Lindsay McCrae, an ultra-athlete from Inverness with a laid-back demeanour and a chiselled physique that resembles a bunny crossed with a robot, offers me a steady glance and explains his racing strategy: “I’ll ride for five hours, then take 15 minutes off.” Then repeat till you’ve reached the end. I’d want to have a total halt time of less than 1 hour.” I couldn’t stop giggling. Then you realize he’s not kidding. He’s not joking at all. Big Kev from Berkshire intends to stop every two hours for 10 minutes, while Audrey from Poole wants to cycle for 12 hours straight before stopping for an hour. In the bizarre world of 24-hour bike racing, competitors nonchalantly dismiss incredible feats of endurance as if they were talking about a walk to the store.
It’s all quite simple to understand. The Revolve24 is the name of the event. It’s a 24-hour cycling endurance event held at Brands Hatch, arguably Britain’s most gorgeous motor circuit. On Saturday at 3 p.m., riders form a line and begin pedaling in circles. They come to an end at 3 p.m. on Sunday, exactly 24 hours later. The guy who travels the greatest distance wins. You are free to break whenever you wish, but you will lose distance each time you do so. There are some concerns. The importance of tactics cannot be overstated. Would you go any further if you took an hour off or just kept going?
Time and distance have traditionally been the twin foundations of endurance sports. The minutes fly by, but the miles do not. As a result, it tosses everything into the air in an attempt to reverse them. By speeding up, you will not be able to accelerate the end of your pain. How do you keep yourself motivated for such a long time? And how unusual is it to compete in a race where everyone finishes together? It reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s wacky Caucus Race.
When I initially arrived at the track, I proceeded to my assigned pit garage to set up camp, which consisted of a folding chair, a coffee thermos, and enough flapjacks to feed a space mission. I met Crystal “Sparkles” Spearman, a fellow rider. She was all out in candyfloss pink, complete with glistening bike shoes that matched her eye glitter. She sat next to a stack of a dozen enormous plastic boxes stuffed with supplies, food, potions, and high-tech equipment. She owned two bicycles. I just had one bike and one food bag. Crystal was visibly distressed.
“You’ve never done one of these before?” she inquired. “Don’t worry; you’re welcome to share my stockpile.” It exemplified the spirit of camaraderie that pervaded the entire weekend. Crystal is the British 24-hour time-trial champion, I subsequently learned. She was using the competition as a “warm-up” for the upcoming global championships in America.
The 2.4-mile circuit features nine bends and four hills, the steepest of which tops out at 9%. The course is “lumpy,” to use cycling’s hilariously understated language. I was dreading the night and the long hours of darkness ahead of me. I was looking forward to the dullness. I was terrified that my arse might appear as a stunt double for a baboon in a nature documentary. “You’ll be OK,” Crystal assured him.
None of these challenges proved impossible in the end. The circuit is quick and fluid. Riders established a slew of draughts and pairings. We conversed. The hours flew past with little sorrow. I was unwell, which was the lowest period of my life. Dawn had arrived, pink and orange in color. The clock stopped at one o’clock. I had a hole in my shirt. I didn’t get any rest. I consumed a large number of flapjacks. The final lap had finally arrived. I’d spent the last 24 hours pedaling frantically to get exactly nowhere, yet I felt like I’d been everywhere.
Lindsay took the lead with metronomic brilliance, running an incredible 433 miles and ascending 37,380 feet vertically. He grumbled, “I should have just ridden home to Inverness.” With 280 miles, I placed 25th out of 82 single riders. To say we were all winners is a cliche. This time, however, it felt particularly accurate.