As registrations opened recently for the 2018 Transcontinental Race, two Love to Ride South Yorkshire members from Sheffield reflected on becoming the first ever women’s pair to finish the 2,500 mile ride from Belgium to Greece.
“It’s probably the most high profile adventure race in the world,” said Ang Walker. “And we wanted to see if we could do it!”
Julie Bullen added: “Women my age in their 50s do doubt themselves, about what they’re capable of. But I’d say don’t limit yourself.”
Unlike other long distance cycle races, the Transcontinental allows no support crew for riders, and provides no official route to follow. So Julie and Ang had to carry all their own equipment from the start in Belgium through Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia and Macedonia to the finale in Greece, having climbed the equivalent of five and a half mount Everests en route.
Challenges included being chased by dogs in virtually every Romanian town and village, sleeping in fields, and plotting a route to avoid the busy Eastern European roads where drivers had little understanding of long distance cycle riders, and tended to overtake inches away, smiling and waving as they passed.
“We knew we weren’t going to enjoy all of it,” said Ang. “But we wanted to enjoy some of it.”
Highlights included the stretch from Venice to the Dolomites, the German Alps, and passing the monasteries on the rocks of Meteora in Greece. And the many ‘dot watchers’, the cycling fans following each rider’s GPS signal on the online route map, who’d come out to encourage the cyclists along the way.
Both women had cycled long distances before, across Australia and the USA in Julie’s case, while Ang had competed in the legendary Paris-Brest-Paris race in 2015.
The Transcontinental 2017 schedule last summer involved cycling 150 miles or more a day, with around four hours of sleep, and then setting off at 5 am to avoid the traffic and keep as close as possible to the checkpoint timings along the route.
Julie and Ang finally arrived at the finish line in 19 days, 21 hours and 5 minutes. This year they’re taking on the Normandicat race in May, which will involve cycling 560 miles through Normandy over 3 days.
Julie is retired, while Ang is now back working as cycling project manager at Sheffield’s Recycle Bikes, and winning top place and other accolades on South Yorkshire’s Love to Ride programme. “Wherever I am, riding a bike just puts a smile on my face,” she said.
Julie reckons plenty of other women could do what she and Ang achieved. “I think you’re more resilient and more determined as you get older. As long as you do the training, and you’re physically right, you can do something like this.”