As It Happens

Powered by roadside naps and ice cream, German cyclist becomes 1st woman to win 4,000 km race

German cancer researcher Fiona Kolbinger is the first woman ever to win the Transcontinental, a race that takes cyclists across thousands of kilometres, over multiple European countries — all without directions.

Cancer researcher Fiona Kolbinger, 24, won Europe's gruelling Transcontinental Race

German cancer researcher Fiona Kolbinger is the first woman to ever win the Transcontinental cycling endurance race. (Angus Sung/Transcontinental Race)


Ten days, two hours, and 48 minutes — that's how long it took for cyclist Fiona Kolbinger to win the Transcontinental Race.

The 24-year-old German cancer researcher is the first woman to win the gruelling 4,000-kilometre endurance race, which starts in Bulgaria and ends in France.

There's no directions, and in addition to plotting their own route, contestants must scavenge for their own food along the way — which, for Kolbinger, meant a lot of fast food and ice cream.

Kolbinger spoke to As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay about her record-breaking ride. Here is part of their conversation.

 Before you set out on this race, where did you think you'd end up?

I thought that maybe I would end up in the Top 30 to Top 50 somewhere, overall. But I would have never guessed that I might end up in the Top 10 overall, or even, like, on the overall podium.

Yeah. You didn't end up at the Top 10. You ended up as No. 1.

Yeah, looks like it, huh?

Sure does. Now, this is not your typical cycling race — many of which, the typical ones, are difficult at the best of times. For those who were not familiar with TCR, the Transcontinental Race, just give us an overview of the rules. How are racers expected to get from Bulgaria to France?

So, in principle, there is a start point and there is a finish line, which was Bulgaria, Burgas, at the Black Sea coast. And as a finished point, that was Brest on the very northwest coast of France.

And where did you sleep?

So I spent 10 nights on this TCR, and out of those 10 nights I slept two nights in hotels and the other eight nights I bivouacked on the roadside somewhere.

And how long did you sleep those nights?

Usually, I slept for three to four hours in the hotels. I think I slept more five-ish hours but it was just because of the comfort of the bed that I wanted to make use of it.

The Transcontinental endurance race takes cyclists across thousands of kilometres, over multiple European countries without any set directions. (Angus Sung/Transcontinental Race)

And so after those three to five hours of sleep, how far would you cycle every day? 

It took me 10 days for my distance of approximately 4,100 kilometres. So I had days of about 410 to 420 kilometres on average. Yeah, it's ridiculous distances.

And for you, what were the biggest challenges on this race?

It sounds really weird, but looking at all the countries I passed, out of all those countries, I had the biggest problems in France. Finding food on a Sunday in France is really not that easy because most gas stations are unmanned and I couldn't find a supermarket that was open.

So I actually had to check into fast food restaurants all the time and spend an enormous amount of money in those fast food restaurants, which was really annoying on that Sunday.

So that was really a challenge on that day.

Hold on a second. You're biking 4,000 kilometres over 10 days, and on a Sunday in France nothing's open so you basically go like to McDonald's and order a Big Mac and fries?

That's true. Yeah. A lot of ice cream was involved too.

You beat 200 men. You finished first. Did your male competitors take your win well?

Actually, I think everybody understands that this race is not down to testosterone levels in the end, as shorter distance races would be.

Behind this race, there's so much planning. How much sleep deprivation can you take? Can you go one more day? Do you have such bad saddle sores on your backside that you can't continue for longer?

So there is really much more involved than just the physical ability to go fast on your bike.

I think in this community, everybody understands that gender equality is really a thing and that there is really no shame in being being slower than a woman.

So I think they are taking it pretty well, yes.

Written by Katie Geleff and John McGill. Produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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