The Transcontinental Race (TCR) is an annual, ultra-distance race across Europe covering between 3,000 – 4,000km over 7-10 days. It began in 2013 and has been growing in popularity every year since.
This year the race started in Geraardsbergen, Belgium and finished in Çanakkale, Turkey with four checkpoints along the way at Clermont Ferrand in France, Furkapass in Switzerland, Passo di Giau in Italy and the Durmitor in Montenegro.
Podia friend Frank van der Sman took part in the race and finished the 3,821km course in 12 days, 5 hours and 28 minutes with a total of 45,500 meters of elevation. We caught up with him to find out about his experience.
Podia: What made you want to do the Transcontinental Race, had you taken part in longer distance events before?
Former colleagues at Rapha rode ‘Paris – Brest – Paris’ (PBP) in 2011 and the whole thing just fascinated me. So much that it inspired me to do longer and longer rides over the years, to the point were I ended up partaking in the 2015 edition of PBP myself.
The preparation and added aspects you encounter during longer rides make it much more interesting than just any regular coffee ride. I followed TCR closely last year whilst friends were riding and after PBP went well, I decided to take it to the next level.
Podia: Tell us about your packing, you have limited space and need to think hard about each item. Where there any items you regretted taking or things you regretted not having?
I packed pretty minimal, compared to most other riders. I had a small bag on my handlebars, which I would stuff with food. Together with 3 large bidons it allowed me to only stop every 5 hours (100 kilometres or so). A small feed bag on my top tube with a tiny lock and cables for charging the electronics. A large frame bag with; an insulated gilet, rain jacket, merino knee warmers, first aid stuff, toiletries, tools, spare parts and a bivy bag. Last but not least an Arundel saddle bag with two spare tubes and some tire levers
I ended up using my bivy only once, for a 500g item that isn’t much, but you never know what you encounter. Because the cable to charge my Garmin on the move using the dynamo hub was broken, I had to rely on hotel stops to charge it. With a working cable, probably the bivy bag would have seen more use.
Podia: You had a problem with the fork. What happened and how did you get it fixed?
At the top of an hour-long climb, off the coast in Croatia, I had some play in my headset. Upon further inspection I noticed a big crack across the fork crown. I took the wheel out and the entire fork stay was loose…
Having a pretty specific fork (1-inch thread-less with a direct mount brake and a long steerer tube) replacing it was pretty impossible. So I sat by the side of the road, really bummed out, when a guy from the honey stand came over and started rambling something in Croatian. The only word I grasped was ‘mechanic’, which turned out to be his friend, who twenty minutes later arrived to pick me up.
I think my journey in his car was one of the more dangerous moments of the trip when he almost crashed at high speeds coming down the mountain, but getting to his garage turned out to save me. I took the bike apart, we made sure the fork was straight and an old guy welded it back together – ugly yet sturdy.
Five hours later I was back were I started and the fork held for another 1500 kilometres.
Podia: How did your body react to such strain being put on it during the race and after?
The body is an incredible machine. It needs a couple of days to get into the flow, but after then it gets super strong. I had some aches in my right knee, but it never went beyond an acceptable level. The last couple of days I struggled with keeping my neck up straight, and this was the time to take painkillers.
In general, the muscles recover in no time at all. But there’s tiredness in the system that needs a good two weeks to disappear. Last year after PBP I really struggled with my hands being numb, but due to riding with clip-on’s this time around it was hardly an issue.
Podia: How hard are the things that we take for granted during such a long ride, for example being able to easily charge things?
The charging cable I took for the Garmin didn’t work, so I wasn’t able to charge on the go. This issue forced me to sleep in hotels and rely on charging all equipment overnight. On the up side, it made me realise quite quickly, that once I had a proper night sleep I felt fresh and awake the next day. So it wasn’t all that bad, except for the fact I had to wake up three times within five hours every night to charge all my devices…
Podia: How did finding and checking in into hotels fit in your schedule?
Typically at night I would search for a hotel between 8-10pm and then would be getting back on the road around 4am. In retrospect, if I was more efficient between going to bed and getting up I could probably save an hour daily. However, it’s super easy to waste time when you’re tired and that ‘down time’ lying in bed just playing with your phone is incredibly relaxing.
Podia: What did it feel like once you had finished? Did you have withdrawal symptoms?
On the home stretch I noticed making the 4am ferry to Turkey was possible, so I decided to drop the hammer and completely empty all reserves. Setting foot on the thing at 3:45 AM was the best feeling in the world; I will never forget what it was like.
Getting to the finish line on the other side in Canakkale, only having my hand shook by a lone volunteer, puts you right back on planet earth.
In the following nights I would wake up stressed about having to continue riding. Those moments when you can turn back around to sleep are absolutely amazing.
Podia: Tell us about the bike you were riding. It was made by your local framebuilders RIH?
The bike was amazing. I strongly believe in the added comfort of riding on a steel frame, low profile rims, 28mm tires and a comfortable saddle. All those put together cause a lot less fatigue on the body, which allows you to ride longer and faster.
Apart from the fork failing due to a design mistake (on my part I have to point out) I only had four small punctures. Which could’ve all been prevented if I set up the tires tubeless. Other than that, I didn’t have any mechanical issues at all.
Podia: Thank you and congratulations on the big achievement!
Images by Frank van der Sman, Gianmarco Dodesini Valsecchi & Keng Pereira