When I first heard about Red Bull Time Laps, I thought it sounded pretty cool. Taking place on the weekend that the clocks go back, it boasts the title of the ‘World’s Longest One Day Race.’ The format is simple; in teams of four, ride laps of a course in Windsor Park. The team with the most laps wins and there’s an opportunity to boost the team’s total during the ‘extra’ Power Hour at 2am when a new course opens that’s worth double. Wiggle were supporting the event as the official retailer and supplied the on-site mechanics, so we were allowed two free team entries. Definitely not for me, I thought. I’m a leisure cyclist. I enjoy morning rides at the weekend, not races. I’m also not a night owl and will normally be tucked up in bed by ten. I’d look forward to vicariously following the event on my friends’ and colleagues’ social media…until one of these colleagues, Marketing Manager Sarah Pain, came to my desk and asked me to join the team. Taking the ‘if she can do it I can do it' attitude, I wasn’t saying no. With an instant hit of regret, I said yes.
Given how terrified of the event I was, I was surprised by how easy it was to recruit the last two team members, dhb Marketing Manager Kirsty Smith and Merchandiser Julia Davis - clearly I'm not the only glutton for punishment around here. 'I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to represent' said Kirsty, 'As the inaugural Time Laps event from Red Bull, and my first ever race, I couldn’t wait to see what it was all about.' Between us, only Sarah had any experience of 24 hour racing, Kirsty and I had a few sportives to our names and Julia’s background was marathon running rather than cycling but she was attracted to a new challenge which she anticipated would be 'fun but hard.' What we lacked in experience we made up for in enthusiasm, switching running for riding and upping our mileage on the bikes in the lead-up to the event, getting used to riding after dark since we’d be doing plenty of that on the day.
The other team entry was taken by an all-male quartet, Buying Manager Martin McKinlay, Product Owner John Bradford, Buying Assistant James Massey and Business Analyst Ben Gray. James, like myself a keen road cyclist but not a racer, explained that he had 'never ever taken part in an endurance or overnight race, and this sounded like the perfect challenge.' John had also never done anything like this before but wanted to give it a go. 'I quite like a challenge' he said, 'and I thought this would be tough as I have only really been riding a road bike for about 7 months.'
So, on Saturday October 28th, we arrived at Windsor Park for our 07:15 registration. Yawning in the morning frost, we set up our adjoining gazebos in the transition area and set up home for the weekend in the campsite before wheeling our bikes over to our mechanics for one last inspection. Then it was time for the safety briefing and sight laps and that’s when the realisation hit that this course, this small patch of Windsor Park, would be all we would know for 25 hours. We took our time, making the most of the only lap we would ride as a team, noting the twists and turns and chatting about potential hazards. It wasn’t long until we would be racing.
The race went off to an exciting start. The first riders from the 134 teams were raring to go and in the first section there were a few near-misses as everyone found their place in the peloton. Disaster struck for me at the end of lap one in the form of a puncture but luckily Kirsty was ready to take over. I replaced my inner tube and waited for Kirsty so I could take over again but it soon became apparent that something was wrong as riders started to roll back into the pits. There had been an accident which we later learned had resulted in several broken bones – we wished the rider a speedy recovery and resolved that we would be extra careful to keep ourselves and those around us safe when the race restarted.
Thankfully, there were no more accidents and we easily fell into our rhythm of two-hour stints, with the next person ready and waiting in case their team-mate needed to come off early. The daylight hours were full of enthusiasm and laughter in Camp Wiggle. Fuelled by home baking and sugar we watched for our team mates passing by, shouting encouragement. As the sun set we admired the pink autumn sky and set up our fairy lights and speakers, creating a party atmosphere. I’d been nervous about the laps in the dark but that’s when the course literally shone. The organisers had placed reflective signs and lights on corners and there was a particularly beautiful section of woodland where the trees were up-lit. With the help of our bike lights it was easy to see the way and it became a simple game of following the red light in front, sometimes catching it, sometimes not, in peaceful quiet except for whirring freehubs, occasional words of encouragement and even the odd owl hooting.
