DotWatcher 2023 Roundup

DotWatcher 2023 Roundup

9 December, 2023

Tour Divide

Overall Winner: Ulrich Bartholmoes

First Woman: Lael Wilcox

The Tour Divide is the pinnacle of the US Bikepacking scene. The race takes a huge commitment, has rugged terrain, long stretches of wilderness and take a big toll on riders' bikes. The low-key nature of the race and the time commitment has often seen a US-centric start list, however, this year there was an international presence.

The race saw Ulrich Bartholmoes, Justinas Leveika, Gail Brown, Steven Le Hyaric and the return of Steve Halligan as they travelled from the far flung corners of the Earth to compete. Jens Van Roost headed out, taking a top three chase with Justinas and Ulrich until Jens was no longer able to continue. This opened up the race after almost 2000 miles of riding leaving the third spot open as Justinas and Ulrich fought for the top spot. Ulrich ultimately took the win.

In the women's field, not only was there a race for first woman, which was taken by Lael Wilcox who suffered badly with her asthma, but also a race for the Triple Crown Challenge. This challenge is to race the Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail and Tour Divide mass starts all in one year. This year we had 4 women complete it: Alexandera Houchin, Hannah Simon, Katya Rakhmatulina, Kristen Tonsager. You can read more about these riders here at the Town Bicycle.

Ultimately, this gruelling race saw one of its most exciting editions yet and with riders taking up to a month, this really is a challenge for the most seasoned bikepacker.

Transcontinental Race No.9

Overall Winner: Christoph Strasser

Fastest Woman: Jaimi Wilson

This year the iconic race across Europe was under a new race director, Andrew Phillips. We saw one of the shortest and most exciting races in TCR history, with a final distance under 4000km, characterised by plenty of climbing and gravel parcours.

Starting from its spiritual home on the fabled cobbles of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the route traced a relatively direct route across Europe. Dropping due south from Belgium, riders journeyed east through the Alps and the Balkans, via the first ever CP established in Albania, toward the finish in Thessaloniki, Greece on the Aegean Sea.

In addition to putting Albania on the TCR map, this edition introduced a split parcour for the first time. The race also supported those opting for no-fly travel to the race by introducing a separate green leaderboard, a testament to the low-carbon ethos that Lost Dot abides by.

Along with a record number of starters, 342 riders to be precise, Christoph Strasser was back to defend his title from 2022. After an incredibly closely fought race Strasser took the win, rolling into Thessaloniki after 8D 16H 30M. On paper this wasn't Strasser's ideal course due to the amount of climbing, however with an uncompromising approach and clever route planning to suit his strengths, he was able to gain a clear lead in the second half of the race. The Swiss Robin Gemperle put up a commendable fight, back for redemption after an 8th place finish in 2022. With contrasting tactics having opting for more of the gravel shortcuts than Strasser, Gemperle rolled into the finish in second place in a time of 8D 22H 47M. Tim De Witte finished third to round off the podium in a time of 9D 10H 12M.

The first woman to finish was Jaimi Wilson in a time of 11D 7H 39M. With her experience of riding around the globe solo, Jaimi remained headstrong and focused, trusting in her endurance capacity to stay consistent throughout. The ultra power couple of Sherry Cardona and Gereon Tewes were the first pair to finish, a super fast time to place them among the top 20 finishers overall. Riding through ones own emotional roller coaster for more than a week is one thing, but doing it together with someone else is another level.

Race Around Rwanda

Overall Winner: Elijus Civilis

First Woman: Violette Neza

Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills. This race covers only 1000km but 15,000m of climbing. A stabby race, especially for those less used to the elevation, with some of the highest points of the race being at around 3000m. This altitude, coupled with the endurance riding and new cuisine for many riders can lead to a big proportion of scratches being due to GI issues. You'll see a good handful of the most serious riders heading out early, touring around and making sure they find their favourite readily available local foods.

Another interesting factor with the RAR is the road surfaces. With many roads changing from dirt track to tarmac with little warning in a matte rof days, the route can be a difficult one to judge. The fire-road type gravel tracks are often caked in red dust and can get into rider's lungs and chests as Ulrich Bartholmoes discovered this year, having to scratch after suffering with a fever which was reprovoked by the dust.

Elijus Civilis, a Lithuanian ultra-cyclist (and former vice minister in Lithuania) took first place after Ulrich's scratch due to an incredibly consistent race. There was no clear winner, but Elijus kept moving as a single consistent engine, finishing in 2 days.

