TCRNo10 - Mike Hall Bursary riders

July 10, 2024

The start of the tenth edition of the Transcontinental Race is less than two weeks away, and the recipients of the Mike Hall Bursary are finalising their preparation before taking on the journey from Roubaix to Istanbul. 

The Race will take riders through mesmerising landscapes on cobblestones, tarmac and gravel, where they will experience the mental and physical highs and lows which come with ultra racing. 

Since its introduction at TCRNo8, the Mike Hall Bursary has supported riders from all over the world, introducing new people and voices to the Race and community. The Bursary aims to make the TCR more inclusive, by supporting riders, who otherwise couldn't afford to, to have the chance to race across Europe. 

It is time to meet the Bursary riders of TCRNo10. 

Fran Scott (33) Brighton, UK

Liz Seabrook

Having started cycling as a way to get to university and then to work, Fran’s two-wheeled journey led her on a long solo trip last summer, which resulted in searching for another goal, which became the TCR.  

“I went on a big trip last August, I started in Vancouver, Canada, and cycled down to Panama City. It was my first big trip and I loved it. It was six months long which was a great experience, and it was whilst I was away on this trip that I applied for the TCR. I was aware that I'd need something to focus on when I got back from this big trip, and I hoped the TCR would give me the focus that I needed and the opportunity to do loads more cycling.”

When it comes to the start line at Roubaix, and the first pedal strokes around the velodrome, Fran is drawing on the experience of her 6-month solo tour. 

“I remember feeling pretty daunted about setting off at the start of my 6-month tour. I had stayed with some friends in Vancouver and had a great time with them, and I didn't want to leave. Yet I knew I had such an adventure before me. I think my friends could sense my almost reluctance to leave and I remember one of them saying "the first stroke is always the hardest". Once I got going I was fine, but it was a massive step for me to take that first pedal and set off. Saying goodbye to the comfort, safety and security of staying with my friends - you're venturing out into the unknown! And for me it was scary, as is the thought of TCR. I don't regret setting off on my 6-month tour one bit, in fact I'm so glad I did it! And I'm pretty sure I'll feel the same about TCR.”

Being a bursary recipient has also given Fran a lot of tools to get her as ready as possible for the Race.  

“I've been assigned a coach, which has helped because it's like, how do you train for a race like this? I've not done any cycling events at all and not done any ultra endurance stuff. Being assigned a mentor and a coach has been really helpful, meeting up with the other bursary riders and having a chat altogether with some of the coaches and people who are involved in setting up the race has also been really helpful. I don't think I'd be doing the race if it wasn't for having a bursary place.”

Joschka Völkel (26) Regensburg, Germany 

Arnau Lumeras

After moving from Würzburg in Bavaria south to Regensburg six years ago to study civil and environmental engineering, Joschka discovered bikepacking. 

“I rode 500 km from Regensburg to Dresden on my singlespeed bike. It was a very challenging experience because I didn't know anything about elevation gain or route planning, but it was still so much fun to be out on my bike from sunrise to sunset. It was just the beginning of many more bikepacking trips.”

In 2019, Fiona Kolbinger won TCRNo7, becoming the first woman and rookie ever to win. Kolbinger’s phenomenal win was Joschka’s first experience of dotwatching the TCR and it captivated him.

“After that I was definitely hooked and I watched a lot of documentaries about ultra cycling and read blogs about the riders’ experiences. The interesting thing is that all riders experienced the same journey but everyone has a different story to tell.

“I applied for the TCR because it is the ultimate test of endurance and a lifetime adventure I will never forget. Independently of each rider’s result, the experiences will stay with me forever. In the past few years, I've always been looking for new challenges on the bike and I had a lot of fun pushing my own limits. I have often been surprised by what distances are possible with just the legs. The TCR is one of the toughest ultra cycling races in the world and therefore the perfect next challenge for me. Eventually the bursary gave me access to the race and made it possible for me to make this dream come true.”

