Red Bull Timelaps 2017: I Ain't No Wheelsucker!
Where do you start with this thing?! Do you start with the relentless pace set in the very first lap?! Do you start with the sleep deprivation everyone experienced?! Do you start with the constant calls of 'one more lap Dave!' from every other team passing the home straight?! Or do you start with the much needed knowledge of knowing how to suck a wheel?! (No, not literally!).
We were offered a chance to review the inaugural Red Bull Timelaps, a 25 hour endurance race (thanks to the clocks going back) set in the pristine and local grounds of Windsor Great Park, basically the Queen's backyard. A whole day of racing intrigued us but we needed a team that could hold their own and at the top of our list (no disrespect to anyone else we ride with) but we have known these guys for a while now and we live by the motto that to go faster, you got to go where the fast guys go. So cue the creation of the Whatsapp group and representing the notinthepeloton team was Sam Hodges, Chris Detsicas and Ali McQueen. One was a 'pro' racer, one was a machine and the other was a fitness freak and then you had us...the daily commuter!
In prep' for this, you would of expected that we would of taken up some interval training or power classes. Nope. We just focused on getting a little quicker to work and home that's all! We knew we had the legs for the distance, it was the pace we had to keep and the recovery time in the middle of the stints that concerned us. Unless you are a professional endurance athlete, it's really hard to judge where your overall fitness lies with these events. Either way, our goal was to complete this and having a team equipped with many strengths, it was going to be an interesting weekend.
One thing we did have up our sleeve though was a very special bike which had been kindly lent to us by endurance maniac Chris Hopkinson. His Evo2Max Nebular R-9 was equipped with eye catching 90mm rims and a Di2 groupset. It's pink like Tron decals just looked like something that Doc' from Back to the Future had cooked up. We had given the bike a few test rides leading up to the event but this was the ultimate one, a competitive test against a wide range of riders which brings us onto our next point. This was no charity event. This wasn't a race where John and Mary from accountants signed up on a whim just for the crack. It turned out that this was a playground for some pro' riders to thrash it out against one another.
Our registration time was given to us for 7am which meant an even earlier get up than we all would of liked. It was a fresh morning but it did have a feeling in the air as we arrived that this had the hallmark of being the start of a great event for years to come. The home straight had the Red Bull arch, the village was set up with the pens just behind the circuit and the sound of clicking and spinning of the bikes filled the park. Ali and myself rented a van for the weekend to bring extra stuff (bike stand which I believe was used once, my Tarmac for a spare bike which turned out to be used for Sam's turbo trainer and other nick nacky things). We gave the boys a surprise gift for being part of the team, their very own notinthepeloton hoodies with their initials printed on the arms. We would of had jerseys made but the turnaround was a couple of months so the hoodies turned out to be a great source of insulation during the evening hours.
Now, it was honestly not my fault but we had been registered as a mixed gender team and the organisers did look at us weirdly at this. I had raised eyebrows from the others but unless they told me they've changed genders, we would have different coloured numbers for the bikes. After all the flaffing around with putting Chris' tent up and failing to put mine up, we set up camp in our pen and like others, had a gazebo to protect us from the elements. The girl's team next door opted for a tent for them all to pitch in to, they turned out to be quite funny neighbours as very often we heard 'Is no one ready yet?!'. We made quite a few trips down to the van to bring back much needed equipment up (food, tools, sleeping bag, chairs etc.). But it could of all been over before we started as Ali had trouble zip-tieing his timing chip to his fork, just the let the picture tell the story....! The sighting lap was supposed to have teams set off in 30 second intervals but because the event was over running, everyone just went when they could. We know the park well, it's a great park to cycle around for all cyclists but there was one road we hadn't visited and that was the private road which had been kindly opened for the race. It did include a little kick (13% I had on the Garmin) which would turned out to be a leg burner for us. We are more suited to long shallower drags rather than steep kicks. We didn't think this would of been a problem for the other three who was all eyeing up this opportunity for a pro' racing contract somewhere along the line!
