A German cancer researcher has become the first woman to win one of the world’s toughest cycling races in her first ultra-distance event.
Fiona Kolbinger, 24, from Dresden, said that she was “so surprised to win” the Transcontinental Race, which traverses 4,000km from Burgas in Bulgaria to Brest in France.
She took 10 days, two hours, 48 minutes to complete the challenge, which included about 40,000m of climbing.
Kolbinger was one of 265 riders to begin the seventh edition of the race, which was started in 2013 by the British long-distance cyclist Mike Hall, who was killed during a race in Australia in 2017.
Depending on their chosen route, participants passed through seven or more countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Italy, Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
Riders are free to choose their own route, but must pass through four control points. Each checkpoint is accompanied by an obligatory specific challenge, from gravel tracks to high-altitude climbs and steep gradients.
These included climbing the 2,474m Timmelsjoch in South Tyrol on the border between Italy and Austria and traversing the 2,645m Col du Galibier, one of the highest paved passes in the French Alps.
Kolbinger, a medical student at the pediatric oncology unit at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, was one of 40 women to start the race.
“When I was coming into the race, I thought that maybe I could go for the women’s podium, but I never thought I could win the whole race. I think I could have gone harder. I could have slept less,” she said at the finish line on Tuesday.
The clock did not stop after the riders set off from Burgas on Sunday last week.
Competitors chose where, when and if they wanted to rest. Riders could only use what they took with them, or what they could find en route at commercially available services, and were not to accept help from friends or strangers.
The weather was extremely variable, organizers said that to complete the course, the riders cycled through temperatures of up to 37°C and as low as 4°C.
“They’ve suffered under the scorching sun, freezing rain, and ridden through thunder and lightning,” they added.
Although Kolbinger finished comfortably ahead of her nearest rival, Ben Davies, who was still on the road seven hours after she crossed the line, her overall time was not a record-breaker.
James Hayden, a Briton, finished last year’s race in eight days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, finishing 24 hours ahead of the second-placed rider.
Hayden also won the 2017 event and came fourth in 2016.
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