Where can you find amateur racers, weekend riders and former World Hour Record holders (namely Alex Dowsett) racing around a park in the middle of the night, through bitterly cold temperatures and rain?
Now in its second year, the Red Bull Time Laps is a one-of-a-kind event. ‘The World’s Longest One Day Race,’ they call it. Why? Because, thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time, we get an extra hour!
The end of October can be a miserable affair. Cold, damp, grey – most normal people will enjoy spending that extra hour tucked up in bed. Not us cyclists. An extra hour? For free? Best spend it on the bike!
Not convinced? Well, on the weekend the clocks went back, a massive 800 riders descended on the iconic Windsor Great Park.
The concept is simple. From midday on Saturday until midday on Sunday, teams of four take turns to race a 6.6km circuit. The team with the most laps wins.
Of course, they don’t give us an easy time on that ‘free’ hour. At two o’clock in the morning, a shorter and previously unseen course opens where each lap is worth double.
Not put off by the experience of the 2017 event, Wiggle sent two teams to take on the 25-hour epic. I was joined by Marketing Manager Sarah Pain once more and dhb designers Rebecca Clarke and Hannah Brighton completed the lineup of Team dhbae.
On Team Wiggle, we had Buying Manager Martin McKinlay and Business Analyst Ben Gray returning for round two and they were joined by Ben Marvin and Jodie Shann from Vitus.
Why did we do it?
Good question. The weather in October can be lovely. It can also be unforgivingly dreadful. The same weekend in 2017 was positively balmy, with many riders in shorts for the duration. This filled me with dread for year two – we can’t be that lucky twice in a row.
When the invitation came from Red Bull, my first answer was ‘no.’ Yet somehow, as soon as my 2017 teammate Sarah said she was in, I was hit with the dreaded ‘fear of missing out.’ The rose-tinted glasses came on as I recalled what an amazing weekend it was, full of camaraderie and laughter, and I found myself signing up (against my better judgment).
Sarah’s motto? ‘If I can’t think of a good reason not to, then I probably should.’ Her infectious can-do attitude often gets others in the office stepping outside their comfort zone and, to be fair, they’re normally glad they did!
For our other two teammates, Rebecca and Hannah, this would be their first experience of racing. ‘I wanted to see what a race was actually like,’ said Hannah. ‘There’s a good mix of abilities and I like the idea of completing something with a team around for support.’
On the men’s team, veterans Martin and Ben clearly had such a good time last year they were happy to return and maybe better their previous performance. For Jodie, this was his debut at Time Laps but his fourth 24 (+) hour race. ‘I like a challenge. I’ve moved on from regular racing in standard formats, to trying to find the next adventure,’ he explained. ‘I prefer the personal challenge of something a bit different.’
Wasn’t it unseasonably cold that weekend?
Unseasonably, unreasonably, ridiculously cold. Yes.
If I hadn’t committed myself to the event, and more importantly the team, I can think of more enjoyable ways to spend the weekend, mainly involving Netflix and a blanket.
We were kitted out in the latest dhb Equinox kit which is designed to be layered to cover most winter conditions. The race fit meant it was the perfect choice for Time Laps, but we quickly got cold waiting in between turns on the course.
‘It was bitterly cold, especially compared to the previous warm weekend, with a savage wind, and some rain thrown in for extra measure,’ said Sarah. ‘I was OK riding but between rides I got really cold. Before and after my 2am stint I was shivering trying to keep warm – I remember my teeth clattering together and not being able to stop it.’
Hannah started off feeling strong but felt the effects of the weather start to take their toll as the hours ticked by. ‘By my second stint the weather had worsened. My spirits were still high, but my performance dropped. I didn’t manage to get warm after that and by my third stint it started to rain.’
Was it worth it?
In retrospect, yes. We had a great time and we’re already talking about next year.
Hannah has only taken up cycling in the last few years and suffered through the cold and rain, but now she feels she has unfinished business. ‘It was worth it to say that my first ever race was a 25 hour one – who can say that! I want to come back, so I can smash the number of laps I did this year.’
‘Despite the weather, this was one of the more enjoyable races I’ve done,’ said Jodie. ‘I really liked the fact it was a short circuit. It was easy to stay motivated knowing you were never far from the event village or a change of direction out of a headwind.’
Sarah added ‘I’m really pleased with our performance. We toughed it out as a team. On a personal level, I’m pleased that I only lost about 2mph between stints, mainly due to cold and fatigue. By the end, just spinning was a massive challenge but everybody else was exhausted too.’
What did we learn?
Sound good so far? Thinking about having a go next year? Here are our top tips for surviving the 25-hour Red Bull Time Laps.
You’ll need to decide as a team how you break up the workload. Some teams opted for longer ‘shifts’ which meant longer resting time, others went for short stints so that riders would be expending short ‘bursts’ of energy but have less time to rest.
