Rückblick & Videos: 2.2.23 – Vorträge beim “Travel Slam”, Köln (German)

[in German only]

Videos zu meinen Vorträgen gibt es unten.

Ich hatte die Freude beim Travel Slam im Globetrotter in Köln über mein Transcontinental Race No. 8 (2022) zu sprechen.

Da ich das Publikums-Voting gewonnen habe (vielen Dank!!) durfte ich außerdem zusätzliche 5min+ über ein Thema meiner Wahl sprechen: ich habe mich für meine Gedanken zur Frage “WARUM?” entschieden und sie in 4 Kapitel eingeteilt: Großer Kontext, Kleiner Kontext, Unabhängigkeit, Verbundenheit.

Danke an de Travel Slam für die Einladung, das Publikum für’s Kommen, Interesse und Enthusiasmus, und an die beiden anderen Vortragenden Carsten Grüttner (@bikeload) und Wolfgang Hollmer für ihre inspirierenden Vorträge.

Neben ein paar Fotos findet ihr unten auch beide Videos, um meine Vorträge anzusehen (ggfs. ist es komfortabler sie durch klicken auf das YouTube-Symbol im Video direkt dort zu sehen)

Travel Slam – Hauptvortrag TCR No. 8

Travel Slam – BONUS-Vortrag “WARUM?”

UPCOMING: Köln, Do. 2.2.23 – Vortrag beim “Travel Slam” im Globetrotter (German)

[in German only]

Do, 2. Februar 2023, 20:15h
bei Globetrotter Köln
Richmodstraße 10
Köln, 50667

findet ein sogenannter “Travel Slam” statt: 3 Vorträge von Reisenden. Am Ende wählt das Publikum den Favoriten und es gibt eine Bonus-Runde.

Ich werde 15 Minuten lang mit Bildern von meinem Transcontinental Race No. 8 (2022) erzählen. Alle drei Vorträge des Abends drehen sich um Radreisen. Bin schon gespannt auf die anderen beiden von Carsten Grüttner (Kanaren per Rad) und Wolfgang Hollmer (Ein Scheibchen Europa für Sharron). Ich bin gespannt und freu mich drauf!

Eintritt: 10€, auch Abendkasse (die gehen nicht an mich)
Weiter Infos und Anmeldung: hier www.travelslam.de

Malte Hager • Maltes Transcontinental Race | Köln, 02.02.2023

– 4200 km mit dem Reise-Rennrad durch Europa

Einen Kontinent durchqueren in 2 Wochen… 4200km und zigtausend Höhenmeter von Brüssel ans schwarze Meer; mit dem Fahrrad und ohne Hilfe von außen. Malte Hager wird von seinem abenteuerlichen Transcontinental Race berichten: Einem der renommiertesten Ultra-Langstreckenrennen der Welt, das er im Sommer 2022 absolvierte.

Mit minimalem Gepäck, eher stringenter Vorwärtsbewegung, glitzernden Alpenpässen, Osteuropäischer Bergwildnis, Mikro-Begegnungen, ungekanntem Schmerz, Hundejagden, menschlicher Verbundenheit, Rausch und Rührung: Bei dieser Ausnahmeerfahrung konnte Malte sehen wie die vielfältige Landschaft und Kultur Europas innerhalb kurzer Distanzen variiert und wie auch der eigene fluktuierende körperliche und mentale Zustand zu jedem Zeitpunkt wenig Gewissheit über den weiteren Verlauf des Radreiserennens gibt.

Malte wird erzählen wie er auf diesen Irrsinn kam, wie das Rennen verlief und sich anfühlte und was ein Baseballschläger und Lebkuchengebäck damit zu tun haben.

Homepage: www.cyclingtourist.com
Instagram: @maltecyclingtourist

TCR No. 8 – about *official* results, stats, penalties update & subjective conclusion

1. Official Results
__1.1 Leaderboard
__1.2 Rider status – stats & cases
__1.3 Distances ridden & FMC error
2 Penalty updates
__2.1 General penalty stats
__2.2 Update MNE-border penalty
__2.3 HS07 Austrian highway
3 Concluding remarks… (subjective)

First of all: Congratulations to all fellow riders!! No matter if you finished or not. It was a tough race and fantastic adventure. And also: Thanks to all dotwatchers, followers and friends of the race! Without you it would all just be half the fun.

With this one I want to provide an update to my previous post; now referring to the official results (as opposed to just preliminary) of this year’s Transcontinental Race No. 8. I think that previous post may be interesting to some nerds that haven’t read it yet. It goes into a lot of details, but I think they raise more general points and questions. But: I should also acknowledge what the official results and also penalty outcomes were – after all appeals, and some discussion that certainly took place. Hence this post: I will provide you with some updated stats, add some new little stats, report on how the penalties turned out, and will have a few concluding thoughts.

1. Official Results

The official results were published on 26th of October 2022 and you find them here. Everything that follows is obviously only my own compilation of and commentary on some information out of it.

1.1 Leaderboard

The top of the leaderboard of the ca. 4250km race incl. all penalties looks as follows:

SOLO overall:
1. #100 Christoph Strasser – 9D 15H 0M
2. #75 Adam Bialek – 9D 23H 22M
3. #160 Pawel Pulawski – 10D 2H 6M

SOLO Women:*
1. #1 Fiona Kolbinger – 10D 13H 44M
2. #14 Amrei Kühne – 11D 19H 48M
3. #48 Meaghan Hakkinen – 12D 11H 21M

*there are mixed views on whether to spell out the women’s podium or not (also among women). e.g. female-directed TCR itself does not spell it out. So, for those who like it, I do.

PAIRS overall:
1. #252 Theo Daniel & Stephane Ouaja – 12D 8H 50M
2. #251 Richard & Sam Gate – 13D 3H 16M
3. #256 Christopher Dunand & Jonathan McCarthy – 13D 9H 49M

Please check the official leaderboard to have a look at the other amazing riders at the top and throughout the list!

Congrats to everyone! Incredible what these riders achieved. Assuming the distances quoted further below, these top riders did as a daily average up to 450km + several thousand m of climbing.

I’d like to give an honourable mention to Ulrich Bartholomoes who was a top-contender against Christoph Strasser; he ended up in a very unfortunate situation at a ferry that turned out not to run. That situation was not exclusively on him (worth its own discussion), but was responsible for him not making the top 3. So:
4. #50 Ulrich Bartholomoes – 10D 3H 2M

Another rather extreme case was rider #233 Krystian Jakubek who arrived physically in second place. But due to massive penalties he was now placed on 6th position – among them the border crossing penalty and some of the rather “surprising” unique penalties I mentioned. (The case also stirred some discussion that I will not go into now. If interested, check the “unique penalties” section in my previous post)

In the pairs, the outcomes of penalties changed the second position so that it now goes to “the Gate Family” – congrats! They had considered the “illegal” border crossing into Montenegro (check my previous post where I handle this in detail), but decided against it, because they assumed it might be penalised. And they were right! So them ending on 2nd position was not a matter of luck, but a matter of deliberate strategic choices.

Just because it may be interesting to some, here’s also a table of the Top10 solo riders with a comparison between physical arrival ranking and post-penalty official ranking. It illustrates how big the impact of penalties can still be. I didn’t calculate it for the whole field, but just for illustration: I myself arrived physically as the 66th rider, and am now ranked on 61 – despite a 5:30h penalty. Really doesn’t matter or do anything to my sense of achievement, but shows that penalties have effects for the whole leaderboard.

