11 February, 2023
2023 is a year of DotWatching firsts. With new races, established classics and plenty to watch out for, we've compiled a handy DotWatcher Dozen; 12 races you won't want to miss this year.
1. New - Unknown Race
The Unknown Race is a concept race created by a group of ultra-cyclists that met at Two Volcano Sprint.
Starting in Lyon, France, the concept is simple, you are given a ballpark distance and then the first checkpoint is released an hour before departure. The riders will not know the location of the next checkpoint until they reach the current one.
#TURNo1 will explore the concept of self-sufficiency in its pure form. Covering two checkpoints and looping back to Lyon, this 1000km race will donate the winnings to a charity of the first finisher’s choice.
2. Classic - Transcontinental Race
The Transcontinental Race is almost synonymous with ultra-distance racing. Now in its 9th edition, it will cover 4 new checkpoints and a new finish but still start in Geraardsbergen. Stopping in Passo Dello Spluga, Zgornje Jezersko, Peshkopi and Meteora with a finish in Thessaloniki, this could be one of the shortest TCRs to date.
With last year full of contentious twists and turns, including discussions into what counts as support, is this really a road race and how to cross borders in Europe, there’ll be plenty to sink your teeth into.
Last year’s winner, Christoph Strasser, powered through the 4000km race in under 10 days and showed how his Race Across America background can conquer Europe.
This year, we’ve seen plenty of sign-up announcements with some big names already pledged to the start line. Make sure you don’t miss this staple of the bikepacking calendar.
3. New - At Last Lost
At Last Lost also follows an unorthodox format, with the next checkpoint only revealed as you reach the previous one, akin to The Unknown Race. A distinctive characteristic of this Portuguese adventure is that there are natural boundaries to the potential route set up by glorious mountain ranges. Secondly, the race starts in Aveiro but finishes ‘wherever you may roam’, offering a slightly more open-ended finish to the journey.
From the creators of Heading SouthWest, Finisterra, we’re hoping to see some long and epic climbs, plenty of Portuguese culture and lots of camaraderie between riders. The team are dedicated to showcasing the best that Portugal has to offer ultra-cycling.
Make sure you don’t miss this adventure unfolding in real-time, see the riders choosing their own adventure as they navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint.
4. Classic - Silk Road Mountain Race
The rugged and remote mountains of Kyrgyzstan embrace the brave few that tackle the Silk Road Mountain Race. A true escape from reality, the sparsely populated environment takes the intrepid explorers regularly over 4000m as they climb in and out of valleys on their mountain bikes.
Drawing its ethos from the Transcontinental Race, the spirit of self-supported adventure is rich at the SRMR. Riders are expected to progress fully under their own steam and this can often lead to some heroic mechanical fixes. Famously, in 2021, Sofiane Sehili hitched a ride to fix a blown hub and return to the same spot, winning the edition. Again in 2022, Sofiane won this gruelling race.
Known for extreme weather coupled with warm local hospitality, this is your one to watch for twists and turns in 2023
5. New - Hellenic Mountain Race
Speaking of the Silk Road, the organiser's new offering for 2023 is the Hellenic Mountain Race. Continuing in the spirit of self-supported riding, there are no winners and the clock doesn’t stop. As riders pass through three staffed checkpoints they’ll be greeted with local hospitality, including sensational Greek food.
At 938km this mixed terrain route isn’t geographically as far as we see here at DotWatcher, but the mammoth 29,000m of climbing the Greek mountains won’t let up. The high altitude and remote terrain aren’t for the faint of heart and can offer the same isolation that can be found at the SRMR.
As with the rest of the SRMR collection of races, all forward travel must be pedal powered so make sure you catch this new offering to the calendar.
6. Classic - Three Peaks Bike Race
Starting in Vienna and, this year, finishing in Barcelona, this highly anticipated race literally follows Three Peaks.
The concept of the Three Peaks Bike Race is a familiar one, it is a free-route ultra, meaning riders must create their own routes, following parcours (pre-determined route sections that riders must connect). The draw of the Three Peaks Bike Race is the peaks which are encompassed in their parcours: Peak 1 Dolomites, Peak 2 – Massif Central and Peak 3 – Pyrenees.
For any geography buffs out there, this race will cross Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and Spain. With riders from all over Europe descending on the mountains, the multinational appeal of the Three Peaks Bike Race is not lost.
Last year, Lithuanian Justinas Leveika won in just over 5 days, interesting we mention Justinas just in time for the next race…
7. New - The Bright Midnight
Justinas and Bruno Ferraro (creator of Seven Serpents) have team up to create The Bright Midnight, an unsupported bikepacking through Norwegian highlands and fjords, taking in some truly breathtaking views and encapsulating the spirit of Norwegian cycling.