After many pee stops and triple checks, Ali was picked out as first rider prior to the event and he made his way down to the start. The first 500m or so would be controlled by a neutral motorbike and once the peloton left the polo field where the village was set up, it was time to race. I did share my concerns with the others about myself going first as I felt I didn't have the right experience to lead the team off when we had Sam our seasoned racer on the books so I was a little worried for Ali and just hope he kept himself safe. It turned out that the pace wouldn't of been out of place in a criterium race. After just one lap, an elite group had formed mainly made up of the domestic pros but just behind in between them and the following group was Ali. He had kept a great pace round but we had hoped he remembered it was a 25 hour long race, not 25 minutes. We were expecting them all to fly around again but there was quite a wait. Rumour had got round that there had been a crash. Now we are just reporting what we heard and unless you actually saw it, most of it is hearsay. One rider commented it happened on the downhill section coming into Breakheart Hill and the rider undertook the train of riders and came off hitting some gravel on the inside corner. One other version we was told that the rider undertook and just ploughed into another rider when hitting the apex of the corner which resulted in one of them with some serious breakage. I was really concerned Ali had been caught up in it but he and the others had been stopped just before the descent and was then forced to turn around and return to the start as the race had been red flagged.
Because of this incident, the timing schedule had Sam down to ride so he made his way over to the start line and found himself in the company of the Dirty Wknd representative of Patrick, a whippet with hippy hair, the pair agreed to work together to close down the gaps to the leading pack once the race began. But we weren't too sure what happened in the later laps but Sam had bridged the gap over to the group and Pat' was leading the following group. The Dirty Wknd guys were probably our rivals for the race, they had brought along a really solid team but they were in this blind same as us so there was an unspoken bond that we would help each other out if we could like most local teams were doing. Unfortunately these times were few and far between as the race progressed, groups began to get smaller and riders started to settle into their own pace. Chris was next up for his first stint and it was just like having Sam out there again. Chris likes to lead on our groups rides and he applied this in his first hour much to the dismay of Sam who was actively encouraging wheelsucking! Our nerves at this point were beginning to ramp up and we must of pee'd 5 times within an hour of our ride. Seeing Chris running through the pens for the changeover and me holding to the pink machine, we realised it was time for business. I was looking to fit into a group as soon as I got going but lap after lap after lap, I was all alone stuck in between riders. My overall pace was decent but I already spotted my weakness on the course which was the little climb up Slans Hill, for the strong riders this wasn't an issue but we don't really excel in any kick of a gradient. The descent down into the pond before Breakheart Hill was a little hairy at first because you needed to make sure no one was taking the risk of over or undertaking you but like most, confidence on this section grew into the weekend and it turned out to be the section with most fun. The dip sweeps around the pond and slingshots you into the main climb of the course. Surprisingly Breakheart Hill was a doddle, found a really easy cadence on the Nebular, it just wasn't as fast as others.
One thing which did hurt was that bloody run through transition. Our pen was 2/3rds down so was a long run for the rider coming in. We had a good system going with the spare rider swapping the armband over to minimise any seconds lost, marginal gains and all that. We were a bit worried as to how to feel up the rest periods. The plan was to ride for 1 hour, rest for 3. Those first 3 hours flew. I didn't feel totally recovered and not being in a group on my turn did drain us, constantly spotting any pair to group with but every time we did, it was a case of either the pace was too slow so we kicked on or you became the victim of a wheelsucker and you end up pulling them through a section only for them to cheekily kick away when you've blown or need to recover. As we clipped in for our second hour and rolled off the mat, we felt the back tyre feel quite soft. You're kidding me?! Literally 10m away from the end of the rollout mat, we had a puncture. We ran back into the pens (did think for a second they was going to stop me and make me cycle/run all the way around as I technically started the lap!) and although I was going to suggest to the others, just to rest as I get the flat sorted, Chris jumped on his bike and spun an extra 2 laps. It was only supposed to be one but as I took the tube of the deep rims, the valve extender had dropped into the rim which meant there was no way of inflating the tyre. Luckily, I had brought our trusted Tarmac along which was being used for warming up on Sam's turbo, but now it was being thrown into the lions den. After getting it signed off by the race director, we were back on our way but feeling quite annoyed. It was now dark too but the route was lit up in sections to help riders and marshals stationed every few hundred metres or so. Gotta say, Red Bull had visioned this quite well. Despite having 150 odd riders on the course at any one point and even in the narrow sections, we always felt quite safe. Most riders kept left to allow overtaking and most also called to the right to pass as well. On our second turn, we managed to group up now and then but the added problem was once you found a group with a good rhythm, the chances are some of them pull in after a lap and you're back to square one. We think the top teams must of timed all their transitions together because their lap times and counts were never apart.
