Fiona Kolbinger, a 24-year-old cancer researcher from Germany, made history Tuesday after becoming the first woman to win one of cycling’s most grueling races.
Competing in her first ultra-endurance event, Kolbinger claimed victory in the seventh edition of Europe’s Transcontinental Race after dominating the competition from start to finish.
In a field where just 40 of the 265 cyclists were female, Kolbinger showed incredible stamina to win the 4,000 kilometer race across Austria, Bulgaria,Bosnia, Croatia, France, Italy, Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
“I am so, so, surprised to win,” Kolbinger told the competition’s website.
“Even now. When I was coming into the race I thought that maybe I could go for the women’s podium, but I never thought I could win the whole race … I think I could have gone harder. I could have slept less.”
Kolbinger, who set off from Burgas, Bulgaria on July 27, crossed the finish line in Brest, northwest France at 7.48 a.m on Tuesday after 10 days, two hours and 48 minutes.
Even before her victory had been confirmed, Kolbinger had already been dubbed a ‘rock star’ by last year’s winner James Hayden.
“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.”
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.
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.