This year has been a very difficult year with all that’s happening since March.

On top of the pandemic, lockdown, people worrying about loved ones and jobs, our cycling community has taken battering.

The race calendar has completely stopped, small businesses that run races have struggled, offering refunds or asking if you can support them by deferring your entry to next year.  It’s been tough for everyone.

If, like myself, your racing is more of an escape, a get together with like minded people where you can forget about life’s pressures and curved balls for a hour, a day or a weekend then that’s what signing up for the Red Bull Timelaps Challenge was all about.

Budge had mentioned this ‘race’ a couple of weeks ago and stirred my interest, but couldn’t do it having committed to racing in a local CX race.  However I knew the team I could ask.

Andy Kindness, Mike Milne and Neil Scott, all hardy 24hr mountain bike racers who I’ve raced with over the years and know a thing or to about digging in when they need too.  Once I contacted the guys they cautiously agreed.  25hrs, on a turbo, racing in the virtual world. But heh, in the comfort of your own home (or garage).  How hard could this be?

Our team name ‘200 and Counting’ was something to do with our combined age I think 🙂

The racing platform would be Zwift, the virtual cycling world that has kept the community ticking along, with professional teams and races now taking place on it.

Neil, Andy and myself are Zwifters, on it a few days a week (17 days and 4hrs for myself up to Saturday) and pretty much up to speed on how it works.  Mike, was new to Zwift and fitted in well, despite getting a very steep learning curve on drafting, pace and bike choice.

Once signed up there was no going back.  We had committed to each other and if I’m honest, glad to be being competitive again.  Something to focus on for the weekend rather than what’s happening around us.

Friday before the event, we all received a Red Bull package through the post.  A box of Red Bull, some flyers and a flurry of emails explaining the rules.

All rides would have to be done and saved to Strava.  Riders riding simultaneously would incur penalties.  Any bike or course could be used.  And there was the magic power hour, at 2am when the clocks go back to 1am, miles achieved during the hour would be doubled.

Each of us decided to do one and a half hour stints, then come the power hour, fifteen minutes each to try and TT it a gain a few extra miles.

And so on the Saturday afternoon at 12pm Andy kicked us off with a strong 36 mile stint.  Me next with 37 miles, Neil with 37 miles and Mike with 35 miles. Each from the relative comfort of our own environment.

What became apparent as the day wore on was the sustained effort we were all doing.  Being used to racing on a mountain bike, more interval based, strong hard efforts on stupidly steep technical climbs and then recovering on the descents.  This challenge was completely different to what we were normally used to.  More like time trial efforts, constant spinning to keep pace, heart rate either in threshold or tempo, no recovery during our stints. This was more mind and body than we thought it would be.

Setting the bar at a level that could only go south, we were sitting in the top 10 for a good period of the day in the male category.  No grand vets category here. It was hard, I’m not going to lie, probably harder than I expected given the power and the pace we had to put out to get where we were. We had raced on Zwift before, B and C category races, but this was a different animal.

As the race wore on we had a few glitches.  During Power Hour we were penalised miles (a lot of people were, mainly down to the clocks going back and the syncing of times from different platforms) and had 15 miles wiped.  Then again later for the same issue, but to be honest at that point were just in it for each other.

The chat on Messenger, the fuelling strategies, Andy listening to Elvis radio and Neil with his golden oldies during their stints.  Me comparing the race at midnight to the Kielder Chiller 24 a couple of years ago, Wendy (Mike’s wife and our regular coach during 24s) joining Mike in the garage for his last stint made my race if I’m honest, forget our placing at the end, it was the fact that four mates were back doing what we love, our escape from the norm.

I think we all agreed though, we would much rather race in the mud and the dirt in the future.

As for our final position, with penalties and my last ride not uploading, who cares! It was all about us getting together, even if it was in the virtual word.

(Neil’s final spreadsheet did have us around 16th out of 120 odd teams if our mileage had been counted, but that’s not important….. right ???!!!???)