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What we know so far about an elusive German medical student who stormed to an overall victory at the brutal Transcontinental Race, in what will go down as one of the most remarkable sporting stories of the year…

If you’ve been ‘dot-watching’ the live tracker for this year’s Transcontinental race, you may have noticed a certain number 66 leading the way through much of the last nine days – that cap (and now the leader's cap) belongs to Fiona Kolbinger, who triumphed over not just the 40-strong female contingent, but also the overall standings in what is reportedly her first ultra-cycling event of this nature.  

*This article has been updated since Kolbinger's victory was confirmed on Tuesday 6th August

Transcontinental Race no.7 2019 – a beginner’s guide

The Transcon is a self-supported jaunt across Europe founded by the late ultra-cyclist Mike Hall in 2013, and in its seventh edition will total around 4000km depending on the route participants take. The clock doesn't stop between checkpoints, meaning those at the sharp end of the race sleep sparingly, often in a bivvy at the side of the road if it's not quick or convenient to make a hotel stop. Our own Jo Burt, who was forced to ‘scratch’ after 950km in the 2017 edition, describes it like this: “It is about hardship and pushing yourself to keep going, no matter how fast that may be, always move forward. This is tough, several long strides outside of your comfort zone, it’s meant to hurt, everyone is doing their best just to get by no matter where they are in the race. There is little comfort to be had. It’s a race, it’s not meant to be fun. For every moment of high and photogenic viewpoint there are ten times as many tedious boring bits and shit struggle.”

The toughness of the event and its prestige has meant previous editions have been won by experienced ultra-cyclists for the most part: Kristof Allegaert, also a Red Bull Trans Siberian Extreme winner, has been victorious on three occasions, and James Hayden went on to win back-to-back Transcons in 2017 and 2018 after finishing fourth in the 2016 race.

This year’s winner is an entirely different proposition – not only has Transcon now got its first female overall winner, but Fiona Kolbinger is also a debutant with no documented experience in self-supported ultra cycling events. When we reached out to Transcon for more information, they simply told us: “our sources are as limited as yours.”

Those sources so far are a short bio on the German Cancer Research Centre website, which confirms Kolbinger is a medical student in the Paediatric Oncology unit. Then there is her Strava account, which appears to have been used pretty infrequently up until 27th of July 2019, when Kolbinger began documenting her remarkable Transcon efforts. A Google search also reveals that Kolbinger competed for the Eppelheim Poseidon triathlon club, with a small bio saying she was born in 1995.  

She is known personally by Björn Lenhard, this year’s pre-race favourite to win, who was forced to scratch on day three due to excruciating saddle sores. Rather than sulk off home, our most promising source of further info on Kolbinger is now manning the race checkpoints instead, while encouraging his former rivals to the finish line in the port city of Brest in northwestern France. The day three race report from Transcontinental says Lenhard and Kolbinger are both from Dresden, and trained together before the event. Lenhard said: “Fiona is so strong, she really is. What’s more, she is a complete rider. Yes, you need to be strong but in this race you have to be able to think, to plan, to fix your bike if you have to.

“She is also one of the strongest climbers in this race, much faster than me.''

Accompanying Lenhard is Martin Thomas, who is following this year's Transcon with event sponsor Fizik. He caught up with Kolbinger at the third checkpoint: "I'm completely in awe. She's increased her lead, having climbed 5000 metres over 160km late last night and early this morning. She reached the third checkpoint at least two hours ahead of her nearest rival, then she casually mentioned that she's never cycled in the Alps before and that this is her first race. Ever. And she's really nice and modest and self-effacing. There's a killer beneath that amiable surface though, and it might well see her become the first female Transcon winner. I certainly hope so."

