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How to ride for 25 hours – and win | Red Bull Time Laps Report

Over the 28th and 29th of October, 134 teams of male and female riders gathered as Red Bull Timelaps challenged cyclists to compete in the world’s longest one-day cycling race. In the mix of the assorted riders, were a female team representing Paria. to quote Red Bull :

As summer faded to winter, teams of four raced through the night on the weekend the clocks went back in the UK, making it a gruelling 25-hour race against time.

Our Paria team on paper looked a bit of an outside bet for the ride, not really a team – more a bunch of people who were up for a challenge;

Louise Gibson, Jess Edie, Alex Ede, and Olivia Carnegie-Brown.

Having Olympic Silver winning rowers in the team was always going to give a base level of fitness and endurance, but cycling can throw a few curved balls up so it was an open gambit all round.

We’ve asked Lou and the team to write a few words, to explain what it felt like and tell us how they got on….

It all started back in July. I heard about this 25 hour team race in Windsor Great Park through a friend that works for RedBull. That sounds like a fun challenge thought I, but I needed a team. My first port of call was a cycling friend of mine that busts out 24 hour events all by himself, Chris Hall. He’d be an awesome team member, unfortunately he was already sorted with a team, a seriously strong one at that, and couple of the best riders I know were in his team. My tactics changed. A mixed sex team wasn’t going to get me to any glory, I needed girls, strong determined girls, I was going to find a female team and we were going to try and smash it. I sent a couple of messages around and had some possibilities but I had a good lead from Sam from Paria, the awesome cycling clothing company that look after me. He put me in touch with Jess Eddie, an Olympian with a silver medal from Rio last year….. yup, she’d do just fine. She is a rower who has started cycling, wearing Paria and enjoying the brand. I emailed her and asked if she’d be interested in forming a female team for the race. She was well up for it and she was going to bring another strong rider to the party too.

Her emails were very exciting: “I have asked around some of my rowing friends, the ones who are pretty damn fast at cycling, to see if any of them would be keen. We like endurance events so if nothing else you can be sure we’ll be still going for it after 25 hours. I have 2 possibilities, they are Heather Stanning, double Olympic gold medallist and Olivia Carnegie-Brown, Olympic silver medallist in my crew from last year”. Excellent, things were coming together nicely. I’d already sourced another team member in Alex Ede, a girl who rides for my club, GS Henley. Seriously strong, really lovely and recently smashed another IronMan. I started to realise I was the weak link. Yikes. I kept training, I didn’t want to lose any of the fitness I’d gained leading up to the summer and the Etape du Tour, but the end of October was a long way off!

Jess confirmed it would be Olivia (OCB) that would be our 4th team member and we were set. I entered us into the race and we kind of forgot about it all for a while, carrying on with our busy lives. We were all so busy and in and out of the country that we didn’t actually manage to all meet up before the race! We met independently and carried on training and had lots of tactics chat over email and WhatsApp.

Somehow the end of October came round and it was time to race. We had quite an early start time and had to be in Windsor Great Park by 7.30am on the Saturday morning, writing off any plans for a lie in that morning! We nervously gathered, a bit scared to see frost on the floor, trying to not think about the fact we would be in tents or bicycles for the next day and a half…. The weather forecast was good though and once the sun came up it was a lovely day.

We registered and started setting our pit up in the transition zone. We had slightly overestimated our 3 x 3 metre slot and had a gazebo almost big enough to fill the park and cover Windsor Castle too. Luckily the team next to us didn’t mind our gazebo going over theirs! The other side of us was OCB’s boyfriend Scotty’s team. A great bunch of guys who added to the camaraderie and fun of the day. That was one of things we wanted to try and do throughout it all, have fun. Yes, cycle our socks off and go as hard and fast as we could, but we wanted to stay safe and enjoy it too. The boys really helped with that, having another team there meant you were never alone even in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning, there was some other like minded nutcase warming up or cooling down next to you knowing exactly what you were going through. Our setup was good too, we had everything we needed right there under our enormous gazebo, a load of nutritional goodies from Tribe and even a sports massage therapist at our disposal. We worked well as a team and we were having fun.

