The race begins

The Transcontinental begins with a neutralized lap around the town of Geraardsbergen, Belgium. Riders can’t pass an official’s moped until the lap is complete so there’s no reason to race just quite yet. All 200 racers start and finish the lap on a steep cobblestoned hill, known as the Muur, that rises over the town. Moments after topping the hill for the second time, racers accelerate and peel off in different directions to begin their routes across Europe.

The start of the third edition of the Transcontinental was an occasion for the small Flemish village of Geraardsbergen. Perhaps because of the prominent role its Muur played in the Tour de Flanders over the decades, bike race spectating is simply part of the town’s DNA. Even though the Transcontinental began at midnight, crowds of townspeople joined racers’ loved-ones, with torches ablaze, to take part in a new kind of cycling spectacle.

At the starting line, racers fiddled with their gear and fidgeted beside their bikes. It was strange to think that as many as one of every two riders around me wouldn’t make it to the finish, due to fatigue, illness, accidents, mechanical breakdowns, medical conditions, and any number of other reasons, physical and emotional. After hundreds of hours of preparation and all the sacrifices made just to get to the starting line, all I could hope for was to avoid any major mishaps on the first night. The rest would just have to be taken in stride. Anyway, there were more pressing matters at hand. For starters, how do you pace yourself in the first moments of a race across a continent?

To a cyclist about to set off from Belgium for Istanbul, uncertainty lies in the darkness ahead, but so does adventure. The town mayor said some words, the clock struck midnight, and with the chime of a bell we took off into the night…

The race begins