The daily race reports on the Transcontinental website have featured various candid snaps of Kolbinger, who despite suffering the effects of the harsh summer sun appears to have been chipper throughout (for the camera at least) considering the huge number of miles in her legs; none more so than at checkpoint four on day eight, when rather than slumping into an exhausted heap she treated volunteers and hotel guests to a piano performance: “By now, she’s supposed to be tired. Instead, she’s sitting at the piano in the hotel lobby, treating the Control Point to a rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. In the crowded doorway, the volunteers of CP4 look on in hushed awe. This isn’t quite what a Control Point arrival is meant to look like.”

Fiona Kolbinger strava day 4

Riding a Canyon Endurace with Di2 shifters on the aerobars (which also makes her the first to win the Transcon on a carbon bike) and a relatively sparse kit ensemble considering the length of the race - often photographed riding with inner tubes draped around her shoulder to save kit bag space - Kolbinger's Strava uploads reveal an average distance of around 400km a day. She reportedly managed on around four hours sleep a night, and her time in the saddle ranged from 15 up to almost 18 hours. The biggest effort came on day four, where she covered 475km at a staggering average speed of 26.9km/h.   

As many of her rivals scratched early on in the race, Kolbinger was out in front with just Ben Davies from Bristol being her only real threat over the last six days before she cemented her victory. There was reportedly as little as 20km between them at some points in the Alps, and strong climber Davies was expected to close the gap in the high mountains; it never happened, and as the roads flattened out and the route approached central France, Kolbinger had managed to fend off the threat and actually extended her lead greatly, with Davies still over 150km behind when she reached the finish line.

Should we even be surprised that Kolbinger won? There is plenty of research and past evidence from ultra-distance events to suggest her lack of experience rather than gender is more surprising. A 2013 study into the peak performances of Swiss Cycling Marathon participants shown that women tend to close the gender gap over men in longer cycling distance races. Various studies suggest numerous potential reasons for this, such as women being more resistant to muscle fatigue, being able to derive more energy from fat than men (particularly useful in longer races) and females having a better ability to pace than male counterparts. A 2012 study of Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc runners shown that female participants appeared to have a greater fatigue resistance ability over very long efforts compared to men.   

Female overall winners of ultra-running races are well documented, a notable example being Pam Reed's overall victories at the 2002 and 2003 editions of the 135 mile Badwater ultramarathon. More recently, fell runner Jasmin Paris won the 2019 Spine Race, a 268 mile route along the Pennine Way, in 83 hours 12 minutes - she was not only the overall winner, but also smashed Eoin Keith's previous course record by a whole 12 hours. In ultra-cycling, Lael Wilcox won the 2016 edition of the Trans Am Bike Race, passing Steffen Streich in the final day to finish in 18 days and ten minutes. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

We’re delighted to have 40 women competing this year at #TCRNo7.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ This number has increased year on year since #TCRNo1, which saw just one woman sign on at registration.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ It’s a trend we hope will continue as part of a general movement towards a more diverse field of competitors.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Ultra-marathon runners @CourtneyDauwalter and Jasmin Paris made the headlines recently as women who are outperforming men at the extremes of endurance racing. Could we start to see the same in cycling?⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ #TCRNo7⁠ #dressliveride⁠ #apidura⁠ #gothedistance⁠ #fizikofficial⁠ #TCRNo7Riders #TCRWomen #WomensCycling @apidura @pedaledjapan @kinesis_uk @fizikofficial

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With just one woman lining up for the first edition of the Transcon back in 2013 and 40 participating this year, the lack of a previous female winner at Transcon and other ultra events could point more towards factors that aren't related to physical ability – the more women compete, the greater chance a woman wins the race – but there are numerous potential barriers to this. Sport England identified fear of judgement, not feeling 'good enough' and a lack of confidence as reasons why more women don't take up cycling; not that any of this even nearly applies to Fiona Kolbinger, who by riding 4,000km alone across Europe and beating 250 other competitors in the process has the potential to inspire women to cycle as much as any corporate campaign ever could.

"We should not be surprised at (Fiona's performance) all", says James Hayden: "Ultra endurance races come down to mental fortitude and women are seriously tough. There's no doubt some of the biggest feats recently have come from women; Jasmin Paris comes to mind. 

