Ten Minutes of Hell - racing underground for big prizes.

Underground time trials aren't as rare as you might think… but few can be as tough as Liverpool's Ten Minutes of Hell

by Philip Gale   February 20, 2012  

Though not your normal start area for a bike race, the toll booths of the Queensway Mersey road Tunnel were closed to cars on Sunday the 20th of February for a unique bike event, Ten Minutes of Hell. Organised by local shop Vita Cycles in conjunction with Mersey Travel this time trial saw 60 riders competing for the fastest time out and back through the 3.2 kilometre tunnel. Starting from the south side of the Mersey, the tunnel descends under the river then climbs back up to come out in central Liverpool, after a quick circuit of the roundabout riders were then faced with the descent and climb on their return journey.

Brainchild of Barry Wallace and Phil Ledder, Directors of Vita Cycles, the Ten Minutes of Hell adds to an increasing list of new and unique events which are aiding the growth of cycle racing in the UK. Barry explains “All the riders in the Liverpool area know about the Queensway tunnel, being the longest one in the UK it is something that all locals ride at one time or another. On a normal day it is full of cars and very dangerous. Phil and I thought up this event one day, knowing that the sharp descent followed by long drag would be a real challenge.”

Dubbed the Ten Minutes in Hell, after the time it might take the leaders and the fact that it was underground, even in its first running the event boasted a prize list which put other races to shame. £1000 and a Swift Carbon Aeronaut frameset for both the winners in the male and female field was just the tip of iceberg. More cash prizes, wheels from Spinergy and aero helmets from Giro, drew big names such as National Time Trial Champion Alex Dowsett and Commonwealth Games rider Julia Shaw, to enter Hell for ten minutes of suffering. Barry continued “It was really good to see that the top riders and also industry were behind the event. Having Shaw and Dowsett here got us really excited. They made our hard work and the generosity of our sponsors worthwhile.”

Riders went off at 2 minutes intervals being swallowed by the darkness of the tunnel only to re-appear minutes later sprinting for the line exhausted. Times were consistently around the 10 minute mark until the final few riders went off. The competition heated up with the big name riders saved for the end. Dowsett was the last rider off and blasted through the course in his red white and blue, Team Sky National Champs skin suit. Crossing the line, teeth gritted, in a time of 08:28 which saw him take the win. Second place, in just as an amazing ride considering his age, was Junior Ryan Mullen of Planet X, with James Ratcliffe (Fred Wiliams Cycles) taking the final step of the podium.

Dowsett explained his day “That was horrible! I planned on riding down the hill easy and then opening it up on the climb, but I got to the bottom already maxed out so just had to hold on. That really hurt, but what a great event. Riding through the tunnel with the noise of the disc wheels echoing is something else! Plus the prizes….. All I need is another couple of these events and I could retire for the year!” Dowsett also took the spot prize for the fastest split time of £500 and a £3,000 Tag Heure SLR watch.   

In the just as fast women’s event Julia Shaw of Drag2Zero took the win with a time that put her safely in the top 10 overall. She was followed by Rebecca Slack, with Jill Wilkinson (Port Sunlight Wheelers) making up the podium.

Shaw told us about her time in Hell “That was something else. This is my first race of the season so was a real lung opener. Being so short it was hard to find a pace, so I started flat out and tried to hang on. Riding in a tunnel, closed to traffic was a real buzz. You have to focus 100% because there is no real idea of how fast you are going. I cannot wait to come back; closed roads, equal prizes with the men and winning a new Swift Carbon frame, which I am going to get over to my sponsor Drag2Zero to get fitted on, was really worth the effort!”

Barry of Vita concluded. “We are happy things went so well. For the first event it was a great success, fast times, happy riders and many spectators. We are donating money from the event to Calder Kids a Liverpool based charity, which makes this more than just a bike race. Thanks to all involved, marshals, riders, Sportful Clothing, Swift Carbon, DHW Agencies, Paligap and of course Mersey Travel, without whom this event would not have been possible. Keep your eyes open for the next event, which is going to have to be renamed to the Nine minutes of something since Alex was so fast!”

21 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

blimey. prize-tastic. sounds like a quality event.

jezzzer's picture

posted by jezzzer [339 posts]
20th February 2012 - 23:45


Sweet Son of God. This sounds brilliant. Just think of the possibilities this opens up Wink Wink


posted by seanieh66 [197 posts]
21st February 2012 - 7:32


Does the channel tunnel have a service road.

posted by kobacom [96 posts]
21st February 2012 - 8:23


08:28 ... crikey ! It'd take me that long to get clipped in Smile

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [919 posts]
21st February 2012 - 8:56


My first thought is does this count as indoor or outdoor racing? A great idea maybe owners of other tunnels that have never been open to cyclists might want to try this out (Tyne Tunnel - I'm looking at you specifically)?

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [295 posts]
21st February 2012 - 9:50


Through the Dartford Tunnel and back over the QE2 bridge. Closed road of course!


Wooliferkins's picture

posted by Wooliferkins [50 posts]
21st February 2012 - 10:10


That's fanstic! Why are we only hearing about it after the event?!

