2023 DotWatcher Awards

2023 DotWatcher Awards

31 December, 2023

Welcome to our annual awards nominated by you, the bikepacking community, to celebrate the finest achievements of 2023 in our sport. These individuals and groups are those who you believe embody the spirit of the sport and have played an important part in making the sport so exciting.

Diversity and Inclusion Award - The Ultra Distance Scholarship

This year’s Diversity and Inclusion award goes to the Ultra Distance Scholarship, the first of its kind initiative to tackle underrepresentation in bikepacking.

The Ultra Distance Scholarship has made waves of change within the bikepacking community since its inception in 2020. Over the past four years it’s gone from strength to strength and now offers zero-to-hero support for its scholars of which there are three each year.

The riders are coached and supported from the point of their acceptance into the scholarship in November to the start line of the Pan Celtic Race in July. The offering includes all the equipment one needs to race an ultra including a bike from Stayer, packs from Tailfin, clothing from Albion as well as the intangible support from coach Alison Wood and the previous scholars who act as mentors for the next year’s cohort.

Taylor Doyle from the UDS explains its purpose:

The Ultra Distance Scholarship (UDS) was created in 2020 to increase diversity and representation in ultra distance cycling and racing. The UDS supports people of colour in the sport by creating opportunities to train for their first ultra cycling race, supplying technical equipment, mentorship, coaching, and a compassionate environment to develop their skills and confidence.

People's Choice Award - Ulrich Bartholomos

Ulrich has been nominated for his consistency both over the past year and since he started five seasons ago. He’s rarely seen off the top step of the podium.

A relative newbie to off-road racing, Ulrich took the win at his first attempt at the revered Tour Divide, one of the halo events in the bikepacking calendar. His ride wasn’t without challenge though: on the eighth day, he and his closest two competitors took shelter in a portaloo to wait out a passing storm for 12 hours.

Ulrich may have spent much of his bikepacking career on the road but he’s no stranger to the podium. His palmares are simply unmatched; he’s never placed outside of the top five in the fifteen races he’s finished and only three of those times he didn’t win. Additionally there are only two scratches to his name in our database, which is truly remarkable.

Ulrich shares his thoughts:

2023 is truly one of my most special and memorable years filled with incredible adventures. Being able to share inspiration and encourage others to embark on their own journeys, experiencing the same joy, is a privilege beyond words. he recognition from our community is an immense honor, and it means the world to me!

Best DotWatcher Award - Peta McSharry

Peta has been nominated for her contribution to dotwatching this year having expertly commentated some of the most popular and exciting race on the calendar.

Peta’s been commentating for us for the past three seasons and this year she expertly reported on the Tour Divide, the Hellenic Mountain Race, Arkansas High Country Race and even reported from the race basecamp at DEAD ENDS & dolci near her home in Switzerland, she even had her own DotWatcher merchandise made!

Peta never misses a beat; she combines her dot analysis, rigorous social media scouring with her own riding experience to keep us up to date with all the exciting happenings during the race from across the pack. Peta has an intimate knowledge of the bikepacker’s experience and empathy for all the riders in the race which makes her commentary first rate and always a pleasure to read.

She's so good, we even bent one of our own rules in awarding her this for the second year in a row!

Peta: A decade ago a group of bikepacking enthusiasts, riders and followers, sat at a restaurant in London, after following the 2nd TransContinental Race. Kristof Allegaert won, again. It was where I first heard the word Dotwatcher. Mentioned by Marion Esfandiari, an avid Dotwatcher and supporter of her bikepacking partner. Little did we know it would become the central gathering point for riders and supporters. Marion moderated the TransContinental Facebook Group, keeping a civil view of racing incidents and reminding us there are humans on the other side of those Dots and that, as Dotwatchers, we may not always be privy to the real facts. It is this leaf from her book I look to when covering a race.

The growth and maturation of bikepacking races over the last decade, exceeded my expectations and personally it’s been a joy to watch the women’s field grow in numbers and strength. Also, to watch novice racers compete and win in their first attempts of an event. But perhaps the most enjoyable is the variety within the field - an ‘anything goes’ acceptance within the sport.

2023 was a great year to cover races. The restrictions from Covid lifted, riders were packing out the races. It felt like those competing for the wins were looking for races where their nearest rivals were also racing, offering Dotwatchers prime viewing of the giants going up against each other. The heat was on at the front of many races, with ‘sprint finishes’ captivating Dotwatchers and the race behind the leaders heavily contested.

On a personal level, I spend so much time researching riders and finding new riders, I forget that I’ve never met some of them. As luck would have it, this year I was able to hang out at race HQ and meet the riders I was reporting on. To get the full emersion of just what it takes to organise a race was an eye opener. Deadends and Dolci organiser, Dominik Bokstaller, invited me to cover the race from Bellinzona in the Swiss canton of Ticino – a short train journey for me. Armed with my bike, a sleeping bag and computer, my aim was to ride to the checkpoints see the race unfold. It didn’t happen – the Ticino is really steep, the racers were really fast and the pizza at HQ was just too good to leave. But mostly there was so much going on behind the scenes of race organisation, I was spell-bound by the energy and sheer amount of work that goes into organising a race. I wanted to capture it all. Perhaps the best part was meeting the riders I’ve spend many an hour writing about, greeted by some like a long-lost friend.

