Words: Lou Boyd Diary: Lorena Jones
What did you do with your extra hour when the clocks went back at 1am in October last year? Most of us were probably dancing the night away at a Halloween bash, or tucked up in bed enjoying the extra little bit of snoozing. For all the people who entered the behemoth bike race Red Bull Timelaps in Windsor Park however, this hour was just another chance to rack up their racing points and put power to pedal to cycle through the night.
Starting on midday on Saturday 28 October and finishing at noon the following day, this event saw 150 teams of four riders take on a 6.6 kilometre closed circuit inside the park in the shadow of Windsor Castle in Berkshire.
The Timelaps is not your usual cycling event. Lasting 25 hours, it tests competing teams on endurance, strategy and determination, as one person from each team must be riding at all times for the entire event, with the team who completes the most laps taking home the winning spot and race trophy.
After finding out about this crazy race, we decided that we had to give it a go, so we sent Lorena Jones with a team of four to Windsor Park, to see if they could survive 25 hours of straight cycling without passing out from exhaustion or losing their minds. This is how they did...
4am - Time to get up!
Annie and Esther drove to the event last night with most of our bags but I had to work, so it’s out of the house at 5am with a big still packed to the brim, I ride to the train station. Three connections later I make it to Egham which is just outside great Windsor Park. I grab a coffee then made my way to the venue to meet Esther, Annie and Wiesia.
8am - The Wrong Place?
The event isn’t really signposted from the main road and there aren’t huge amounts of signs as I enter the park either, which makes me worry I’m in the wrong place – Too late now if I am! Thankfully I am in the right place after all and the Red Bull branded tent emerges before me like a hidden gem in the great park.
Arriving at the main registration tent I realise that regardless of my early start and confusing journey, I’m actually the first one there of the team. As I wait for the others to arrive I can feel my hands freezing, if it’s this cold now how cold will it be for us to ride through the night?
9am - The Team Meets For The First Time
The team arrives! This is the first time Esther and Annie have met Wiesia and are now about to spend all night in a 2 man tent together, what a quick way to get to know one another. There's nothing quite like tent building to get a bit of team spirit going however, so we sign up as a four and set to work erecting the tent I had borrowed from Outdoors Magic at a last minute. I would have helped build it, but the puzzled looks were too funny not to film, so I stand back and film instead.
We had all agreed in advance that we weren’t going to take the event too seriously, but just have fun and enjoy it, what we hadn’t planned however was for most of the team to be hungover – myself included. Things are already proving a bit too much for Wiesia, who decides to take a quick nap OUTSIDE of our beautifully erected tent.
11am - The Briefing
Ushered to the briefing we’re met with a sea of nervous but excited faces huddled together like penguins in the main tent. The briefing is light-hearted with a few jokes thrown in but the main safety aspects are emphasized and we leave knowing what is and isn’t acceptable for the next 25 hours. With this I feel a bit more confident that the peloton will be controlled, even if not calm. Lining up in team numbers at the side fence we get ready for the gun to blast.
12pm - The Start! ...Or Is It?
We’re off! With a speedy start, the faster riders jostle for position towards the front, but as we’re lined up in team number and not by speed it means they have to speed past us slower riders to get there. I’m definitely not the only one finding it pretty nerve wracking, but thankfully things settle down quite quickly and we find ourselves in bunches with riders of a similar pace to comfortably ride the next lap and a half.
Two thirds of the way round the second lap however, we’re met with red flags - there has been an accident. Riding past the tangle of bikes and cyclists at the bottom of the hill, our wheels leave traces of blood from what had spilled out into the road and at the centre of the shocking scene there’s a man laying perfectly still, this doesn’t bode well.
The race had been stopped. There are lots of rumblings between the riders as to what had happened, who had seen what and whether the race will start again completely or restart from where it had been stopped. We’re told to leave the track and wait in with our teams until further instruction. I was welcomed back by my three teammates, with the shock of what I had just seen it was the best welcome ever – those lovely smiling faces.
1pm - The Second Start
Back in position we wait again in number order at the start line. The number order is rather questionable this time around, as a few folk just go to their nearest spot.
We’re off again, whiz whiz whiz! I squeeze into the bank as the faster more competitive riders jostle for position. Four comfortable laps and I'm home and dry, ready to change with person two.
4pm - Not Racing
We had all agreed not to seriously race this event, but now we're out on the road we can't help but get carried away.
Individually we’re sucked into race mode for short periods out on the road and find ourselves strategically timing the changeovers to maximise our time in the power hour. Our outrageously bad changeovers are quickly putting an end to our competitive hopes however, while also providing a huge amount of entertainment to the neighbouring teams. Fired up on adrenaline and the atmosphere on the road, we sprint up the gangway to the tent ready to pass the armband across each time, but are met each time with a huge anti-climax as the next in line is not ready – no shoes, no helmet, can’t find the bike. At this rate, its not looking like we're going to be on the podium come tomorrow noon...
8pm - Down time
The three hours between my laps are passing in the blink of an eye, I change out of sweaty kit and into warm and dry clothing each time my riding section finishes and join the rest of the team in the tent for an important pastime, eating until I ride again. Oreo and banana sandwiches, peanut-butter and Oreos between oatcakes are a few culinary staples of the day.
Sitting in the warm gazebo with my laptop open, I try and recount the last couple of hours for this diary but tiredness takes over. The next thing I know, I’m woken up by Jonathan, a chap I was chatting to at the start line who has found me face-planted on my laptop with keyboard marks imprinted on my face. Jonathan is equally tired and clutching on to a fluffy hot water bottle. It seems like there is a whole new level of ‘acceptable’ when it comes to 24hr cycling events.
1am - Power hour
The power hour is a diversion from the original route onto a smaller section of the park. It lasts an hour and is held when the clocks go back. All laps within this period are doubled – so you can bet your bottom dollar it will be fast.
Having already done the start twice and not being the biggest fan of bunch riding, we decide that perhaps I’m not the best person for the job here. Esther was already out so it was between Annie and Wiesia as to who would ride next and who would do the Power hour.
You can't enter the power hour section before the strike of the hour, so if we mistime our laps or changeover and get to the diversion a minute early we would have to go around the original lap before joining the diversion and gaining any double lap times. We time it perfectly and Wiesia smashes through the hour! Coming back to the team she’s absolutely buzzing.
5am- Early morning delirium
We had been warned that the pheasants often make an appearance at dawn and dusk on this route and that they aren’t the sharpest tools in the box, likely to run at your speeding bike instead of away from it. A pheasant attempts to cross the road as I speed down a hill towards a ten per cent climb. Yelling at the top of my voice I reluctantly hit the brakes and somehow, between my sleep deprivation and the lack of light in the early hours, both pheasant and I manage to make it out unscathed.
12pm - End of the event
Hour twenty five has arrived! It has felt at points like it would never happen, but finally, it’s here. Running to the finish line, we loudly cheer as Esther speeds through the final lap and joins us in our newly formed friendship group. We might not be on the podium, but we had got through the night and had become friends, a pretty awesome feeling.
Find the 2017 Timelaps winners and best times at the official Red Bull site here. Red Bull Timelaps is held in Windsor Park, check back for 2018's information at this URL.