1.2 Rider status – stats & cases

And here are just some general stats regarding the rider status:


  • 41% arrived within the time cutoff (16 days, i.e. General Classification)*
  • 12% Finished outside of the GC
  • 47% of starters scratched

To my knowledge, the scratch-rate is the highest of any TCR edition so far.

Two riders’ status were changed from “Finisher” back to “GC”*. Among them Jesko von Werthern who was originally suspected by the Race Direction to have stayed in private accommodation (which would mean: supported), but could explain and prove that this was not the case.

4 riders who originally arrived within the 16 days to achieve GC status, lay beyond the 16 days including their penalties; technically outside of the GC. This was particularly due to the border penalty (5,5h). The race direction decided to leave those riders within the GC. They justified this by acknowledging that the penalised border-crossing was deemed ok to use in edition 4, but not in this one, so there may have been confusion. I know that to some of those 4 riders this did matter, so I’m glad it turned out that way. Congrats!!

*”GC”/”General Classification” means that the rider arrived within the time cutoff AND followed all the most important rules & requirements, and is therefore awarded a ranked position. “Finisher”s are mostly riders that arrived at the finish line after the cutoff, but did ride all the distance through the Checkpoints


  • 31% arrived within the General Classification
  • 19% Finished outside of the GC
  • exactly half of the pairs riders did not finish.

In one case one rider of a pair scratched, but the other continued the race, so he was awarded Finisher status: #251b Olivier Caty. Congrats! Obviously he could not be listed in the GC as his effort with a mix of supported and unsupported could not be compared to solo-riders’ rides.

The high DNF-rate overall is remarkable. And it is not entirely clear to me why it is so high. Some people – among them some of the most experienced TCR veterans – claimed this to have been the “toughest edition yet”. But obviously that is hard to define let alone verify. Every edition is unique; too many factors that make them incomparable.

Clearly, this edition was the longest yet in terms of distance, while the cutoff time of 16 days remained. So riders had the same limited time to arrive at a longer distance. Possibly that had a discouraging effect on a few riders who realized they wouldn’t make it in the time they previously envisioned.

1.3 Distances ridden & FMC error

Speaking of it… related to the distance of this edition I have some more stats. Firstly, based on 13 riders only, for who I had the actual ridden total distance, I established that Followmychallenge overestimates riding distances by ca. 6% on average (but can be up to at least 12%). (I also checked: this deviation does not depend on the distance)

If you rode TCR No. 8 and know your total distance based on your own tracking (not FMC), feel free to drop me a line. It’s an interesting data point!

I applied that information to all total distances reported by Followmychallenge; i.e. substracted 5,5% from the FMC-distance to arrive at an estimate of the actually ridden distance. This will not be correct for each individual rider, but in total I assume deviations will be random and equal out.

On average Finishers rode around 4260km. More precisely, the mean distance was 4280km; while 50% of riders rode more and 50% rode less than 4240km (i.e. the median). The difference is due to some extreme positive outliers like Mikko Mäkipää who did 4591km (not because of bad planning; quite the opposite, as many will know). 50% of riders lay within 4190km and 4340km (i.e. the blue box).

2. Penalty updates

If you really want to read up on some “inside TCR” penalty insights, I recommend to check out my already often mentioned previous post on the preliminary results. There you find a detailed description and discussion of all things penalties.

2.1 General penalty stats

On average, solo riders received 4,5 hours of penalties. That accounts for the fact that the wide-spread border-crossing penalty was reduced (see below). Among those riders that received a penalty, it was on average 5,0 hours.

Independent from the reduction of the border-penalty, for 33 riders (37%), some penalties were lifted. That means that 33 riders successfully appealed. That is 45% of riders who got a penalty, which seems to be in line with the “guilty until proven innocent” policy that I discussed in my previous post. It is not known to me how many of the remaining 55% handed in an appeal that was rejected, how many did not hand in any appeal at all, and how many of those in turn would have been successful with an appeal. I do know a few cases where mid-pack riders decided not to appeal because it didn’t matter to them, even though they were sure not to have committed the infringement.

Now after appeals the number of riders without any penalty rose to 12 (previously 6). That means 86% of solo riders received a penalty. So the updated diagram on how this number developed over the years is as follows:

2.2 Update MNE-border penalty

Most remarkably: The border crossing penalty was reduced from 9:35h to 5:30h (i.e. 4 hours). As a reminder: 60% of riders received that penalty, which is why this penalty matters quite a bit, and as you may have read in my previous post, the penalty was also quite controversial. This means that effectively the sanction was turned from a penalty into a mere rough compensation of the time riders saved with that border crossing. Coincidentally that is a suggestion I proposed in my post; but I strongly doubt I had any impact on the decision.

How many riders actually crossed here legally? I did not check for each rider who originally received the penalty, if they now got a reduction in penalty (beyond the 4h they got anyway), but: Originally 52 riders got the border-penalty. Now in the official results there are still 53 riders with a total penalty above 5,5 hours; one of them was added (Jesko, see above). Given that it is highly unlikely for many riders to get beyond 5 hours of penalty without the border penalty, I assume that no rider (or at most very very few) provided evidence that they actually crossed legally. So, probably almost every rider who crossed that border did it without the technically required stamped paper. In my view that supports my theory that 60% of riders had a different expectation as to what actions were totally ok as opposed to the race direction’s view.

LostDot statement about the decision: Along with the email regarding the official results, riders also received this explanation as to why that penalty was applied:

“The ideal means of using an unmanned border would be to find a means of using it legally, and document that as per the instructions in the Race Manual. […] If we had prohibited the border in question it would have prevented the kind of considered planning we want to encourage on the Race. If we had provided instructions on how to cross the border it would have prevented those with the foresight to plan correctly from having the edge on their competitors. If we had not penalised that border those who made the decision to use the legal entry due to failing to get legal permission would have been very unfairly penalised. For an adventure Race that requires compliance with the law (as all races do) I feel the decision was fair and measured.”

This explanation is in line with the pro-penalty arguments I myself laid out in my previous post. As I said there, too: it is a matter of judgement. In this case it was a pro-penalty judgement, but with a reduction of the penalty, which I think makes the penalty less controversial. (But if anyone cares: I’m still not 100% convinced for quite a lot of reasons.)

2.3 HS07 – Austrian highway

As described in my previous post: This penalty was given to 50% of riders. Based on the sample of tracker details that I checked (followmychallenge & some Strava records) I could not find anyone who actually took that illegal stretch of the Austrian B180 and would confidently say: Except for at most 1-2 riders, no one took that road, so the penalty was entirely unjustified. If I am wrong: please let me know! I have not heard anything about it from LostDot (race organization).

I had previously suspected this penalty would be lifted altogether, as it must have been given in error. But I have reason to believe that this penalty was only removed where riders appealed. This is a bit hard to prove as the final results do not split out separate penalties, and I do not know which riders appealed and which did not. But I know one rider who received this penalty in error ((s)he did not commit the infringement), did not appeal, and still had the same total penalty in the final result. That gives reason to suspect that many other of the still standing penalties regarding this road are unjustified. So the race direction did not acknowledge their (supposed) error – despite certainly receiving many valid appeals against this penalty, where they had to correct it. They handed out an erroneous penalty to 50% of the field and stayed with it where no appeal was made. Remarkable. And unclear to me what conclusions to draw from that about the processes behind penalties.