We pulled in but felt shattered. Not much of an excuse but we hardly slept the night before and think we had pushed too hard in our first two hours. We had to get a nap in. Now this is where we unintentionally left the others vulnerable but we overslept. Our legs were just empty, it was like our body just closed down and the only way we could describe it was like being drunk on tiredness. We knew the others were probably all feeling the same and in hindsight, if I knew I needed the longer recovery, we would of asked but we wouldn't of been any help at all at that moment of the race. We have apologised multiple times to the others and if there was to be one rider to crack within the team, chances are it would of been us. As we've said before, we had a racer, a powerhouse and a fitness fanatic. Then there's us., the guy who relies on his little red machine to get to work and back in one piece! I can completely understand how the others must of felt but we really had nothing. If any of the other guys needed the extra rest, I would of encouraged it and did suggest that they all take the opportunity to rest too but them being hungry for competing and putting on a good performance, they adapted and battled on. Before you judge us, we hoped we made up for it by what we did when we woke although we agree, we left them in a situation which wasn't ideal as we were all building up to Sam's attempt at the power hour.
The power hour took place when the clocks turned back and on a shorter course where each lap counted as double. It seemed all teams targeted this hour with their strongest rider as Sam reported back to us it was full gas from the word go and it was all about keeping within touching distance of the leading riders. Dave from Dirty Wknd even took a turn at the front, think he got excited with his Parcour 90mm rims but seeing his journey with his brand come to this point, it was a huge hats off to Dave mixing it with the big boys. Sam managed to bag 8 laps which was the same with the leading teams, just showing he has the potential to be racing higher than he regularly does.
We woke around 3am, we didn't even know who was on at that point but walking back to the pen, we felt guilty and rightly so but determined to make it up to the others who had worked tirelessly throughout the night, We apologised straight away to Sam who was waiting for Ali to come in from his early morning effort. Chris was in the tent set up by the van trying to get some much deserved and needed shut eye. We said to Sam as soon as his 2 laps was over, we would stay out for as long as we could albeit it being at a much slower pace. We hoped that this would give the others a good chance to kip and recover whilst we bring the team back into the daylight. It was roughly 4amish when we begun our graveyard shift and we settled in for a long spin. To be fair, it turned out to be a really chilled ride. Apart from the sounds of gears changing and the sounds of rims rolling along the tarmac, the route we feel was spectacular. It wasn't too cold although a wind had picked up on the northern part of the circuit. We even had the pleasure of hearing an owl hoot as we passed. The garmin clocked an hour and we felt alright. The average speed was around the 17mph mark, a big drop from the first stints but one thing we are good at is pacing. We managed to hold out for 2 hours and apart from the first lap of our 9 that we managed, the gap between the slowest and fastest laps of this stint was only a minute with the last 2 laps the fastest.
