On 29th July 2018 Björn Lenhard, 40, from Dresden in eastern Germany, will be entering the Transcontinental Race, a cross-Europe cycling event approximately 3800 kilometres long. The Transcontinental Race is an unsupported cycle race which starts in Geraardsbergen in Belgium and finishes in Meteora in Greece. There are four checkpoints through which competitors must pass, in Austria, Slovenia, Poland and Bosnia, but otherwise the route they follow is up to them.
This is the 3rd time Lenhard has competed in the event. In 2017 he took second place. Earlier this year he won the Trans Atlantic Way, another unsupported approximately 2000-kilometre cycle race down the west coast of Ireland, heading from Dublin up to Derry in the north and then down the Atlantic coast to Kinsale. Bjorn is a brand ambassador for Canyon Bikes and Apidura and rides with their kit.
The Transcontinental Race starts on the cobbles of the Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium at 10pm on 29th July and the winner, depending on the weather, is expected to take between nine and ten days to complete the course to Meteora. You can see the race unfold here.
First a bit of Form
Björn Lenhard: I came to endurance cycling quite late, in 2010. I was due to have a holiday in northern Germany with my then wife. She was forced to travel there late because of work, so I decided to cycle up there to meet her. At that stage I had not cycled any more than 100km at a stretch, but I went ahead and covered 350 kilometres in one go to make it. I found I really enjoyed the trip and decided that I would do more of it.
In 2012 I raced the 750km Elbspitze from Dresden to the Alps and I got into the 1200km Paris-Brest Audax. And then in 2105 I managed to break the record for Paris-Brest, at 42 hours and 26 minutes
Why the Transcontinental? Why now?
Since breaking the record in Paris-Brest I have been dreaming about the Trans-continental. This is my third entry and I’d love to improve on my second place from last year.
The Transcontinental is different from the Trans Atlantic in Ireland, which effectively has a set course. In the Trans-continental you choose your route yourself. There is a start point in Belgium and the finish in Greece, and four checkpoints through which you must pass on the way, but otherwise it is entirely up to you what route you follow, and that adds another dimension. You choose what you think is the flattest route, but it might not be the fastest.
The race has great variety, too. We all know western Europe and how it works, and how to get food and water, but ex-Yugoslavia and the Balkans are as wild as it gets. You won’t die from hunger out there, but it’s a very different life. It’s interesting crossing borders, something that we barely notice at home.
What training have you done for the event?
I cycle the throughout the year. I cycle to and from work, which means about 200 kilometres per week. After that it depends on how much time I have and on the weather, but I will ride each weekend, something between 120km and 250km. I haven’t had time for a full training plan and everything I know I have taught myself. I know I could improve with a coach.
How important is the psychological side?
These races are about your mind, not so much your body. Pain is our thing when we’re out there. You have to push yourself through it. Sometimes it is really hard to get back on your bike, but even very small delays add up. You can lose so much time over getting water and food. And sleeping, too. I tell myself to eat on the bike. Over days it will make a considerable difference.
So you have to force yourself to keep on and on going. I know there are physically stronger racers out there, but I know also that I am strong mentally. I simply tell myself that if I stop here it won’t get me any further along the course, so I must keep cycling. You have to think like this all the time.
I do enjoy the landscapes I pass through. Every day you see something new, but also I am constantly planning, looking at navigation, working out where I can stop.
The first bike I bought in 2010 was a Canyon Ultimate, which I built myself. I was happy with it so in 2017 I bought a second Canyon and I am now riding an Endurace CF SLX. I have adapted myself it again with a small generator to power my satnav and my mobile. It’s comfortable and I have set it up so it works very well for me.
I have used Apidura saddlebags since I bought a saddle bag two years ago. The frame bag works really well too. There’s a zip on both sides, which makes it easy to access while riding and it’s waterproof.
I am still experimenting and I learn all the time. In Ireland recently I found that when I ate a whole packet of cookies once it made me feel ill. For 30 minutes I tried to push through it, but eventually I had to stop and sit down. I had two wraps with me from the day before so I ate them. I got back on the bike and to my surprise the power came back on the power meter.
It would be nice to manage my food more, but often the only things available in a petrol station are Coke and crisps and a chocolate bar – not even an apple or a banana. Stopping in a supermarket is great but it takes a lot of time.
I will probably sleep in bus stops or in front of shops. Last year I slept for an average of four hours a night, but in Ireland I found I was able to get away with just three hours and I didn’t feel more tired than I did last year on the Transcontinental, so I will try to continue with that.
Does anything concern you as you look forward to the race?
No, there isn't anything that worries me. I have so much experience now. I am used to the long days, and the dogs, the weather and the bad traffic. I should even sleep well the night before we set off on the event.
Images courtesy of Max Libertine, a photographer based in Dresden, www.maxlibertine.com and instagram @max_libertine