Sign me up for next year!

neildmoss's picture

posted by neildmoss [242 posts]
21st February 2012 - 10:23


meh. underground riding is *so* old hat.

posted by andyp [1368 posts]
21st February 2012 - 13:06


I was at this event, didn't race, just did my usual Sunday route and called in on the way round. It was great, a real buzz about the place. Looking back, I guess it did warrant more attention but no idea if the organisers were just being cautious or not.

Hope it returns next year, even better if the police were to allow some people inside the tunnel, imagine the sound!

dodgy's picture

posted by dodgy [162 posts]
21st February 2012 - 15:48


Applause I have 3 children and 4 grandchildren and my youngest daughter is disabled. She attends Calder Kids Adventure Playground, an inclusive after school and holiday facility for disabled children and their siblings. Mersey Travel have adopted CK as their nominated charity this year and we are very grateful for this owing to all the funding cuts we are facing. Thank you.
We had a great day on Sunday and we thank all participants/organisers/families and Mersey Travel for including us in this event and enabling us to benefit from some of the funds raised through sponsorship and on the day.
Well done everyone.
And thank you once again
Glen Fletcher Ms.
Calder Kids
Management Committee

posted by glenfletcher [1 posts]
21st February 2012 - 15:55


The event organisers were the same shop i got my Kouta last year, good bunch of blokes.
There was a fair bit of advertising but i didnt think so many people would turn up!
Im gutted i could attend this year, maybe next time Big Grin

posted by jarrv [3 posts]
21st February 2012 - 17:33


As a Wirral resident and cyclist I'm really proud to see an event like this in our area raising funds for such a good cause. Hopefully, it will be bigger still in 2013.

Well done everyone involved. Chapeau to you all. Applause

michophull's picture

posted by michophull [123 posts]
21st February 2012 - 23:36


Chapaeu to Vita! As the tunnel has two exits on the LIverpool side maybe in the future with council support they could run a TT that ran from Birkenhead to the Liver Building then around the centre of Liverpool and back down the tunnel. Could be a real annual event.

With Liverpool seriously considering 20 mph as a citywide residential speed limit - and Everton Valley being the only real hill in the city - Liverpool has a chance to be the cycle capital of Britain.

Great result for Dowsett; but I do wonder though if he lost the medallion he could shave perhaps 5 seconds more of his personal best? Big Grin

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1195 posts]
22nd February 2012 - 19:38


As a product of the Wirral (despite not living there for a fair few years), this looks like a superb event! I want to be there next year (erm, not challenging Alex!).

teachermarc's picture

posted by teachermarc [9 posts]
22nd February 2012 - 20:44


Big Grin Congrats in order to Stu Wells who had a fantastic race. He did Lindsey Roads CC proud! Bill Cenzi's turbo sessions paid dividends. Well done, mate.
Johnny Molloy

Geordie Legend
Being an old timer and new to the game, I'd just love it if I won these wheels! Let's hear it for the pensioners.They need all the help they can get!!!!

posted by John Molloy [10 posts]
22nd February 2012 - 22:26


The Clyde Tunnel in Glasgow has a separate tunnel for bikes. You have to go as fast as you can going down to have any hope of getting up the other end.

posted by brandobiker [22 posts]
22nd February 2012 - 22:35


Three of our girls went down and rode this TT and they all loved it - much more exciting than your average 10. Nicola (one of our riders) has blogged about it via maxgearettes.blogspot.com, quite an interesting read. Thanks Vita Cycles for the massive effort put in to organise this event.. Save us a space for next year Wink

If its not hard, you're not doing it right!

posted by Maxgearettes [2 posts]
22nd February 2012 - 23:02


Thats a great idea by 'mercuryone' - this could be a true classic race - with the tunnel being a total unique experience of the whole event. Anyone in the locality who has rode the Mersey Tunnel (Queensway - the other is the Kingsway, built later & turns into the M53 m.way) - knows its an experience you don't forget.

The initial incline down gets you 30mph without pedalling...& if your clostrophobic forget it! The slow turns/bends out to the other side seem to just not end as you slow, slowly but surely in speed, not realising the incline out + seeing the light, at the end of the tunnel - is seriously a true blessing...

I'd like it later in the year + with a ride up Brownlow Hill (which is about a mile in length) then down London Rd to the tunnel this would give spectators a great experience & a hill thrown in + open the event longer rather than an sprint which it is, 6.5kms is not long enough - you could get that to 10kkms or mls easily by winding it a bit on both sides.

posted by yenrod [106 posts]
23rd February 2012 - 0:51


Well Done Barry & Phil, great concept and cause. Equally well done to the guys and girls who took part.

Might have a ride (walk!!) thro' the Clyde to grasp the buzz...


posted by BearstedCC [72 posts]
23rd February 2012 - 10:22


Riding the other tunnel with cars in is scary - 4 lanes but the sound of a vehicle approaching comes from all around you. I rode it at night after the trains and ferry had stopped running and the tunnel is only option for crossing the river.

The other way for the less fit/more nervous is to follow the practice from US and Cuba and take bikes on any bus services that go through.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [556 posts]
26th February 2012 - 20:37


2013 event confirmed http://www.vitacycles.co.uk/ten_minutes_of_hell_2013

"'Ten Minutes of Hell' time trial - Sunday March 24, 2013"

dodgy's picture

posted by dodgy [162 posts]
9th May 2012 - 15:11