Nobody could have predicted the outcomes of the 2019 ultra-racing season: winners from years gone by bowed out with the grace and dignity we’ve come to expect from the sport, newcomers unveiled their hidden talents and the usual suspects played their part in animating the races of which they’ve become a staple.
The calendar has never been more populated: GBDURO19 and TransPyrenees got a slice of the limelight this year as well as old favourites new to DotWatcher rode on the coattails of their reputation. The HT550 recorded one of the worst years for weather it’s ever seen, a new record was set during TABR by someone nobody had heard of and a woman won the Transcontinental Race outright.
As we wind down for the end of the year and begin filling in our calendar for next year, let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows from around the ultra-cycling world.
As the sun goes down on the antipodean summer, the Indian Pacific Wheel Race heats up departing Fremantle (Indian Ocean) and calling in at Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and finally, Sydney (Pacific Ocean). The 2019 edition didn’t disappoint with the winner arriving on the East Coast three days ahead of his nearest rival.
Winner: Jacob Fryatt
Time: 15D 10H 52M
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A common theme of races in the USA is free entry and the AZTR is no different. Attracting a steady mix of traditional geared MTBs as well as singlespeeds, the 750 mile race demands as much from the rigs as the riders themselves. Next year, the fixture moves from its usual April spot on the calendar to its new home in October and we’re looking forward to seeing what difference this makes to the race.
Across the flatlands of Holland, the RATN has become a regular fixture on the endurance calendar and for good reason. While altitude doesn’t play a part in the race’s uniqueness, headwinds, coastal roads and seasonal weather all contribute to a tough 1890km test. As one of only two solo women to finish the full race distance, Julia Freeman reminisces about one of the toughest challenges of her life, “There were headwinds all the way to Den Helder for a good 600km, not to mention the sheep–so many sheep! May was unexpectedly cold this year so much so that we experienced hail, sideways rain, and battles to stave off hyperthermia.”
Winner: Bas Vlaskamp
Time: 4D 1H 3M
This is the first chance a lot of riders in Europe have to scratch the recurring ultra-cycling itch and what a rollercoaster it was between Naples and Torbole. James Hayden announced his induction into off-road ultra-racing and it’s fair to say he lit up the race ending it in a duel with Sofiane Sehili to top the leaderboard.
Arguably the UK’s premier off-road race having begun back in 2013 and the 2019 edition did not disappoint. James Hayden made an appearance furthering his pursuit of off-road racing, but it was former winner Liam Glen who stole the hearts of dotwatchers eventually calling time on his lead due to health reasons. The horrendous weather took its toll on all the riders leading to one of the highest attrition rates in the event’s history.
The race that nobody saw coming! Abdullah Zeinab was a newcomer to the race in which he created a new record and not just by a cat’s whisker. He smashed it by over three days to be greeted by his mum in Yorktown at the end of the race. First woman, Lea Meszarasova, came in five days later also rounding out the top ten.
This is the only race with a mandatory sleep rule but that didn’t stop Matt Seward storming to the finish line in a little over six days. “The nature of the route means just finishing it is a challenge in itself,” says organiser Adrian O’Sullivan, “inclusion of a shorter route and some new mountain passes around County Kerry will be unchanged for the foreseeable future.”
No Tour Divide would be complete without a bit of pre-race drama and that’s exactly what happened this year when a Facebook thread and the comments section of The Radavist went up in flames. Needless to say, the race went on and it was a treat for dotwatchers the world around. Our excellent commentator, David Chirnside, really brought the race to life calling on riders’ past experiences, reports on the ground and everything in between. A few high-profile scratches stalled the pointy end of the race and the first man across the line was Chris Seistrup.
The Racing Collective is a relative newcomer to ultra-endurance racing having created a new concept of racing that is free to enter and encourages riders to think about and act upon their environmental footprint (or should that be tyre tracks?). This year professional rider Lachlan Morton entered the race as part of the team’s alternative racing calendar. As his first foray into this style of riding, Lachlan was a stickler for the rules and triumphed in John O’Groats well ahead of all other riders. Watch the film to recall the highs and lows.
David and Carlos are the masterminds behind TransIbérica and their debut race earned its place as a regular on the ultra-distance calendar. Another relative unknown in the world of ultra-endurance racing, Ulrich Bartolmös, made his mark on the scene earning the top spot in both this race and TransIberica and we’re sure to see him at the top of another podium before time. “Transpyrenees was such a unique experience for me as my first ultracycling event ever,” remembers Ulrich, “it was a pure concatenation of highs, lows and everything in between and I'm more than happy to have completed it healthy and without major problems.”
