London to Istanbul race joy for cyclist

Pippa Handley in Istanbul. Picture: contributed
Pippa Handley in Istanbul. Picture: contributed
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SHE was chased by a pack of dogs, had a conversation with a cow and rolled over the finish line wearing just one sock.

But Pippa Handley is celebrating after becoming the first woman to complete this year’s 3000km London to Istanbul Transcontinental Race.

The 36-year-old was one of only seven women amongst the 91-strong field – and finished five hours ahead of the second-placed female rider.

Miss Handley, a member of the Edinburgh Road Club who competed at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take part just three weeks before the race started.

And it paid off as she cycled home after just over 12 days’ gruelling pedalling.

She said: “The last two days were the worst two days of my life – they were just full of pain and I could feel myself getting slower and slower. I was cycling overnight to get ahead.

“I was so broken – you expect to feel great, but it was more an anti-climax and it was just a relief because I was empty.”

The clinical support worker from Corstorphine said she had not planned to race in the event, but decided to saddle up after another competitor pulled out.

Participants were allowed to choose their own routes, but had to pass three checkpoints, including a cafe in Paris which featured in the first Tour De France in 1903 and on top of two mountains – the Passo Dello Stellvo in Italy and Mount Lovcen in Montenegro.

The race was not without its mishaps, with Miss Handley suffering a bout of heatstroke which left her “talking to cows” and losing socks.

She said: “Originally I had two pairs of socks, but they got really minging when we got caught in a massive hail storm up a mountain.

“So I chucked a pair away, but then my ankle swelled up in Greece, so I took my socks off and a dog came up and went off down the road with it in his mouth.

“I would have chased after him, but he looked quite wild. I just carried on with the one sock.”

After becoming the 14th racer to cross the finish line, Miss Handley rewarded herself with a stay in a “swanky hotel” before flying home on Saturday.

“They gave us free champagne and I went for a big steak dinner as well as having a shower – it was the best shower I have ever had in my life,” she said.

Members of the Edinburgh Road Club only realised their racer was taking part when they read updates on her Twitter page, but secretary Jonny May said they were proud of her.

He added: “It’s absolutely fantastic. I knew a bit about the event before, but I did not realise Pippa was doing it until we started to get reports back from her. We’re really impressed

“When she was a nurse, she would come off night shift and then be out training on the bike and riding round the circuits in the dark, so she’s got experience racing in really unpleasant conditions, but we are all proud and impressed.”