2022 Season Preview
8 April, 2022
Another year, another list of challenging races with many inaugural races cropping up for 2022. We couldn't be more excited about the new and familiar races to dotwatch this season.
We share some information about a handful of races we'll be commentating on to share why we're so excited for another year of dotwatching. We're looking forward to more records broken, higher female participation and competitiveness, the tactical sleep patterns and the dot-drama!
Let’s take a look at some of the races that are happening this year...
Transcontinental Race No8
There’s no better way to open our season preview than with the Transcontinental. The annual announcement of the start, finish and four checkpoints is always one of the most hotly anticipated releases on the bikepacking calendar. For 2022, the TCRNo8 returns to its original West-East direction and to the electric start in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. Riders then head to the first checkpoint at Krupka in Czech Republic followed by the Passo di Gavia in the Italian Alps. The now iconic Durmitor National Park in Montenegro features for the first time since TCRNo4 and from TCRNo5 the Transalpina in Romania returns as the final CP again before reaching the finish in Burgas, Bulgaria after what’s pegged to be the longest TCR since No3 in 2015.
Following two postponed editions, this year’s TCR is set to be better than ever. This year’s start list will include the women, womxn and people of colour who entered following Lost Dot opening a second wave of applications in early 2021 and again in the past week to encourage participation from these underrepresented groups, and we can’t wait to see better gender, LGBTQ+ and racial diversity at the startline.
We suspect the two year hiatus has done nothing to dampen riders’ ambitions and predict one of the most competitive lineups to date. Regardless of who wins, it’ll be brilliant to have the TCR back. We’ve missed following all the dots on their cross-continent journeys along all their own routes and hearing their wild and wonderful stories along the way.
A race that excellently serves the dual-purpose of kicking off the off-road calendar for UK bikepacking and as a first off-road event for many racers is this 400/600km ride across Yorkshire. The later start date and unseasonably dry lead up to last year’s race allowed for ideal conditions on a course that is often wetter under foot and slower going, it is therefore a high ask for James Craven’s winning time and course record of 49H and 51M to be broken. A large demand, but not impossible.
The work Chris Ellison and his team have done to improve female representation at this race has surely paid off with some of the UK’s finest female ultra racers lining up to open their season, names include Emily Chappell and her first foray into the world of off-road bikepacking, Meg Pugh, India Landy, Vic Peel, Saiorse Pottie and Nicky Shaw alongside UK national cyclocross racer Beth Crompton. The start list includes ultra-distance icon Mike Sheldrake and the grandfather of UK off-road bikepacking and HT550 organiser Alan Goldsmith. Alongside these two are a list of riders whose names are known from elsewhere in our sport and outside: GBDURO photographer Maciek Tomiczek takes to the pedals for the first time, former professional roadie Jesse Yates makes his bikepacking debut and Great British Divide organiser Kevin Francis will be on the receiving end of another organiser’s challenging route.
A new event for 2022 from the team behind Finisterra is Heading SouthWest; a road event designed to spotlight Portugal and all it has to offer the bikepacking world. The 970km route will guide riders from Ciombra in the Centre of the country to the Algarve in the South along much of the diverse Portuguese landscapes including mountains and plains.
The start date of May 21st clashes with the celebrations of Queima das Fitas the night before the start, a celebration by academics in the city of Ciombra, which will likely result in loud music and drinking late into the night with some broken glass around the centre the morning after. The organiser has said “this is a great opportunity for a deeper sociocultural experience”. We can only agree!
Race Through Poland
The fourth edition of Race Through Poland returns to crossing borders once again. For the first time in the race's history, the start will take place in Kraków, the city of Polish Kings. From there riders will head southeast towards the Eastern Carpathian Mountains and some of the oldest Carpathian forests. The route they take will cross the Polish, Slovak and Czech borders at least six times, and their journey between the four checkpoints will lead them through the Polish Beskids, Slovak Poloniny, Low and the High Tatras, and Czech Jeseníky to finally reach the iconic Kłodzko Valley and its mysterious mountain ranges like Orlicke Hory or the Table Mountains.
We’re told that the beautiful mountain ranges enroute offer amazing wildlife such as brown bears, European bison and the Eurasian lynx. The two Slovakian CPs (CP1 and CP3) will surely be a highlight of the race; Kralova Hola in the Low Tatras of Central Slovakia is the highest paved road in the country and enroute, and summits just shy of 1,946m.