Having a rough timetable means you can decide in advance which rider takes on the ‘Power Hour.’
During the night, sticking to a plan is extra important so you don’t end up coming off the course to find your team are all asleep. Agree on a 'window' either side of your allotted time (we thought fifteen minutes was enough) to be ready to tag in.
Team dhbae had a simple strategy of two hours on, six hours off with Sarah racing the ‘spare’ hour at the start. ‘Riding the first hour, I felt great on fresh legs, and it was fantastic to get some fast laps in,’ Sarah said afterwards. ‘The six-hour break between stints was enough to eat and get a bit of rest at night.
Hannah agreed that it was great to do longer stints overnight so that we could all get enough rest but added that it could get lonely out there. ‘I normally ride in a group, so I felt like I was losing steam after the first hour with nobody to talk to. If I did it again, I’d probably do shorter stints during the day.’
Kit up and keep warm
It’s late October. Hope for the best but expect the worst.
In 2017 we were lucky. We camped out in tents and I brought my lightweight sleeping bag, rated down to five degrees. If we had been in a tent this year, I think I would have ended up joining the piles of sleeping bags on the floor of the (moderately) heated ‘Welfare Tent’ that Red Bull had provided. Thankfully, Hannah’s grandad had lent us his camper van for the weekend, so we were able to get some proper rest.
Between rides, we still needed to spend a great proportion of the time in the transition area with only a gazebo for shelter. ‘I wish that I had known that before,’ Hannah admitted. ‘If I did it again, I’d be more prepared with warmer items of clothing for when I was not riding. Hot water bottles and extra socks!’
Hannah’s favourite must-have kit? ‘Definitely the dhb Windproof Cycling Gloves. There were parts of the ride where my body was freezing cold but my hands never were. In between my turns I would take of the gloves and attempt to dry them. They never completely dried but they still didn’t let me down. No liner glove needed.’
With the weather forecast seeming to change constantly in the week leading up, taking multiple layers from the dhb Equinox range was absolutely the right thing to do. ‘The Aeron Speed Bib Tights were perfect in cold windy conditions and comfy for long stints in the saddle,’ Sarah said. ‘I also loved the flexibility of the Aeron Alpha Gilet which kept my core warm. On my overnight stint we had heavy rain and the Tempo 2 Waterproof Jacket really came into its own.’
Don't forget to prepare your bike
25 hours is a long time. Out on the course, there’s no mechanical assistance. If you suffer a mishap, you have two options: fix it yourself or sling your bike over a shoulder and run back to the finish.
Mechanicals happen at the least convenient times but having a well-maintained bike will significantly reduce the chances. You’ll wonder why you bothered by the end, but give your bike a good clean, use a winter lube and check it over before you travel.
Jodie set up his Vitus ZX-1with tubeless tyres. ‘I had no worries of punctures, so I didn’t have to carry extra tubes and a pump.’
I chose to race on the Vitus Vitesse Evo because, for me, the geometry is comfortable over long rides but it's also pretty snappy with confidence-inspiring handling on corners. Being pretty clueless with maintenance issues, I asked Ben from Vitus for a safety check.
Like Jodie, I opted to go tubeless and was running a pair of Schwalbe Pro Ones. It was my first time on 28cs and I felt much more confident on the slick, wet surfaces than I would have done on the 23cs I normally ride on.
Remember to eat and drink
During colder months, I often find it hard to eat and drink on rides. However, if you’re going to survive a 25-hour relay, it’s really important to keep your fuel topped up, even if you don’t want to.
Red Bull provide all riders with a meal token to cover a hot meal from the food trucks. Baked potatoes were a popular option – a good, filling lump of carbs. Don’t just rely on the catering though – it's important that you take a variety of sports nutrition, comforting junk food and even some healthy stuff. The key is to have readily-available, appealing food to pick at throughout the event.
‘On relays like this I always eat after I’ve finished riding so that I have the longest possible time to digest it before you’re next out – it works,’ Sarah explained. ‘It means you’re eating at strange times of the day and night which can be hard, so something yummy can really make the difference.’
We made sure in advance that we were all bringing different food to share. I’m not a great baker so my contribution was stodgy porridge and pasta pots that could be made up with hot water. The others brought home-made brownies, egg bites, sandwiches, fruit and there was always a supply of sweets on hand.
Light the way
The race doesn’t stop when darkness falls. Although there is some lighting on the course, particularly on potential hazards such as tight bends, you’ll need powerful and reliable bike lights, so you can see where you’re going on the unlit sections.
Lights must be on static rather than flashing mode and you’ll need to be confident that the battery will last as long as you’re out there – anybody found without lights will be escorted off the course.
The organizers supply power outlets in the Welfare Tent. We got into a routine of putting lights on to charge as soon as we came off the course. We also made sure we had secondary ‘backup’ lights with us.
Will we see you there this year? Red Bull Time Laps 2019 takes place October 26-27.