iterations of zigzagging across the continent, perhaps unnecessary and mentally frustrating when you find yourself riding in the opposite direction to the final destination! Still, the race has always been an opportunity for adventure and discovery so therefore; detours not destinations. In 2023 we see the 9th edition of the race, and in terms of the line traced it will return to the original purity of a relatively direct route across Europe. Starting from the Muur on Sunday evening, my route will loosely follow the tyre tracks of those 30 riders in 2013, traversing the Alps via Stelvio Pass on my way to Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea. I’m particularly excited and content about this more traditional aspect of the race route.
In 2016 I fastpacked my way across Europe to Zablijak, Montenegro, to volunteer at CP4 during TCR No.4. As checkpoint volunteer it was a privilege to be up close and personal with the riders and witness their state of being at the tail end of the TCR. It was also a privilege to meet Mike and appreciate his studious nature and passion for the race. First to arrive, Kristoff was his focused and studious self, arriving late at night and only long enough for the all important brevet card stamp. Other riders were more relaxed, outwardly broken or simply exhausted from the tribulation. I met Emily Chappell on the parcours beneath the shadow of Bobotov Kuk, the highest peak in Montenegro. Indulging in a double pizza feast at the checkpoint, I admired her tenacity and pledged that we would cross paths again.
Emily Chappell taking a break (Winner in 2016).
It was during this experience as a volunteer that I became transfixed on the TCR and its potential to push the limits of human endurance. In 2017 I returned to race TCR no.5, but ended up having to scratch barely a quarter of the way in due to a knee ligament injury. Fast forward a few years and several life events, it feels good to be back with a vengeance. I’m excited to race with drive and acceptance, curious to see what stories arise along the way.
Nicky is currently well underway in this year's race. Here are three essential pieces of kit she will be relying on over the next 4000km.