A return to the original start date in May hopefully will not bring the same weather of 2019 which saw riders face extreme spring cold temperatures and even snow. We have our fingers crossed for milder weather in 2022! We’ve had a sneak peak at the start list and can confirm there are some household names lining up for their first time in Poland.
Highland Trail 550
The HT550 is one of the most infamous races on the bikepacking calendar. The mystique created around the route is only to be understood by race veterans; it’s a route Lee Craigie has called “life-changing” which has been confirmed by many others. The start list for the 2022 edition is bursting with big names including rookie Jakub Sliacan and veterans Huw Oliver and James Hayden. The two latter have finished top 5 in previous years and come away disappointed at times, they will be back for unfinished business. The roster currently has the most women ever signed up and notably includes Eliza Sampey (unconfirmed), current women’s record holder on the Arizona Trail 750. Entries for women are still open…
In 2021 conditions had been relatively fair through the spring and organiser Alan Goldsmith questioned how many people would break the previous record, not whether it would be broken. While Liam Glen did set a new singlespeed record at his win in 2021, Neil Beltchenko’s course record of 3D 10H 22M remained intact. It’s worth noting that the course change for 2021 added enough time for people to suspect whether Liam’s pace would have broken Niel’s record on the previous route. The 2022 edition is set to see the re-introduction of the Coffin Road and the Collie Hall track as the entrance into Fisherfield, a stretch renowned for its river crossing and being the most remote part of the race. The Coffin Road's early steep gradients will perhaps be an unwelcome return for race veterans and while shorter, ultimately includes some steep hike-a-bike.
Even with a favourable spring, such high calibre competition and a ridden route, it’s hard to believe that Neil’s time would be in jeopardy. Nevertheless, we love nothing more than being proven wrong, ideally by an underdog!
All Points North
The UK's northern free-route race is back with another list of 10 checkpoints for riders to tick off. One of the many races that was oversubscribed for 2022, APN has attracted its two first finishers from 2021: Bradley Woodruffe finished in less than a minute ahead of Pawel Pulawski. One name who's set to race is Jaimi Wilson, known for her podium place at GBDURO last year, who will be hungry to make a mark in her home of North England.
Starting and finishing from race HQ, A Different Gear, in Sheffield, riders will need to reach each of the 10 CPs in whichever order they choose. The balance between elevation and distance is a hard one to strike in Northern England, however, riders can be sure their route will be a hilly one. Some curveball CPs for 2022 include Cow Green Reservoir and Skyreholme which will require one road out-and-back to the CPs, unless riders fancy tackling a bit of bridleway. APN rules specifically state riders cannot drop kit at the bottom of a climb to lighten the load. The checkpoint at Ulpha, Cumbria will likely require riders to climb Wrynose Pass, a notorious ascent in the area. The full list of CPs for 2022 can be found here.
Trans Am Bike Race
One of the longest bikepacking races will return for an eighth year along its set route from Astoria to Yorketown, Virginia. After a mountainous 1,600 miles through the Rocky Mountains, riders will charge into the vast expanse of middle America and traverse a few more lumps and bumps before reaching their final state of Virginia to finish at the famous victory monument. However, there are now two route options for riders in Wyoming: turn left and ride to Missouri via Nebraska and Iowa or turn right to follow the traditional path through Colorado and Kansas. This will be an exciting moment for dotwatchers as riders scatter in opposite directions in hopes of creating an advantage over their fellow competitors.
Previous editions of the TransAm have been thrilling to watch, most notably in 2016 when Steffen Streich rode in the wrong direction and Lael Wilcox overtook his lead to win by just over two hours.
One of the highlights of the dotwatching season is this US classic: a stalwart of the bikepacking calendar, the Tour Divide never fails to throw some curveballs at the riders. With regular reroutes due to fires and weather conditions, the Tour Divide is one of the hardest races to predict and the most exciting to watch. A dotwatching highlight was the decisive mud following Brush Mountain Lodge in Montana which stalled all but the leading three riders in the 2019 edition and we witnessed an armistice between the front runners. A very rare spectacle for dotwatchers.
The 2022 race is set to return to the traditional 3,085 mile GDMBR route from Banff, Alberta to the US-Mexico border, following its reduction to a 2,480 mile border-to-border race in 2021. We’ve been in touch with a few racers hoping to hit out in 2022 and there’s every chance Mike Hall’s record could be taken. With so much pent up ambition from riders who have been unable to race for two editions, we’re betting on a Tour Divide to remember. It’s all weather-dependent though!
