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11 (unsupported) riders vie to be quickest round the world, but is world record achievable?

Nine riders left Greenwich Park in South London yesterday morning to embark on the debut edition of the World Cycle Racing Grand Tour, the race originally devised as the Great Bike Ride by Vin Cox, the former world record holder for the quickest circumnavigation of the globe by bike. Whether any of the contestants in the race, who will be unsupported on the ride, will themselves get into the record books is debatable – the current Guinness World Record holder, Alan Bate, was supported for much of his record-shattering journey.

Bate, from the UK but based in Thailand, arrived back at his start point in Bangkok on 4 August 2010, his time of 106 days, 10 hours and 33 minutes shattering the new world record of 163 days, 6 hours and 58 minutes that another Briton, Vin Cox, had set just three days earlier when he finished his ride in Greenwich Park.

The new benchmark set by Bate was not ratified until last month by Guinness, which perhaps surprisingly does not distinguish between supported and unsupported rides in ratifying world records for round-the-world rides. The current criteria are that the ride must start and finish at the same location, travel in one direction, be a minimum of 18,000 miles and pass through two antipodal points on the globe.

It had been Cox himself who first devised plans to introduce a direct competitive element into round-the-world rides. However, in what appears to be far from the first case of mutiny relating to a circumnavigation of the world, the riders signed up to his Global Bicycle Race project reportedly decided to take matters into their own hands and set up the World Cycle Racing Tour, apparently due to concerns over the scale of the task he had set himself.

Besides the nine riders who set off from Greenwich yesterday, each of whom will follow different routes on their way back to the start point, three others will be departing from other start points, including one from the Isle of Man and one from New Zealand.

One of the riders taking part, Mike Hall (pictured above), whose bike has been handbuilt by Upgrade Bikes using Reynolds Thirty Two carbon rims and durable DMR disc hubs, says on his blog that he believes “that there is significant room for improvement upon 163 days and a chance of getting near Alan Bate’s new record of 106 days.

According to Trackleaders.com, which is being used by the World Cycle Racing Grand Tour to enable tracking of all participants in the race, Hall, whose backers include nutrition brand Quick Energy, is currently heading towards the River Loire somewhere between Blois and Orleans, having crossed the English Channel via the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry.

While the lure of exploring the world on two wheels transcends national boundaries – one of the more notable exponents, Alvaro Neil, nicknamed the Biciclown who for the past seven years or so has been stopping off at various points of the globe to perform, hails from Spain – hammering around it in the shortest time possible is a decidedly British phenomenon. Perhaps it’s all those Boy’s Own Paper-style stories of Victorian explorers?

Since current Guinness World Records rules were drawn up in 2003, the record has been held by Steve Strange, who set a time of 276 days and 19 hours in 2005, which stood until 2008 when it was beaten by Mark Beaumont, whose record of 194 days and 17 hours stood until it was eclipsed by Cox.

Two other Britons, James Bowthrope and London courier Julian Sayarer, completed their circumnavigations in a shorter time than Beaumont, but neither of those attempts were recognised by Guinness World Records.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.