Violette Neza came back from the 2022 race with a vengeance. After finishing as second woman last year, Violette came back to win the race on the women's side. She rode consistently and well, finishing 9th overall. Once again, we had a fight for the podium but the UK's Charlotte Bush had to scratch after a hard fought battle with Violette.

Bentang Jawa

Overall Winner: Boru McCullagh

First Woman: Anita Fiutami

Bentang Jawa is one of the most eventful races on the calendar. The tropical climate of the Jawa Islands paired with the August start date can lead the weather to be the determining factor in this testing race.

The routes most distinguishing features are its massive climbs paired with long and arduous flat sections. Despite having 16000m of climbing, there are 15 significant climbs with three of them being monstrous volcanoes.

This race, like may others, allows riders who don't make the cut off to join the NC (non-competitive) riders at the back of the race. However, unlike other races, the camraderie sets Bentang Jawa apart. Many riders continue along, sticking together and turning their race into a tour rolling into the finish with smiles.

With Dzaki Wardana not returning to defend his podium, the race really was on. Thopa Syaibani and Jefri Irawan were two riders ready to contest his pacey times, however, a ringer took a last minute spot. English rider, heading on a round the world tour, Boru McCullagh took to the start line and lead the riders through each checkpoint with a speedy chasing gang following. Boru finally won in just under 90 hours.

Anita Fiutami was pressing hard throughout the race, with a small handful of women at this edition of Bentang Jawa, Anita pushed through at an extraordinary pace. Finishing the 1500km race in just under 125 hours Anita took the crown.

The Bright Midnight

Overall Winner: Sofiane Sehili

First Woman: Nathalie Schneitter

With many people dubbing the Bright Midnight a new classic, this race started a new era with a bang. Previously the Nordic Nations had remained under the radar in terms of ultra-cycling, but now, there are races aplenty for 2024.

The first edition of Bright Midnight, and only edition as now it will continue as Mother North and Bright Midnight with the organisers setting up two races for 2024, was a great success. A stacked start list led to an extremely competitive race. The race saw plenty of river crossings, smooth gravel trails and some single track sections. Most of the race was rideable, so the pace was high with the winner riding at over 20km/h average including stops!

Till Schenk, our commentator, reported: "The weather is still all over the place with riders reporting to be frozen to the bone, losing feeling in the fingers and many cases of serious elephant skin." The barren and cold conditions meant riding quickly was one way to stave off the frostbite!

Sofiane Sehili took the win in a staggering 52 hours, with favourable conditions throughout, riders were in t-shirts and shorts with most of the top ten not stopping for long. Nathalie Schneitter, the world E-MTB champ, took to ultra-cycling like a duck to water finishing as first female and 12th place.

The Unknown Race

Overall Winner: Sebastian Sarx

First Woman: Hannah Ghazi-Idrissi

Little was known about this event before the start in Lyon, France early April, most importantly, where were riders going? Only a start location, an approximate distance and some hints in the race manual gave riders an idea of what to expect until they received the location of the first checkpoint an hour before the start. Ultimately, many riders reported over 1,200km of riding thanks to their pursuit of minimising elevation as getting to the checkpoints was going to require some significant climbing.

Over the course of 1,000km, many cols and through sub-zero temperatures, Sebastian Sarx edged out Julien Roissard on the final run to the finish parcours by taking a more direct but hillier route.

Kurt Ver Heyden who tried to optimise his route to a maximum and visit all valley floors on his way around the route - some even more than once! Having covered 1,186 km before reaching CP2 he had to admit defeat and scratched knowing he wouldn’t make the finisher party without some train assistance.

This event was born by some sleepy, weary eyed and a little tipsy veterans of Two Volcano Sprint who were inspired to create a new race format that has surprise running through its veins.

Across Andes

Overall Winner: Andrés Tagle

First Women: Maria Paola Bulla & Raquel Parizi

As Brits, we’re guilty of talking about the weather far too much but the nervous build up ahead of Across Andes this year was justified. The forecast was, unfortunately, not wrong and on the afternoon of the first day riders were faced with the rain and cold they had been anticipating. Many of the front runners fell foul to direct and indirect effects of the cold while others adjusted their plans from a racing mindset to a fast-touring mindset and prioritised both safety and enjoyment by taking accommodation and a warm meal each night. Many of them also embraced the local mantra of “those who rush in Patagonia, lose time”.