Again, in case anyone knows more… please let me know.

3. Concluding remarks…

Ok, the following section is purely subjective:

I think to any rider who participated, this race edition was again a very exciting experience, and to many certainly had the quality of a lifetime milestone. Finishing or even just starting TCR is a big deal. Riders gave all their heart and body to the challenges thrown at them. Went again through probably some of the highest highs and lowest lows of their lives, within just 2 or so weeks or even just hours. In that way the notorious Transcontinental Race contributed so much again to so many people’s lives. All that was definitely the case for me.

At the same time the race may also go through a transformation. Race direction is changing: There’s a new team taking over that includes one in my view very experienced and accomplished rider and a charismatic and invested race director. I am so curious to see where they take that race! And regardless of whether I will ride a TCR again or not, I am thankful for them to not only keep that amazing race running, but also develop it further.

Further development of the race will require approaching and listening to riders. In my view there is a lot of potential to make the event more about riders and their experiences again; my impression was that in many ways there was a lot of focus on many other stakeholders, incl. the organization itself. Maybe rider-input (incl. the rider now on board of the team, yaay!) will realign some of the race-policies with the reality of riders on the road, and with the decisions and sacrifices riders make with their best intentions for 1,5-2 weeks straight. I think an empathetic way of addressing riders has incredible potential to make the social/community experience even more magical to everyone and emphasise “trust” as the most important element to keep everything within the spirit. That may also involve a re-orientation of the roles and tasks of volunteers and dotwatchers. I might issue another post on those ideas, but not sure (also not sure if anyone needs it hah. If you’re interested, follow me here or on Instagram; I will not post it on Facebook). And obviously if you have ideas, comments or wish to a chat with me and/or other riders, get in touch! (no matter what stakeholder group you belong to)

My previous post definitely triggered some public discussion. I received a lot of messages, heard many stories, some but not all of which I then added to the previous post. At the same time I really don’t want to overstate it; the private discussions were certainly more heated and extensive than the public ones, and I believe that also has to do with who has what incentives to be involved. I’d encourage every rider to not be shy thinking and talking about what makes a great ultra-race – not only related to TCR. There is still SO much potential in this young and growing sports discipline.

I’m excited about following the next TCR. And all the other beautiful races that exist. Maybe I’ll meet you at some point (again) at a starting line! Cheers!

20.10.2022 – Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger – TCR No. 8 – Video, Zeitungsartikel & Insta-Reel (German)

[material in German only]

20. Oktober 2022
Die lokale aber auflagenstarke Zeitung Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger hat über mich und meine Teilnahme beim Transcontinental Race No. 8 veröffentlicht:

Erschienen am 19. Oktober 2022 im Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, Autorin: Larissa Rehbock

05.10.2022 – Gravel-Podcast – TCR No. 8 – Vorläufige Ergebnisse & Penalties (German)

[material in German only]

5. Oktober 2022
Pascal vom Gravel-Podcast hat mich eingeladen um über die vorläufigen Ergebnisse und Penalties (Strafen) des Transcontinental Race 08 zu sprechen.
Klicke hier oder unten.

15.09.2022 – WDR Lokalzeit (live TV) – TCR No. 8 Interview & Clip (German)

[material in German only]

20. September 2022
Das Kölner Team der WDR Lokalzeit hat mich für eine Kurz-Reportage zu Hause besucht und für ein Live-Interview ins Nachrichtenstudio eingeladen um über mein Transcontinental Race No. 8 zu sprechen.
Klicke hier oder unten.

02.09.2022 – Gravel-Podcast & Video Interview – TCR No. 8 vorher & nachher (German)

[material in German only]

2. September 2022
Pascal vom Gravel-Podcast hat mich und meinen Fahrrad- und Vereinsfreund Thomas Krechel eingeladen um über unsere Teilnahme am Transcontinental Race No. 8 zu sprechen. Und zwar vorher & nachher.
Klicke hier oder unten für das YouTube video. Das ganze Gespräch wurde auch als Podcast episode (nur Audio) veröffentlicht.

Und hier das gleiche als Audio-Podcast:

01.09.2022 – Kölnische Rundschau – TCR No. 8 – Artikel NACH dem Rennen (German)

[material in German only]

1. September 2022
Die Kölnische Rundschau (Autor: Moritz A. Rohlinger) hat einen weiteren Zeitungsartikel über Thomas Krechel, Jens Horstmann mich und unsere Teilnahme beim Transcontinental Race No. 8 veröffentlicht. NACH dem Rennen. Wir sind alle drei Kölner; Thomas und ich sind auch im gleichen Fahrrad-Verein.

Es gab auch VOR dem Rennen bereits einen Artikel in der Rundschau (hier klicken).

Erschienen am 01. September 2022 in der Kölnischen Rundschau, Autor: Moritz A. Rohlinger

23.07.2022 – Kölnische Rundschau – TCR No. 8 – Artikel VOR dem Rennen (German)

[material in German only]

23. Juli 2022
Die Kölnische Rundschau (Autor: Moritz A. Rohlinger) hat einen Zeitungsartikel über Thomas Krechel, Jens Horstmann mich und unsere Teilnahme beim Transcontinental Race No. 8 veröffentlicht. Wir sind alle drei Kölner; Thomas und ich sind auch im gleichen Fahrrad-Verein.

Erschienen am 23. Juli 2022 in der Kölnischen Rundschau, Autor: Moritz A. Rohlinger

TCR No. 8 – about *preliminary* Penalties/Results

[This post may be continuously updated with new data, facts or arguments supplied to me.]

Intro & Disclaimer
1. Some Results & Penalty Stats
__1.1 Rider Status
__1.2 Penalties
2. Zoom into specific penalties
__2.1 HS11 MNE border crossing – tradeoffs?

____2.1.1 PRO-HS11 penalty
____2.1.2 CON-HS11 penalty
____2.1.3 Other options…
__2.2 HS07 – B180 before Reschenpass
__2.3 Unique Penalties
____2.3.1 Discussion: “Riding on a road banned for cyclists”
____2.3.2 Discussion: “Solo riders riding together”
____2.3.3 Discussion: “Luggage drop to complete final parcours”
____2.3.4 Discussion: “Sharing a Coke” / “Cola-Gate”
____2.3.5 Why bother with those details?

FYI: I later also posted about the official results which you find here. BUT: The more important questions, interesting details and stories you will find here in this current post! It is not outdated.

Mid August the iconic Transcontinental Race No. 8 finished in Burgas, Bulgaria. In case you’re not familiar with it, you find some condensed information in this post of mine. End of September, LostDot (the race organization) revealed the preliminary leaderboard. Preliminary, because it contains penalties that can at this point still be contested by riders. I will possibly post a follow-up once official results are out. However… I think the preliminary results have some features that may get lost when only looking at the still to be communicated official results; what those elements are, I leave up to you (for now I want to refrain from issuing my opinions as much as possible).

Penalties in general are relevant of course because they decide over how closely the final leaderboard will match the “actual” physical arrival times and positioning of riders. Additionally, the whole topic is pretty much a black box to non-racers (actually also to some degree to racers!), as the documents were only sent to participants, and even the documents and race manual are not 100% transparent regarding some core features (as you will read later); so this is also an attempt to bring some understanding of the topic to a wider audience of enthusiasts, veterans, future riders, etc..

