Fiona Kolbinger, a 24-year-old cancer researcher from Heidelberg in Germany, is poised to make history in the coming hours by becoming the first female cyclist to win the 4,000 kilometer Transcontinental Race.
Dubbed a “rock star” by last year’s race winner James Hayden, Kolbinger left the rest of the field in her wake as she headed towards the finishing point in Brest, northern France, late Sunday.
In a field of 264 cyclists, the majority of them male, Kolbinger emerged from Sunday’s stage with a lead of almost six hours over nearest challenger, Ben Davies from England.
“For years we’ve waited, knowing it is possible,” Hayden tweeted. “Finally and with a vengeance, Fiona Kolbinger has arrived. I’m rooting for her. Rockstar. What a time for our sport.”
The race, which began in Bulgaria on July 27, stretches through Serbia, Austria, Italy and France, with Kolbinger expected to complete the route late Monday or early Tuesday.
A single stage race, where riders choose their own route and decide when to take rest periods, each cyclist must hit four mandatory control points on their way to the finish.
Kolbinger, whose performance has been followed by legions of fans on social media, has slept for just four hours a night on average, much of that on the side of roads in a bivvy bag, according to the competition’s official website.
Such has been her dominance that when she reached the fourth control point in the French market town of French market town of Le Bourg-d’Oisans, Kolbinger treated race volunteers to a rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on the piano in the lobby of a nearby hotel.
As of early Monday afternoon local time, Kolbinger had 333km of the race remaining.
Earlier this year, Jasmin Paris, a vet from Edinburgh, won Britain’s most grueling ultra-marathon after defeating her nearest challenger, a man, by 15 hours.
The 268-mile Spine Race along the Pennine Way from Edale in Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders, involved 136 competitors, 125 of them male.