Epic Russian cycling race reaches finish line after covering 9,000km & 7 times zones in 24 days
The ultra-stage cycling race, the longest of its kind in the world at 9,287km (5,770 miles), set off from Moscow on July 18 and finally reached Vladivostok on Thursday.
Ten solo riders – eight male and two female – from a variety of countries aimed to negotiate a route almost three times longer than the Tour de France, which would take them through five climatic zones across the vast expanse of Russia.
Ahead of the 14th and final stage, the group had been whittled down to just three riders in the official race, with Russia’s Aleksey Schebelin leading the way ahead of German Pierre Bischoff and Marcelo Florentino Soares of Brazil.
Bischoff won the 761km final stage from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok in 28 hours and 18 minutes, but it wasn’t enough to overturn Schebelin’s lead, and the Russian claimed victory in the overall classification with a time of 312 hours, 16 minutes and 58 seconds.
Bischoff claimed second on 315 hours, 31 minutes and 33 seconds, while Soares finished with a time of 326 hours 4 minutes and 2 seconds.
It capped a grueling race which included stages ranging in distance from the 313km Ekaterinburg-Tyumen route – the shortest in the event – to the mammoth 1,386km Chita-Svobodny stage, won by Schebelin in a time of 52 hours, 29 minutes and 38 seconds.
It is the first time in the race’s three-year history that three riders have completed all the stages in full; in 2015 only two riders completed the full event without quitting a stage early, while last year no one managed the feat.
After the race, organizer Paul Bruck paid testament to the three finishers and all involved in the marathon event.
“Thank you heroes for your unbelievable performance. Thanks all supporters, physiotherapists, doctors, kitchen team, drivers, media team and all police and local administrators.See you next year from 24th July 2018!” he posted on the event’s Facebook page.
Irish rider Adrian O’Sullivan, who had been forced to drop out around the halfway mark, also praised the trio.
“Well done lads. Not many people will be able to understand what you have just achieved. Nothing comes close to time and distance. The toughest hardest longest race in the world,” he wrote.
The event’s Facebook page and the Twitter account of the Russian Cycling Federation are full of images that capture the brutal yet beautiful nature of the race and its backdrop.
Some of the stages were won by margins as wide as three hours, while others saw riders cross the line together.
The going was tough, as participants faced a requirement to maintain an average speed of 21 km/h (13 mph), and the drop-out rate attested to just how grueling it was.
It is also the first year women competed, with American-Filipina Shangrila Rendon taking part along with American Thursday Gervais Dubina.
The 35-year-old Rendon found the sleep deprivation, physical ailments, bad weather and conditions on the notorious Russian roads difficult to negotiate.
“I was able to last, kind of survive,” she said, the New York Times reported.
“It was extreme. It is definitely something I have never experienced.”
Rendon officially dropped out after the sixth stage, but praised the “great experience” she’d had and the commitment of the organizers and support teams.
Fellow female rider Gervais Dubina had dropped out from the general classification earlier, and cited often dangerous conditions on the roads.
She highlighted the need for riders to stay properly fueled and not underestimate the mental challenge the race poses alongside the obvious physical hardships.
“If I was mentally stronger I probably would have stayed in longer,” she said. “I think this game is 90 percent mental, truthfully.”
In a sporting world in which many are looking for ever-more extreme challenges, the Red Bull Trans-Siberian would be a pretty good place to start.