In this post I aim to summarise what these penalties contain – for which infringements they were given, and how much time each one presumably adds to riders’ physical finish times. In the second half I’ll zoom into some of the penalties; especially the Montenegro-border penalty and some specific banned road in Austria, as well as the “unique penalties” that I know about. If you have more arguments/ideas, please let me know in a comment or message!

To my German speaking readers… I was recently invited to speak on a podcast, where I talked about these things. If you like, click here:



  • Everything I’m writing here refers to PRELIMINARY results. The final leaderboard and also number of penalties will (presumably) look quite differently
  • I really do not care about my own official time. I’m a mid-field rider; it really doesn’t matter if I’m position 60 or 70 (I do of course care about equal & fair application of penalty standards to all riders incl. myself)
  • In this post I’m referring only to SOLO riders (was easier to analyse) in the General Classification (which means esp.: those that finished within 16 days. only relevant there)
  • Resources are: mainly the preliminary results table provided to all riders by LostDot, other riders’ accounts; any speculation (or opinion/evaluation) will be clearly marked as such.

1. Some Results & Penalty Stats

Again: all this refers to SOLO riders only! And again: preliminary results. The implications for pair riders are similar though.

I really like the fact that LostDot provided such a clear overview over recorded times and given penalties. They sent an extensive data file to all riders that allowed them to see

  • when they physically arrived at each checkpoint
  • what their recorded finishing status is (GC, Finisher, DNF or Disqualified)
  • what their physically recorded finish arrival time was
  • how much penalty they each received in total
  • what (assumed) infringements the penalties refer to (except “Unique penalties” that were communicated in private emails)

So each rider could look up their name in the list, and see for which penalty type they were marked an “X”. That table allowed me to create some stats:

1.1 Rider Status

250 solo riders were originally accepted & registered, apparently 214 riders started.

  • 85 riders (40%) made the General Classification (i.e. passed all CPs & parcours and finished in time)
  • 28 riders (13%) finished beyond the 16-day-limit
  • 100 riders (47%) did not finish (DNF)
  • 1 rider was disqualified

1.2 Penalties

There were two types of penalties given:

  • HSxx: 11 different penalties for “standard” infringements that were committed by usually multiple riders and refer to mostly classic situations like forbidden roads/tunnels
  • UPxx: 3 different Unique penalties for non-standard infringements. Those were not specified in the lists provided, but communicated to each rider via mail.

For all HS-penalties the location of the infringement was provided. The exact time-penalty was not provided per infringement and also not against which rule exactly the infringement stood; in almost all cases it is very obvious though: violation of traffic rules.

Y: number of riders who received penalties for X infringements
  • 6 (out of 85) riders received no penalty at all
  • i.e.: 93% of riders received at least 1 penalty
  • on average, each rider received penalties for 2,5 infringements

Just for context in comparison with previous TCRs: This preliminary percentage of riders who received penalties is higher than the final percentage on any previous TCRs. However, we don’t know how many penalties were removed from previous TCRs’ preliminary results after appeals.

For each TCR: % of riders who received at least 1 penalty.

The specific penalised infringements were listed in the document, including a description and location. By checking individual riders’ total penalty time and what combination of infringements they were charged with, I tried to untangle how much penalty each individual infringement must have yielded (obviously, if I made a mistake: let me know!) – it may be that here and there “discounts” were applied when riders self-reported their infringements. In that way my calculation my be a bit distorted; but since we do not have any other detailed information, this is all I can report.

Just to quote LostDot (from the email that came with the file); that secrecy was deliberate: “Lost Dot will not share the time penalty awarded for each separate infraction or error so please do not ask.” I do know some rider/s requested more information about how much their unique penalties added, and the response emphasized that the above statement holds. But since I assume there was some consistency in how penalties for the same infringement were applied to multiple riders, I suppose my deductions should be fairly accurate.

I also added a column for the number & proportion of riders who received it and colour-coded those based on severity.

The document also stated that appeals for all penalties would be possible by means of providing a public Strava record, GPX-file, photographs or video-material as proof. Except for HS11 (border-crossing), for which only proof of legal entry into MNE is allowed (letter of permission, stamp, etc.). For unique penalties (UP) means were communicated to riders in individual emails along with the reason and penalty. For at least some UPs no appeal was allowed in the first place (stated so directly with the UP notification mail; see section 2.3 for more details).

Fellow rider Jean-Baptiste (Instagram: @jbtk42) compiled a map with all locations of the penalties; thank you!

Main features:

2. Zoom into specific penalties

Let’s have a closer look at a few specific penalties; I’ll partly leave the mere description here and go a bit more into a discussion (in the “unique penalties” part I will also go a bit into an evaluation).

2.1 HS11 MNE border crossing – tradeoffs?

This penalty is particularly interesting of course because a) so many riders (61%) were affected and b) it awards 9,5 penalty-hours and therefore is clearly most responsible for any deviation between physically recorded time and time “in the books”. There was no reason provided so far by LostDot (I asked) as to what arguments led them to their decision for enforcing this penalty in this way. I also do not want to speculate, instead just provide some arguments FOR and some AGAINST this penalty as well as ideas of what other ways of handling it there could (have) be(en). But first:

What is this penalty about anyway? This refers to a border crossing just before Checkpoint 3 (Pulzine, Montenegro) from Bosnia to Montenegro (MNE). For a lot of riders’ routes leading to MNE there were a few options to get from one of the last towns in Bosnia – Gacko – to the Checkpoint: Either 1) through an official border post further north or 2) another one further south; these two would have made the route to Pluzine about 95km from Gacko incl. some climbing (800-1000m). Option 3) an unmanned border post straight ahead over the mountain ridge, at an altitude about 500m higher than Gacko. From a pure cycling- and routing-perspective, the latter was a great option: shorter, more beautiful, less climbing, more adventurous, and also a little gem because it took some research to evaluate it and deliberate choice to use it.

komoot route showing the shortcut via the unmanned border crossing from Gacko/Bosnia to Pluzine/Montenegro

Technically though, to cross there legally – in the middle of nowhere – riders needed to have a stamped document from local authorities that allowed them to cross. It can be assumed that almost no rider had this document, and instead crossed without it because as you might imagine it is logistically tricky and very time consuming to include a trip to the right local authorities in the short ride through Bosnia. It is also clear: with proper research all riders must/should have known about those regulations.

It was a bit of a gamble for all riders if they’d be able to cross, as there was a chance of being stopped by mobile border guards: Obviously after a few dozen riders crossing, local authorities may have picked up on it. To find out if you could cross, you first had to climb up ca. 500m. So there was a risk tradeoff regarding whether it would really save time. Some riders just got through without seeing anyone (see video below). Some (like a few riders the night before me) bumped into border guards and were required to use an official crossing (i.e. big detour), or (not sure) maybe even pay a fine – I’m sure there are more stories to be told. Additionally it was unclear what the surface up there would be: all sources that I know said it would be gravel on the MNE side; to many riders’ surprise it turned out everything was perfectly paved throughout.

Here’s a video of the border crossing:

In the following sections I’ll list a few arguments for and against that penalty, and it may look a bit excessive. There are a few reasons why I’d like to do it though:

  • all the options give some insights into the race and riders’ decision possibilities and processes. Maybe interesting to some future riders or particularly nerdy dotwatchers
  • it may help us appreciate the difficult decisions the race organization needs to make
  • I think it is worth thinking about whether these kinds of actions (like that border crossing) should be allowed in ultra cycling or not. These kinds of acts of civil disobedience may be in line with the free spirit of self-supported adventure cycling; but maybe not with a race format?

