Robin Gemperle's Transcontinental Race



Robin Gemperle is no bike-racing rookie. Taking to cross-country mountain biking from a young age, Robin rose to World Cup level, riding with both the Swiss National and highly esteemed Scott-Sram teams before leaving professional racing at 20. Now 26 and studying architecture in Zurich, Gemperle may be done with professional riding, but that doesn’t mean he won’t answer the call when the right adventure rings. “It was my friend Julian who pushed me into signing up for a self-supported ultra, but there was never really a discussion about which race it was going to be. The Transcontinental is somehow the very first event you get to know, even when you’re not familiar with the scene. It’s become the ultimate adventure race.” Prior to the TCR, most of Robin’s long-distance cycling journeys came in the form of bikepacking trips on his fixed-gear, challenges which helped prepare him for his first ultra event. “They were pretty extreme, so I felt like I had a slight idea about what was awaiting me.”

Other preparations included formulating a training plan:

“A good friend of mine is a full-time cycling coach, (Instagram: @coachmeswiss) and he offered to support me, leading to very efficient training.”

Finding the right kit, an Essential Jersey paired with Odyssey Bibs:

“I wanted to ride with a light merino jersey with a tight fit. I chose a size small because of the tighter fit, as I knew I was going to fill my pockets quite a bit.”

Figuring out what to carry:

“I had an absolutely minimalistic packing list.”

And plotting the right route—a task almost overlooked in the run-up to race day:

“I’d been very focused on training and preparing my stuff, so in the end, I almost forgot to plan my route. I decided to clear two days and plan within them, three weeks prior to the race.”

Feeling trained, fully packed, and prepared, as the start date grew closer, a familiar feeling crept in:

“It is very usual for me that I am not motivated at all on race day. I always feel like chilling at home and drinking coffee would be a better program. But by now, I also know that this feeling disappears as soon as I reach the starting area.”

With both nerves and the TCR’s Grand Départ behind him, Robin was off like a rocket, joining the Transcontinental’s early leaders and reaching CP1 in second place before turning south. But Gemperle’s quick start came at a cost.

“The first four days resulted in a wound on my bum. I’d just not noticed the signs and suddenly was unable to sit on my saddle anymore. I have never experienced such pain, even causing me to hallucinate. It’s clear that some sort of saddle sore is an issue any TCR rider will face, but I was just really badly prepared for it.”

Pain now a constant companion, Robin’s pace slowed, but only by a bit—his determination unwavering despite the unexpected new challenge. Alternating between long days on the saddle and short nights sleeping by the road, he pushed on. By the time he reached Croatia, though, Robin had slipped to the back of the top ten, even taking an extended “break” (spending one night in a hotel), before carrying on to CP3. Yet one of the biggest challenges still lay ahead for Gemperle: the 44km gravel parcours of Transalpina.

“PC4 cost me the chance to fight for a podium spot. I had three flat tires, my patches didn’t work, and there was no way of getting a new tube. I then found a hardware store that sold patches for car tubes. I still wanted to push through the night to reach the ferry, but when shortly after, my Wahoo stopped working, my mental capacity hit its limit, and I had to take a break to somehow recenter myself. I allowed myself to have a four-hour rest in a hotel room and then ride the remaining 280 kilometers full gas to the ferry.”

The timing of Robin’s ferry across the Danube meant that once he’d boarded the boat, his place in the race was practically sealed. Riding the remaining 300 KMs to Burgas for an official time of 10 days, 7 hours, and 15 minutes, Robin had fought his way back to an impressive seventh-place finish. Yet despite his many hardships, for Gemperle, there was never any doubt as to if he’d reach the end—only when. “I’d promised myself that, even if it took me ages, I was going to make it to Burgas. Therefore, there was never one big moment of realization during the race; it was more like slowly understanding that I would reach it as one of the top riders, which I obviously liked.” Now back home, Robin already has his eyes set on next year’s race, as well as a few more immediate goals. “In September, I will continue my studies. Before then, I will go for a few mountain bike trips around Switzerland. And in 2023, I plan to have another shot at TCR—and maybe this time, end up a bit further up front.” Good ride, Robin.