“I think it was a question of when not if a woman would win, we have just been waiting for the right woman. And I hope it will empower women out there to reach further, increase participation rates and pushing the sport to a new level.”

As she stormed towards Brest in the early hours of the morning, Kolbinger's victory was confirmed on Tuesday 6th August, winning in a time of ten days, two hours and 48 minutes. In a tweet posted shortly after she crossed the finishing line, Transcon summed up her performance for the ages as this:

"Fiona is not the first woman to excel in the world of ultra-endurance cycling, and while having our first female winner is a landmark moment for the Transcontinental Race, it is not the remarkable part of this story.

 "What is remarkable is that she won the TCR as a rookie, in her first-ever bike race and without ever really breaking a sweat."

Lead image: AngusSung.co.uk for Transcontinental.cc

After cobbling together a few hundred quid during his student days off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story), Jack bought his first road bike at the age of 20 and has been hooked ever since.  He joined road.cc in 2017, having previously worked for 220 Triathlon magazine. Jack's preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking (the latter being another long story), and on Sunday afternoons he can often be found on an M5 service station indulging in his favourite post-race meal of 20 chicken nuggets, a sausage roll, caramel shortbread and a large strawberry milkshake. 

35 comments

Avatar
mylesrants [497 posts] 2 weeks ago
9 likes

Stunning athlete. Hard as nails. Ozzing Mental strenght and always smiling.

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Darren Franks [27 posts] 2 weeks ago
4 likes

Expert pacing and cast iron discipline to maintain the efficiency she has for the full length of the race. Her lack of faff time is what blows me away.

Correction to the article: Lael won the unsupported Trans Am Bike Race not supported Race Across America.

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Jack Sexty [123 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes
Darren Franks wrote:

Expert pacing and cast iron discipline to maintain the efficiency she has for the full length of the race. Her lack of faff time is what blows me away.

Correction to the article: Lael won the unsupported Trans Am Bike Race not supported Race Across America.

Apologies for the error, one of them where I knew when you mentioned it... must have had RAAM on my mind!

Article has now been given a general update too, as Fiona cemented her victory earlier this morning.

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ktache [1874 posts] 2 weeks ago
5 likes

Well done, I cannot possibly imagine how hard this could be.

I like the tubes wrapped around the body look.  Full on retro, what with the merino jersey.

It would seem to me she uses the Lezyne microdrive pump with inline analogue pressure gauge.

I have the HV version, a very good little floorpump.  I take mine out for my slightly longer rides, and it's my leave at work pump, although I understand the chuck can remove tubeless valve cores.

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dobbo996 [21 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Wow. Just wow.

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imajez [121 posts] 2 weeks ago
3 likes
ktache wrote:

although I understand the chuck can remove tubeless valve cores.

That's an issue with any pump if valve core isn't firmly screwed in. 

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Judge dreadful [367 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Unknown, inexperienced ( in ultra endurance riding terms ) wins the Transcon overall. And she’s a ‘medical student’.

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MoreCoffeeNeeded [4 posts] 2 weeks ago
5 likes

Apparently she's done a bunch of long distance Audaxes, including London-Edinburgh-London. Probably more useful experience than the average race...

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Xena [97 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

 Mmmmmmmmmmmm call me cynical , something not quite right here . 

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StantheVoice [125 posts] 2 weeks ago
21 likes
Judge dreadful wrote:

Unknown, inexperienced ( in ultra endurance riding terms ) wins the Transcon overall. And she’s a ‘medical student’.

And men coming in and dissing her achievement in 3,2,1.....you absolute bellend.

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simondbarnes [64 posts] 2 weeks ago
19 likes
Xena wrote:

 Mmmmmmmmmmmm call me cynical , something not quite right here . 

I'll take a guess at that being you.

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kil0ran [1580 posts] 2 weeks ago
4 likes

What's more incredible is that it's the third story on the BBC News website

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aries2580 [31 posts] 2 weeks ago
5 likes

If you have nothing nice to say, you should keep your mouth closed. 