Pan Celtic Race
A change in the Celtic Nations enroute each year keeps the Pan Celtic Race fresh and welcomes race veterans back for a new experience alongside new and old friends. PCR is a race that has worked hard to build a community around itself and is rewarded with loyalty from riders and sponsors. Nonetheless, a few fresh faces each year help keep the veterans on their toes.
A foray back into Ireland for 2022 is an exciting return to a Celtic Nation last featured in the inaugural PCR in 2019. Starting on Wales’ west coast and finishing back at the organiser’s house in the Welsh town of Llandudno calls for two ferry journeys. Who doesn’t love a momentary armistice between riders while their fate is in the hands of the Ferry Timetable Gods?
Silk Road Mountain Race
The fourth edition of the SRMR sees a handful of updates, including an additional 100km and 3,500m more climbing which should be offset by the fewer hike-a-bike sections and more fast-rolling sections. Nonetheless, the organiser concedes it is likely to be marginally more challenging than its previous three editions. A new start in Osh will likely require an internal flight from the capital in Bishkek, where riders will return to 1,896km later at the finish. The introduction of a midnight start is to allow for riders to crest Jiptik pass in daylight 110km later. At 4,185m, Jiptik will be the highest pass included in any edition of the SRMR.
Renowned for its remote nature, the SRMR requires racers to ride self-sufficiently for long stretches of the route, on average 100km. We believe that the longest stretch without resupply will be 227km this year which will come just over the halfway point at the 1,050km mark.
Last year’s edition’s delayed start of six hours due to the transport of bikes from registration in Bishkek to the start in Talas means that anything really can happen in Kyrgyzstan, just ask any race veteran.
The Racing Collective’s race along their GBDivide route has become a staple of the British racing calendar. Sticking to their original four-stage self-supported format, GBDURO has never been spared bad weather with some British summer rain making its annual appearance. The four grand departs before each stage make for some of the most exciting dotwatching as riders regroup at each of the checkpoints in Mid-Wales, England’s Pennines and the Scottish Highlands before they diverge again.
Their no-fly rule has been cemented in the GBDURO manual and prohibits any rider from taking a flight into the UK for GBDURO, but entering the UK via bicycle is highly encouraged, à la Sven Tuft for the self-sufficient edition in 2020!
Following such a fine display of competitive racing from the womxn in GBDURO21, we’re looking forward to another year of equal female participation and hopefully representation in the top 10, again!
Further Perseverance is the new name for Further Pyrenees and is planned to return to its grand depart format with a plot twist for the riders: this year’s race will start and finish at Refuge du Rulhe, a pyreneen refuge at an altitude of 2,185m to which riders’ kit will be portaged via a mule train the day before. Organising races in places far from the crowds and 4G is Camille McMillan’s signature style and this year’s Further will be no exception. The current plan is for the race to return to Andorra and Spain, but this will be confirmed once Camille is able to recce the route after the snow melts.
A few familiar names have appeared on the iconic Further Post-It Notes. Marin de Saint-Exupéry had a breakthrough season last year and will be back to defend his title from 2021. Inaugural veterans Josh Ibbett and Phil Battye will return alongside Chas Christiansen, a well known face and voice of the ultra-racing community for his animated story-telling from the Transcontinental's podcast. Very few of these riders live at altitude and the night at above 2,000m before the start could prove a challenge for these sea-level dwellers.
Defined by its diversity and revered for the challenge, Badlands has quickly become a staple of the gravel bikepacking calendar. Lachlan Morton’s win at its inaugural edition helped put this race on the map and cement Spain as one of the most exciting European countries to ride a bike. From the deserts of Gorafe and Tabernas to the Mediterranean Sea and the heights of the Sierra Nevada, riders pass through some of Spain’s most varied landscapes in a mere 750km loop.
The advent of gravel riding combined with Badlands’ geographical accessibility and relatively short length have helped to attract many riders from outside the world of unsupported racing and it continues to do so. Riders confirmed for 2022 include ex-pro and Tour de France stage winner Juan Antonio Flecha, 2021 winner Mattia de Marchi and friends of Badlands Seb Breuer and Martijn van Strein.
