Race The World

Mitch, Pitsi, Lindsey and I, half of Team Garin, battle cross-winds and straight roads — all of the images in this blog are courtesy of Whit Richardson — http://www.whitrichardson.com/

There comes a time for something a little bit different, and I guess that now is one of those times. I’m going to write about Race The World, a road cycling event I completed recently. It wasn’t your typical road event however…

I was asked to captain a team at the first edition of the race. An event which would take the participants from Los Angeles to Miami in 14 days. In the lead up to this event there were comparisons made with Race Across America and the Transcontinental. However key difference between these events were that Race The World would be a fully supported event for amateur cyclists. Stages are set and timed and teams have their Manager and Mechanic in a following vehicle at all times. How could I refuse?

The first edition was across the United States of America, but in future editions there will be 5 transcontinental stages taking in some of the most remote and amazing locations including South America and Asia. This wasn’t a technical road race either. It was ‘all road’ meaning you would ride dirt and gravel roads, and even sand.

The Gulf of Mexico

In the lead up to the event I was nervous about a few things. Firstly this would be my biggest test since the Absa Cape Epic in 2014. I had collapsed on the final morning of that race due to illness and fatigue and spend a week in hospital recovering from rhabdomyolysis, induced by racing hard while dehydrated and while fighting a virus. It was also the first time I had ever set out to race for 14 days, having previously only raced up to 8 days. I was also nervous about the challenge of captaining and coaching 7 riders I’d never met before across the USA while ensuring they all enjoyed the ride. Additionally couldn’t suppress the urge to compete and fight for the win. I struggle to feel satisfied from an event if I don’t give it my all and this was the case going into Race The World.

My team was made up of riders from a variety of backgrounds and sports. It was great to finally meet everyone in LA and to try and get a handle on everyone’s ambitions and to hear what they felt were their strengths and weaknesses. Most of Team Garin (named after Maurice Garin the first ever winner of the Tour de France in 1903) hadn’t competed in a bike race before. They had ridden sportives and compelted triathlons and marathons. I even had some experienced Rugby players in the team which was great — I knew those boys would be hard! One area riders were apprehensive about was the dirt roads we would encounter. Our main goal for the event was to work well as a team and to get to Miami safely and in one piece.

Washboard roads and stunning views on Stage 2

I got to meet our manager and mechanic for the race, Don and Chris who work for Western Spirit based out of Moab. Don emerged to be a bit of a legend having Ski raced most of his life in the Rockies, and also having competed in the first ever mountain bike world championships in Durango in 1990. Chris was quiet and mild mannered and got the job done and done well. It transpires he can shred a mountain bike as well. I was in good company… It also has to be said that Western Spirit were critical in the successful running of the race. There expertise in organising trips and tours for mountain bikers was evident and all of the riders were grateful of their work setting up and taking down camp everyday, as well as the amazing meals and great coffee they had for us! Thanks Western Spirit!

I told you this wasn’t your typical road race, right?
Team Garin’s support vehicle ‘The F*ckin Van’ as it was soon know. Here it is pictured on our ferry trip from Dauphin Island to the Stage start on rememberence day

We were competing against one other team of 8 riders during the event, under the name of Team Deman and captained by the effervescent Sophie Radcliffe. Each team had a brilliant yet vastly different personality, possibly influenced by the management of each team. Sophie was a fierce competitor but her main motivation for the ride was to have as much fun as possible, to savour each day. Her manager Brian and Mechanic Tim were the wild boys of the trip, always offering a little tequila straight from the bottle as soon as we arrived back at camp.

Now don’t get me wrong. Don, Chris and I were all for having a good time on the race and we had our fair share of celebratory drinks and drowned our sorrows, but we had a competitive drive running deep down. We were there to get a job done. Team Garin had a great time in the van and in the camp, but we were there to get our heads down on the bike.

On the rivet
Sarah’s mantra in the trip was ‘I ride like a Girl… Try and keep up boys!’

One of the most proud moments during the race was that we bonded so closely as a team. Everyone laid it on the line for one another. Riders exceeded their own expectations day after day and went over and above for one another. Here are a couple of examples.

Sarah had ridden plenty of sportives and run marathons before but she had never ‘raced’ a bike. In fact when she signed up for the event she didn’t even know it WAS a race. From the first day she outdid herself, from descending at speed on dirt roads in a newly learned body position, standing tall on the pedals with her elbows bent. Every day she would have set personal best times for distances, initially following in the group to ride at 21 and 22 miles per hour, to finally leading the pack at 25 mile per hour in the final week!

Lindsay, a 63 year old retired accountant from Mold, was one of the stronger riders in the team. A mild mannered joker with a penchant for shouting out anything he saw from the window of the van for apparently no reason… He was also a Queen fanatic and I believe he is one of the last remaining gentlemen on the planet. He is actually so well mannered that while our team tried desperately to close a 3 minute gap in the final miles of one of the longest stages of the race to Dauphin Island, he threw up with the intensity of the effort. When he told me about the lengths he had pushed himself for the team I apologised to have put him through it. He told me not to worry because he ‘swallowed it back down’… What a legend.

Finally we have Mitch. A regular Triathlete and all round hard man with a wicked sense of humour. On the second final stage, a pivotal day of the race, we had a ridiculously hard section of dirt road to contend with. I hope that Mitch won’t mind me saying that dirt road, and the subsequent sand, is not his forte. In spite of this he battled on and stayed focussed through the section. I could see the grimaces on his face, etched in the pain with effort. It was definitely a struggle to get through that section which lasted over 30 minutes. It was all the more sweet to emerge from the dirt road to learn we were 4 minutes ahead of Team Deman. Our team was fired up and ready to go and we ended up catching and passing Team Deman to take an unassailable lead in the race. It was cool to ride across the finish line with Mitch later that day knowing that he had played a pivotal role in the victory. Good hustle.

I could go on and on giving multiple examples of how these riders, along with Neil, Rob, Wyn and Pitsi smashed it and buried themselves all in the name of the team. It’s a part of bike riding that isn’t always recognised but it is always there. So often you ride alone but there is always a team to help you out.

I’m really pleased to say that I was part of the winning team of the first ever Race The World! After 13 days of racing up to 140 miles per day, often at average speeds of 25 mph for hours on end we came out on top by a single stage win. In over 15 years of bike riding, racing and coaching it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life and I have to say those were some of the hardest days racing I’ve ever done. Everyone did themselves proud and it was a pleasure from start to finish

Thanks to everyone involved! And a very special thanks to Gary, Leyanne and Tom from Limelight Sports for thinking of me as a team captain. Additionally thanks to Whit and Mad Pete for the fantastic film and photography on the trip, and to Sam for his all round work!

Keep scrolling down for more photographs and videos.

Over and out…