Red Bull Timelaps is a very unique event. 'The longest one day race in the world' at 25 hours, Windsor Great Park becomes a veritable cycling festival for the end of daylight savings time. The mad, bad and dangerous to know of the London cycling scene gather to punish themselves on the one day that everyone else in the country is 'enjoying an extra hour in bed'. Anyone who says cyclists aren't crazy need only head to Windsor when the clocks go back.
Just one Dirty Wknd team took part in the inaugural Red Bull Timelaps last year, and actually did pretty well. Our team of 4 - Patrick, David, Fraser and Jake - finished in around 15th and had an absolute blast. Fast forward 12 months, and we were again pulling up to Liz's backyard at 7am - this time with fives teams instead of one! That's 20 members who had answered the call, apparently not put off by tales of last year's sleep deprivation. We had 5 gazebos, at least 8 tents (one got used) 15 track pumps, 3 turbos, 2 camp stoves, 32 tubs of pasta, 407 Clif Bars and about 3.5 kilos of chamois cream. We also had a videographer (Adam) and a photographer (Patrick). Pro conti teams probably have less kit for a week long stage race.
We had 2 women's teams, 2 men's teams and 1 mixed team. Of all 20 riders, only 2 had taken part this time last year. 90% had met through our group rides and most are now very good friends. Others had never met, but by the end of the weekend were a tight unit. Experiencing sleep deprivation, 40mph winds and freezing temperatures with a group of like minded souls has a bonding effect like you wouldn't believe.
The Dirty Wknd Teams:
Dirty Boyz: Oli Crosby, Stephen Farrell, Fraser Duff, Nate Williams
Femme Fatales: Judit Szarka, Rosie Day, Emma Watson, Nina Gold
Wonder Women: Mira Boyce, Siobhan Rick, Camilla Murray, Anne Fearon
Psyclepaths (Tacos): Santi Dominguez, Jules Cass, Jess Robinson, Chris Croft
Federación Mexicana de Ciclismo: Michael Bennett, Marc Jones, Mexican Dave Flores, Luke Bright
Daytime - The "Easy" Bit
After our enclosure was set up (read, after David had destroyed and rebuilt the pit area into his 'festival chic' vision), riders were debriefed and the course had been recced, it was time for the first riders to head up to the start line. It's fair to say that everyone was pretty nervous, with little prior bike racing experience amongst our number. True, Oli once came 19th in a crit race, and Steve had just 'crushed an Ironman', but even a glowing palmares like this won't help you much at Timelaps. It helps that the majority of the field are in the same boat, but doesn't lessen the nerves much.
Emma, Oli, Santi, Siobhan & Marc were kicking off the event for the club. With the first 2 laps 'behind a motorbike', the plan was to stay together and work as a team. You'd think that wouldn't be so hard, at least at the beginning. However, just like last year, the front group went off like the clappers and our riders had to cling onto any group they could as 'first lap fever' took hold. The riders bravely fought through the first session, mostly soloing into the wind, as their teammates stood trackside helpfully shouting tips like 'find a group' or 'go faster'. We were very lucky to also be joined at the start by a group of club members who rode out to Windsor to support the guys. Led by Chris and Nick, it was wonderful to see everyone and a huge boost to morale as everyone began to face up to the 25 hour ahead of them. #oneclub
One of the big differences this year to last was one particular person - Alex Dowsett. 'Dowsett watch' was a factor all weekend as we all wanted to see what the Katusha man could do. It's not every day you get to share a track with a former Hour Record holder and current pro, so trying to get into his group and hold his wheel became a goal of many of our riders for the weekend. Naturally, nearly everyone failed, bar Emma and Fraser. More on that later. Loads of riders also reported having a chat with Alex, and he was lovely to everyone taking part. Which was nice of him.
As with many good things, 'Dowsett watch' had it's downsides. Not only was the race much more competitive at the pointy end, but 'Oli watch' also became a thing for our beleaguered teams. We're not sure when this severe man crush developed, but ensuring that Oli didn't do anything too embarrassing was a pressing concern. You know, like accosting him in the pits with a fan letter, or crashing into him on track in a well meaning but ultimately career ending display of affection. It wouldn't have been good for the morale of the race, and was something that would take a whole squad's attention to prevent.
