Memoirs of a Race Organiser: Rory Kemper
Rory Kemper’s name and face will be familiar to many who have followed or raced the Transcontinental Race. For the past few years, he’s been a key member of the team at Lost Dot, helping deliver the last three races and realising the Trans Pyrenees vision. What you might not know, is that Rory raced TCRNo4 before joining Lost Dot and is an accomplished ultra-distance cyclist. As he steps down from his organisational role at Lost Dot, we asked Rory to share his favourite memories of places and events from his time with the Race.
There is something special about this small regional town in Belgium with its strong individual identity and link to cycling. Having travelled there as a racer and as part of the Lost Dot team I always left a little bit of myself in its cobbled square.
At the start of TCRNo4 as I stood in the town square at sunset waiting for Mike to start the race I was filled with nervous excitement and dread at the seemingly overwhelming distance ahead of me. My stomach was doing somersaults, the nervous chatter around me providing little distraction and the fear of the Muur. Would I manage the climb? Would I even make it through the night? Along with a 100 more questions all circulating around my head they were all soon forgotten when the race finally started. Climbing past the flaming torches lining the cobbled climb I quickly rode off into the darkness.
Returning the next year was both filled with grief at the loss of Mike and joy that the community came together at such a difficult time. The square was charged with emotion and I wept before the race started, before climbing the Muur to cheer the riders on their way. This physical act cemented my love of Geraardsbergen.
Durmitor National Park
In TCRNo4 the race ventured to the highlands of Montenegro and the Durmitor National Park. I hadn’t really grasped the sheer beauty of this place before I hiked my bike over the local border crossing with Bosnia and saw the almost unnatural blue of the lakes. This was just the start of the love affair, as the topology created the most unusual landscape change from the lake to the summit of the parcours that took you through the national park. I remember starting the climb and looking across the lake to the most intense thunderstorm.
You climbed through forests, highland fields and then rock littered fields before reaching what you thought was the summit, only to descend into a valley – it felt like the mountain was playing mind tricks with you as the road was hidden from view until you were almost on it and you realised you had to climb again to finally reach the long road down into the control.
I made it to the control and for the first time since starting the race shared a meal with a couple of riders who had arrived just before me. At that point I knew that the finish line was within reach and I would complete the race.
Ever since a return visit in future editions was always on the cards and for TCRno8 it finally worked. I hope the riders who experience the Durmitor national park take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the landscape.
I spent 4 days in Canakkale at the end of TCRNo4. It was the first time I had been to Turkey and the West meets East clash made it all the more interesting. The ferry ride across the Bosphorus strait was overwhelming as you knew you had finished and it gave you 20 minutes of time to process the idea that you had finished the race. I remember rolling off the ferry and carefully making my way to the clock tower that signified the finish point. For a moment there was no-one there when suddenly Kate the volunteer appeared and stamped my brevet card. Then Mike walked over and I gave him a hug. That night we drank more beer than necessary and shared stories into the early hours. It turned out that time in Canakkale would be the last I would see Mike in person and in a way I’m glad we celebrated like that.
Matt Falconer Getting Pipped to the Post on the Final Parcours in Tcrno5
One of my favourite things about the TCR is the race for positions that happens on a grand operatic scale and generally unfolds by the repeated refresh of your browser whilst tracking the dots from afar. This moment where riders swap positions was rather incredibly captured during TCRNo5. Matt Falconer was on the final parcours when he stopped to speak to the media car. What Matt hadn’t realised was his nearest rival was further back on the final parcours but quickly making up ground (I believe this was Nelson Trees) and during this short stop Matt was overtaken by Nelson. Both riders accepted their fate and shook hands at the finish line. The competitiveness, sense of honour and mutual respect is the core of what makes ultra-distance racing so different.
When Fiona Kolbinger Took the Lead
Before the start of TCRNo7, I would often talk about when, not if, a woman would win the race. I always knew it would be a possibility, but when Fiona took the lead on her way to CP3 I knew the time had finally come. Winning the TCR isn’t just about being the fastest rider; a lot needs to fall into place beyond the tireless preparation and training, it’s the unknown quantity in that equation that previous winners have had. It can be luck with the weather, a fellow racer’s misfortune or a race critical decision which turned out to be the correct one. For Fiona this unknown element fell into place and the 7th edition of the race was destined to be her year. She held onto the lead all the way to the finish line where I was fortunate enough to stamp her brevet card.
Finish Line at TCRNo7
The families and friends anxiously waiting for their loved ones to arrive. The riders whose bonds will last a lifetime sharing a beer and tale from the road as they wait for the arrival of the next finisher. It all unfolds at the finish line and during TCRNo7 I was there from the first rider to when the control closed. The setting for this was the Auberge de Jeunesse de Brest, itself an impressive representation of Brest brutalism. There are too many highlights, from the scattered riders sleeping in the common areas, the bemused residents not sure what to make of all the fuss but one of the favourite moments was speaking to the families as we waited outside for the riders to arrive. You could see their relief etched into their faces; the knowledge that those sleepless nights of worry would soon be over and they could start to reassemble what normality they could after the race.