We enjoyed our sighting lap together and the course was good. I’d scouted it a couple of weeks ago and was relieved it wasn’t too hilly so there was a good chance I would keep my hill induced Tourette’s at bay. One technical section in a downhill and corner, but nothing too scary. Jess had volunteered to go first. She was unfazed by the thoughts of the first hour being utter carnage, and utter carnage it was. The race started at midday and they set off at a furious pace. We had been reminded that no 25 hour race was won in the first lap but that didn’t seem to sink in. Unfortunately a big crash happened about 2 laps in (get well soon Jim from Road.CC) and the race was stopped for over an hour, but eventually restarted. Jess was ok to continue and off she went again, no slower and no let up on the crazy pace! We had decided we would rotate after every hour which was about 5 laps and that’s what we did and it worked well. It gave us a chance to recover in between and wasn’t too long that you couldn’t go full gas on your turn. OCB was up after Jess, who was also unfazed (those Olympians, they are something else), then me, then Alex. We hadn’t decided on who was going to be our 2am Power Hour star as we were all being far too modest on our abilities. We decided to analyse our stats after we’d all had a couple of rotations and see. Communication was key to our success because we were never all in one place at one time again as there was always a team member on the track. It became clear that Alex was going to be our secret weapon for the Power Hour, she was consistently knocking out speedy laps and not tiring. We had to be clever with the timings leading up to it though, the Power Hour was on a different course that you couldn’t join until exactly 2am and you didn’t want to be late getting to it either because laps on it were worth double, so ultra valuable. I was on the track before the 2am slot and we’d decided if I was passing the timer at anything after 1.40am to pull in or we’d be risking not getting back in time after another lap and Alex being late for the Power Hour. As I flew past the timer at 1.41 I made a big scary judgement call to ignore the 1.40 rule and go for another lap. I put my head down and raced hard. I knew this lap would be wonderful if banked but a complete disaster if something happened on that lap. It was a risk that was worth taking because thank goodness it was fine and I got round and back to Alex well in advance of her needing to head off. Off she went and for that hour an eery silence filled the course. No riders were passing or transitioning now. They were all up on the Power Hour loop and lots of resting riders were sleeping, or trying to at this stage. I found it completely impossible to switch off and sleep. Cycling at night on this course was a complete rush and the endorphins were flying around my body; I could’nt zone out or wind down, nor could I stop monitoring our stats and position, it was so close between the top few teams!

Meanwhile, Alex was rocking it on the Power Hour course, here’s what she had to say about it:

“At 2am the clocks go back and the rest of the country soaks up an extra hour in bed… We, however, entered the Power Hour! A special, shortened, loop off of the main route where each lap is worth double points. Strict rules meant if you reached the start of the loop even 5 seconds early you would be forced to complete a standard lap, and thus risk losing 12 precious minutes on the power lap. Understandably, therefore, I wanted to make sure I hit it bob on to maximise points. Less understandably, I failed to realise where it started… It was in fact several minutes further round the course than I had anticipated. 4 minutes wasted… Damn!

The start of the course was marked by several multi coloured lasers across the road, designed to dazzle you each lap you took. Tentatively exploring the new course in the dark I took the first lap steady to judge the corners, the hills and the road surface. Second lap and it was game on! I quickly started overtaking slower groups and powering by, however I knew to keep a decent speed I needed to find someone to work with. Halfway round the second lap I spotted someone ahead hopping round groups just like me. Taking several painful minutes to catch him I knew that meant my efforts would be worthwhile. Sure enough, we worked together to keep the pace up, picking up two extras on route. Keeping a close eye on times we knew the duration each lap took and thus our estimated total laps within the hour (any lap started but not finished within the hour was a wasted lap and not counted). Encouraging each other after every turn on the front we continued to pass group after group.

Lap 5 crossed and my new mate shouts “2 more”. I check the time, yes keep this speed and we can manage 7 laps. Lap 7 and it started hurting, really hurting. We were down to 3 in the group and I feared holding my main man back from completing the 7th . Shouting to go on without me, comradery really stood in. “We’ve come this far we’re going to finish together, you’re strong enough keep it going” he shouted and sure enough the three of us smashed past the final lap crossing the line in 59 minutes – timed to perfection!! 7 laps under our belt, only one male peloton managed 8 laps and they crossed with barely seconds to go. In we paced to pass the baton and collapse to the floor, but not before our power laps team of 3 gave each other a huge well done and hand shake. To rider 417; chapeau you smashed it and showed real rider integrity keeping us going right to the end!! What an awesome hour!!”