2.1.1 PRO-HS11 penalty

First a few arguments for applying the penalty:

  • as mentioned above: most crossings here will have been illegal because riders likely did not organize a stamp. If one assumes that any infringement of local laws is against race rules, it is a clear violation of race rules. In fact, the race manual says: “Any rider found to be breaking local laws may find themselves excluded from the race.” (see also the matching counter argument below) Above that, the rider agreement (signed by all riders) says: “6.1.10 [riders] shall observe and comply with […] all Relevant Laws and any other directions, codes of practice or guidelines imposed by national law or any competent authority applicable to the Event […]”.
  • understandably LostDot may not be keen on being associated with mass-infringements on border regulations. A penalty could be one way of discouraging riders from doing it, OR maybe more importantly: for LostDot to prove to any authority that they definitely did not encourage it; in case some conflict between LostDot and authorities would arise. In fact, the race manual states “Lost Dot reserves the right to exclude any racers for activity or behaviour that brings the race into disrepute or threatens the viability of any future editions.”
  • some riders may have anticipated a penalty if they would have taken that crossing illegally, and hence decided against it (I know at least one case). For those riders it may be considered unfair if no one received a penalty after all and they could easily have saved 4-5 hours.

If you have more pro-penalty-arguments, please let me know in a comment or message. Against these three stand a few arguments against giving a penalty here:

2.1.2 CON-HS11 Penalty

Now a few arguments against applying this penalty:

  • in TCR edition 4 this crossing was used by a few riders and there were no questions asked and no penalties given for it. Some riders who knew about that may have assumed it was tolerated by the race direction. According to one source, Mike Hall† (founder of the race) said about this specific crossing: “you roll the dice”, suggesting it’s up to riders if they take the gamble. Obviously I cannot confirm this, but if it were true, race policy changed over the course of the continuation of the race after its founder’s tragic passing.
  • it may be debated if it actually goes against any race rules. Rule #9 says “Riders must know and obey local traffic laws.” I suspect it is not an accident that the wording traffic laws was chosen. Do border crossings fall under “traffic law”? My interpretation is “no”; but if the race direction thought so, one may ask if all riders must have assumed so based on previous communication. Apart from rule #9 there is in fact the above mentioned race manual statement: “Any rider found to be breaking local laws may find themselves excluded from the race.” – which is the only place I could find that ANY illegal behaviour is against race rules (thanks to LostDot for pointing me to it!!). However: The statement is embedded in a paragraph that otherwise exclusively and explicitly talks about and lists examples of traffic violations, so to me it sounds more like a reference to those. Also the “Penalties” section of the race manual explains arguments that all revolve around rider safety and banned roads and then state: “The race organisers give penalties to riders for misdemeanours that were likely unintentional but contravened either local traffic law or race rules.”. If it was important that ANY illegal behaviour is against the race rules, it may be worth communicating it much more prominently (e.g. in an adapted Rule #9, removing „traffic“); then, however, it would affect more things, like: illegal wild camping (which would very much affect the race), under what conditions fixed gear bikes are allowed, and maybe other technically illegal things that are a normal part of the race.
  • On the location there were no signs or other indications of a crossing being legal only under certain circumstances or any specific group of people. In fact, there was not even any sign that a border was or would be crossed at all (see video above) and to my knowledge neither on the way to it. There was also no physical barrier at all. So on location it looks pretty much like completely open terrain. So, were it not for riders doing excessive research in advance of the race (as they are expected to), it’s hard to argue that generally it could be expected from hikers and cyclists in the area to know the modalities; so the illegality of the crossing in general may be a bit ambiguous?
  • it was an option to all riders equally, and the same risk/time-tradeoff for all riders. Apart from those who clearly assumed it would lead to a penalty (why did they?) chances were equal i.e. fair.
  • using such a crossing might be considered very much in line with the free and adventurous spirit of ultra-cycling. A bit of civil disobedience, celebrating the liberty of cycling and transcending human-made products of authorities: borders (opinion: while it’s a simple and a rather “soft” argument, I find this one very compelling)
  • if >60% of very competent riders used it, it indicates that this majority of riders thought it’s ok to use; in that case there would be a systematic difference between what riders consider within the spirit and rules as opposed to what the race direction thinks. In that case at the very least it would indicate that prior communication of the rules by the race direction wasn’t universally understood and one may ask if riders were to be blamed and penalised for such a rather systemic issue. (Let’s say: when facing the decision to penalise >60% of riders it may make sense to look for errors also on one’s own part)
  • Given how obvious the border crossing option was (as evidenced by the sheer number of riders who used it) and since it had been used on previous TCRs, one may assume that LostDot was aware of it before the race, too. Therefore riders may have expected LostDot would ban this crossing in the same way they banned specific roads and other border crossings, in case they deemed it against the rules. The fact that it was not banned beforehand may therefore have suggested to riders it was tolerated.
  • IF giving the penalties was affected by the fact that border guards showed up, but would not have been given otherwise, LostDot would make use of some hindsight-knowledge that riders at the point of making the decision did not have.

These above points are very directly linked to the crossing. Here are some more indirect arguments:

  • Race direction clearly tolerated (honestly, to me it felt like an invitation) the use of a very sketchy aqueduct in Romania. They featured it on several occasions, clearly stating it was for them technically ok to use. I did use that aqueduct, and while I do not know the exact legal circumstances around it, it is hard to imagine that witnessing police would have tolerated riders using it. It clearly only existed for workers – not regular pedestrians – involved a very narrow industrial sheet-metal bridge, a ca. 6-meter completely vertical iron ladder and situations of climbing that with a bike in one’s hands, handling it around some railings. On the other side of the river the situation was completely uncertain; in fact it was a pack of dogs waiting, high grass, a pitch black tunnel shared with train rails, etc. I very much appreciated the introduction of that aqueduct, and to me using it exemplified the spirit of adventurous ultra-cycling: making courageous decisions to push efficiency, exploring the unknown. Considering this sketchy place was totally ok for LostDot and I’d argue (based on how and how often it was introduced) “reverse-advertised” to be used, there was no reason to assume that a harmless and plausible border-crossing like the MNE one would pose a problem. These two decisions (aqueduct ok, MNE crossing not ok) seem a bit contradictory, embodying opposite ideas of what adventure ultra-racing means.
  • Much more generally one could argue whether the race direction should be concerned with minor legal infringements that neither severely endanger rider safety nor are unfair acts of one rider against another. But that is something to be considered not for this penalty alone, but maybe as a general thought for how penalties should be designed and how the race and the entire discipline might develop.

If you can think of more arguments for or against this penalty, let me know in a comment!

Thanks a lot to fellow rider Doug Hull for providing some valuable input on the arguments each way!

