Like this site? Help us to make it better.


Just what does it take to be the first woman over the Transcontinental finish line?

Emily Chappell reveals the grit and planning needed to ace the 3,500km race

The first woman across the line in the gruelling 2016 Transcontinental bike race has revealed her secrets to long days in the saddle - and how she managed to beat her nearest opponent by almost two days.

Emily Chappell, a former cycle courier in London, crossed the finish line after riding 3,508km in 13 days, ten hours and 28 minutes. She came in almost two full days ahead of second place Johanna Josten-Van Duinkerken.

Emily said the first thing she did was jump off the bike, hug a friend, and drink a beer. She said that although she was slightly disappointed not to make it in an ambitious 12 days, she had known from the start that it was “almost impossibly over-ambitious”.

She told Paperbike: “My Albanian detour was a mistake - I assumed everyone else would head south from Montenegro, as they have in years past - and I was originally intending to go east through Kosovo and Bulgaria, but decided to opt for plan B as I thought the roads would be easier on my rapidly failing tyres.

“It turns out I was the only rider who went that way, but I have no regrets. I avoided some bad weather and bad roads, spent a very happy day exploring Albania, and still came in almost two days ahead of my closest competitor.”

Some days she didn’t come across a single other rider, but said: “At times they were everywhere, especially around the checkpoints, and we'd often end up leapfrogging each other for a few hours, or even a couple of days. It usually felt like running into a long-lost brother.”

Riding with an emergency malt loaf, stale bread and melted chocolate, Emily said she preferred to ride at night, when it was cooler and cars were more visible from a distance.

When she got tired, she said, she would just sleep next to the road - for around four hours a night. Some days she cycled for 24 hours between rests.

She said that it was just grim determination keeping her going: “All I needed to do was to keep going, and I'd finish. When I was riding well, and feeling strong, I'd make the most of it; when I was struggling I'd ride more gently, and take breaks, but still keep going; when I was completely exhausted I'd sleep, and I always found I had more energy and a better mood when I woke up, and could carry on.”

Next year, she said, she’d compete to be not just the first woman, but place overall in the race. She said: “It isn't attractive to many women, otherwise I'd have had more competition! I can only really speak for myself, but what attracts me to the Transcontinental is that it offers a combination of all the things I've come to love about cycling in the last few years - travel, independence, self-sufficiency, physical exertion, and the simple pleasure of moving constantly forward.

“I also love the opportunity it gives me to push myself. I found I got my second wind on about Day 11, and started to wish the race was about twice as long - so in future I'll maybe need to find a bigger challenge.

“It's fascinating to see the variety of riders who line up for a race like this - and then to watch how they progress through it.

“Some of the people you suspect won't survive the first night make it all the way through to the end, and some of those you thought would make the podium end up dropping out with unforeseen problems.

I've long ago learned not to judge people on their experience - every year there are some people who are almost new to cycling who manage to complete the race.”

And she said  had one desert island essential: “I never wear make-up, but as it happens I did take a small bottle of conditioner with me. Had I not, I'd have had to cut all my hair off by the end of the race.”

Latest Comments