Andrés Tagle is one of three people to have lined up at each edition of Across Andes, although this was his first foray into solo racing here. He took the title ahead of Cristian Auriemma who rolled the dice halfway through the race in order to reach a ferry crossing in time but when that ferry was cancelled due to the weather, he was left with a two hour advantage over his closest rivals which allowed him his position.

Maria Paola Bulla and Raquel Parizi shared the women’s title and arrived in some of the later moments of good weather. At the second checkpoint in Lago Verde, Raquel trailed Maria by ninety minutes but was able to catch her over the following 340km.

Trans Balkan Race

Overall Winner: Max Gaumnitz

First Woman: Markéta Marvanová

After exploding onto the race calendar in 2022, the Trans Balkan Race was back with a second edition this year; a fixed route off-road race across the Dinaric Alps, with an elevation gain of 27000m over 1342km. Starting from Sežana in Slovenia, the route crossed four independent countries once part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

The ex-triathlete Max Gaumnitz was the first to finish in Risan (Montenegro), in a time of 4D 14H 14M. Max was at the front of the race from the start, riding practically the whole 1342km in total solitude. The German is a force to be reckoned with - his win rate is 100%, having also won the Bohemian Border Bash Race (2022) and Memory Bike Adventure (2023).

Securing second place, Rufus Wenlock rolled into town on his recognisable SUFUR prototype bike, in a time of 5D 1H 40M. Rufus had no idea how many people were riding in front of him until he arrived at CP2, and from there lit up the afterburners to ensure a podium finish. Rounding off the podium, Andrew Phillips had a commendable ride to finish a few hours later in 5D 5H 27M.

Peggy (Markéta Marvanová) was the first woman to finish in 5D 11H 37M. Peggy started in the back of the peloton and slowly earned her way to the front. An experienced ultra distance racer, she was the youngest to complete the Tour Divide in 2015 at 20 years old and subsequently won the women's category in 2017. In her words she's not particularly fast but instead consistent and determined, a trait that also earned her a win in the Silk Road Mountain Race this season.

Silk Road Mountain Race

Overall Winner: Sofiane Sehili

First Women: Nathalie Baillon & Markéta "Peggy" Marvanová

For the third time in a row, Sofiane took the top step at the race after his hardest fought victory in Kyrgyzstan. The start list was star studded with multiple Tour Divide podium finishers, HOPE 1000 winners, Atlas Mountain Race winners so we were always expecting an exciting race. Sofiane led for most of the race even without a phone to check the tracking and set an alarm, but riders such as Justinas Leveika and, 2019 winner, Jakub Sliacan never made it easy. We also witnessed some of the most experienced racers in the sport scratch, proving that no finish, let alone a good result, is a given at Silk Road regardless of how good the rider is.

One of our favourite standout rides was Allan Shaw on his cargo bike. Having finished thirteenth in 2021 and with a career as a bike messenger under his belt, Allan lined up on a titanium Omnium cargo bike to much excitement and speculation from those within the sport. While the bike caused him no trouble, his own body wasn’t so lucky after a crash late in the race which landed him in hospital but not out of the race! He returned to his route and finished the race in 12D 14H 30M.

The women’s race had us on tenterhooks awaiting to see whether Nathalie Baillon could hold off Markéta Marvanová on the final run into the finish but eventually conceded and they arrived into Cholpon Ata sharing the women’s title and fourteenth position. This year also saw the most women make the journey to Kyrgyzstan for the race including 13 solo women and 11 women across 10 pairs.

Highland Trail 550

Overall Winner: Angus Young

First Woman: Alice Lemkes

For 2023, the race achieved a 50:50 gender split on the start list for the first time after efforts from organiser, Alan Goldsmith, and veteran women to encourage others to ride.

For 2023, the lineup was stacked with some of the biggest names from Europe and abroad ready to tackle the route in dry and fast conditions, sparking speculation that Neil Beltchenko’s record from 2018 was in jeopardy. Sure enough, Angus Young rode to victory and set a new course record in a finish that was down to the wire as Manu Cattrysse trailed him closely until only a few kilometres from the finish where he suffered from a split sidewall. This tight competition allowed Angus to shave the three hours off Neil’s time in only the remaining 120 kilometres having arrived in Fort William on par with the record.