The first ultra-distance race that circumnavigated Scotland's biggest, best and often wettest terrain began back in June with a small but mighty field of 40 riders. Despite summer announcing its presence just days earlier, Trans Alba ended up being a test of water resistance both mentally and physically. One half of a pair, Jane Dennyson recalled one of her best bits, "climbing the Bealach Na Ba at night was absolutely brilliant. We started from Applecross around 9pm with stags eating seaweed on the shoreline and climbed up 600m above them into the mist. All the tourists had gone home so it was just us and the hundreds of red deer that live on the mountain."
Winner: Steve Abraham
Time: 4D 22H 16M
This new race for 2019 earned its place on the calendar and has since sold out for the 2020 edition. The organisers’ aim is to expand the race to all the Celtic regions which are: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Brittany. This year’s race took riders through Scotland, Ireland and Wales involving two ferries and a whole lot of hills. The winner and Celt himself, Chris Pitblado, remembers the race fondly, “at just 2400km, it gave me the perfect opportunity to test how my body and mind would cope with sleep deprivation and accumulated fatigue over multiple days.” And he’s not about to rest on his laurels declaring, “expect some tight racing with eager riders wanting a crack at the crown - a crown which I will try my damndest to defend!!”
📷 Adventure Syndicate
Another American classic that blesses DotWatchers around the world with its 540 miles of Rocky Mountains terrain, it’s no easy feat. The altitude peaks at 13,271ft (a smidge over 4000m in new money) with many other jagged lines making up the elevation profile. While there were literal highs and lows of this race, the proverbial ones take some beating. Lee Craigie paints a beautiful picture of the race on the Adventure Syndicate blog, “...completely alone at 13,000ft...the setting sun causing the barren landscape around me to blush rose gold, I felt like the luckiest person in the world. I was replete, in control and perfectly at ease in my lofty surroundings. As the sun sank finally on the day and the moon took its place to guide me 3000ft to the valley floor, I paused once more and took stock of the ground I had covered that day. If it had all been for this moment, right then, it felt worthwhile.”
Winner: Kurt Refsnider
Time: 2D 17H 26M
From the roots of randonneuring came ultra endurance racing so it was fitting that DotWatcher paid homage to the world’s longest running cycling event between the two French cities. The 1200km brevet takes riders via vibrant communities offering local delicacies, coffee and cheers in fairly equal quantities. After they’ve filled their brevet card with stamps, they hand it in and bask in the glory of completing one of the most prestigious events on the Audax calendar.
The pinnacle of the ultracycling calendar returned for another year and it was all change from the off. The race went from west to east departing Burgas in Bulgaria and winding through eastern Europe before hitting the slopes of the Alps and traversing what was essentially the length of France. Eventually, riders fell by the wayside with various ailments and it was Fiona Kolbinger who took a significant lead to be crowned the winner and the first woman to win the race outright.
It’s touted as the hardest race on the calendar and we’re not going to disagree after enjoying two years from our armchairs. The race involves 1700km of Kyrgyzstan’s most challenging terrain complete with rocky mountain passes, altitude and inclement weather to boot. Pannier.cc’s Stef and Dave raced as a pair and rolled in after 12 days. “It wasn’t until around 100km to go," says Stef, "that we knew we’d be able to stumble home on foot in the time left, if we had to. Simply finishing before the cut-off time was the original aim for us, in our first ever bikepacking race.”
Winner: Jakub Sliacan
Time: 7D 6H 46M
As far as uncharted territory goes, Spain was largely untouched (North Cape Tarifa being one exception) by the ultra-cycling community until this race came along and this year with a bumper field of budding riders. The 3500km free route event that circumnavigates the Iberian peninsula takes in some of the highest, hottest and hardest sections of this corner of the world. Hippy (real name Stuart Birnie) reflects on his first time racing in and discovering Spain, “I'm so glad I managed to complete Transpyrenees and TransIbérica. We covered so much of the country's varied terrain that it's very difficult to pick a stand-out location or moment. If you ask my fiancée though, she will tell that I would not stop talking about the last checkpoint at Caín de Valdeón.”
If the abundance of races this year weren’t overwhelming enough, there’s two with the same name! Unlike the former, this race has elements of free route and mandatory parcours including a mostly fixed return route. The seasons were in full swing with riders experiencing the back end of the warm summer climes and the low cloud and frequent rains expected of autumn. Former Transcontinental rider Neil Phillips took the lead early on but eventually succumbed to saddle soreness and withdrew from the race vacating the top step for his nearest rival.
Winner: Thomas Jacquelinet
Time: 4D 7H 48M