Team road.cc had been pushed hard by The Hulks right from the start of Cyclone 24 and here we were twenty-two hours later with just twenty laps of the 250m track separating us. It was still all to play for and one mechanical or crash could easily cost us the lead that we’d been fighting for since noon on Saturday.
Tactics were in full play, we’d studied their riders through the day and night trying to spot strengths and weaknesses that we could attack or exploit to keep the upper hand and it was working, exciting and stressful at the same time – the perfect combination for a dramatic end to a race that had been panning out for the best part of a day.
Cyclone 24 is a wonderfully simplistic idea, a 24hr endurance race on the velodrome. No weather to worry about, no clothing choices to really consider or even cog choices as this event had a gear restriction of 88” unlike the two previous versions at Newport where gearing was a free for all.
The rules are simple, six riders per team to cover the largest amount of laps in 24 hours to win. No rider can be on the track for more than an hour at a time and that’s it basically.
Being a road cycling site we weren’t sure how many trackies we had in our readership but when the piece went up to recruit some riders we had some healthy interest from members who showed some passion.
Ian and Simon are members from team road.cc, our members club who had first refusal on getting a place before we opened it up to the main site.
Both of these guys have form when it comes to 24hr events having joined us twice at revolve24, a similar event that uses Brands Hatch as its venue.
Paul, Richard and Steve made up the rest of the team alongside me, Stu Kerton, who took on the role of team captain.
Between us we had varying levels of track experience. Paul and Richard turned up with their own carbon bling track bikes offering a level of reassurance to the rest of us that at least some of us knew what the hell we were doing.
Richard’s tool box of spare sprockets and the announcement of extra carbon wheels if anyone fancied them also made us feel like we had a pro in the team.
Even I had my own bike, based around a new Dolan Pre Cursa frameset which was built up with a bit of bling form the spares box and some handbuilt wheels borrowed from my old Genesis Flyer.
Stood in track centre an hour before the start Paul asked me, “What do you reckon then, can we win this?”
We certainly had a team that was up for it with experience but until we hit the boards we had no idea how good the opposition were. Winning or even being competitive wasn’t something I’d actually even thought about to be honest, but now we were here inside the venue we all knew what each other was thinking – smash it!!
Compared to most events the start of Cyclone 24 is quite subdued, there is no sprint from the line with the opening lap being more of a procession with one rider from each team ready to cross the line at midday, the official start time.
Things didn’t stay calm and collected for long though with Paul smashing things on the front like an absolute machine, round and round he flew, mouth open consuming as much air as was possible while the pecking order commenced. We soon realised making him our ‘first man’ was a good choice with us taking an early two lap lead according to the track side TV displaying lap totals, speed and everything else you might need to know.
The Hulks were nipping at our heels mind in second place and this pretty much set the theme for the next twenty-three and a half hours.
Our team road.cc club member Ian Upham was up next and the first transition went smoothly. We were assigned an ankle transponder which has to be passed between each rider by another member of the team while both riders are stationary.
Ian put in a solid ride to keep our slim lead intact and it was about now that we started to realise just how warm it was inside the velodrome so keping hydrated would be a must over the following hours as was sensible pacing.
Into the third stint and our man Richard was working hard tapping out the pace when all of a sudden he shouted to come in after just fifteen minutes. Team road.cc became a Benny Hill sketch with us running around track centre rallying Simon to get on his bike and out on track.
Richard was cramping badly which ain’t the nicest at the best of times but even worse when you’re clipped into a fixed wheel track bike.
Simon was ready though and forgetting to clip his visor to his helmet probably didn’t cost us that much time overall!
We ploughed on for the next few hours and very little changed. We kept hold of the small lead though with us, The Hulks and Tour de Manc distancing ourselves from the rest of the teams by quite a margin. Often working together on the track almost cancelling each other out.
When Richard’s next stint came about a few hours later he was hopeful a massage had sorted everything out but just a few minutes later he was back in again with cramp in the other leg. It hit him hard mentally but we’d gelled as a team already so with plenty of laughs we sent him off to the McDonald’s next door to get some salt into him.
