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The Tour de France is the toughest race in cycling, but even the iconic French spectacle has to doff its cap to the Trans-Siberian Extreme – the longest bike race in the world.
The Trans-Siberian Extreme sees its competitors race across Russia, given the task of making it from one side of the world’s biggest country to the other in a little over three weeks. Riders begin in the country’s capital, Moscow, and finish in Vladivostok, near the border with North Korea on the Pacific coast. Using only pedal power, cyclists must ride 9,103km in just 25 days. It may not have the relentless team tactics, sheer number of riders or hotly contested sprints as cycling’s grand tours, but it is a test of endurance in its purest form.
By way of comparison, the 2018 Giro D’Italia was 3,572km. The Tour de France that followed just a few weeks later was 3,349km, meaning you could ride the equivalent of both races back to back and you’d still be only two-thirds of the way through this Russian monolith. The entire route is split into just 15 stages, and one stage is a crippling 1,400km on its own.
The race goes through the likes of Nizhniy Novgorod, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk and Khabarovsk. It is run across eight separate time zones, five climate zones, covers nearly 8,000m of ascent and crosses the Ural mountains and four of the longest rivers in the world. The 25-day limit means that there is very little time to rest, with riders often racing through the night to make the deadline. In the 2016 race, no one finished.
This year – the race’s fourth edition – just six athletes (each from a different country) will race and those that reach the finish can expect to spend an astonishing 350 hours in the saddle. The competition is as gruelling and savage as any in the sporting world, and in a country with one of the most varied environments on the planet, provides a challenge like no other.