What is truly special about this 1000km gravel race is the sun. As the eagle-eyed among you may have seen, the race is held during the Nordic summer and presents the riders with “nightless nights”. With the sun not setting, we could see some interesting riding techniques from our starters.
If you were able to ride with no darkness, how would your race go? Find out how the racers do this year.
8. Classic - Tour Divide
Some may say the Tour Divide is where it all started. What was originally a battle to see who could be the fastest on the Great Divide Trail, has now become one of the most universally recognisable bikepacking races, if not cycling races, in the world.
Spanning the height of the USA and then some, this race “travels through Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, and the United States of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico”. Following the old forgotten Continental Divide, the old off-road tracks see riders climbing almost 7 times the height of Mt. Everest.
With Sofiane Sehili heading to British Columbia to tackle this race for the first time in 2022 all eyes were on the Americas. Bagging this crown jewel, Sofiane won in 14 days. That’s 2 weeks of consistent riding, an incredible feat of endurance.
Long, but worth it, make sure you tune in to the 2023 Tour Divide.
9. New - Race Around the Netherlands GX
Is it cheating to call this a new race? Well, who knows, but we’re putting it in any way!
In 2022 the Race Around the Netherlands (the world’s flattest ultra) announced that from now on, alternate years would be a gravel edition. This doesn’t take the spirit out of the race though! With a staggeringly low elevation, only 3220m of climbing over 1230km, this race will take in the Dutch countryside through gravel lanes and off-road sections.
The self-dubbed Do It Yourself Race is another event that relishes the spirit of self-supported. With no winners and self-enforced rules, the RATNGx is a great way to hit the start line of a gravel ultra.
Of note, this race has multiple sections which are closed at night, this will mean riders will have to be smart with their timings, choosing their stops carefully to coincide with the opening times of the protected areas. The route manual comes with detailed instructions on when you are able to start certain sections of the race based on GPX files.
10. Classic - Highland Trail 550
The Highland Trail 550 is synonymous with Hike-A-Bike. This route does what it says on the tin, takes in the Scottish Highlands via trails over 550 miles. What this doesn't portray is quite how brutal this race is.
With most riders opting to tackle this adventure with a fast and light hardtail mountain bike, the descents are often the reward for a long slog pushing your bike and kit. However, this can be foiled by a well (or not well) placed bog or rocky outcrop.
With many riders suffering from knee and ankle ailments as well as worn down brakepads, this race of attrition attracts hardened bikepackers from all over the world.
Last year a fierce battle unfolded between Huw Wilson and Angus Young, however, Huw’s unrivalled knowledge of the Scottish Highlands saw him victorious on this wet and windy edition.
Make sure you’ve got this race on your watchlist, with an already hitter-heavy start line you won’t want to miss it.
11. New - Ascend Armenia
Ascend Armenia “A bikepacking race that invites you to discover and explore a place that few cyclists venture”.
With ultra-distance experts behind the race expect to see this new, set-route, mountain bike ultra, the racers will find themselves exploring off the beaten track. Armenia offers an array of landscapes, from arid and alpine areas to lush forests. With the countryside and big cities connected by quiet roads, tracks and trails this will be one for the explorer.
Another one for self-policing, the main rule behind Ascend Armenia is the premise of using the Common Sense University. An interesting concept, it urges riders to make sure that common sense guides them over the finish line.
Enjoy dotwatching as we venture to a new location with some exciting riders!
12. Classic - Arizona Trail Race
The Arizona Trail Race. If the Tour Divide is the crowning jewel, then it comes hand in hand with the AZTR. This race follows the Arizona Trail, which, expectedly, covers Arizona from South to North. Often a hiking or trail running long-distance challenge, once a year it welcomes the bike.
With riders converging on the Arizona Trail every year for this late-season race, we have another staple that offers thrills, climbing, hike-a-bike and unpredictable conditions. One curious aspect of this mountain bike adventure is the section through the Grand Canyon National Park. When in the park riders aren’t just prevented from riding, they must carry their bikes, this leads to some interesting techniques and gear from our competitors.
Last year was the year of the single-speed, Jefe Branham, the custodian of the Colorado Trail Race, won whilst also taking the single-speed record. A curiosity that is mainly seen at community-driven bikepacking races in the USA, we’ll definitely be seeing more in 2023.
Close your summer with the AZTR and enjoy watching as the climbing, weather and hike-a-bike thin the field to the finish.