Having been up so early to arrive for 07:15, as it got later into the night a subdued atmosphere hung over the camp. It was slightly surreal, trying to catch some sleep, knowing you would be up again in the middle of the night to ride. This was a big challenge for us all and, as Ben put it, 'When its 1am and you’ve had no sleep, it's a bit of a low point. However I dug myself out and managed to push through for the good of the team.' John agreed that his main difficulty was lack of sleep, 'especially riding at 3am-5am as fast as you can whilst not having slept in over 24 hours. I am a shell of a man without my sleep.' One of James' most memorable moments was when he was napping in his Dryrobe in the transition area. 'a red faced John ran in shouting he had a puncture. I leapt out my seat threw down my Dryrobe, full kit already on. I grabed the bike and ran off up the transition area. Only to be shouted back, as I had my bobble hat on and not my helmet. These small funny things, were the best bits for me. It made the whole event worthwhile.'
I tried to get some sleep in the tent, but the wind was howling outside, making the tent flap and as the numbers on my watch crept up to 02:00 I was thinking about Sarah who would be just about to embark on the Power Hour. None of us had seen the Power Hour course – all we knew was that it was shorter than the 6.7km main course. I had a feeling that the organisers had a surprise up their sleeve. I got up an hour before my alarm, ate a late-night supper of instant pasta and went back to the gazebo to doze and wait for Sarah. My suspicion about the the shorter course turned out to be true when Martin came running back in from the Power Hour. He looked totally exhausted covered in a sheen of sweat, ready for Ben to take over. The course was indeed shorter but also, in Martin’s words, ‘all uphill.’ With disco lights. Nervously I waited for Sarah but it was a while till she came back in. A light had failed so she had to be escorted to the start by a safety motorbike. She was also exhausted so I hopped back on my bike and set out in the dark for the last of my night-time stints. After that, it would be Julia's final turn, made extra challenging due to an impending chest infection but in retrospect she reflected on taking comfort in the fact that 'everyone else was in the same boat so everyone was destroyed and ploughing on through.'
Kirsty had the privilege of seeing the sun rise which was one of her personal highlights; 'Windsor Park is beautiful, and at some points, it really felt like you had it to yourself.' Meanwhile I tried to catch some sleep but ended up getting up early to see my team mates complete their last two-hour blocks. The talk in the transition area turned to what it must be like to see the sign for the dreaded ‘Breakheart Hill’ for one last time. With renewed enthusiasm it was soon my turn to complete the last stint. I knew the fatigue from lack of sleep was catching up and looking around at the riders slumped in deck-chairs and on bean bags I knew I wasn't alone so I resolved to ride eight more laps, which would be a challenge but achievable. By number seven I knew that I had more than enough time for one more so I took my final 'victory lap' in my stride, taking in the beauty of the park that I hadn't been able to enjoy in 'head-down-racing' mode. Crossing the line before the twelve-o-clock deadline with teammates and friends cheering for me is something I'll never forget. John recalls, 'as the final hour drew in spectators were passing kind words and ringing cow bells.' So many people, including local cycling clubs, came out to see the finish, waving handmade signs and cheering for each and every rider; all this support helped us to power on to the end.
In the end, there was only one lap between the two Wiggle teams and we finished in 100th and 104th place out of 134 teams, smashing our objective of simply not being dead last. That didn't even matter so much though - what we'll remember is tackling this challenge as a team, sharing laughs through the dark hours and making the most of this unique event in such a beautiful place. Kirsty's favourite things were 'the comradery and the sense of achievement.' She recalls that 'there were times I had to have words with myself to power through, but there were also times I laughed until I cried with the team.' James agrees that the comeradery made the race special and loved that 'everyone was buzzing, and plenty of other teams would shout out to keep you going. The event was really friendly and just a bunch of nutters that loved to ride bikes and have fun.' For Julia, 'it was great to be surrounded by so many awesome riders as well as having two amazing Wiggle teams. It was really well organised and although it was pretty competitive, it was also pretty relaxed at the same time.'