2.1.3 Other options…

I see two other ways in which this situation could (have) be(en) handled by the race direction (not saying yet that this is how it should be handled):

  • mid-race, when they noticed many riders use that crossing, they could have sent a reminder/announcement to all all riders that they consider it against the rules. That way everyone would have been aware. Such notifications were made use of for wild-fire warnings, a suspected error in parcours 1 gpx-file and a dangerous road in Croatia. (Side note: As has been debated, it could also have been used in Ulrich Bartholomoes’ ferry situation (for those who know. I won’t explain it here)). Downside would be that the first few riders who used the crossing would not have benefited from the announcement; but there sure would be ways to compensate this fairly.
  • Instead of a full penalty, they may opt to only award the time saved, which is ca. 4,5 hours (this is how much longer the detour through an official border post would have been). Of course then it would not have been a true penalty anymore, but merely a compensation to equalize times and make it fair to those who didn’t use the short cut in fear of a penalty. (Note: I suspect a penalty is something like the time saved multiplied by 2 or similar. Here 4:15min saved x 2 = ca. 9h35min.)

Maybe you see more alternatives?

2.2 HS07 – B180 before Reschenpass

This one’s a bit curious. It concerns a 13,4km-stretch of Austrian highway that is not open for cyclists. >50% of riders received this penalty (i.e. were accused of taking that highway), but: I checked a random sample of riders and based on their Strava records none of those actually rode that highway, and also the official Follow-My-Challenge (FMC) tracks do not indicate they did. The FMC heatmap shows almost no dots on that highway (thanks to Mikko Mäkipää for pointing this out), and even those may have been artefacts of GPS tracking. I find it a bit difficult to imagine what process may have lead the race direction to believe that half of the field committed this infringement, given it should be derived from evidence. It is also unclear to me in what way was distinguished between riders who received the penalty and those that didn’t, as their tracks seem not to look any different.

The race manual says: “Violations will be taken on a case by case basis.” – it does not look like this was applied here.

Either way – if the issuing of this penalty was an error or if it was based on some insight that I do not have right now – it will be interesting to find out how the penalty came to be. My personal guess is that the penalty will be lifted for all riders (incl. myself) except for at most a very small number who may have actually used that road.

Penalties HS08 (Tunnel Reschenpass) and HS10 (Czech road) that concern each 30% of riders have similar features: the FMC-track is in principle not accurate enough to indicate that riders actually committed these infringements, and in a few cases I checked, the penalty seems to have been given erroneously. BUT: for those two my research isn’t representative; and also while the FMC tracks do not provide evidence for it, they also do not show as clearly when riders did not do it.

Generally these cases raise my suspicion that generally riders who cycled through those areas were given the penalty regardless of evidence positively pointing to them actually committing these specific infringements; that in turn riders are expected to prove they did not do it. In fact the email sent along with the preliminary results stated: “In the presence of doubt Rules compliance [ed.: the 10 basic race rules] is generally assumed, qualification must be proved. This to me sounds like a “guilty until proven innocent”-policy which would explain to some extent the penalties mentioned in this section.

2.3 Unique penalties

As the name suggests, these were given uniquely to some riders. I do know though that a) some “HSxx”-penalties were also committed by one rider only (see above), while at least one “UPxx” was committed by more than one rider. So I can’t tell based on what exactly the distinction was made.

By getting in touch with some riders I found the following reasons for preliminary “unique penalties”:

  • “CP1, no HiViz vest” – no appeal allowed
  • “CP4, rode into the lobby” – no appeal allowed
  • “Parcours 4, riding without hands for extended periods” (that was the gravel parcours) – no appeal allowed
    (These first 3 together: 5:00h)
  • roughly: giving a Coke to a fellow rider (1:00h)/ accepting a Coke from a fellow rider (00:49h)
  • missed final section of parcours 2
  • Riding on a road banned for cyclists (and coordinates mentioned) (1:44h)
  • “solo riders riding together” (and coordinates mentioned) (1:45h) – no appeal allowed
  • “Luggage drop to complete final parcours to Burgas” (removal from GC!) – no appeal allowed

There are more that I did not find out about yet. If I do, I will update this list.

I did see some of the wording from the individual mails to riders. In those cases there was no elaboration on why there’s a penalty for the point; where I quote above, that’s all the information there was. That’s why I cannot provide definite insights into the reasoning; instead just look at the penalties themselves (also provided above where they are known); maybe – where possible – compare with what actually happened on the road, and go from there. And as already stated above – there was deliberately no time-penalty per infringement mentioned in individual mails (also not on request), but at most the total penalty (that also contains the regular “HSxx” penalties). In at least some cases (see above) the option for appeal was excluded rightaway with a wording like: “Accepted evidence: No appeal accepted. Incidents confirmed by Race Director. No appeal possible.”

While leaving most of these UPs uncommented for now, I want to address a few of them as they indicate again what the underlying principle/policy may be and may reveal other characteristics of the race direction’s appraoch . Now, there will be a considerable element of EVALUATION and some OPINION ahead.

2.3.1 Discussion: “Riding on a road banned for cyclists”

Riding on a road banned for cyclists (1:44h): In that case the rider realized on the location that the road was banned and took the next exit after 3,5km and self-reported her/his infringement. Also: the regular followmychallenge-race-track shows clearly that (s)he only rode on that road for those 3,5km. All that is exactly in-line with the recommendations by LostDot how to act, as to both the verbal, official rider briefing at the start and the race manual document; and above that I’d say it’s simply great sportsmanship. The result was that the rider received a penalty of 1h44min referring to an entire stretch of 24km until the next city. This is astonishing because: Without the self-reporting probably no one would have known about this infringement, which also means that someone must have seen the self-reporting, and despite it either decided or made an error to apply it to the entire highway stretch.

The race manual says: “Riders who act quickly, contact the race administration and promptly correct their route will find their infringement looked on more favourably than another rider who either remained oblivious or otherwise failed to amend their error.” – so the opposite happened here.

Apparently it is also not practice to have a quick look at what the actual tracker says (as suggested by this penalty and some of the regular penalties). Which again points at a “guilty until proven innocent” policy, but here even maybe “just in case” expanding the accusation and relying on the rider to appeal if they’re not happy with it. I fail to imagine the reasoning behind this procedure.
Additionally: Appeal for this one was allowed. “Accepted evidence: Evidence that the B239 is a legal road. Our evidence is that it is not legal for cyclists.” But actually “our evidence” can almost only be the statements of the rider her-/himself in their self-reporting. That would mean that they did make use of all the “incriminating” evidence provided by the rider her-/himself against themself, but disregarded the elements from the same self-report that would have been in favour of the rider. This suggests that not self-reporting would have been the much better and also fairer option for the rider affected.
The rider decided not to appeal as (s)he is ‘only’ in the mid-field, so it technically does not matter. It is hard to tell how many other riders do not appeal and in how many unjustified penalties that results.

2.3.2 Discussion: “Solo Riders Riding Together”

“solo riders riding together”: I suspect the accusation here is that riders somehow gained an advantage by riding together. What could such an advantage be?
A) Drafting? Since drafting is a very deliberate act, that would be so blatantly against the rules, it could – I suspect – even lead to disqualification.
B) Mental support or common decision making?
Regarding the latter: Riders meeting on the road is very normal and an important part of the race experience, as I also described in this blog-post. Also, riding alongside (as opposed to drafting) for a little bit should not be a problem, and I believe I’ve heard this verbalised as an example also from the race direction. So, turning such an encounter into an infringement would require some very confident judgement and also evidence. It is not entirely clear to me how that evidence may look; e.g. if the trackers provide enough detail.

FYI: Based on the affected rider’s account, the riders did indeed ride together, next to each other for a while, and chatted a bit. Of course there’s no way to validate this and I also cannot make any statements on of what nature exactly that encounter was.