So, amazing Alex played an absolute blinder on the Power Hour and totally rocked it, even managing to pick up a QOM on one of the sections of it. The 7 laps she banked counted for 14. We were safely into 2nd or 3rd place with that as only us, 5th Floor and Team Shhh had managed to get 7 laps within our category. We just needed to keep going, and keep going we did.

OCB and Jess did well and were disciplined, they managed to get some sleep in the night, a nap here and there which helped them recover and regroup. Alex and I weren’t so lucky though, at one stage we were talking to each other through our tents about how impossible it was to sleep but at least we were resting right?!

The night wasn’t as long as I thought it would be. I think the longest part of the race was the evening. I remember thinking at about 8pm oh yikes, it’s not even halfway yet, nowhere near!!! But time passed and before we knew it daylight came round. Unfortunately the new day brought some rain, which wasn’t forecast and wasn’t very pleasant, but it didn’t last long and it once again didn’t slow down the pace, which remained furious from start to finish.

I haven’t taken part in team events for cycling before and I found it hard not to feel immense pressure and like you’re letting the side down. Thankfully, by being honest about how we were feeling and what our abilities were, these feelings of inferiority passed and we got on with the job in hand.

We decided to drop to 4 laps each at about 4am. Going crazy for an hour was starting to get hard and we didn’t want our speeds to drop too much. The hills that didn’t seem too bad on our sighting lap were now bringing back flashbacks of how I felt on the Col D’Izoard back in July, it was not getting any easier and I was dangerously close to morphing into Sweary Mary. Even the run through the transition zone was starting to feel like a marathon!

We were now playing cat and mouse with Team Shhh for 2nd place, with 5th Floor  so far out in front there was no way we could make up the extra laps they had on us. To be honest though, it was ok. We were a team of girls that had never met or ridden with each other before and we were doing amazingly well and most importantly, we were enjoying it…. To podium would be an incredible result so we were going to do our best to stay there in the Top 3.

2nd place would be fantastic though hey?

Yes, we thought so, so we made another tactical call in our lineup order leading up to the race ending at midday. OCB would cut her stint slightly short by only doing 3 laps, we’d skip me and we’d fire our little pocket rocket Alex back onto the course again for the last couple of laps. I was still analysing the stats by the second and think I may have worn out the refresh button on my phone but it was close, with an hour to go we were about 20 seconds ahead of Team Shhh. Too close for our liking. Luckily Alex pulled away and the gap got slightly bigger. We had worked out though that Alex needed to come past us on her penultimate lap at 11.49 or earlier or there wouldn’t be time for another. As she flew through at 11.49.04 it was down to the wire, could she, would she? Bless her, she came past shouting shall I?! We decided no, she wouldn’t get back and round in sub 11 minutes at this stage and anyway, we’d done it. Team Shhh hadn’t come back in from their lap yet so wouldn’t get a rider round for another lap in that time either. We called her back in. We were done. We’d done it, we were going to be on the podium, we’d got 2nd place. We were absolutely delighted and relieved it was over. We were physically and mentally exhausted but over the moon. All 4 of us had cycled over 100 miles each at a pace between 18 – 21 MPH for hours and hours on end, with little or no sleep.

The final results were 5th Floor – 120 laps, us (Paria CC) – 114 laps in 24H 48M 37S and Team Shhh – 114 laps in 24H 50M 03S.

Massive kudos to the unbelievably strong 5th Floor girls and huge well done to Team Shhh, you kept us fighting and pushing, unbelievable it came down to seconds over that length of time.

We enjoyed the presentation where we stood on the podium feeling victorious and got an amazing trophy and a bottle of champagne which I promptly blasted at the crowd (mostly focussing on the photographer to my right, oops) then passed around the team for a swig or two.

We climbed down from the podium and went to pack up. I got my beautiful pink Bianchi washed by the lovely Muc-Off people and we cleared up our stuff. We had kit all over the place. Speaking of kit, we have to say a massive thank you to Paria. We looked smart as a team and got lots of compliments on our kit, thank you for sorting us out. We hope we did you proud! Also huge thanks to my dream team: Jess, OCB and Alex, thank you so much, you made it an incredible experience, I was so proud and honoured to race with you. I will never forget this weekend and the feeling of standing on that podium with you.

Now, what shall we do next?!

One response to “How to ride for 25 hours – and win | Red Bull Time Laps Report”

  1. Aba says:

    Congratulations ladies, an amazing achievement!

    Chapeau!

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