The route is still to be finalised and subject to inclusion of some of the Sierra de Huétor National Park which would add some dense green forest and sweet gravel roads to the already diverse landscapes of Badlands. Organising an event in such a beautiful and untouched ecosystem comes with difficulties to ensure minimal footprints and tyre marks are left whilst also fostering sustainable development with local organisations.
A highlight of our 2021 was seeing Indonesia’s first bikepacking race. A new location for dotwatchers served up a treat of tropical rainforests and wide open beaches on the fertile island of Jawa. We’d never seen racers pass mopeds transporting bunches of bananas, monkeys on bridges and registration in traditional wooden huts with thatched roofs before!
The route for 2022 is due to be similar to last year but there’s always the chance another tree-canopied mountain road or beach path will be included. The organiser is still finalising the details and we’re excitedly awaiting their verdict.
Two Volcano Sprint
Juliana Buhring’s Two Volcano Sprint has served as the European season finale offering one final chance for racers to head into the off-season with a result on their palmares. Since its inception in 2019, 2VS has attracted most of Europe’s biggest ultra-racers including Sofiane Sehili, James Hayden, Ulrich Bartholomoes and Fiona Kolbinger.
2VS’s Sponsorship Project directs profits from the race into local initiatives and in 2021 much of the rider's fees went towards the continued Covid food bank assistance for families who lost their livelihoods (8 tonnes of canned and dried supplies were donated), and the rest went towards the medical fees for Ana Orenz's operations to fix her broken teeth and jaw following her crash at TransIberica. This use of the funds was agreed upon by the riders.
Regarding the 2022 route, there is once again a change of direction and this year the start will be in Ercolano at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius, finishing in Nicolosi and Mt. Etna. Many highlights of last year's route will make a comeback by popular demand, such as the Cristo Redentore landmark and the now infamous Mel Gibson where riders will doubtless face the agony and the ecstasy of their own passion for cycling.
The organiser has shared the following: “I would also like to make very clear to anyone interested in signing up to the event, that this is NOT a road race. It is a mixed terrain event and above all an adventure race, where riders pit their mind and body against whatever challenges are thrown at them...this being south Italy, that goes without saying. If that's their cup of tea, I invite them to join the fun, but if they are looking for perfect roads and a straightforward ride, there are other events better suited to that, this is definitely not one of them.”
The Rhino Run
For one year only, the Rhino Run is set to take riders from the Plettenberg Bay, South Africa to Windhoek, Namibia's capital.
"The Rhino" is the race organiser, Ryan Flinn, who will give himself a head start and all competitors will be tasked with chasing him down over the succeeding 2,750km of mixed-terrain riding. We cannot wait to follow along with this display of South Africa and Namibia's diverse landscapes! A glimpse into the gallery from the recce teases us with wide open arid plains, thick and humid forests with a good helping of sand. A recommendation of 29 x 2.0″ hints at things getting a bit rough...
While the race is free to enter, donations to Masaka Cycling Club are required to help support the work MCC are doing in Uganda to empower cycling talent with the opportunities necessary to develop.
The rider list includes a stellar list of racers and organisers; lining up are multi-time Race to the Rock winner Sarah Hammond, Indie Pac organiser Jesse Carlsson, Pan Celtic Race organiser Matt Ryan and Kim Raeymaekers, a veteran of the biggest races on the calendar, including Tour Divide, TransAm, Transcontinental Race and Silk Road.
This race traversing South America’s cordillera has served racers and dotwatchers with some of the most exquisite landscapes and tales of racing. For the 2022 edition the route is largely unchanged, much to our delight! Riders will face much of the beautiful scenery we saw in 2021 with some new sections in the Conguillio National Park which will take riders up a mountain singletrack gravel road through dense forest canopy and descend down to a barren plain surrounded by volcanoes, all within 40km. The route is defined by the extreme diversity and contrasts riders will face over the course of 1,025km. The coastal stretch around the 700km mark will be a welcome interlude from all the climbing. However, following this respite the remaining 200km after the new third and final checkpoint in the Mapuche community of Toltén is mostly uphill to the start/finish at Melipeuco.
The inaugural edition of Across Andes in 2019 saw a very rare phenomenon: a pair winning the overall! Andrés Tagle and Canuto Errázuriz return for 2022, alongside 2021 winner Timothy Ruedlinger, Lael Wilcox and Óscar Pujol.
Keep an eye out for the upcoming documentary on the 2021 Across Andes race.