I found another case… Josh Reid, the youngest rider of this edition, got removed from the general classification altogether for “riding with another rider for a substantial amount of time”. So he got listed as a finisher, but not GC. I do not know what evidence was used. Besides the tracker records the race direction may have referred to his YouTube videos where he also documented the episode in question. He addresses his removal from GC it here:

Josh’s penalty email said: “Penalty decision: Outside of GC” and then “Riding out of category (solo), riding together for significant period” and then two dates and respective geo-coordinates mentioned (one coordinate each only, i.e. not a stretch, but a point per incident). “No appeal accepted. Evidence proves riding together”. Interestingly, Josh asked Anna what “substantial periods are”, and the response was:

“Anything over a short chat (no more than 30 / 40 mins) is considered significant.”
(Please read my edit 2 below)

That is the first time I have ever heard this indication. That is clearly not from any of the provided manuals, but the Race Direction’s interpretation; which I think is fine in principle, the rules need to be interpreted. In any case it is interesting to hear that statement as it gives a bit more insight into the decision making than the otherwise very sparse unique penalty emails.
Above that I have no information on that case or what the riding together consisted of.

EDIT 2, 07.11.2022)
Many people seem to have found the 30/40-min very unrealistic (i.e. thought 40 min should be totally ok) and therefore deemed these “riding together”-penalties an unfair judgement. At the same time I gathered more detail on these cases that should alleviate these worries:
___a) Firstly, I learned that the tracking detail actually allows conclusions about riding together: To check this, I looked at cases of myself where I thought “this must look like riding together” (because of riding in very close proximity and leapfrogging for a period longer than I think riding together would be acceptable) and saw: on replay it is actually very clear that I did not ride together. I then compared it with the cases mentioned here, and the patterns look very different and coordination is obvious.
___b) Based on that it is very obvious in replay that Josh actually rode together with another rider for 13 hours. In very close coordination and ending in the same accommodation where they slept for several additional hours, but left independently. Josh’s own YouTube videos (here and here) confirm this riding together, too. So, importantly: It is NOT the case that he got removed from GC for riding together for just more than 40min. I am not doubting Josh’s integrity at all, and especially not his achievement! It was an incredibly strong and fast ride, just WOW! But 13h of riding together is definitely something race direction could not dismiss. Leaving him within GC would probably send signals to future riders. I think he could have been more aware of that when it occurred. Completely independent from this incident I highly recommend you check his videos about the TCR, but also e.g. his China->UK trip. They are so well done!
___c) In the other case, the riders rode together and also took rests together for 3,5 hours, as visible on the tracking replay. Certainly a degree of coordination. It happened in the mid-field. While I’m not sure this would really have needed sanctioning, I think it is legitimate. And with 1:45h penalty it is not overly dramatic, and what this also shows is that the race direction made a measured distinction between short coordination in the mid-field vs. half a day at the front-field.
___d) The statement quoting 30-40min was only made to the rider individually when he requested how “extended periods” would be defined. I suspect: The race direction just wanted to give him some answer, and based on the measured distinction between cases I hope that also in the future this will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis so that “40 min” does not constitute a fixed boundary. And: I even think 40 minutes is actually quite a while, depending on what happens in that time. Especially when riders are advised to avoid suspicion.

2.3.3 Discussion: “Luggage drop to complete final parcours”

[I added this one based on the comment thread below this post]

This one needs a bit of explanation, but it will be necessary for you to understand and evaluate the (I think remarkable!) penalty decision made:

Dropping off bags: Yes, dropping bags for certain stretches of the route is not within the idea of how TCR should be raced. You find the rule in the last sentence here. It is a bit hidden, which may be why not every rider is aware of that rule. For example: When there’s a climb to be done where a rider rides up and back down to continue the trip, they’re not supposed to drop their luggage at the bottom, but instead take all their gear with them. There was a case of one rider at least at Parcours 1 in this edition who did the first stretch without luggage, and then decided to do it once more with luggage so as to comply with the requirements (and because her/his conscience made him/her do it). One could debate whether such a rule is necessary, but that’s not the point now.

The rider in question… had arrived at the finish line on day 15 in the afternoon, half a day before the 16-day cutoff that made him eligible for being part of the General Classification (GC, as opposed to “only” a Finisher). Sadly, for some reason the rider missed part of the final Parcours that lead to the finish line. Obviously, without riding the parcours, a rider cannot be in the GC, and maybe not even be listed as a finisher (I’m not sure). Now imagine: battling for 15 days on the road, an incredibly tough last stretch with plenty of problems that lead to the late arrival and mis-navigation in the first place, heat, exhaustion behind you, arriving at the finish line, in safety, surrounded by great people and comfort. You made it! Almost. Then you hear you didn’t really do it, unless you now get up again, do another ca. 95km loop just to catch those 16km of the Parcours. A tragic situation, as anyone knows who has a shred of empathy with what riders go through.

The amazing thing is: the rider did do it. He got up again, rode the big lap, collected the parcours and arrived within ca. 30 minutes of the 16-day cutoff = GC. It was an incredible show for any dotwatcher and all riders witnessing (or even just hearing about) it. Those are the Transcontinental moments! Pain, decision making, sportsmanship, overcoming mental barriers, getting your ass up! That’s what TCR is about.

You saw it coming: For that final lap he left his luggage at the finish line and rode the 95km (and 16km that mattered) with a lighter bike than for the rest of his 4200km-trip. The race direction decided to give him a penalty for that. Not just a time penalty (like they did for riding without hands, or supporting each other with one festive can of coke). In that case he might have gone beyond 16 days, but if things are handled like in previous editions and hopefully with 5 other affected riders in this edition, he would have still been part of the GC he fought for so dramatically. Instead race direction decided to remove him from the GC altogether. This… in terms of his formal result rendered his last effort meaningless. He did that extra effort just to be part of the GC, and he got kicked out of it.

On top of that: “No appeal accepted. Photographic evidence proves luggage drop.” No one at the finish line when he left for the extra lap or arrived back 30min before the cutoff noticed that he had dropped his luggage. It was only discovered later on photos of his arrival.

What kind of behaviour, what character of the race is supposed to be incentivised and reinforced with such a decision? Above all for an end-of-the pack rider. Where is the confident judgement beyond paragraphs that helps really ensuring the spirit of ultra-racing as exemplified by that rider’s effort?

I think the rider will know that – while the race direction decided not to honour his race attitude at all (punish it instead) – he had all the respect from all people who know what it actually feels like on the road.

2.3.4 Discussion: “Sharing a Coke” / “Cola-Gate”

This case is quite famous. The two top-contestants Ulrich Bartholomoes and Christoph Strasser (who ultimately won the race) shared a can of coke. Each received 1:00h penalty for the incident. But probably things become more interesting with a little more detail and background story:

What happened? Imagine two of the very strongest riders of the field battling out an incredible race at the top (together with several other strong riders). On average ca. 450km + thousands of m of climbing each day. Unimaginable performance and sacrifice, physically and mentally, 100% determination. After 3500km of racing they encounter each other for the first time on the road, shortly before CP4 at the foot of the Transalpina climb in Novaci/Rumania. They decide to celebrate this encounter by having a can of Coke each. Ulrich’s credit card didn’t work in that shop, so Christoph bought the can for him. They drank their Coke, a few minutes, then each moved on. Christoph shared that outstanding moment on his social media. That’s the story.