Alice Lemkes took the women’s win and finished eighth overall, having spent much of the race a hair’s width away from closest rival Phil Battye who eventually finished tenth and three and half hours behind Alice. This year was undeniably the most competitive year for the women’s field and a whopping six women finished in the top 20. Things are looking promising for next year as Alan announced he’s already received the required 35 applications from women.

All Points North

Overall Winner: Oliver Hayward

First Woman: Maria Holdcroft

This year saw the fourth edition of All Points North, an event which has defined itself as exploring far flung corners of the north of England via relentless terrain. It can be chaotic to dot watch due to the randomly dispersed checkpoints and self-routing concept, however the tactics behind this aspect contributes towards its intrigue and appeal.

In traditional fashion, the self supported ultra endurance event involved a free route between 10 checkpoints, starting and finishing in its self proclaimed home of Sheffield, the Steel City. These checkpoints took riders through some beautiful but unrelenting areas such as the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, the Pennines and The North York Moors. Norham Castle, right on the border with Scotland in the North East, was the furthest control from the start line, about 260 km away point-to-point. Alongside the standard '72-hour' riders, APN has paved the way for inclusivity this year, with a updated 'Rookie Rider' category focussing on a mass finish instead of a mass start. Also new for this year’s edition was the introduction of mandatory rest periods, in line with other ultra-distance events.

After an epic battle between Oliver Haywarad and Tom Downes in the closing stages, Oliver managed to clinch victory in a time of 1D 22H 50M. The contest between first and second was nail biting up until almost the final pedal stroke, with both riders visting Filey Brigg as their final checkpoint. It was then just a final sprint west to HQ, with Tom Downes finishing just 15 minutes behind Oliver. Despite differing routes, their rides worked out at 1070km and 1085km respectively in under two days.

Maria Holdcroft was the first female finisher in 2D 12H 20M, which was fast enough to place as 9th overall. An accomplished Ice Skate Dancer, Maria is fairly new to the ultra distance scene, but an equally strong performance at TCR No.9 this year proves that she's one to watch. Saz Harris put up an early fight for the lead, however knee issues forced her to ease up and she eventually rolled home in 25th place overall, as second woman. The tandem power couple pair of Ian To and Ingeborg Oie finished not far behind the leading men in 2D 1H 52M. This is the first time in the history of All Points North that a pair has clinched victory in the pairs category on a tandem!


Overall Winner: Rob Britton

First Woman: Cynthia Frazier

Known as the halo event of Europe's gravel ultra races, Badlands is a true test of gravel skill and endurance. At 750km, this race is a 'sprint' in the world of ultra distance, making it a difficult balance between non-stop riding whilst adventuring through the Spanish wilderness of Europe's only desert. Now into it's fourth year, Badlands has attracted the likes of professional riders since 2020, when it shot into the spotlight with incredible teaser drone footage of the Gorafe Desert and Lachlan Morton finishing the event in only 43 hours and 50 minutes. This year we saw a roster jam packed with talent, from ultra distance veterans to ex-professional road and gravel riders all gunning for the acolade of a fast finish.

Rob Britton was the first to finish in Capileira in a blistering time of 1D 14H 20M. His pro stage-race pedigree quickly saw him take charge at the head of the race, barely giving up the pole position at any point. Despite being his longest single stage to date his results this year in the American gravel and MTB races have been outstanding and good practice for riding this kind of event. With many of this year's field having Traka 360 and other similar distance races under their belt these seem to be providing a springboard into a 'sprint distance' ultra such as Badlands. Around an hour later, Robin Gemperle was the second to finish, clearly looking for a win after a second place at TCR No.9 earlier in the season.
In a time of 1D 21H 34M, Cynthia Frazier rode to victory in the women’s race having held second woman, Cara Dixon, off for the second half of the race. Cynthia’s pacing for this race was a textbook display of riding her own race; she moved up a position on GC between each of the final three checkpoints to finally crack the top ten on the route between the final CP and the finish. She also finished over 12 hours faster than her time in 2022 in which she finished second behind Lael Wilcox. In 2023, redemption was her game.

By the finish, Cynthia had squeezed a mere 45 minute lead over Cara, who eventually finished 10th overall. We’ve never seen one woman finish in the top 10 at Badlands in its three previous editions, let alone two. As a short and fast race it's often been the domain of the men, but this year inflection point where Cynthia and Cara have paved the way for women in future editions.

We've loved every moment of dotwatching this year and are looking forward to a busy 2024. We have put together our 2024 commentary calendar but are always open to suggestions from the community, so if you'd like to commentate a race then please get in touch with our