I've been asked if the Tranrockies race is harder or easier than the Transalp race. I don't know if I could compare them in those terms. They're both hard yet they're both fun. Both races have spectacular views from the mountain tops and hopefully you'll be able to slow it down for just a few minutes when you're on top of one and take everything in. You'll definitely learn something about yourself at each. Here are some of the specific differences:
TA has more climbing (about 60,000 vs 40,000) than the TR.
TA has one more day of racing than the TR (8 vs 7).
There are over 500 teams at the TA and less than 200 at the TR.
TA is a little bit better organized than the TR. The TA has more staff and they'll bend over backwards to help you out with what ever you need. Not to say that the TR staff isn't good, there just aren't as many.
TR has alot more singletrack than the TA.
The TA is better suited for a hardtail. A full suspension is much more fun to use at the TR than a hardtail.
The TA has long screaming descents. I no longer have a desire to use V-brakes as a result.
TR racers are much better technical riders than TA racers. My Canadian friends went nuts when they couldn't ride the singletrack sections because the Euros were either walking it or going EXTREMELY slow.
You definitely have to worry about getting your bike stolen at the TA, especially in Italy. Not so at the TR.
TA is much more competitive than the TR (Racing in Europe is a whole different level--go out hard then go harder.) It's possible to "warmup" for an hour then ride hard without falling behind too much on some stages at the TR...the singletrack bottlenecks slow everyone down except for the first few teams.
TR has much better food at the camp than the TA, but there are plenty of places to eat in the small European towns.
Breakfast at the TA always includes mystery meat, chocolate spread, jam, bread, cereal, yogurt, coffee, milk, tea and some fruit. Breakfast at the TR is more what I'm used to and a little more filling. At the TA I had to eat at least 3 chocolate spread and 2 mystery meat sandwiches every morning along with some fruit. I usually made up for it by eating twice after each stage.
Most racers sleep in tents at the TR and a few in RVs. Gyms are the basic accommodations at the TA but many opt for hotels as well as RVs.
Getting to Fernie, the TR start town, is fairly easy. Getting to the start town of the TA is a little more involved and could turn into an adventure via taxi & train.
The TA has plenty of free fruit and drinks at the finish line each day. At the TR you have to buy something to eat to hold you over until dinner.
Climbs at the TA are very long compared to those at the TR. Climbing for 1-2 hours straight is not uncommon at the former.
Hike-a-bike at the TR can include seismic lines, no switchbacks, just straight up the side of a mountain...steep.
Having done TRx2 and TAx1 I'd have to say the my bike gets much dirtier at the TR. There's plenty of mud at the TR. I remember having to carry my bike (mud was too thick/sticky to roll it) for 4 km in '04, right before a very very long siesmic line hike-a-bike. This year's TR was muddier than last year but riding in mud can be fun!
At the TR I carry a bottle of lube with me everyday.
It's a major fashion faux pas at the TA for teammates to showup without matching kits for everyday. At the TR you don't feel like a dork if you and your partner don't have matching jerseys. One good thing about looking like twins at the TA is that it's easier to spot your partner when you're in a large crowd or group of riders.
There are definitely more stream & river crossings at the TR than at the TA.
The fight to Europe is international so you don't have to pay for your bike box, it goes free. Canada isn't considered international so you pay the fee...$50-$80 unless you have a voucher.
TA end of race party is better than the TR party. TA had free beer, that's right FREE. This year there were two parties after the party at the TR so it was better than the previous year.
TA route book is very detailed and accurate compared to the TR route book. The latter is getting better.
TA daily awards ceremony can be very very long, TR isusuallyy shorter. Both play the same music during the ceremony. Modern Talking's "Win the race" and Right Said Fred's "Standup for the Champions."
You get to know a lot of people at the TR.
There are more support bike shops and mechanics at the TA so fixes are fast.
It's possible that you and your teammate will be riding alone for long sections at the TR whereas at the TA you are hardly ever alone. So unless both teammates are of similar strength one will end up doing much more pulling than the other at the TR. At the TA you are almost always working in a group.
At the TR you definitely get into the backcountry.
There are spectators cheering you on even at the top of mountain passes at the TA. At the TR the spectators come out on the first and last day.
It's more fun to hang out in the little towns after the race at the TA...coffee, gelato, pastries & weisbeer. At the TR you're not always in a town so bring a book or get a massage to pass the time. Note that Rafter Six Ranch (TR day 6) has a jacuzzi & pool table.
You can see a TDF stage in person before heading to the TA start town.
There are no timing pads near the aid stations in the TR. Pass one of them more than two minutes ahead of your partner and you get a 1 hour time penalty.
There's no one at the TA riding around on a motorcycle with a big gun whose responsibility is to scare off bears.
The TA feels like a vacation whereas the TR feels like well, a race.
The TR is fairly easy to get into, but the TA is not. Registering is an exercise in keyboard dexterity & speed. The first teams to fill out the registration get in.
The TA has three start blocks and the TR has two.
When I do the TA again the two things I'm doing differently are
1) Reserving all my hotel rooms beforehand and
2) Keeping my bike in my hotel room at all times even if the hotel manager gives me a hard time.
When I do the TR a 3rd time I'd probably
1) Go the RV route and
2) have a support person.
Most fun day at the TR: Day 3 in '04, Dan-O & I had some fun.
Most fun day at the TA: Day 4, I had a blast climbing that day.
Most fun singletrack at the TR: All of it!
Most fun singletrack at the TA: Day 7, the really steep descents got the heart pumping.