Ben remembers with a smile the time when 'one of the team came in early due to injury, I had to muster up an extra twenty minutes on top of the two hours I was due with only an hours sleep since Friday night. Thankfully it was 6.40am. The sun was coming up, the wind was howling, there were brown and orange leaves blowing all over the place and the scenery was beautiful. That was a moment of pure joy that was unbeatable and will remain my highlight. I also loved meeting strangers at three in the morning who were in the same place, chewing the fat and generally going a bit mental from the lack of sleep.'
We would all like to thank everybody involved, from the organisers to the amazing marshalls along with all the teams keeping each other motivated and all the fantastic spectators that made the time to make the finish extra special. Special thanks goes to our mechanics, Steve Mullins and Rob Angell who worked tirelessly day and night to keep everybody running. It made us proud to hear such glowing feedback from everyone who used their services. Hopefully this is the first of many Red Bull Time Laps and maybe you'll be there next time?
Team Wiggle's essential kit
Racing for 25 hours is not only a physical challenge. We needed kit that we could rely on to keep us warm and dry whatever the weather did as well as lights powerful enough to see unlit sections of the course and of course everything we needed to camp. Here's some of our favorites:
Dryrobe - This was the star of the show. Created as a changing robe for triathlon and sea swimming, we wore them in the transition area constantly and even slept under them. Thermal and waterproof there's nothing better if you're spending a long time outdoors in cycling kit. John enthused 'I lived in it the whole weekend and you couldn’t have paid me any amount of money to part with it during the evening' and Ben added 'that thing saved the day for our whole team.' Julia was so attached to hers she even wore it to the supermarket on the way home and is considering starting a blog called 'Life in a Dryrobe.'
dhb Aeron Winter Weight Merino Sock - 'We were incredibly lucky to have a mild, almost dry 25 hours,' said Kirsty 'but I always suffer from cold toes. Not so in these socks! I felt toasty warm, and it didn’t matter that I wore them for longer than I care to admit…'
Exposure Strada 900 - 'Obviously it was important to have powerful and reliable lights and the Exposure Strada was incredible for the night laps,' explains Ben. For John, they 'made the downhills at night with crosswinds far less sketchy.'
Cateye Volt 1200 Front Light - This was quick to charge and easy to fit. Even on the middle setting it provided enough light for me to ride with confidence.
Knog PWR Rider 450L - An excellent backup with enough power on the highest setting to light the way. The genius thing about this light is that it doubles as a power-bank so I was able to charge my phone once the race had finished to contact home.
Knog Light Blinder Mob V 4 Eyes Rear - The reflectors built into this rear light boost the range of the four LEDs and it's easy to take on and off the bike for charging between rides.
Exposure Blaze Rear With Daybright And ReAKT Technology - The men's team all agreed that this was the best rear light they had used. It automatically adapts to riding conditions, flaring up under braking or entering brighter environments.
Zipp 404 NSW Full Carbon Clincher Wheelset (Shimano) - Martin found that these were the 'perfect wheels for an event like this, light, super fast and planted when the cross winds picked up.' As the mens' team's star rider, he thinks they came into their own when he was 'mixing it up with the big boys on the restart lap when everyone was aiming for a fast lap amongst the peloton.'
Nordisk Telemark 2 Light Weight Tent - James loved his Nordisk tent - 'It was perfect for the event. It's a two man, so it had room for me and my kit bag. Lightweight and easy to throw up.'
dhb Merino Long Sleeve Base Layer - Made from a merino blend designed to be warm and wicking, for Ben it 'outperformed its price tag by miles!'
GripGrab Women's Hurricane Gloves - Thin enough to retain a decent amount of dexterity, windproof and wicking, these were the perfect choice for the unusually mild October weekend.
Kitbrix - Here at Wiggle we've been putting Kitbrix to the test and we're excited to say that they passed with flying colours and they'll be available to buy very soon. Rugged and waterproof, they have plenty of zipped pockets inside as well as stretchy external pockets and they even zip together making it easy to carry mulitple kits. They were perfect for Timelaps - I used mine to keep extra sets of dry kit, tools and spares in the gazebo seperate from my other stuff so if I needed fresh clothes I knew exactly where to find them. The customised icon meant I could tell my Kitbrix apart from the others.