Bitten by dogs in Bosnia, hit by a car in Bulgaria - this Irishman completed an epic adventure race

Some people lie on a beach for a holiday; not Ultan Coyle.


IRISH PEOPLE TEND to set the bar pretty high when it comes to epic adventure races but Ultan Coyle’s story will surely rank up there with any.

The Dundalk man has just completed an event known as the Transcontinental – a non-stop, self-supported, one-stage sufferfest through Europe where he travelled across 11 countries in 11 days, 10 hours and 47 minutes.

He’s an experienced long-distance cyclist, having completed 24-hour time-trials before but this was a challenge that involved far more than fitness. Amongst other things he needed to be his own medic, chef, guide, mechanic, motivator and masseuse.

The race began in the town of Gerardsbergen, 50 kilometres east of Brussels on midnight of 25 July where they would have to crest one of the steepest climbs in professional cycling as an official starting point.


It would merely be an aperitif for what the race would serve up over the days that followed.

“This year was the third edition of the race; the last two editions started in London but each year the route is different,” he tells the42.

“The first one was the shortest, last year was longer and this year was the longest so far,” he explained from a dodgy phone line in Istanbul.

He’d be chased by dogs in Bosnia in the dead of night, break his bike, spend time in a Bulgarian hospital after being hit by a car, take wrong turns and almost hallucinate with sleep deprivation.

The race of a lifetime, you could say.

“The organisers of the race insist on each rider being completely self-supported and they’ve tight regulations around that,” he explained.

“For example, if you break your bike and take a lift to a mechanic you must go back again to where you started once you’ve the bike repaired. Even things like asking for directions are frowned upon.

“The way it works is you’ve to hit certain checkpoints but it’s totally up to you which way you go. You don’t even have to go to the checkpoints in order,” he continued.


Coyle, who works in London and took holidays to participate, travelled through France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey, amongst others.

There were checkpoints in France, Montenegro, Italy and Croatia, so each man or woman had to work out their own logistics and navigation. He carried a small bag with a change of clothes, some money and various bike maintenance tools.

“I liked the cannonball style run of it, that always appealed to me,” he said of why he chose to go.

“I went straight down through France to Mont Ventoux – that was incredibly hard, a lot harder than I thought.

“It was 4,300 kilometres in total so the big issue after a while, when you get tired, is navigation. You take a wrong turn and you’re 50 miles in the wrong direction or you miss a checkpoint and you fall out of contention.”

Coyle was always in contention for the win but when he was hit by a car in Sofia it put an end to his chances.

“I got hit by a taxi there some people were looking to get a bike shop opened but we didn’t go ahead with that. I just laid up in a hotel and found someone the next day so that cost me valuable time.

“I was very lucky though; I bounced off the car and came down on my back. I was racing that night for second place so I had it in my mind I’d get him back but I never did!

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“As soon as I got to the side of the road and gathered myself I realised the only place I needed to get to was a hospital and a hotel to recover.”


Other encounters involved the Balkan countries – and he could hardly tell one from the other.

“Bosnia was a grim place, I went right through it because it was a hard place to find food, it felt a little bit cold and they’re a bit scarier in terms of the people and the atmosphere!”

Then there were the dogs… “There’s a lot made of dogs chasing you but they’re not mad aggressive, no worse than what you’d get at home!

“Sometimes they chased me in the middle of the night but that gave me a bit of an adrenaline burst!”

There were the highs too, of course, such as the scenery (and the food) in France and Italy as well as the sight of seeing Istanbul as he knew his journey was nearing an end.

“There came a point when you just want to get it done but coming into Istanbul was really difficult,” he says. “The city is a complete maze and I was still in with a shout of getting third as the guy ahead of me was only up by around an hour.

“But it was such a total minefield that I never got him back. It was an incredible adventure though, an amazing way to see the world. I dunno if I would do it again; it’s more an ordeal than a race but a complete sufferfest, day in day out.

“You got the occasional nice view or met the odd nice person but it was bloody difficult!”

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About the author:

Brian Canty

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