Back to the race. Riders on track were coming to the end of their hour and the first transition was looming. Transition at Time Laps is a bit like a formula one pit stop, if the driver hopped out of his car, ran over to his waiting team mate and gave him an armband. It looks a bit like this: the rider on course sails into the pits, dismounts their bike effortlessly and runs to their waiting teammate to hand over the armband. The new rider then runs the rest of the pit lane, mounting their steed stylishly and joins the track like a pro. As you can imagine, it almost never looked like this, especially not at 2am.
Pit lane incidents are a real danger. The best we saw was a typically 'blokey' rider who came careering down the pit lane, screaming to his team to announce his presence. To save a millisecond of time, he pushed his bike toward a waiting teammate, so as to hand off the arm band faster. Smart move most of the time, except that his bike veered left and straight across his running path. The guy went down like a sack of spuds, not only wasting time but definitely bruising his ego as much as his shins. Post race analysis (i.e. watching Youtube videos) showed the equally hilarious incident of Dowsett pushing Lawrence off his bike in transition. Pit lane incidents injure 0.001% of cyclists annually.
By around 4pm all of our riders had done one stint on track, and we were onto the second rotation. Nerves had settled down (a bit) and the gang were starting to appreciate what was ahead of them. If had also started to get really, really cold. To say spirits were taking a hit at this point is putting it mildly. Steve had already misplaced two jerseys, and Mira had even started to sing a bit less. Luckily Rosie was still being herself - not even a 25 hour race can change that! Dowsett watch let us know that he was just coming in after his first 4 hour stint. Just the 160km as a starter. Oli had offered to do the same, but didn't want his teammates to get bored. He's good like that.
Last year most riders hung out and slept in the Red Bull marquee, so we were delighted to see that our pit area was directly opposite the marquee doors meaning that we could make use of the warmth, whilst still being able to keep an eye out for change overs. We quickly colonised a corner of the marquee, complete with heater, and it was great that friends from other teams (Attacus, Twice The Health et al) came and joined us. Having 5 teams meant we weren't short of encouragement and support, but the way the cycling community comes together and helps each other to suffer through this ridiculous challenge is really inspiring.
As the sun went down the atmosphere changed again, mostly manifested in the reduction in noise. Riders who were going out later started sloping off to try and grab a bit of early sleep and the quiet started to creep in. This is precisely why we wanted to have multiple teams this year. The night shift can be mighty lonely, even with 190 other teams around you. Having a load of help from your friends makes a huge difference. All of our teams were doing incredibly well after the first few hours, with the Femmes Fatales sitting in an incredible 4th in category. There was a very long way to go, but the guys were absolutely smashing it.
Night Time & Power Hour
The Red Bull Timelaps course is just under 7km, mostly flat apart from three 'little bumps' along the way. These climbs don't feel like much if you do them once, but after multiple laps they start to dig away at you. By the end of the 25 hours 'Breakheart Hill' feels like Mount Ventoux. However, in the evening stints, it's not the hills that can break your spirit, but the solitude. Think back to any good horror film you've ever watched - all the bad stuff happens in the dark!
With 200 riders on the course, you'd think it would be impossible to be alone, but almost all of our riders reported long stints of battling into a headwind alone and in the dark, just praying to see a red light ahead or a white light coming up from behind. Getting into a group is the aim of this particular game. Like any group riding, it offers shelter, company and a little bit of sanity. However, try as you might, sometimes the group just isn't there. As the night progressed and we passed midnight, faces got greyer and chat got harder to find. The power hour was approaching...
You've probably never seen the clocks go back. Most of our team hadn't, but at 1:59am on the 27th October, like the dashboard on the Delorean, the little digits on your Iphone miraculously slide back to 1am. The Power Hour loop opens up and the chosen (lucky) riders have 1 hour to score as many laps as possible. Power Hour laps count for double, so for many teams this is the chance to move up places by stealing an extra lap on the competition. It's the focal point of the race, and each team usually puts out their strongest rider out in the hope of bagging that precious extra lap.
The chosen DW riders were Fraser, Judit, Mira, Chris and Michael. The guys gave it everything out there and scored some excellent times. Fraser managed an awesome 7 laps (only the very top teams got 8) and Judit teamed up with our pal Chloe from TTH to knock out 6 awesome laps and solidify that 4th place. However, important though the Power Hour was, once 2am rolls around (for the second time) the race returns to its normal form and the merry-go-round continues. Still a good 10 hours to go for our hardy bunch.
