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As far as I understand, the control points are the same for pairs and individuals, so they both race a comparable length (the precise length will depend on the routing skill of the riders).

However the first man pair at TCR6 (Charles Christiansen and Nico Deportago-Cabrera) finished in 13d 20h 25m, whereas the first man individual (James Hayden) finished in 8d 22h 59m. Riders in pair should have an advantage as they are allowed to draft each other. There is also the advantage of morally supporting each other, which I believe it's very important in such a long race. How come are they slower instead?

The only explanations I can give are: higher probability of mechanical problems for the pairs and less competition in terms of riders that sign up. Or am I missing something else? Do they have more restrictive rules perhaps?

Note: This is being asked for curiousity, but I want to point out that I am a huge fan of Chas and Nico (the winner pair) and I have enormous respect for the spirit with which they approached the race.

Note 2: Here I am only talking about the minimum time of the riders, not average time (I don't have data for that).

Edit I looked into statistics of moving vs stopping time of the above-mentioned riders. Assuming that I am interpreting the tracker stats correctly, here is the info:

                  Chas-Nico    James
moving time       8:15:38      7:05:04
stopping time     5:06:37      1:18:24

This seems to validate @ChrisH's hypotesis in the comments that the biggest difference is in the stopping time.

  • Can this be due to riders fitness level and not enough riders to properly compare? – Klaster_1 Aug 17 '18 at 1:30
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    That's not a small difference either. The North Cape 4000 appears to allow teams but the fastest finisher there was solo as well – Chris H Aug 17 '18 at 5:49
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    I wonder if the fastest solo riders can get by on ridiculously little rest, and finding two such riders to form a pair is unlikely, especially as there's often a degree of caution when looking out for your partner. I don't know what stats we can get but if I'm right (and with your point about drafting) the difference shouldn't be in the moving speed but in the stops – Chris H Aug 17 '18 at 5:53
  • @Klaster_1 That's what I meant by "less competition" :) – Alessandro Cosentino Aug 17 '18 at 7:26
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    Yes, rest (including feed stops and sleep) is crucial in endurance riding, and something I'm thinking about as I start to think about longer distances (next year's PBP has been suggested). While I'm technically in the same club as someone in a TCR pair, and the winner of the North Cape, I don't actually know them to ask. – Chris H Aug 17 '18 at 7:41
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I expect that the three main contributors are:

  1. The solo riders are just stronger. There's more glory in the solo win so, if you are strong enough to, say, come in the top five on your own, it's probably better to do that than come in the top five as a pair. For example, compare tennis: the really strong players concentrate on singles.

  2. It's easier to look after yourself and know your own limits than try to figure out what your partner's limits are. At this level, the question isn't so much "Can I ride for another hour?" but "How motivated am I to ride an extra hour even though I feel like crap, and can I keep this up to the end?" It must be very hard to figure out exactly where on the scale your partner is.

    For a trivial example if this, how often do you end up in the following situation? You and your partner/friend want to go out for a meal. You suggest restaurant A, they suggest restaurant B. You end up saying, "No, no, it's OK, let's go to B" while they're saying, "Really, A is fine. Let's go there."

  3. Drafting doesn't give you much at the kinds of speeds the riders are doing. The winning average speed (based on Wikipedia's statement that the race is about 3900km; averaged over moving time) was only about 23km/h (14mph); the leading pair was at about 19km/h (12mph). So, in reality, the solo riders go at their own speed; the pairs go at the speed of the slower member.

Plus, as mentioned in the comments, two bikes will have twice as many mechanicals.

The pairs category actually has less restrictive rules. The 2017 Race Manual says:

In the pairs category riders in the pair act as a unit and may share food, equipment, information and resources between themselves and help each other including riding in each other's slipstream. No support is to come from outside the pair and resources cannot be shared outside the pair. To all intents and purposes the pair shall interact with others outside of the pair as if they were a solo rider.

In contrast, non-paired riders aren't allowed to slipstream or share information or resources. The same text has appeared in the manuals since at least 2014 (except for a completely trivial change of wording). I've not been able to find the 2018 manual but I assume nothing has changed, still.

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    I think there's quite a bit of climbing involved, which makes drafting less useful on those sections but means the flat speeds might be a bit higher than it looks from that average. +1 – Chris H Aug 17 '18 at 11:41
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    @ChrisH True though, to a reasonable extent, the climbing speeds will be cancelled out by the descents (where you don't want to be drafting too close for safety). – David Richerby Aug 17 '18 at 12:39
  • To some extent; in the end rather than a more detailed comment I made an answer out of that aspect. There's an upper limit on climbs that are made up for by the equivalent descent, with steepness and hairpins being big factors. Obviously it's much higher for these riders than for me but I'm sure it still exists. – Chris H Aug 17 '18 at 13:01
  • Not even sharing information seems harsh. To me so does a rule that implies you shouldn't help another rider in difficulty (e.g. if they need to use two multitools at once, which I've seen with light brackets etc.) – Chris H Aug 17 '18 at 16:24
  • @ChrisH Agreed but not my rules. I'm not really sure why it's OK to have a bike shop help fix your bike but not another competitor. I guess it has something to do with wanting to avoid unofficial teams forming or something like that. – David Richerby Aug 17 '18 at 16:30
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Consider two quite strong riders. One is an amazing climber and the other descends at ludicrous speeds. They ride over a col together. They go up at the pace of the slower climber, and come down the other side at the pace of the slower descender, thus taking longer than either would have on their own.

Of course both riding at their own pace and regrouping at the bottom would mean that in theory they manage the time of the slower rider. In practice this always causes delays.

This could contribute to extra stopping time (if that's how they regroup) or extra riding time (regrouping by going slower, sticking together).

In fact groups are usually slower when travelling.

People also get so tired they hallucinate or fall asleep on the bike and ride off the roads. If you're on your own, riding through it can seem like a good idea. If your partner starts hallucinating or nodding off, you'll call a halt. This is similar to pushing on into worsening conditions (dirt road surface, weather); you're much more likely to exercise caution when you have some responsibility for someone else. (This is a slightly different take on David's point 2).

EDIT Quoting a man who knows: "It's the faffing". Ian Walker (won the >4000km North Cape race in 11 days) gave a talk last week, which I couldn't get to but it's on Vimeo (link is to the right time but I recommend watching the whole thing) adressing precisely this point in response to a question.


  • I agree that syncing brings delays, but I wouldn't go far to the stretch of comparing it to a hike. After all, I still believe there are significant benefits in a pair when it comes to support: if one of the member gets a flat, the other one can still rest in the meantime or do other things like procuring some food. That's to say that there can be a lot of parallelization. – Alessandro Cosentino Aug 19 '18 at 10:17
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    The degree of slowing due to a pair/group will be different to a hike, I agree. One resting while the other works on a mechanical isn't necessarily much help, and fetching food only works if the holdup is near a source, which they rarely seem to be. This is just another of several factors – Chris H Aug 19 '18 at 11:33
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    I think faffing explains a lot - it's the same in group MTB rides, group trekking, team orienteering ... – Penguino Sep 18 '18 at 0:21

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