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AlsoSomniloquism [132 posts] 2 weeks ago
4 likes
Xena wrote:

 Mmmmmmmmmmmm call me cynical , something not quite right here . 

Mods, can we change his logon name to Cynical? It suits better.

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Xena [97 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes
aries2580 wrote:

If you have nothing nice to say, you should keep your mouth closed. 

You do realise that you have just contradicted yourself .  You have just said “ you should keep your mouth closed “. That is not a nice thing to say is it  you see what you did ? Victim of your own words . 

Look if this is all legit then great and it a great testimony to riding without sleep and I congratulate the lady on her ability to stay awake longer than other riders .  I’m allowed to make on opinion and if im wrong then I’m wrong and that’s not  a problem .   Seriously your all getting worked up over something that is not even a proper sport  “it’s who can sleep the less wins “  

and before you all start with the sexist shit ,I’d be a just has cynical if it was a man .  But like I said if it’s all legit then congrats. But come on it’s not a sport . It’s a testament to your ability to stay awake .in my opinion we have a lot of sports invented by people who are not good enough to compete at the highest level in a proper sport, and you’ll find it’s always these ridiculous endurance challenges . Let’s hope these sports make it to the Olympics and they stream it all live and all you fans can try and stay awake and watch it 

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar
DoctorFish [211 posts] 2 weeks ago
7 likes
Xena wrote:
aries2580 wrote:

If you have nothing nice to say, you should keep your mouth closed. 

You do realise that you have just contradicted yourself .  You have just said “ you should keep your mouth closed “. That is not a nice thing to say is it  you see what you did ? Victim of your own words . 

Look if this is all legit then great and it a great testimony to riding without sleep and I congratulate the lady on her ability to stay awake longer than other riders .  I’m allowed to make on opinion and if im wrong then I’m wrong and that’s not  a problem .   Seriously your all getting worked up over something that is not even a proper sport  “it’s who can sleep the less wins “  

and before you all start with the sexist shit ,I’d be a just has cynical if it was a man .  But like I said if it’s all legit then congrats. But come on it’s not a sport . It’s a testament to your ability to stay awake .in my opinion we have a lot of sports invented by people who are not good enough to compete at the highest level in a proper sport, and you’ll find it’s always these ridiculous endurance challenges . Let’s hope these sports make it to the Olympics and they stream it all live and all you fans can try and stay awake and watch it 

 

Call you cynical?  No, I don't think so.  I'd call you a f***ing miserable condescending c***.

Utterly amazing ride.  I look forward to seeing how well you do next year.

 

Avatar
nadsta [203 posts] 2 weeks ago
7 likes
Xena wrote:

Seriously your all getting worked up over something that is not even a proper sport  “it’s who can sleep the less wins “  

 

Correct, it’s not a proper sport. 

Its an ultra endurance sport. 

It’s also a superhuman achievement of mind, body and soul, the kind that 99.99999% of us will never experience. Kudos to her for bossing it and I particularly hope she inspires other women to go out and jump on a bike-and kick mens’ asses  

 

 

Avatar
Colin Peyresourde [1843 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes
nadsta wrote:

Correct, it’s not a proper sport. 

Its an ultra endurance sport. 

It’s also a superhuman achievement of mind, body and soul, the kind that 99.99999% of us will never experience. Kudos to her for bossing it and I particularly hope she inspires other women to go out and jump on a bike-and kick mens’ asses  

Wow, you’re so right on.....and very weird.

Should it not matter that it’s man or a woman? And, just celebrate their achievement?! I despise this sort of pro-feminist ideological thinking, because it’s almost unthinking.

I would say that given both the sport, the proclivity to doping, the lack of an endurance pedigree, and the access to medication warrants a degree of scepticism, unless your mind is so open your brain fell out. I doubt there are any doping controls for the event either.

Irrespective of that she has done amazingly well and that’s a real achievement. It takes guts, fortitude and discipline to undertake this sort of thing, and winning it requires it in huge spades, so kudos.

