By far the most common question friends ask is whether I will race the TCR again. Perched (very, very delicately) on the Saat Kulesi at the end of No4, dressed in 4,000km of dirt, salt and K-tape, with my ankles not entirely connected to my legs, I already knew the answer: “Yes, yes. Emphatically, yes!” With some major projects coming to a close around that time it wouldn’t be fair to my wife to race next year, though it took me several months to make my peace with that. Then on Friday I watched Mike unveil the checkpoints for TCR No5 and my mind began racing, trying to bend the universe into various shapes, searching for some kind of logic that made my participation reasonable. It didn’t work so, instead, I will dot-watch my third Transcontinental from the privileged position of having worn the cap. Hopefully there is a space for me on No6. So what do TCR riders have in store for them on No5?
Start // Geraardsbergen, Belgium
The Belgian town have enthusiastically welcomed the race for the past two years and it’s found a fine home here. In de Muur it boasts one of cycling’s most iconic locations and, illuminated by flaming torches, it makes for a dramatic send-off.
Checkpoint 1 // Schloss Lichtenstein, Germany
The 19th-century ‘Fairy tale castle of Wüttermberg’ sits on a high rock at the edge of the Black Forest. It’s a little over 600km from Geraardsbergen and I’d expect the very fastest guys to be arriving just before midnight on Day 1, having spent 26 hours in the saddle. Northern France can be a monotonous geography to race across so I’m glad to see the race head south east instead. The rolling terrain should add some spice and, hopefully, plenty of creative route choices.
Checkpoint 2 // Monte Grappa, Italy
TCR No4 dialled the climbing up to 11 by forcing riders to traverse the Alps. This year they ‘only’ need to be crossed. Don’t fear though; Mike isn’t going soft. No sooner than you’re out of the mountains you’ll be forced to turn around and climb straight back into them, up Italy’s iconic Monte Grappa. This punchy climb transcends cycling, being the final resting place of 12,615 soldiers from the Great War. A museum and monument at the summit recognises Monte Grappa’s place in history.
Checkpoint 3 // High Tatras, Slovakia
The race has never ventured into this corner of Europe and the distance offers a huge scope for creative route choices, which makes for fascinating dot-watching. The exact details of the checkpoint have yet to be revealed as the race organisers are still negotiating with local authorities over access.
Checkpoint 4 // Transfăgărășan, Romania
90kms of dramatic tarmac, rising to 2,000m over the Carpathian Mountains, this is a pass that has a place on many riders bucket lists and has been mooted as a TCR location for quite a while. Choose your bivvy spots carefully here as these mountains are home to around 6,000 brown bears. And you thought the packs of feral dogs were bad?
Finish // Metéora, Greece
The monolithic pillars of this UNESCO World Heritage site make for a dramatic finish line. The pinnacles have been home to hermit monks for more than a millennia and the 14th-century monasteries might be familiar from ‘For Your Eyes Only.’ I think Mike is a Bond fan.
Outside of the checkpoints and mandatory parcours riders are of course free to choose their own routes. Spending a little time with RWGPS and Google Maps it’s clear that the race is a fraction longer than No4 but with a lot less climbing. Approximately 4,000km and 40,000m of climbing. Longer and flatter plays more to my strengths too so I hope this is a trend that continues in future editions.
The interesting sections will be where there are opportunities to route the long way around the lumpy bits in order to minimise climbing. The most direct route from Geraardsbergen to CP1 crosses many of those lumpy bits. They’re not on the same scale as the Alps or the Balkan Mountains but those playing the long game may choose to spare themselves some climbing at the very beginning, hoping to claw back that time nearer the end.
Leaving Monte Grappa behind riders will need to make savvy choices through the remainder of the Alps as they head north east towards Slovakia. Routes over the Southern Carpathians are largely dictated by the mandatory crossing of the Transfagarasan, so the next test will be which routes riders take over the Balkan Mountains and how they navigate their way around the lumpier parts of Greece on their way into Metéora. This is perhaps where we’ll see the widest variations. They should at least benefit from the wind on their backs, if the prevailing winds hold true.
With so many friends having confirmed their applications (veterans and would-be first-timers) I’m going to have a whole lot of dots to watch come August. It’ll be tough not to be joining them, but my arse will be very happy to experience the race from a comfortable chair.
Registration is open until Sunday.