When the Hellenic Mountain Race was announced, I knew if I couldn’t ride it, I’d want to cover it for Dotwatcher – am I relieved I was writing and not riding. The Nelson Tree’s penchant for finding a path across ‘unlinkable’ roads was apparent in the first edition of the HMR. Lured by the thought of Greece and its wonderful weather, the riders were dealt a cruel blow by the weather gods, throwing rain and snow in their path. The agony watching a rider short cutting to the finish on the last night, truly broken by the race, trying to conjure up some amount of energy and motivation to go back and ride the last section and get a stamp to compete his brevet card. To seeing Adrien Liechti take a much-deserved win and a competitive women’s field in such a gruelling race. The Gods were serving up a platter to fill our boots.

But it was the Tour Divide which delivered what many of us, me included, longed for – one of the hardest races with a very competitive field. In the men’s field it was obvious who would be upfront. To watch Justinas Leveika and Ulrich Bartholmoes pace each other right into the last 100km was nail biting. Both were rookies to the race, where experience usually wins out. But it was the women’s field which surprised the most. While Lael Wilcox held a lead, the gap to second placed Katya Rakhmatulina opened and closed as the race unfolded. Veteran vs Rookie – something we’ve not seen in such close quarters at the front of the women’s field. The quality of the women’s field shone on the Tour Divide, with 8 women finishing in under 20 days and one just outside of the 20-day mark. Perhaps the best was the portaloo incident. It highlighted just how tough these races are and shelter against the elements for those racing fast and light can come in many forms. It was a Dotwatcher’s delight. More so for the racers who followed – taking photos of a random portaloo on a trailer in the middle of nowhere. Just what was it doing there?

There are many others on the Dotwatcher reporting team who volunteer their time, bringing races to life, tirelessly researching, and writing up their findings. Thanks to all who do this job. If it’s the same for them - I get to live these bikepacking races as if I was doing it myself. Just without the saddle sores and sleep deprivation.

So, it is with much gratitude to those who read the race reports but more so for nominating me for this award. You’re making it hard for me to retire from writing and spend more time racing.

Thank you to the team at Dotwatcher – you make this all possible.

Green Dot Award - Marin de Saint-Exupéry

Marin has been nominated for the Green Dot Award for embracing an environmentally friendly approach to travelling to races.

Marin raced the inaugural Hellenic Mountain Race in May this year and was dubbed one of the race favourites following results such as winning the Atlas Mountain Race in 2022 and HOPE 1000 in 2021. Having travelled overland to and from Morocco for AMR from his home in Switzerland, Marin went on to win the race. He repeated his overland travel to Greece for Hellenic this year but his race campaign was thwarted by a torn tyre sidewall and broken hand pump early in the race. However, he was able to find a solution and blew dotwatchers away as he rejoined the race and rode through the pack to finally finish fourth, less than a day behind eventual winner Adrien Leichti.

Marin isn’t done yet though. In fact, he’s only just getting started. Next year he plans to race all of Nelson Trees' Mountain Races and to travel by bike between the three in Morocco, Greece and Kyrgyzstan. You can learn more about Marin and his plans for next year here:

Marin shared some thoughts on 2023:

2023 hasn’t been full of success result-wise, I kept learning and progress but it didn’t pay-off during races. Let’s say it’s part of the game. It might have been a year of transition before getting on some big adventures. A year during which I understood a bit more the importance of taking the mic I am offered as a racer. Acting by your own is something, talking of it is a better tool for change.

Perseverance Award - Han Lu

Han has been nominated for the Perseverance Award for her resilience and determination to finish The Trancontinental Race No.9.

This year Han Lu was one of the recipients of The Mike Hall Bursary, an initiative carved by Lost Dot to support riders who may have a financial barrier preventing them from taking part in ultra distance races. The Bursary enabled Han to reach the start line of The Transcontinental Race No.9, a dream that she'd previously set her sights on was made a reality.

Despite having very little ultra distance experience, Han was unfazed by the scale of the race and undeterred by any setbacks encountered along the way. Four weeks after departing from Geraardsbergen, she rolled into the finish at Thessaloniki as the Lanterne Rouge, bringing the 9th edition of the race to a close. To endure four weeks of persistent effort is nothing short of remarkable.

Perseverance is a theme that runs through the veins of her life. Born in Vietnam and growing up in the UK, Han quit her job in IT because of back pain before retraining as a Pilates teacher. Already a keen cyclist she dived into the world of triathlon before the world of ultra distance cycling caught her attention. Success comes to those who persevere, and Han Lu has been an exemplar of this in 2023.

Han shared her thoughts:

It has not been easy, and training has not gone as planned. I am overwhelmed by the support from the ultra cycling community, and receiving this reward is the icing on the cake! The body is amazing, own it, defy expectations, and pursue your dreams.

