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Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women No1: Fiona Kolbinger

Maria David Sponsored
1 Mar 2021

The first woman to win the Transcontinental Race, Fiona Kolbinger is a trailblazer

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days.

Words: Maria David 

On 6th August 2019, 24-year-old German medical graduate Fiona Kolbinger made history by becoming the first woman to win the Transcontinental Race, one of the toughest ultra-distance bike races on the planet.

The seventh edition of the annual event involved riding a distance of around 4,000km, entirely self-supported and self-navigated, travelling west from the Bulgarian city of Burgas to Brest in France via a series of designated checkpoints.

With the race decided on overall time, participants look to gain an advantage over their rivals by riding day and night, bedding down under the stars for a few hours wherever they can lay their sleeping bag – be it in a church doorway, in the woods or even in a graveyard.

I want to show that ultra-cycling is something that can be done by anyone regardless of their gender, race, or socio-cultural background

Fiona’s winning time was 10 days, two hours and 48 minutes – an extraordinary effort from an extraordinary athlete. She takes up the story...

‘I had always been into sport, having done competitive swimming, marathons and triathlons,’ Fiona tells us. ‘I first got a taste for ultra-cycling when I rode 1,800km from Heidelberg to Stockholm in 12 days.

‘My friends thought I was crazy, but then they suggested I do London-Edinburgh-London in 2017. On arriving in London, I realised I was badly under-prepared, as I had only ridden 2,000km in total that year, with my longest ride being 200km.

‘Luckily, I was riding with a couple of experienced guys who saw that I was a rookie and were encouraging. When we arrived at the first checkpoint, I asked them if they were planning to sleep for the night. To my surprise, they replied, “Yes, for 90 minutes!”

‘Somehow I managed to get through that ride and they were so impressed that they suggested I do the Transcontinental.

‘So, after completing medical school in May 2019 I began my training for the Transcontinental. Saxony, the surrounding area to my home in Dresden, is the mecca for ultra-distance cycling in Germany, so I did my preparation there, including a crazy 800km audax following the River Elbe that includes hill climb race sections.

‘On the start line of the Transcontinental I knew I would be able to finish within the time limit, but I never thought I could actually win it.

‘What helped me was that I rode steadily, and I limited my stopping time. Some people had a higher average riding speed than me, but they had longer stops.

‘I am very efficient and structured in the way I do things. When I ride I am good at estimating my body’s capacity to do things, plus medical school teaches you to get by on very little sleep!

‘When I crossed the finish line in Brest I was ecstatic, but in truth I was a little sad that the adventure was over. I am back working as a surgical oncologist in Dresden, and hope to do the postponed Transcontinental again this year.

‘Many parents give their daughters the idea that sports are for boys and that getting sweaty doesn’t look good. I also feel that women have to achieve so much more than men to get the same recognition.

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

‘Thankfully my parents always encouraged me and my siblings to do sport and not to see any limits to what we could achieve when we were young.

‘I want to show that ultra-cycling is something that can be done by anyone regardless of their gender, race, or socio-cultural background. I hope that I have achieved that, although I also know there is still room for improvement.'

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.