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'A mental game against yourself' – Cycling's Transcontinental Race becomes Brit's nemesis

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'A mental game against yourself' – Cycling's Transcontinental Race becomes Brit's nemesis
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Jonathan Rankin
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Jonathan Rankin, from Scotland, was handed a second chance at the seventh edition of Cycling's Transcontinental Race, after running into problems last year as part of a pair.

The Transcontinental Race is an annual, self-supported, ultra-distance cycling event across Europe. The route and the distance varies between about 3,200 and 4,200km. The 2019 edition was 4,000km from Burgas, Bulgaria to Brest, France.

In order to train seriously for the event, Product Design lecturer Jonathan moved away from his girlfriend in London and spent a year teaching in Edinburgh, relocating back to where he grew up.

This time away left him feeling isolated, but there were no distractions, and he could concentrate on heavy duty cycling training for the race.

Going solo

Jonathan and his friend James entered last year’s edition, hoping that having two of them would give them more support, but being in a pair has its own disadvantages.

The rule is that the pair must cross the finish line together: “We got to about halfway and James was in a bad way, we spent the night in a hotel and the next day he found out he had pneumonia.

“He had a couple of days rest, we carried on, but split up halfway and both finished.” That unclassified finish left him with some unfinished business.

This isolation in Scotland presented itself with a perfect opportunity for Jonathan to give the race another go, but as a solo rider.

Others might have seen this as an adventure, but Jonathan saw it as a chance to mix himself with some of the best riders in Europe. “I saw it as a platform to test myself," he said.

The race attracts some of the best ultra-endurance cyclists in the world. Past winners have included Belgian cyclist Kristof Allegaert, who has won the competition three times, and Juliana Buhring, former Guinness World Record holder for the fastest time circumnavigating the globe by bicycle.

The race

Jonathan described the feeling as he set off from Bulgaria:

“You cycle off and it probably took me a day to actually get into it, people started to cycle away from me and I thought wow, maybe what I have done isn’t really working.”

The mental side of the race kicked in early: “I saw a big group ahead of me up the road and at that point you realise this is a race, but the quickest way for me to get to the finish line is not by racing two other people, it is about racing myself.

“For me it was quite a difficult mental adjustment which I had to make very early on, that this was less about racing other people and more of a mental game against yourself.”

Jonathan was scratched from the race after 1900km as he began to suffer from serious foot problems, an issue he had not experienced. “Problems which you never have during training will appear," he lamented.

The last chance

After being asked if that was the end for him, he shook his head slightly: “It is really difficult because last year it felt like I had more to give.

“This year I felt like I did everything and for it to not go well and to fall short of the mark I sit and I think, can I actually do that again? Do I have the mental resilience to sit on a bike for 25 hours a week for 11 months for it to go wrong again?

“Am I selfish enough to sacrifice another year to do this all again? I haven’t decided yet.”

Jonathan’s passion for cycling is quite infectious, although seemingly beaten after two attempts at the race, the thrill and adrenaline of ultra-distance sport could be enough to tempt him back onto the saddle.