In fact, those post Power Hour laps really are the hardest of the whole weekend. Knowing that the majority of your team are asleep doesn't half make you feel alone. As much as you'd like to come into the pits, you know no one will be there waiting for you. It's the desire not to let your team down that keeps the riders out there. Knowing that you'll be handing over to an equally knackered teammate meant that no one shirked their share of the work. When speaking to the riders after the event, it was these hard and lonely sessions that they remember most, dare we say it, fondly. Type two fun indeed.
The Most Welcome Sunrise
A night of suffering like Red Bull Timelaps really makes you appreciate the sunrise. We had deployed a strategy perfected by Fraser at Revolve 24 (3rd place finish, it clearly worked) where our teams split into two and took the night shift in turns. It means more sleep, but also a brutal one hour on one hour off shift whilst you're awake. When the sun comes up however the entire pit area starts to come back to life - actual zombies rising from the dead, the end in sight. Throughout the night our corner of the marquee was rammed with friends sleeping in odd places. Teammates jumped into a spare sleeping bag as soon as it was vacated (they'd been through a lot together, the least they could do was share a sleeping bag). However when the sun came up you could start to see the colour returning to the grey faces. Music and even a little bit of laughter was heard in the pits. The end real was in sight.
The majority of our riders had never done Red Bull before (or anything similar), so watching the guys take on the event was incredibly inspiring. From Mira, who had hardly ridden a bike a year ago, to Steve who just 'got off of crushing Iron Man', we had a huge range of abilities in our teams. The support and help they gave each other, despite being tired to the bone and freezing, was delightful. Likewise watching the other teams interact was also pretty special. Some friends, some strangers, but all in the same boat and helping each other through it. The cycling community is pretty special, and this event really brings out the best in everyone.
Results & Stats:
The overall event was won by VeloElite (again) with Team Walrus coming in 3rd (again). Huge kudos to those guys for lighting up what was a way more competitive race than last year. This is evidenced by the fact that casually sliding a fairly handy ringer into your team (even one who's a multi time British champion) doesn't guarantee victory. One of the most encouraging things about the weekend was also the larger number of women taking part. Loads more than last year, and despite a certain online cycling publication causing a stink on Twitter, the weekend was great for women's cycling. The top 3 women's teams; Specialized, Spokes BPC & Team SHHH were immense all weekend, so the fact that Judit, Emma, Nina & Rosie came in a very close 4th place (and 81st overall) was incredible. Here's to even more women and mixed teams taking part next year.
The Dirty Boyz came home in a very respectable 58th overall, just sneaking into the top 50 in category even after Oli's 'puncturegate' (we think he just stopped to take pictures of Dowsett). The Psyclepaths came in an amazing 31st in the mixed category, the Mexicans placed just outside the top 100 and the Wonder Women came 17th in the women's field. Hugely impressive for a bunch of Red Bull first timers who've not been riding their bikes all that long. In truth though, we didn't care about the results at all. This was about the challenge, the community and the confidence completing an event like this instills in our riders. You're all awesome!
Anyway, the real prize for the weekend was 'most number Of KMs completed by one single club'* Sure, it looks like Dowsett got close to that on his own, but our little band managed a collective 3232 kilometres over the 25 hours. Not bad at all gang. *Sure, we may have also made up this award, but it's certainly well deserved.
All of our 20 riders did amazing things this weekend, but if we had to pick a 'star of the weekend' it would have to be Emma Watson. Not just because she set the 5th fastest female lap time, best DW average lap times and scored the highest number of laps out of all our teams. Not even because she dished out advice and encouragement to the others like a true pro. No, it was because of one solitary moment mid-morning on Sunday. Clear up of the mess that 20 athletes will inevitably leave behind was underway, when we heard a high pitched, inaudible scream. Running to the track side to see what horrible accident had occurred, all we saw was a group riding by. Five blokes and one female who, on closer inspection, turned out to be our Emma.
No shout of 'last lap' or anything, so it was hard to know what the scream meant. Only as the group passed, with one member in it standing out particularly, did it start to make sense. The rider was none other than Dowsett himself. Emma had got into his group, was sitting in his wheel and, in true pro style, was screaming to her teammates to make sure they all saw her ride past in such esteemed company! She set a 33.5kph average that lap and had completely emptied herself. The massive smile she had on her face when coming into the pits, exhausted but completely thrilled, fully summed up the weekend. There's no pleasure without pain at Red Bull Timelaps. What makes the event so exciting is that more pain you go through, the more pleasure you get out at the end. Who's in for next year...
Photos courtesy of @photogiro