 

 

Avatar
Johnnystorm [112 posts] 2 weeks ago
3 likes
Xena wrote:
aries2580 wrote:

If you have nothing nice to say, you should keep your mouth closed. 

You do realise that you have just contradicted yourself .  You have just said “ you should keep your mouth closed “. That is not a nice thing to say is it  you see what you did ? Victim of your own words . 

Look if this is all legit then great and it a great testimony to riding without sleep and I congratulate the lady on her ability to stay awake longer than other riders .  I’m allowed to make on opinion and if im wrong then I’m wrong and that’s not  a problem .   Seriously your all getting worked up over something that is not even a proper sport  “it’s who can sleep the less wins “  

and before you all start with the sexist shit ,I’d be a just has cynical if it was a man .  But like I said if it’s all legit then congrats. But come on it’s not a sport . It’s a testament to your ability to stay awake .in my opinion we have a lot of sports invented by people who are not good enough to compete at the highest level in a proper sport, and you’ll find it’s always these ridiculous endurance challenges . Let’s hope these sports make it to the Olympics and they stream it all live and all you fans can try and stay awake and watch it 

 

 

 

 

 

No contradiction there, it was a nice thing to say as the advice would have saved you from showing the world what a dickhead you are. However you seem content to keep digging.

Avatar
nadsta [203 posts] 2 weeks ago
5 likes
Colin Peyresourde wrote:

Wow, you’re so right on.....and very weird.

Should it not matter that it’s man or a woman? 

While TCR prioritise the achievement over the gender, this is huge PR for female cycling, which has been struggling to get the support it needs. It’s inspiration for girls everywhere to believe in their abilities, especially in testosterone dominated sports. It might get more women commuting and cycling in general. It’s a PR dream there for the taking, for women and for cycling. My statement is not pro feminism, it’s pro cycling and pro equality. And we need a healthy dose of both right now.  

Avatar
Martin Thomas [385 posts] 2 weeks ago
4 likes
Judge dreadful wrote:

... And she’s a ‘medical student’.

Yup, she does paediatric cancer research. A role that I'm sure gives her access to all sorts of performance-enhancing drugs. Your comment serves as a useful reminder never, *ever* to read the comments under road.cc articles.

Avatar
Jackson [441 posts] 2 weeks ago
5 likes
Colin Peyresourde wrote:
nadsta wrote:

Correct, it’s not a proper sport. 

Its an ultra endurance sport. 

It’s also a superhuman achievement of mind, body and soul, the kind that 99.99999% of us will never experience. Kudos to her for bossing it and I particularly hope she inspires other women to go out and jump on a bike-and kick mens’ asses  

Wow, you’re so right on.....and very weird.

Should it not matter that it’s man or a woman? And, just celebrate their achievement?! I despise this sort of pro-feminist ideological thinking, because it’s almost unthinking.

I would say that given both the sport, the proclivity to doping, the lack of an endurance pedigree, and the access to medication warrants a degree of scepticism, unless your mind is so open your brain fell out. I doubt there are any doping controls for the event either.

Irrespective of that she has done amazingly well and that’s a real achievement. It takes guts, fortitude and discipline to undertake this sort of thing, and winning it requires it in huge spades, so kudos.

Yeah, we should definitely ask the question:

Is a German cancer doc going to be doping so she can not sleep for 10 days and ride 4,000km to win a free hat?

 

Avatar
AlsoSomniloquism [132 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Some people are just built for endurance events. Look at Steve Abraham, during his 72000 odd miles the other year, his average heart beat was below 100. He posted it was measured in the 40's when he was "at rest" in the back of the ambulance after being knocked off. His body is literally genetically setup to do long distance endurance options. She might be the same. 

Avatar
Judge dreadful [367 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like

 

AlsoSomniloquism wrote:

Some people are just built for endurance events. Look at Steve Abraham, during his 72000 odd miles the other year, his average heart beat was below 100. He posted it was measured in the 40's when he was "at rest" in the back of the ambulance after being knocked off. His body is literally genetically setup to do long distance endurance options. She might be the same. 