Let me anticipate my interpretation of this situation: a fantastic display of sportsmanship. An emphasis of what this race is about: great community and comradeship “despite” incredibly sacrificial competition. It shows that the competition is about the sport and personal chievement, not about the other person, and that riders’ empathetic connection through their shared extreme experiences is much stronger than any rivalry could be.

There was just one problem: technically buying a drink for another rider stands against the most fundamental principle of the race: that riders are self-supported only, and do not share any resources. We do not need to debate whether that rule was broken or not. It was. BUT: it is worth discussing if that is relevant in the context.

When Christoph Strasser arrived at the finish-line as the first rider, the announcement of his victory was delayed by 1 day. The race direction first wanted to establish some clarity on the Cola situation. They waited for the arrival of Ulrich to figure things out. Technically that indicates that one consideration of the Direction was to not declare Christoph the winner; maybe even disqualify him (possibly Ulrich, too), although I do not have insights on that. Ultimately the Race Direction decided to declare Christoph the winner, and give both riders 1 hour penalty.

To arrive at that conclusion they had hourlong conversations with both riders about the issue. Ulrich had to provide evidence in the form of credit-card transcripts that proved that he had shortly before the incident fueled up on food/drinks and hence was not dependent on that can of Coke. That fact – him not being dependent on that Coke, and the Coke not changing the outcome of the race – apparently was responsible for the Race Direction to mostly drop the charges and not question Christoph’s victory.

I would like to present a subjective evaluation/opinion on that incident:

Firstly, I think it is good that the Race Direction noticed and also called out that rule breach. They did not make much public fuzz about it; but of course the mere fact that the announcement of the victory was postponed, led to a lot of public discussion. The reflex that I read/heard the most was “All that because of a can of Coke!?” – my initial impuls was admittedly a bit different, I thought: Yes, it’s a minor thing, but it is important to at least acknowledge that it is technically against the rules. It would have sent out potentially harmful messages if the Race Direction had simply let it slip without a comment; it may have indicated to some that the self-supported rule is open to personal interpretation and flexibility. I especially saw it as a very effective way to make everyone aware again that those basic rules of self-support matter; especially in the light of many new riders and races entering this young sport and the fact that I witnessed a very loose relationship with rules in other places than TCR. So: Of course I did not think the Coke should have consequences; but I did think acknowledging it was valuable. In some sense: An educational element.

The fact that i) the conversation between the race direction and the two riders took hours, ii) that the statement was postponed by a day, iii) that there were still 1:00h-penalties given, and that iv) the technicality of Ulrich’s transcripts saved the situation… all that looks like the Race Direction did not see it just as that educational and representative element, but viewed it very literally as a legal matter that needs consequences “by definition”. Not so much some confident “close-to-the-road” confident judgement that it wasn’t really that big of a deal.

Ultimately the general outcome was the “right” one – I think most people agree. I still think this case is interesting because in the light of also many other decisions I described so far, it seems symptomatic: These human judgements of situations – as opposed to merely “legally” based and automatic evaluations – would require great confidence and trust derived from a very solid and tangible understanding of the riders’ experiences on the road; otherwise nuances cannot be understood: of what it means to share a fizzy drink, go back on the road after finishing a 4200km trip, or go through the horrors of 3,5km highway cycling and then finding a safe exit. My impression is that instead of that kind of judgement, the organizers often gave in to the illusion of establishing perfect equality through “resetting” the things that actually (or allegedly) happened on the road by means of methods that feel watertight – a preference for following self-made paragraphs that results in a massive amount of penalties and here and there decisions that do not exactly do the spirit of riders or ultra-cycling a great favour.

And with that we transitioned from Cola-Gate and other specific cases to more general thoughts on how penalties were given and why it matters:

2.3.5 Why bother with those details?

As you may notice, I got more and more opinionated throughout the past paragraphs. That is because after my first publishing of this post, I received a lot of messages and had a lot of conversations with other riders that uncovered the unique penalty stories I laid out here, and they increasingly left me in disbelief. The stats I presented a few chapters back were merely descriptive, and themselves allowed for a good amount of interpretation and I think indicate already some issues with how penalties are handled. But those unique penalties really give life to the decision making processes, because they show the actual fate of individual riders.

Why bother with those details?
All the previous explanations may sound like I’m being very picky, but: Firstly, LostDot themselves seem to be very picky about following rules and sanctioning very specific (alleged) behaviours. So it should be okay to apply the same scrutiny in the other direction. Secondly, and in my view more importantly: I think there needs to be a high level of trust between riders and the organization and the processes. Trust that decisions are made to ensure severe violations of spirit or rules are followed up, while there is also care taken to not excessively and preemptively penalise an entire field. That trust – both ways – is the most important currency in a sport discipline that claims to rely on community spirit and very few and simple rules. The two examples I picked here are maybe not doing that trust a favour.

Trust – both ways – is the most important currency in a sport discipline that claims to rely on community spirit and very few and simple rules.

Penalties within the context of the rider experience…
Above that, imagine through how much suffering and effort and how many crucial decision making processes riders go throughout a race. Every hour is filled with riders contemplating and making tradeoffs, reflecting their current and potential actions, while being emotionally on their highest high or lowest low, and are in physical pain… riders give A LOT into the race, for 9-20 days non-stop. In that light, I think penalties like at least the above examples (incl. the HS07/B180 penalty) should not be given lightly. While LostDot repeatedly claims that penalties would not be a commentary on riders’ integrity… they actually are; they contain claims about what a rider factually did or did not do (like: Did or did not ride 24km on a highway. Did or did not gain advantage by riding together).

LostDot repeatedly claims that penalties would not be a commentary on riders’ integrity… they actually are; they contain claims about what a rider factually did or did not do.

If it then turns out that processes leading to riders penalties are designed in a way for these judgements to happen, the dedication to fairness seems a bit skewed, i.e.: who expects riders to make a big mental and physical effort to be acting in a fair and well-spirited way, should also hold that high standard against their own processes. In my view that also requires a benevolent stance that includes assuming the best possible intentions in riders as opposed to assuming the worst. I’m aware this goes somewhat against a policy like “qualification must be proved” and the implied “guilty until proven innocent”; but maybe that is exactly a problem.

Who expects riders to make a big mental and physical effort to be acting in a fair and well-spirited way, should also hold that high standard against their own processes. In my view that also requires a benevolent stance that includes assuming the best possible intentions in riders.


I tried to present a mixture of facts, as “cold” as possible arguments and to clearly mark where I am expressing speculation, evaluation or even opinion (like in the previous section). As you can see, a lot of things are still open or unclear. I suspect we can be curious to hear some explanations once the official results are out that include the results from the appeals process.

Especially interesting to find out will be:

  • what was the reasoning for the MNE-border penalty
  • what reasoning (or error?) led to 50% receiving the HS07 penalty
  • how exactly the penalties are being computed. numbers like “00:11h” or “01:42h” suggest a very precise and clear method and that is also unprecedented in TCR. I am not arguing it would need such precision but apparently there is some kind of underlying method.

I have asked LostDot for a comment, but of course they are incredibly busy these days, which I really don’t hold against them. Clarification will probably follow. I am curious how the official leaderboard will look. I will possibly write a summary on that, too.

Above all I hope that all riders will be content with the way penalties were awarded, and that the outcomes are in line with the spirit of ultra-racing as it is understood both by both LostDot and by riders.