How a German Cyclist Won Europe’s Toughest Bike Race (Hint: Not the TdF)

In cycling-mad Europe, there are literally dozens of bike races for fans to follow and participate in themselves. Well, at least in a normal year. 2020 hasn’t been so kind to the sport of cycling, with the Spring Classics mostly candled, the Giro d’Italia delayed, and the fate of the Tour de France hanging in the balance. Those races are amongst the toughest that pro cycling has to offer of course, but they aren’t necessarily the toughest in Europe. That distinction could very well belong to the Transcontinental Race (TCR), an event that most people have never heard of and yet it is a true test of skill and endurance. Recently, the BBC took a look a this incredibly challenging bike ride and examined how a German woman named Fiona Kolbinger became the first female rider to win the TCR in 2019.

To put the TCR into perspective, you first have to understand its scope. The race covers approximately 4000 km (2485 miles), which the BBC points out is longer than the Le Tour. The start of the race is held on the Black Sea in Bulgaria and it ends at the Atlantic Ocean near Brest, in northwest France. The task for the riders is a simple one. Cover that distance in as quick of a time as possible and be the first to reach the finish line. Along the way, the must pass through four different checkpoints, but other than that each cyclist can determine the route they want to follow. There are no rest days, no feed zones, no domestiques, and certainly no mercy. Riders even have to be self-supported out on the road, carrying all of their needed gear and supplies with them as the go.

When she won the race last year, Kolbinger covered the distance in a little more than ten days. In contrast, the riders at the Tour de France have three weeks to ride that course, which on average is about 600 km (372 miles) shorter. They also get two built-in rest days to help them recover. TCR riders don’t have that luxury. In order to win the race, the German cyclist had to ride 400 km (248 miles) per day, which allowed her to finish a full eight hours ahead of her nearest competitor.

The BBC story takes us deep into the race with Kolbinger, getting her perspective of what it’s like to take part in the TCR. Now that she’s back home and had plenty of time to reflect on her accomplishment, she hopes that it will inspire others. Particularly at this time when things are in a bi too an upheaval. And for the record, after winning the race, Fiona went to work in her real job as a doctor.

Check out her full story here.