Over the next seven hours things remained pretty much the same,
It was 7pm and while Richard was still out getting himself sorted Paul and Steve were putting in some massive solid shifts to maintain our position. We decided that from now on in we’d ride at our own pace rather than try and cover that of our competitors.
The Hulks had some strong riders who could easily put some time into us and vice versa depending on who was on the track at any given time plus, the night shift can do funny things to you.
I was up and found myself out on track with Tim Lawson, a European Champion track cyclist no doubt who was riding as part of third placed Tour de Manc. We were lapping at around 24 to 25mph, through and off changing on the corner banking every ten laps or so.
Considering I’ve barely ridden on the track before this gave me a massive confidence boost sitting on the wheel of an expert and everytime I nailed the changeover with a few inches of tyre to tyre contact I had a massive grin on my face.
We pushed into the lead by four laps, it looked massive on the results screen but in reality it was about ninety seconds after eight hours of racing.
We continued through the night and into the morning with the lead actually changing between us and The Hulks a few times, changeovers became key where you could easily lose a lap or two.
It was 3am where everything changed. We had Richard back who was growing in confidence and really starting to push the pace, Paul continued to ride like a steam train with a fully stoked fire and Steve had this cool little head bobbing move which was basically an indicator to us that he was happy out there smashing lap after lap after lap and a constant pace. Often on the front of a line of riders but no one could get by to challenge the lead.
I went out and had a good stint. Carrying over some form from the recent Dirty Reiver event I felt strong and while some others were struggling with fatigue I lapped the rest of the field strongly. By 4am Richard and I had pushed that lead out to 15 laps
As the sun started to rise we really felt like we’d broken the back of the event and our tactics seemed to have paid off. Most teams had spilt into two over night to allow a longer break for sleep but we hadn’t and it had paid off. Some of us had dozed, some hadn’t and while we were starting to feel a little on the broken side we were confident we could see it through.
There was lots of banter about how the overall total lap record of 3507 laps couldn’t be broken due to the gear size restriction but it was soon becoming obvious that there might just be an outside chance that we could take it.
Our lead was still in the double figures but we were all becoming more and more shattered, the slightest mishap or mechanical could still end it for us so we had to keep pushing on.
At 10am I hit the boards with the record in my sights, I was completely running on fumes hoping the gel I’d just taken was going to be enough to get me through my stint.
I was wired, I just needed to get on the track and smash it one more time before I collapsed, my time being done.
The Hulks had to bring the race to us so we were in the beautiful position of just being able to sit in or if on the front, not push it too hard.
All of a sudden though the pit crew started to count me down to the record, we’d covered the 3507 laps in just 22:30hrs which gave me an excuse to bury it and enjoy my final laps on Manchester’s velodrome.
I literally got off the bike and collapsed having ridden just under 100 miles while being awake for 28 hours.
The last hour or so of the competition was probably one of the best. The positions were pretty much settled and everyone was enjoying the fact that the ordeal was almost over.
Our stints had got shorter due to fatigue but each of the rest of the team got out there and pushed hard purely for the fun of it. Richard, Paul, Simon, Steve all rode out of their skin to preserve the lead which gave Ian as our last man the brilliant position to ride around with The Hulks final rider in a kind of celebratory procession.
We’d been pushed hard by some very worthy opponents but we'd also made some great riding buddies. We’d won with 3676 laps of the velodrome, something that I was bloody chuffed with considering the majority of the team had never met before. We all bonded though and worked together as a team plus had a laugh which is why I love doing these events with our readers.
The Hulks were amazing competition and we were kind of lucky that they had a few rider injuries which took the pressure off of us and allowed us to attack. What was great about the whole event though was the way that you were all competing against each other while having that little nod between yourselves knowing that you'd all been riding around and around a wooden track for 24 hours, kudos indeed. We all respected each other on our achievement.
You don’t need to be a track pro either plus bikes, helmets and shoes are all included in the package.
If you fancy a bit of track experience road.cc are looking into running our own velodrome event so comment below to let us know if you up for it.
All photographs courtesy of Chris Keller-Jackson, www.crankphoto.co.uk
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!