 

It’s entirely possible she did it playing with straight dice, however, especially where cycling is concerned,  someone coming from pretty much nowhere, and skinning well known opposition by half a day, is always going to pique my interest. Her day four stats, in particular, certainly raised my eyebrows. However, I’m sure she’ll be subject to a lot of scrutiny for the near future, and if anything was amiss, we’ll get to hear about it, sooner or later. 

Avatar
Supersam [10 posts] 2 weeks ago
5 likes
Judge dreadful wrote:

 

AlsoSomniloquism wrote:

Some people are just built for endurance events. Look at Steve Abraham, during his 72000 odd miles the other year, his average heart beat was below 100. He posted it was measured in the 40's when he was "at rest" in the back of the ambulance after being knocked off. His body is literally genetically setup to do long distance endurance options. She might be the same. 

 

It’s entirely possible she did it playing with straight dice, however, especially where cycling is concerned,  someone coming from pretty much nowhere, and skinning well known opposition by half a day, is always going to pique my interest. Her day four stats, in particular, certainly raised my eyebrows. However, I’m sure she’ll be subject to a lot of scrutiny for the near future, and if anything was amiss, we’ll get to hear about it, sooner or later. 

Come on then, tell us exactly what she could have taken/done?

And who is this well known opposition? The famous Ben Davies? Or multiple-world-champ Job Hendrickx?

She has done something you cannot comprehend and rather than accepting that she can achieve things you cannot, you smell a rat. I feel sorry for you.

Avatar
AlsoSomniloquism [132 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like
Judge dreadful wrote:

 

AlsoSomniloquism wrote:

Some people are just built for endurance events. Look at Steve Abraham, during his 72000 odd miles the other year, his average heart beat was below 100. He posted it was measured in the 40's when he was "at rest" in the back of the ambulance after being knocked off. His body is literally genetically setup to do long distance endurance options. She might be the same. 

 

It’s entirely possible she did it playing with straight dice, however, especially where cycling is concerned,  someone coming from pretty much nowhere, and skinning well known opposition by half a day, is always going to pique my interest. Her day four stats, in particular, certainly raised my eyebrows. However, I’m sure she’ll be subject to a lot of scrutiny for the near future, and if anything was amiss, we’ll get to hear about it, sooner or later. 

So do you believe the pre-race favourite who she "skinned" (ie he scratched due to medical concerns) who has been training with her for the last few months and has stated he wasn't surprised as she is so strong? 

Avatar
crazy-legs [1116 posts] 2 weeks ago
7 likes
Judge dreadful wrote:

... And she’s a ‘medical student’.

Yes, that means she's used to working hundred + hour weeks, is able to prioritise brilliantly, still function at any time of day or night on a couple of hours kip in the doctors room, make life & death decisions efficiently, is completely used to eating at random intervals without any set pattern and can stay 100% focused.

We all look forward to seeing your efforts in next year's Trans Con.

Avatar
kil0ran [1580 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes

If she was found to have taken anything dodgy that would be the end of her medical career. I could understand it if it was for a Grand Tour, but for an event with no prize other than caps?

Avatar
aries2580 [31 posts] 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Love how she just shows up and belts out a song on the piano. Lol 

awesome.

 https://twitter.com/transconrace/status/1157626463379775489?s=20

Avatar
aries2580 [31 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like
Xena wrote:
aries2580 wrote:

If you have nothing nice to say, you should keep your mouth closed. 

You do realise that you have just contradicted yourself .  You have just said “ you should keep your mouth closed “. That is not a nice thing to say is it  you see what you did ? Victim of your own words . 

A rather pseudointellectual rebuttal. Amusing  1

 

I’ll rephrase my post for your benefit, as you seem to need it.

If you have nothing nice to say, it would be better to say nothing at all.

 

Take care!

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