Dawn had broke and most of the team were now awake. Fortunately, breakfast was about to be served but only one food vendor RockMyBowl was open which turned out to be vegan friendly for Sam. We opted for their bowl of porridge and it was probably the best thing we had all weekend. We had packed our bag full of beef pasties, sausage rolls, homemade granola bars and loads of gels. We did manage to grab dinner the night before from the Ghanian guys, the chicken groundnut dish was epic to be fair. But the food and drink side of things was a bit of a let down for the event. Plenty of red bull on offer which was much appreciated but where was the all night coffee and tea vendor?! I was dying for a decent cuppa! Think this was seriously overlooked but a minor issue really in terms of the event. The village was packed with things to do, grab a massage from numerous place, watch some talks or videos, borrow a Canyon to ride for your next turn, have Muc Off wash your bike or tune it up with the Wiggle mechanics (they come in handy in a mo'!).
The Tarmac had done us well through the night but we were determined not to be defeated by the valve extender on the Nebular. Sam even looked up on YouTube and with patience and the right tools, it was possible to fish it out. We put this to Steve the mechanic over at the Wiggle van and he seemed really up for the challenge. Short story (ironic because this blog has turned out to be quite the opposite!) but he managed to extract the valve extender with a spoke and a flashlight! What a hero! So we fixed the wheel and swapped the electronic tag back onto the Nebular. The sleep incident overnight had left us in 28th place (we had been 24th at one point) so I take full responsibility of the drop in places but I was motivated to bring the team home and do what ever was required from me for the team in the morning. We all agreed to keep to 3 laps to keep the efforts short and on our penultimate turn, our average was just under 19mph but with the Nebular coming up, we couldn't leave the race like that. We took over from Ali who was just a duracell bunny all weekend, non stop riding but also non stop munching! We were wondering how we were left with one beef pastie?!
40mins were left of racing and we knew we could squeeze in 3 laps and finally we found someone to work with. A random guy on our first lap overtook us on Breakheart Hill but we caught up on the home straight and gave the nod to each other that we would work together to the finish. The pace was upped. Many were past and the lap times tumbled down. We tucked in on the descents and helped each other on the climbs. On the final climb, I told him to go ahead as I was nearly empty and had plenty of time to roll home before the 12pm cut off time. Much appreciated there. Our average was just under 20mph for the final hour which again, if this was our usual Sunday ride, we would of blown up some balloons! The spin into the finish was quite exhilarating. Many of the teams lined the barriers and applauded the riders home. Rolling under the barrier (which actually deflated at one point in the race!) 25hrs of riding for everyone was finally over. You could feel the relief in the air that people could start looking forward to their comfy beds again rather than camp chairs and anything that resembled furniture for the weekend!
Looking back on the weekend, that was probably one of the hardest challenges we've done in our cycling adventure. You can throw in our The One series or the time Ali and I cycled 143 miles or the time when Sam made us do intervals up Box straight after we returned from getting fat on holiday! Like we told Dave from Dirty Wknd, this was no charity event. There were some serious teams there. I found out after that a couple of riders from the winning team actually rode the Tour of Britain this year so me personally, I had no chance against them! We ended up coming a respectable 28th with the other 3 coming quite far up in the individual rider rankings (although this was based on fastest lap, not mileage covered). We calculated we had ridden 103 miles in roughly 5hr 45mins. If we did that in one whole ride, we would be buzzing. I think though there's clearly room for improvement. Our focus ended up being on pacing rather than smashing each hour compared to the others who just er.... smashed it! Red Bull, you've got a great event here. This could be a must do in the cycling calendars if there was little tweaks here and there, an all day all night mobile cafe has to be one! Either that or I'm bringing my kettle along with my ceylon tea!
To my team mates, why aren't you all racing already?! You clearly showed you could muck in with the best of them, it's there if you want it. We're sorry again for oversleeping and we hope you understand our reasoning behind it. If there is and we do hope there's a next time, we will plan our recovery better but we do hope we made it up to you with our 4am effort. You wore your hoodies with pride and if notinthepeloton has their UCI license accepted, you guys will be the first to be offered with the lucrative contracts.... 4 homemade granola bars per win!