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Cancer Researcher Becomes the First Woman to Win 4,000km Transcontinental Race

By Monica Buck

24-year-old Fiona Kolbinger triumphed in what was the first ultra-distance race she has ever entered. She rode from Burgas on the Eastern coast of Bulgaria to Brest in France in 10 days, 2 hours and 48 minutes.

Kolbinger was one of 40 women setting off in the 265-rider starting field. It was the seventh edition of the race, which was founded by British long-distance cyclist Mike Hall. The contestants are free to choose their own route, but must pass through four control points. Each checkpoint is accompanied by a specific challenge, such as high-altitude climbs or gravel tracks. Col du Galibier, featured in this year’s edition of the Tour de France, was one of the challenges.

Fiona Kolbinger crosses the finish line and wins the Transcontinental Race. © Profimedia, AFP

“When I was coming into the race, I thought that maybe I could go for the women’s podium, but I never thought I could win the whole race,” Kolbinger said at the finish line on Tuesday. “I think I could have gone harder. I could have slept less.”

Competitors ride unsupported, without accepting help from friends or strangers, and are only allowed to use things which they brought with them or which they can find at commercially available services on their route.

The weather in this year’s edition was particularly unforgiving, as the organisers explained: “To complete the course, they’ve cycled through temperatures of up to 37 °C and as low as just four degrees above freezing. They’ve suffered under the scorching sun, freezing rain, and rode through thunder and lightning.”

The medical student at the paediatric oncology department at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg finished 7 hours ahead of her nearest rival, Ben Davies. Her time, however, wasn’t record-breaking. Last year James Hayden finished with an astonishing time of 8 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes.