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‘I’ve never wanted to dictate what this race is to anyone’: Q&A with Anna Haslock

We speak to the director of the Transcontinental Race ahead of the start of the 2022 event this weekend

Emma Cole
21 Jul 2022

Cyclist: The Transcontinental Race is a self-supported ultra-distance bike race across Europe, founded in 2013 by the late Mike Hall. The pandemic halted the TCR in its tracks in 2020, but now it’s back for the eighth edition, which starts on Sunday 24th July. How does that feel?

Anna Haslock: I’m really excited for TCRNo8. The route is great and we have got so many good riders signed up. There are mixed emotions though because this will be my last race as race director.

I wanted to do ten races – it’s a nice round number – but Covid got in the way and I didn’t feel like waiting another two years to do the other things I’ve been planning.

I’m going back to university to do a PGCE and become a teacher. But I’ll stay director of Lost Dot and I hope to be going out most summers as a TCR volunteer and staying involved. It feels exciting but it’s mixed emotions for sure.

Cyc: How many riders will be on the start line?

AH: At the moment we have nearly 300 riders signed up, but we always over-subscribe. The past three years have been tricky. You just don’t know who is going to stay registered and who will drop out – some people have been signed up since 2019.

The highest turnout was the year Mike died [Hall was tragically killed in a road traffic accident during the 2017 Indian Pacific Wheel Race].

I think some people who may not have otherwise come to the start did so as a way of honouring him. That was actually in Geraardsbergen in Belgium, the same as the start point for this year’s race.

Cyc: Why did you choose Geraardsbergen for this year’s start?

AH: We’ve worked with people in the city for years and, with Lost Dot expanding and new people coming on board [Lost Dot produces the TCR and Trans Pyrenees Race, and is committed to growing unsupported bike racing], it felt like a good idea.

They just know what we need. And everybody knows Geraardsbergen, so in a way it feels like the TCR’s home.

Cyc: How do you plan the route?

AH: It takes a whole year. As soon as the race is over I set about doing a recce of next year’s route. I have a map which Mike created that shows all the places he’d been looking into.

There are a lot of things to consider to get roughly the right distance and elevation, it probably gets a little bit harder every year. And that’s despite the fact that we have to keep within the bounds of what’s doable within the race’s two-week time limit.

Cyc: What is your favourite part of the race?

AH: I love registration. I love seeing all the riders. In the early days when it was just me and Mike and a couple of other people, we did everything. We did all the paperwork, signing in everyone, just everything.

Some people scratch [quit the race] within the first few hours, so it’s an opportunity to see as many riders as possible.

Cyc: What do you do once everyone has set off?

AH: I’m in one of the two vehicles that go to the control points. We spend two weeks in the cars and in each car we’ll have a race official, a photographer and usually another media personnel.

When you’re driving those distances you need to be safe so we design the routes for the cars, but you can feel quite disjointed from the race because often you’re nowhere near the riders. You’re just driving miles and miles on a motorway. I think everyone finds that difficult.

Cyc: What makes the TCR such a prestigious race?

AH: I think it’s a mixture of things. It was inspired by the Tour Divide [a 4,420km off-road race from Banff to New Mexico] and it was being arranged at the same time as the TransAm [6,670km across the US]. Mike was one of the first people to bring that kind of racing to Europe.

And then, of course, it’s the fact that Mike was such a skilled ultra-racer and the race director. He was very concerned about maintaining his racing ability as well as being a race director, so he wanted people to respect him for both of those things.

When he died, goodness knows how many races he had signed up for that year. He was really determined and he wanted to keep racing and keep learning as a racer for as long as he could.

I think Mike did the TCR so well that almost every other race out there is a pretty close facsimile. That’s the ultimate compliment, isn’t it?

The point of my job and my reason for being in this job is to preserve Mike’s legacy, to keep the race as he wanted it to be. I’ve never wanted to dictate what this race is to anyone.

But it is a race. And even for the people who say they’re just in it for a big adventure, they still race.

Cyc: What’s the plan for Lost Dot? Do you have more races planned?

AH: We’ve had ambitions to launch an off-road, ultra-endurance adventure race in the Balkans for some time.

Covid stopped our plans for reconnaissance in 2020 and 2021, but we’ll be out in a number of locations around eastern Europe this summer pulling together some of our ideas, and if plans work out we could be launching the race in 2023 or 2024.

The TCR already passes through, and every time I’m so inspired by how rugged and beautiful the Balkans is. We’re really excited to get to know it and its culture more intimately.

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