Day 14 / Finish Fever

August 7, 2023

The second pair to complete the Transcontinental Race have crossed the line in Thessaloniki, as have 112 other riders ahead of the 23.59CEST General Classification (GC) cut-off tonight.

Kris Wright (330a) and Mark Anderson (330b) finished 2nd to Sherry Cardona (334a) and Gereon Tewes (334b) yesterday, as the golden light of the mid-afternoon sun struck the Aegean Sea. The Scottish duo admitted it had not been plain sailing throughout, with several challenges both physically and as a pair, but were jubilant in finishing in 13 Days, 19 Hours, and 26 Minutes.

Joking that, between them they “make one good rider” – with Kris being autistic and Mark being sighted in one eye – Mark said they were unsure whether they were going to make it to the Finish after thunderstorms and several “wobbles” along the way. “It is way more than just riding a bike across Europe”, said Mark. Clutching the first beer he had drank in several years, Mark shared that there was another purpose driving him towards the Finish in Thessaloniki:

“My wife was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. I wanted to reflect on what she’s been going through. We made a choice 14 days ago to put ourselves through hell and to put ourselves in difficult situations. It’s either we fight, or we scratch; there are people out there, like my wife, who either fight or they die. If you told me to turn around to ride back to Belgium now, I would. This is easy compared to what people with cancer and life-threatening diseases face every day.” Mark Anderson (330b)

Motivation is a powerful tool in a successful completion of a Transcontinental Race, if not the key driver in a rider reaching the Finish. For some – like Mark – it is with a loved one in mind; for others, it is the search for a result; for others, it is to prove to themselves that they are more capable than they previously imagined, despite the odds.

Mind Over Matter

Jesko von Werthern (249) has become a popular name in the ultra-distance cycling community, with his poetic and honest Instagram posts and his general affability as a rider. Reaching the Finish yesterday after 13 days, 15 hours, and 33 minutes of riding, Jesko bettered his TCRNo8 performance, finishing a day earlier than in 2022. It was not an easy ride, however, after a crash required a hospital visit and course of antibiotics, thunderstorms, and a replacement back wheel.

After a positive first week, Jesko set his eyes on an 11-day finish, but all his setbacks forced him to reassess his goals several times and seriously question his motivation for continuing.

“It was tough to keep going. In Austria, I was tempted to stop and make a nice tour out of it… I scratched once in TCRNo5 and I know how horrible that felt, so I talked myself out of doing it. As I got further south, I knew it would become harder to scratch. I don’t like giving up, but it was tough to ignore those thoughts… I am a bit disappointed at the finish time, but I think as time passes, I will be proud of it. Nobody has a perfect ride.” Jesko von Werthern (249)

Last Orders

Throughout yesterday, a steady stream of riders filed into the Finish Control Point. Like the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology, the Finish becomes a sanctuary for tired heroes and heroines, who have the choice to engage in the euphoria of completing an immense quest, or to doze quietly in a corner with a half-eaten watermelon still in hand.

The Control Point feels alive, inhaling and exhaling riders who come and go as they please, with a warm sea breeze making it difficult to keep eyes open. This oasis is what awaits those riders still out on the course, with the 23.59CEST cut-off tonight very much on the horizon.

Completing the Finish Parcours takes between 10- and 14-hours. At the time of writing, James Vernon (288) and Marko Wagner (161) look to be the last riders in with a chance of reaching the Finish in time for the cut-off. Traditionally, the last rider to reach the party before midnight was awarded the maglia nera – the black jersey. The black jersey was awarded during the Giro d’Italia in the 1950s to the rider who finished last in General Classification. This year, the final cut-off for TCRNo9 lands on the same day as the party, so all eyes will be on the Finish Parcours tonight to offer the last rider a beer and a round of applause.

“Riding across Europe for anywhere between eight to 14 days is a tremendous achievement. Most riders will have ridden over 4000km to get here, so the finish party tonight is a great opportunity to share those stories and celebrate the riders’ achievements” David Ayre, Race Coordinator

In addition to celebrating the winners of the Race – Christoph Strasser (001) as first solo rider, and Sherry and Gereon as first pair – there is a chance to hand out some Spirit of the Race awards. These awards recognise riders who have ridden true to the Spirit of the Race and either overcome adversity, or gone above and beyond what is expected from the Race.

While preparations for the party get underway, eyes will be fixed on the Finish Parcours with the final push for those riders still on the road to reach the Finish. For them, the achievement is still as great as for those at the front, with the knowledge they have crossed the continent in the definitive self-supported bike Race in Europe.

Photos: Saskia Martin and Tomás Montes

Words: Ross Brannigan

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