Off-key tech, monster miles, a set of swimshorts: How to win the toughest bikepacking race in the world
Inside the ride and rig of 2022 Transcontinental race winner and six-time RAAM champ Christoph Strasser.
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Four hundred and eighty kilometers a day, clincher tires, a chopped-down toothbrush, and the “luxury” of some swimshorts – that’s what’s needed to win the terrifyingly tough Transcontinental Race.
Six-time RAAM champion Christoph Strasser this week won the 2022 edition of the continent-crossing self-supported bike race after nine days and 14 hours of gravel climbs, service station suppers, and bivvy bag sleeps.
The Austrian ultra-endurance king roared into contention on the seventh day of the Transcontinental and beat back two chasers in the closing trek toward the race’s finish in Bulgaria.
“Speechless. Happy. Tired. Exhausted. Humble. Thankful,” Strasser said shortly after the finish. “I’ve never expected this.”
2019 overall winner and defending champion Fiona Kolbinger finished eighth overall with a finish time of 10 days, 13 hours, 44 minutes.
Also read: Q&A: Lael Wilcox on the joys of ultra-endurance racing
Strasser won six editions of Race Across America in nine years and is the first rider to travel more than 1,000km in 24 hours.
However, after only competing in supported races in the past, the “TCR” presented an all-new challenge for Strasser in what was his rookie ride this summer.
The central ethos instilled by race-founder Mike Hall to “ride in the spirit of self-reliance and equal opportunity” requires riders to receive no extra assistance in an event that takes some riders several weeks to complete.
McDonald’s dinners, roadside rest-stops, and bodged bike fixes are all a mainstay in any Transcontinental effort.
Strasser’s kit list contained all the ultra-endurance staples. Tire boots, a battery charger, a bivy bag and space-saving sawn-down toothbrush make nearly all competitors’ frame bags or jersey pockets.
But some of Strasser’s most crucial choices deviated from the script. The Austrian pivoted away from a gravel-centric option and instead selected Specialized’s rough-terrain Roubaix frame. The 40-year-old similarly turned the tide on the tubeless trend with a set of matching Specialized Roubaix tubed clinchers.
“I chose this bike because it is very solid, very comfortable, and built for racing on cobbles,” he told Bikepacking.com. “And a bike which survives Paris-Roubaix will also survive the ‘TCR.’ Even if it is not as lightweight as others, I do not want to take the risk of technical issues with a super light frame.”
Race rigs at the startline in Belgium late last month saw a scattering of both tubed and tubeless tire set-ups.
“Why not tubeless? Because I don’t have the nerves and the experience to repair or remount a tubeless in the event of a serious problem ‘on the road,'” Strasser said before the start. “It’s easier for me to repair the clincher tire, and changing the tube is also rather simple. I really trust the tires I do know.”
Strasser was sure to leave some space in his slimmed-down set-up for one special item.
“But there is one special thing, which is a bit of a luxury: swimming shorts! It will get hot during the TCR, so I want to refresh myself by jumping into the sea or river from time to time,” he joked.
This year was the first Transcontinental race since 2019 after COVID scuppered recent editions.
Starting in Geraardsbergen in Belgium and finishing in Burgas, Bulgaria, the parcours required riders to tap in at checkpoints on the German-Czech border at Krupka, atop the 2600-meter summit of the Gavia, at the Lake Piva in Montenegro, and deep in a gravel-strewn stretch of Romania’s Parâng mountains.
Strasser rode a total of 4,579km across his nine-and-a-half day odyssey – that’s an average moving speed of 24.5kph.
His saddle time was 80 percent of his total recorded time, leaving less than five hours a day for sleep, snacks, and random unplanned stops.
Those finish-line beers will have tasted very, very, sweet.