The TCR is Joschka’s first bike race and he has been focussed on planning his route while also letting his mind wander about the sights and smells which may lie ahead. 

“I've been preparing for six months and have thought and planned so much in theory. I feel like I've already travelled the 4000 km in Google Street View!

“I experienced bikepacking as I cycled from Greece back to Germany in two weeks so I know a bit about the Balkans, but I was travelling with a tent, gas cooker and other luxuries which I won’t have with me now. I think the TCR will be on another level. I'm looking forward to riding through the remote areas where you're completely alone, your mind switches off and you just ride. In my past bikepacking trips I felt that especially in the evening or early in the morning. 

“I'm also excited about the new countries I'll be riding through, I've never been to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo or Türkiye and I can’t wait to explore the culture, the people and of course the food there. In ultra cycling you have to eat all the time, I’m really looking forward to it and I'm already hungry.”

Mersedeh Chegini, (33) Tehran, Iran 

Yasin Bingöl

At just four years old Mersedeh found her passion for running, which grew into striding out on the trails for long distances, including running 120 kilometres, twice. But it is now cycling which takes centre stage. 

“It was nearly nine years ago that I bought a mountain bike and decided to start cycling. Then I started riding longer distances, more than 100 kilometres a day, and then I met a guy who was coming back from a long trip on his bike and we started cycling to crazy places together, so I got really into road cycling. I bought a road bike and then, because I love travelling, I started travelling by bike and now it’s turned into an addiction! I run and I cycle and I love it.”

The spirit of the TCR, its unsupported nature and focus on self-reliance, is what first piqued Mersedeh’s interest in the Race. 

“I really respect the idea of the Race that everything should be natural and unplanned. I'm really into the idea of having no support and being nowhere. I think it's really important to have the courage to start the race without knowing exactly what is in front of you. I think just arriving there, being there and starting the race is really hard.” 

The TCR has already had a profound impact on Mersedeh’s life. 

“It has changed me a lot. Just training for the race has changed me. Everyone who knows me says in one year I’ve changed a lot. My life has changed. It’s been a whole new experience. It’s been stressful in many ways just to get to the start line, because of issues with my visa, the worries about getting my kit and my bike because you can’t ship anything to Iran. When I arrive at the Race and I’m on the start line, I won’t be worried anymore and I will be ready to have fun.” 

Aiperi Bakirova (36), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 

Yasin Bingöl

A mother of two and anaesthesiologist, Aiperi developed a passion for ultra distance cycling after commuting to work by bike. 

“I started cycling about 7 years ago and I quickly fell in love with the sport and began to travel around my country by bike. I usually use my bike to cycle to work which is 80km a day, and during weekends I sometimes go for day backpacking trips which is what got me interested in ultra distance cycling. 

“Last summer I did the Silk Road Mountain race, an extremely difficult race in my country, and that’s how I found out about the TCR. I was also so shocked that other countries support the sport and people like us from little-known countries.”

Participating in the TCR is an opportunity for Aiperi to not only challenge herself, but to also challenge traditional perceptions of women in her homeland. 

“For me it's a journey for resilience, adaptability and a deep appreciation for both the competitive drive and the shared experience. I have been preparing very hard throughout the year and dreaming of being at the start line in Roubaix. I expect a lot from TCR, I want to test my endurance and perseverance, and, of course, finish. 

“I might not have the experience of some top riders but my passion for this race is real. I want to bring that excitement back home to show others that even with fewer skills you can still chase big dreams. By participating I hope to redefine perceptions showing that as a Kyrgyz woman I can be more than just a wife and mother; I can inspire as a passionate and skilled rider.”

The tenth edition of the Transcontinental Race starts on Sunday 21 July, where riders will begin their journey of cycling across Europe aiming to finish in Istanbul in Turkey in time for the finisher’s party on Tuesday 6 August. We wish our Bursary riders the best of luck.

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