Jul 24, Moscow’s Teatralnaya Square, Moscow – the cyclists set off on the most grueling bike race there is today – the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme. They represent Spain, Denmark, Brazil, Germany, India and Russia. Three of the racers were returning from the previous year.
Next stop was Nizhniy Novgorod, some 300km to the east of the Russian capital.
Patricio Doucet, originally from Argentina, but competing for Spain, says the first four or five days are the worst – “that’s when the body rearranges itself to adapt to new challenges. So it’s important to endure these first days, and then it’s going to be easier.”
Other racers, like Brazil’s Marcelo Florentino Soares and Denmark’s Michael Knudsen returned this year to try again – with Knudsen failing to finish last year, and Soares a clear favorite, returning for the third time.
Amit Samath of India trains in the Himalayas, so has no fear of extreme temperatures and uphill riding. The mindset is the most important component, he told Red Bull. He also added that you should “save your mind and legs for the last 4,000 kilometers.”
Russia’s Vladimir Gusev joined the grueling ordeal for the first time in his life, saying he wanted to “know what I’m capable of, if I can ride a 1000 kilometers without sleep and without stopping.”
Stage 2 took the cyclists deeper into Russia, with Kazan a further 382 km from Novgorod. The last 100 or so km had forced them to slow down due to a massive traffic jam. And even though the ride out of Novgorod was meant to be all flat and nicely paved, there was constant oncoming wind, making it really “hard” to progress, according to Knudsen.
Perm and Yekaterinburg awaited in Stages 3 and 4. Yekaterinburg lies right by the Europe-Asia frontier.
Stage 6 was incredibly nerve-racking for Gusev, who suffered terrible pain in his leg, and “barely made it.” Nevertheless, this barely slowed him down, and he finished only seven seconds after Pierre Bischoff, whose time was 19 hours, 41 minutes and 35 seconds. Denmark’s Knudsen was a whole two hours behind both riders.
Sadly, Gusev had to cash out at Stage 7, tormented by his leg. The Omsk-Novosibirsk ride would have been the longest, at more than 600 km. “This is a typical injury for this race,” his team doctor says. The Russian rider spent the night on painkillers.
“It’s beautiful, magnanimous even,” Doucet said of Stage 12, as the riders braved the 600 kilometers from Ulan-Ude to Chita, right on China’s doorstep. But even that crazy distance seems nothing next to the 1300km the riders faced next, with Doucet opting out and Gusev coming back into the race for one more stage.
The riders rode like mad, sometimes sleeping in increments of one-two hours – a truly Herculean undertaking. Bischoff was practically alone during the last of the 15 stages - from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, beating last year’s Russian record by almost three hours. And that’s after taking silver last year!
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