Transcontinental Race: Europe’s Toughest Bike Race

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One of the most unorthodox cycling events in Europe, the Transcontinental Race – often abbreviated to TCR – is exactly what it says on the tin: a race that spans the whole of Europe.

Fancy cycling all day, every day, bivvying up in bushes at the side of the road every night for a few restless hours of sleep, with just one ultimate goal: to make it the whole way across a continent?

Good news! The Transcontinental Race is just that – with one slight catch, you get absolutely no assistance whatsoever. For many of us, the thought of attempting to do and complete a race like this is enough to induce a deep sense of terror.

But some people are not only bold enough to attempt an event like this but actually try and do it faster than anyone else! Sacrificing their legs, their sleep, and all the chammy cream they can get their hands on in exchange for the ultimate transcontinental bragging rights.

But what’s the route of this race? What happened last year? And what’s the plan for Transcontinental Race 2023?

Don’t worry! We’re here to let you know all of the logistics involved in racing Europe’s toughest bike race. To get you up to speed, we’ll be covering:

  • What Is The Transcontinental Bike Race?
  • Transcontinental Race 2022
  • Transcontinental Race 2023
  • How To Race The Transcontinental Race

Let’s dive in!

Transcontinental Race: Title Image

What Is The Transcontinental Bike Race?

The Transcontinental Race is an ultra-endurance, non-stop, self-supported race the whole way across Europe. This is no exaggeration, it really is the whole way across the continent. The riders often complete 4000 km+ to finish the race.

Although there are a number of self-supported ultra-long-distance races in the world, there are a few things that make this race unique.

Firstly, there is no set route for this event. We don’t just mean that the route changes each year, there is literally just no route that the riders are required to follow. There are set start and end points, along with the odd checkpoint that the riders have to go through.

This means that the riders must choose their own path to get from A to B. They are in charge of their own planning, logistics, and navigation. Riders are of course required to wear a tracker, to ensure that they don’t just get a train.

This introduces an extra layer of tactics to racing the Transcontinental. You need to find the right balance between the path of least resistance and the shortest path, and ensure your route has sufficient opportunities to stock up on food, water, and supplies.

Photo of Spluga Valley in Italy in winter.
Spluga Valley, Italy

Secondly, riders can enter the race as a pair or as individuals. Riding as a pair comes with a number of advantages, you can share the load of equipment such as food, a tent, and tools, but also riding with a buddy can be very motivational when times are tough.

However, it of course also comes with disadvantages. The main one is that you can only go as fast as the slowest rider in the pair, but also riding for such a long time with just one other person isn’t for everyone, and really is a test of the relationship between the riders.

Another interesting aspect of the Transcontinental Race is that there are very few requirements for the bike you are allowed to ride. The rules say any entrant must ride “any solo upright bike”, meaning tandem and recumbent bikes are not permitted.

However, this allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of equipment. You can ride a gravel bike, a mountain bike, or a road bike – or even a hybrid or urban bike (probably not recommended though).

A bikepacker adjusts his bike in a forest.

This adds a further layer of tactics to the route planning portion of the race. The question is, is it faster to take a more direct, off-road route on a gravel or mountain bike, or take a more streamlined, faster road bike but be burdened by restrictions to the path of roads?

The answer to this isn’t clear. It really comes down to the possible routes you’re choosing between. Of course, if they’re the same distance, on or off-road then it’s best to go for a road bike. But, if the route is significantly shorter off-road, then it could be better to go for that.

It likely will ultimately come down to what the rider is more comfortable with, however. If they’re a purist roadie, you probably wouldn’t bet on convincing them to take a gravel bike. If you’re more used to riding off-road, you might not be as happy riding on traffic-ridden roads.

The route planning is also limited by four “Controls”. These are generally in areas of outstanding natural beauty, chosen in areas with dramatic terrain, for the reason of “introducing a healthy amount of climbing” (they’re at the top of big hills, basically).

The “Controls” consist of two parts. The “Control Points” are usually local businesses where riders must check in and get their Brevet card stamped in order to prove their presence. The “Control Parcours” are sections of the road that must be ridden as part of every rider’s route.

A rider must pass through all four of these points to be included in the general classification (to decide the overall winner) of the race. They do also have cut-off dates, at which point no rider can get their card stamped anymore.