Pairs Award - Sherry Cardona and Gereon Tewes

The Buzzalong team of Sherry Cardona and Gereon Tewes have been nominated for their consistency when racing as a pair, winning the pairs category in all three races they have done together.

Sherry has been incredibly influential in the ultra distance cycling scene since her first season in 2022. She has become known for her candid approach to documenting her riding experiences, which achieved her the Best Self-Documentation Award last year. Her partner Gereon is also relatively new to ultra distance races, taking on the Race Around the Netherlands in 2022 as his first race, which he promptly won! Together they have forged a team proven unbreakable, defined by their combined strength, resilience and commitment to team work.

The power couple have won all three races they have taken on as a pair: Transiberica (2022), B-HARD Ultra Race (2022) and The Transcontinental No.9 (2023). Perhaps most impressive of these is their Transcontinental victory, finishing in 11D 4H 42M amongst the first 20 finishers of the race. Riding as a pair comes with its own unique challenges, however even a 7h time penalty wasn't enough to knock them off top spot.

In Sherry's words: Racing as a pair is far from easy, I would say in many ways even harder than Solo. Sometimes you wonder if you are holding back your partner and maybe he or she can do better alone, but for Gereon and I it was clear, despite our ambitions to do well in the race, we agreed that no matter what happened the only way was forward, together, as a team and that above all this was our biggest adventure together.

Sherry and Gereon's Comment: We are overwhelmed with joy about this award. After being recognized by the community last year being awarded in a different category feels special. Gereon and I have been racing as a pair in quite a few races over the last couple of years but the Transcontinental race was another level. The race offered all sorts of challenges from pouring rain, heat, lost and broken equipment, to grueling gravel sectors. It was a real test for teamwork, mutual support and all-in an unforgettable and life-changing experience. Racing as a couple under this conditions always adds friction but the possibility to share all the amazing moments is totally worth it.

Best Rookie Race - The Unknown Race

The Unknown Race has been nominated for successfully organising a thrilling and unique inaugural race.

Entering the first edition of the Unknown Race was a leap of faith for riders who put their trust in this new race promising adventure and something a little different. The race produced a delight for dotwatchers as we knew as little as the riders regarding CP locations and watched as these adaptable souls routed on the fly around the South-East of France in early April jumping from surprise to surprise.

For this award, we think it’s best to quote a reason cited in one of the anonymous nominations for the Unknown Race: “I had my doubts when this bunch of scruffy drunk cyclists put together a slightly quirky free-route format while in a bar in Sicily. However, kudos to them for not just pulling it off but creating something really special. I didn't ride it but enjoyed dotwatching and it was brilliant to see that they raised so much money for charity as well.”

Race organiser Jan-Willem Bobbink shared his thoughts on the first edition:

We are very honoured to be awarded with a a Rookie Race award. The Unknown Race started out as an idea to just turn up in a European city every year, race across some unknown checkpoints and leave the fancy stuff to other races. It turns out this concept made a lot of people enthusiastic: we hoped for 30 riders but we got 69 at the starting line and we were able to donate 3350EUR to the charity chosen by the winner. Now its up to the fantastic ultra-bikebacking community to continue this! Thanks to everyone involved and see you next year in Vienna.

Jack of All Trades - Meaghan Hackinen

Meaghan's nomination for the JACK/JILL of All Trades is for her many highly successful endeavours on the bike at a variety of events this year alongside publishing her second book.

Meaghan’s 2023 season did not start smoothly with some disruptions to her training but she came up trumps over the season by taking overall wins and course records at a variety of races from off-road to road and self-supported to supported. She intentionally raced shorter distances and closer to her home in British Columbia, Canada, after a busy 2022 with lots of travel. You could be forgiven for thinking the shorter the distance, the harder it is for a woman to win, but you haven’t met Meaghan Hackinen.

Meaghan’s dominance across such diverse terrains and formats makes her a versatile rider. But, did we mention she also published a book? Not content with her endeavours on the bike, Meaghan has put pen to paper to publish her account of riding the Trans Am Bike Race in 2017. Shifting Gears: Coast to Coast on the Trans Am Bike Race is Meaghan’s second travelogue and further proof of her storytelling abilities from her many transcontinental bike rides.

2023 has been a blast! I shifted my focus to short, gritty, off-pavement events—most within a few hours of home. I'm grateful to live in such close proximity to incredible backcountry, and the opportunity to explore these lesser-traveled roads (and trails) of the Pacific Northwest and BC's Interior both inspired and motivated me. This season reaffirmed that I love the training process as much as I love the heat of competition—and not gonna lie, taking the overall win a few times felt pretty amazing as well!

Seeing my second book go to print has also been a highlight. I think of Shifting Gears: Coast to Coast on the Trans Am Bike Race as a love song to my experience as a rookie ultra-cyclist: stories born from a desire to express my enduring appreciation and gratitude for the individuals and geography I encountered during my very first race, way back in 2017. Sharing my journey with the bikepacking community and others has sparked conversations and connection—and hopefully inspires someone to hop in the saddle and see where their legs can take them!