Apidura hosted Checkpoint Four at the 2017 Transcontinental Race, which saw us based on the upper slopes of the Transfăgărășan Highway in Romania for a week, and stamp the brevet cards of 120 riders before the checkpoint officially closed.
As such, we were granted a unique perspective of the race, witnessing the passing of riders from front runners to those fighting just to make the time-cut, and the infinite number of stories and experiences that each of them brought. Some stayed for days, others for just a few minutes to get their brevet card stamped, but regardless of the time spent at CP4, every rider provided a unique glimpse of what it is like to race across a continent.
Photographer Kristian Pletten was there to capture events at the checkpoint, as well as those on the Transfăgărășan Highway which led to it, and with the help of Apidura staff member Chris Peacock, who was the checkpoint manager, we’ve selected a number which we feel either tell one of those stories, or simply contain something of the race essence.
From beautiful landscapes to intangible emotions, and everything in between, these photos – and their accompanying captions – tell the story of TCRNo5 through the eyes of its final checkpoint.
Words Chris Peacock Photography Kristian Pletten
The Transfăgărășan Highway represented so much of what the Transcontinental is all about. The dramatic scenery, the way it renders riders small and insignificant amid a vast challenge, the elegance of the road, the stories that are held within it. Apidura was based just below the summit on the descent, and we couldn’t have picked a better location from which to watch the race unfold.
This photo of Apidura rider Nelson Trees on the climb encapsulates the race at the sharp end. Nelson arrived at the start with good legs after a month of hard riding in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, and at CP4 had slept for just seven hours in the previous three days, which had landed him in a battle for the podium. Equipped with an aero road bike and a minimalist packing setup, he looks every bit the racer, and would go on to finish in 6th.
The thousand-yard stare of first-time Transcontinental rider Rory McCarron. Rory is better known for riding his bike in circles around central London’s Regent’s Park than he is for navigating his way across a continent, but he put in a huge ride at TCRNo5, digging incredibly deep in tough conditions and doing enough to finish in 5th. By all accounts Rory gave all that he had to give, and this image shows it.
Just like any other race, the clock at an ultra-distance event never stops, and at CP4 there was often a steady stream of riders coming through, regardless of what time of day or night it was. The volunteers are always busy, and here one of them, Botond, can be seen helpfully alerting a rider to the location of the checkpoint in the dark of the night.
The local boy, Romanian Levente Bagoly, receives a warm embrace from his father, who was among the large number of people that came to see him pass through CP4 and cheer him on his way. Levente went on to finish in 12 days, 14 hours and 50 minutes; good enough for the top 20.
Levente Bagoly and Christoph Fuhrback, who was the only rider we saw wearing sandals and using flat pedals, embrace the gentlemanly spirit of the race and offer each other an encouraging hand shake after arriving at CP4 within minutes of each other.
Mums tend to be a worrying group of people, and at no time is this more apparent than when their sons and daughters are cycling across a continent. This incoming call, received by Matthew Kimber as his dot came to a halt while he rested at CP4, somehow represents the fact that while riders might be out there racing alone, there are often legions of people at home whose life also stops for two weeks as they watch their loved ones from a computer screen.
Although this year’s race might be remembered more for the extreme heat that plagued Europe for a week, things were often different in the Făgărăș mountains of Romania. Nonetheless, this image of Daniel Johansson goes to show how testing the weather conditions can be for riders, whether its 40-degree heat or an untimely mountain deluge.
Apidura rider Melissa Pritchard, a dark horse of the race, started as a relative unknown, but very quickly became a recognisable name as she danced between places in the top 20, and eventually won the women’s race overall. For her first ultra-distance cycling race Melissa rode amazingly well, but considering how methodical her planning and preparation was, perhaps her success should be no surprise at all.
Melissa pictured with Italian Paolo Botti, who himself began the race as part of a pair, but pressed on as a solo rider after his partner scratched. Paolo arrived at the checkpoint a little gloomy, but was cajoled into better spirits larking around with Melissa as they prepared to head back out into the pouring rain: A perfect tribute to the camaraderie shared between riders.
The pensive face of a rider struggling with injury. Josh Cunningham (an Apidura staff member) had to face some tough decisions at Checkpoint Four, suffering from knee pain that meant he could barely pedal. It took him two days to come to terms with the fact that he was unable to continue, and his deflation was a reminder of the spectrum of emotions that riders go through.
Markku Leppälä was a volunteer at TCRNo4, helping at Apidura’s checkpoint in Montenegro, and this year was rewarded with a place in the race as a rider. Before the TCR Markku completed the TransAtlantic Way as preparation, and went on to finish in the top 30 in Meteora. A just reward for someone who has put so much into the race.
Karen Tostee and Louise Soplanit had met earlier in the year at an Adventure Syndicate training camp in Girona. Louise had ridden the race the previous year, so understood perfectly what Karen was going through, and as a volunteer was keeping a close eye on her friend’s arrival at CP4. Karen, despite being a first time TCR rider, would go on to finish third in the women’s competition.
Timothy France became somewhat of a cult legend on the race after stories of him supposedly getting struck by lightning traveled up and down the roads between checkpoints. Whether or not he did isn’t important, as it serves as a perfect example of the half-mythical stories that form so many TCR narratives, but what we can say is that the power at CP4 mysteriously went out after his arrival, and duly returned upon his leaving an hour later.
Rider 218, Simon Sramek, suffers one of the many frustrating problems associated with cycling across a continent; a broken chain. His had snapped twice when climbing the Transfăgărășan parcours, and after pushing his bike to the top he had freewheeled down to CP4 with it coiled in his jersey pocket. The harsh reality though was that Simon had to maintain his patience and fix it once more if he wanted to continue, which he stoically did.
Mikko Mäkipää, the only rider to have completed all five editions of the Transcontinental, arrives at CP4. While eating his dinner at the Checkpoint, Mikko was the subject of a spontaneous Q&A session, held before an audience of captivated riders and checkpoint volunteers, who wanted to learn from one of the most experienced audax riders they were ever likely to meet. The key to his success, Mikko said, is patience.