Missing the cut-off means disqualification from the GC, but you’re still allowed to complete the race.

Photo of a canal in Belgium on a summer's day.

Transcontinental Race 2022

So, now you know the rules of the Transcontinental Race, where does the route start and end?

Well, as we previously stated, it changes every year, so it can’t really be categorized apart from that it literally crosses the continent of Europe.

What can be said, however, is what happened in 2022.

The 8th edition of the Transcontinental Race – TCRNo8, commenced in the Belgian city of Geraardsbergen in Flanders and finished in Burgas, Bulgaria.

As usual, the route was chosen by the participants, but there were four Controls that the riders must pass through:

A road snakes across a mountain in Transalpina, Romania.
Transalpina, Romania
  • Krupka, Czechia
  • Passo Gavia, Italy
  • Durmitor, Montenegro
  • Transalpina, Romania

The fastest solo rider was Christoph Strasser, who completed over 4000 km across Europe in an astonishing 9 days and 15 hours. That’s over 400 km per day! Only 88 individuals completed the race in 2022.

Strasser chose a route that was 120 km shorter than the furthest ridden – perhaps a sensible decision. Still, 4579 km is a huge distance!

The fastest pair, of just four who completed the race, were Théo Daniel and Stephane Ouaja, who completed the route in just under 12 days and 9 hours. Still an astonishingly fast result, but interesting that pairs were significantly slower than individuals.

Photo of a valley in Zgornje Jezersko, Slovenia.
Zgornje Jezersko, Slovenia

Transcontinental Race 2023

The ninth edition of Transcontinental Race – TCRNo9 – will take place in July 2023.

Yet again beginning in Geraardsbergen, Flanders, Belgium, it kicks off with a brutal cobbled ascent up Muur-Kapelmuur, an average gradient of 9% with slopes up to 20%. Quite a way to start a ride the whole way across Europe!

The race will finish in the coastal city of Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, somewhat forcing riders to plan their route along the hilly Adriatic coast.

As usual, the race consists of four controls:

  • Passo dello Spluga, Italy
  • Zgornje Jezersko, Slovenia
  • Peshkopi, Albania
  • Meteora, Greece
Meteora valley in Greece at sunset.
Meteora, Greece

Controls one and two force the rider to remain in the mountains between them. The first, on the Swiss-Italian border, is a notoriously tough pass perched high in the Alps. The second is in Eastern Slovenia, again, high in the Julian Alps.

Control three, in Albania, has been chosen to keep the riders within proximity to the Adriatic coast – resulting in an extremely hilly, but also stunning ride.

Control four, located at the orthodox monastery of Meteora, is an unbelievably dramatic formation of rocks in Northern Greece, with a monastery haphazardly balanced atop one of the highest.

If you’re bold and confident enough to want to give this ridiculously challenging race a go, applications for the 2023 TCRNo9 are opening in December 2022. If accepted, the entrance costs £350 + a £100 deposit for the tracker.

A bikepacker adjusts his brakes during the Transcontinental Race.

How to race the transcontinental race

So, you’re going to give Europe’s toughest race a go. There are some tactics to employ to ensure that you are maximizing your chances of completing any ultra-endurance bikepacking race.

  • Make sure you have lightweight kit, and pack light – this is very important. You don’t want to be lugging around unnecessary weight over 4000 km.
  • Plan your route meticulously, and get a good head unit for navigation – there’d be nothing worse than getting lost on a race like this, requiring unnecessary miles. Make sure to plan your route, including where you’ll stop, and maybe even a few backups.
  • Don’t be afraid to drop out – this sounds counterintuitive. But there’s no shame in trying your best and not quite making it. You have to prioritize your health and wellbeing over finishing.
  • Choose whichever type of bike you’re most comfortable with – make sure that you’re familiar with the bike you’re riding. If you’ve never ridden a gravel bike, giving it a go in such an event can risk an accident and injury!
  • Make sure you enjoy yourself! – This can definitely be a challenge given the distance and format of the event. But if it’s just not enjoyable, there’s not that much point in doing it. Prioritize enjoyment over speed!

Enjoyed this Transcontinental Race guide? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

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