Transfagarasan Challenge and the Growth of Cycling in Romania

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Transfagarasan Challenge

The Very Best of Cycle Tourism

There’s a certain arrogance that exists around cycling events in the U.K.. You only really notice it when you go somewhere unique such as Transylvania in Romania. We may not like to admit it, but it also exists in those Balearic events to a degree, and certainly in the Alps, when over-inflated U.K. egos head off to test out their very expensive gear and cycling club trained physiques, where they’ve ridden in ‘group A’ and won a race on Zwift, while their family have been thankful of their absence. Those too regular club riders, whose families are glad for their absence, and who spend more time on a bike than the top pros, and yet don’t yet seem to know what cycling really means, and still fail to really enjoy the true passion of riding a bike in beautiful places.

I love Transylvania simply because it’s the polar opposite of all of this. Everything is so well planned, well organised, relaxed, friendly and open. It doesn’t matter either if you turn up on a Bianchi or on a Decathlon bike – so long as it’s got 2 wheels and you’ve got the spirit of adventure. Everyone talks openly and friendly, and yes, whilst there’s obviously the “eyeing up” of the opposition, there’s friendly chats everywhere and a holiday atmosphere. Romania as a nation, is far removed from the current U.K. mentality I’m afraid to say. I was there again only recently, and I’d say that as a percentage, 90+ % of the population looked fit and healthy and were smiling and polite, whereas here in the U.K. these days, it’s like the greater proportion of our population is sponsored by fast food outlets, and the ‘loads a money‘ arrogance of the 1980s is now unfortunately embedded in our culture – and especially so in too many areas of U.K. cycling, where the new cycling fan in some areas, simply believes that having a bankers style income can buy them happiness and a form of localised fame on two wheels. There’s even talk of club riders doping  in sportive events, and too many once friendly cycling clubs are taken over these days by brigades of arrogant peloton pilots. No, I prefer cycling abroad with friends, and especially so in magical, friendly Romania, where the people wrap you in their warmth.

Avoiding the Arrogance of Cycling

You can flick through the webpages of Bikeradar and head off in 2023 to the Trafalgar Square traffic like crowds of Majorca, where our northern accents are immediately noticeable to the Rapha brigade of Home Counties wannabee Zwift heroes. I’ve forgotten how many times, when in London, people hear my accent and start speaking slowly in monosyllabic tones. I often look around to try and find their carer, but they’re seemingly allowed out alone,and yet don’t have soup stains down their clothing – quite surprising 😉 . Yes, we ride bikes up north, and not just to deliver Hovis bread and newspapers – and we’re quite reasonably educated and can use a flushing toilet!

No, instead you can fly, drive or even cycle to Transylvania (it’s called cycle touring) and ride amongst some of the most amazing and friendly people in the world, in an environment still largely unspoilt by the ultra capitalist approach of the U.K. and elsewhere. It’s a place where people talk to you, not look the other way and events are still called a “challenge”, because ultimately that’s all it’s ever supposed to be – an event to cause you to look inwardly at yourself and to challenge your spirit; not a struggle designed to kill you off and to test the ability of the paramedics to respond to you. I’m now 57 years of age – I don’t want to die gloriously; I want to keep on living and keep on exploring wild and beautiful places. Yes, my wife works in the heart centre at our local hospital, but I want her with me on these trips for company, not simply for her medical knowledge.

Beautiful People in a Beautiful Place

Whilst riding upwards on the epic Transfagarasan Highway during last year’s event, I had conversations with French cyclists, German, Italian, Swiss, numerous locals from clubs and just individuals, all who opened the conversations and gave a warm smile and words of encouragement. We smiled, laughed, pedaled and shared humour and each others company, happy to share the wheel. We pushed each other along the sublime and quite awe-inspiring, winding ribbon of rising tarmac, encouraging with little comments as we passed others – although most riders passed and encouraged me 😉 . And, once at the top I shared pasta and beer with a Romanian shepherd who gets up at 4am each day, and I learned that sheep bells sound different from cow bells!

Yes, it was a magical ride, in a magical place, with simply wonderful people. I also managed to catch up with my friend, Cheire Pridham from the Lotto world tour team, and a few days later we shared dinner and bottle of wine in Sibiu. It was a holiday in every sense, and despite cycling up one of the most dramatic roads in the world, I came back rested and relaxed – and with a new respect for life and a greater knowledge of sheep bells.

Is Sibiu the Future of Cycling Tourism

I’ll be heading back to Sibiu in July, riding in the beautiful Carpathian Mountains – and indeed visiting beforehand, to ride my mountian bike. I’m down to ride both the Transfagarasan Challenge on the 7th July, and the new Paltinis Challenge on the 8th July. I’ll need to train hard, as both Nadia and Larisa are riding with me and I don’t want to let them down. I need to enjoy it, but not be too embarassing! It’s exciting though, and my hotel is already booked. I’m staying at the superb Art Hotel, in the centre of medieval Sibiu. Even the manager, Anamaria, helps out with  the organising team of the Transfagarasan Challenge – they’ve got a brilliant team of volunteers, all working hard to promote their home and all it has to offer – and yes, it offers so much.

International Arts Festival

During July, the Sibiu International Theatre Festival takes over the city, and is one of the most important theatre and performing arts festivals in the world. It’s an epic event, and the third biggest, after the Festival d’Avignon and the Edinburgh International Festival. There’s ten days of activities, filling the squares and streets and theatres, with guests from over 70 countries, performing approximately 550 events, including nightly concerts in the main square for everyone to enjoy, as you dine outside, at the multitude of excellent restaurants.

A New Cycling Festival for All

It’s a festival that, seemingly by accident rather than design, the volunteers that organise the Transgarafasan & new Paltinis Challenge, have linked in a new festival of cycling, with the four day UCI ‘Sibiu Cycling Tour’ also taking place and attracting the worlds best teams. Yes, July in Sibiu is the place to be, and I’ll be there with Nadia and Larisa and Cristian, another Sibiu friend. I’ll wake early every day, walk to Cafe Lumos for coffee and a croissant, and I’ll cycle and challenge myself. I’ll chat and eat and laugh and smile with friends, and we’ll dance and jump and and listen to the music, as the arts festival illuminates the beautiful medieval city of Sibiu, and then I’ll sleep soundly in the super stylish and super comfortable Art Hotel nearby.

There’s something truly special about the people of Transylvania. In a crazy and chaotic world, they’re unique, welcoming, driven, passionate and simply very nice and yes, super talented, without even realising it themselves.

You go join the traffic on the mass participation roundabout elsewhere, and yes, it’ll be sunny, you’ll no doubt have fun and meet lots of people. However, one special ingredient will be missing -it won’t be Sibiu and the nearby Carpathian Mountains, and the wonderful people of Sibiu won’t be there. They’ll be celebrating life and art and culture, in Transfixing Transylvania 🙂

We really can recommend the Art Hotel at Sibiu. It’s a mere 3 minute walk from Piata Mare (Main Square) and tucked neatly away, overlooking the medieval ‘old town’. Click here to take a look for yourself 🙂


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