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Interview: Dom Irvine on smashing the LEJOG tandem record

"Never take your leg off the bike," says triumphant tandemist...

When I catch up with him on the phone, the afternoon after finishing his and Charlie Mitchell's successful attempt on the Land's End to John O'Groats tandem record, Dominic Irvine is "a bit sore" after 45 hours in the saddle. He's also jubilant, finally having cracked a record that he's attempted twice before.

Between 6:30 am on Tuesday and the small hours of this morning, Irvine and Mitchell covered the 842 miles between Land's End and ohn O'Groats in 45 hours, 11 minutes and 2 seconds, smashing the previous record of 50 hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds set by Pete Swinden and John Withers in 1966.

For anyone watching their progress the most remarkable thing about the ride was the blistering pace of the first couple of hundred miles as they stormed up through the West Country.

"We got lucky with that howling tailwind," says Irvine. "We set off with the intention of staying at L2 power level, but we realised this was too good an opportunity to miss so we did our best to keep going as long as we could with that wind giving us a bit of a boost."

After that high-speed start, and a similarly scorching first half of the ride, things got tough when they hit the Cairngorms and the wind changed.

Irvine says: "You're grinding over the Cairngorm plateau, battling a headwind thinking 'If we don't get some speed up, we're stuffed. This might not happen at all now'."

They weren't certain they were going to break the record, then, until the last moment. "For both of us, it was when our wheel crosses the finish line, then we've done it, but until then we were just keeping going, keeping focussed, riding the best we can."

There were physical highs and lows as well as psychological ones and both Irvine and Mitchell got sick while on the bike.

"That comes with the territory. You work out how to fix things, work with the crew to fix it, then you come out the other side and you're on to the next challenge,"

Although they weren't counting chickens, the point a couple of hundred miles in when they'd covered almost 200 miles in eight hours was a high point for the duo.

"We were thinking 'that's a pretty cool place to be' before we turn left and head up the country. We were thinking 'My god, there may be an outside chance that this amazing record — we might just stand an outside chance of getting a sniff at it.'"

And they did more than get a sniff, taking five hours off a record that had stood since 1966.

On the way they never stopped for more than ten minutes, and Irvine thinks they spent no more than 30 minutes in total stationary.

"Never take your leg off the bike," he says. "If you take your leg over the bike, the your stop becomes five minutes. If not, it's just 30 seconds."

They did often stop and get off the bike for another reason though: to swap places.

Usually one rider on a tandem will handle the steering, the other will simply pedal, but Irvine and Mitchell are the same size and bike fit, so could swap the roles of captain and stoker.

That was a big advantage, says Irvine.

"It meant the person on the front could get aero and stay aero then the moment they started to get tired and wanted to sit up, at a red traffic light that was enough time to unclip, jump back on again and go. That worked brilliantly for us."

Irvine says he's nothing special as a rider, but has the ability to thoroughly think through the obstacles that have to be surmounted for a record like this. But he's full of praise for previous record holders Pete Swinden and John Withers.

"I think those guys when they set that record were really, really good tandem riders," he says. "They were a great team and they'd trained for about four or five years. When they broke the record that was their second attempt and they broke it even though they spent about an hour in Inverness hospital with one of then getting his knee injected because of the pain he was experiencing.

"They were amazing riders, really, really good and that's why their record stood for so long."

Irvine and MItchell aren't planning any more records just yet. "Right now I just want to savour the moment," says Irvine.

Listen to the whole interview here:

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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