A showdown between some of the world’s best ultra-endurance racers is set to begin when the first running of the 5,500km Indian Pacific Wheel Race kicks off at 6am (9am AEDT) Saturday.
Two men who just keep winning race after race in the world of long distances and little sleep, Mike Hall and Kristof Allegaert, will both be at the start line in Fremantle, Western Australia, going head-to-head for the first time.
“Neither of us has lost in the last few races, but someone is going to have to lose this one,” said Mike Hall in the Indy Pac Raw podcast.
Lined up alongside them at the solo, unsupported race across Australia will be two of the strongest women in the sport, around-the-world women’s record holder Juliana Buhring, and Race to the Rock winner Sarah Hammond. Plus if any of these leading riders stumble, there’s bound to be plenty of others just waiting to take their place.
The Indy Pac’s field of about 70 contains many who have had ample experience getting through day after day on the bike, and have finished among the leading few in some of the world’s biggest endurance races.
The Route – Desert, rolling hills, ocean roads and alpine climbs
The battle of speed, stamina and efficiency across Australia will play out with daily distances around 400 kilometres from the leading riders. The winner is likely to come rolling up to the finish line in about two weeks … if all goes to plan.
But plenty can happen as they ride across the long stretch of desert in the centre of Australia, over the rolling hills around Adelaide, on the windy coastal roads, through the high country of Victoria and New South Wales and then finally on to the finish at the Sydney Opera House.
They’ll have to grapple with sporadic water supplies and everything from long lonely desert roads to the traffic of Australia’s largest city. Then there’s the weather which could deliver anything from searing heat to sleet. In the video below, race instigator and 2015 Trans Am winner, Jesse Carlsson describes the route:
The leading contenders
The Belgian has won three of the four editions of the Transcontinental race, which goes across Europe and is generally somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000km long. What about the one edition where Kristof Allegaert didn’t cross the line first? At that time he was off winning the Red Bull Trans Siberian Extreme which, like the Indy Pac, has the finish at an opera house by the Pacific Ocean, this one is just a lot further north in Vladivovstok.
— Red Bull Belgium (@RedBullBe) August 6, 2015
In his most recent Transcontinental win, in 2016, Allegaert was hundreds of kilometres ahead of his nearest rival. For this race across Australia though, he has a few different challenges stacked up against him. For a start he will be in completely new territory. He has never been to Australia before, let alone ridden here and he has come from the depths of winter in Belgium with short, cold, and dark days where it was hard to fit long training rides in. Asked how his preparation had been he told CyclingTips: “The weather conditions were quite bad so I will see … and you will see.”
Then there’s the fact that he has one of the toughest competitors imaginable lining up against him: Mike Hall. Allegaert said cycling with each other is going to make it a different experience but the strength of the field is not going to change the way he rides.
“You have to make it your own race and do your own race so the moment you start to look too much to other people, you are out there,” said Allegaert, adding that looking to others to much is foolish and potentially dangerous.
It’s hard to know where to start with a description of British cyclist Mike Hall’s achievements. I’ts a long list that includes wins at the Trans Am, Tour Divide and the World Cycle Race. And he usually doesn’t just win races; he goes out hard, gets a huge gap on the rest of the field, then goes on to come first with a big margin and generally a new record-breaking time under his belt.
But even with this history, Hall is expecting to have to lift his game this time. Hall, as an organiser of the Transcontinental has seen what multiple-winner Allegaert can do.
“Kristof physically and mentally has a good game so I’ve needed to train hard to bring my physical side of things up,” Hall told Indy Pac Raw. “I’m hoping it comes down to who can go through a miserable time the most – that would suit me more I think – in that weird way.”
For more of Hall’s take on the race check out the podcast below:
The instigator of the Indian Pacific Wheel Race would usually be pretty hard to go past as a favourite, but this time even he is excitedly looking to the showdown between Allegaert and Hall. However, that doesn’t mean the 2015 winner of the 7,000km Trans Am is going to step aside and let the race take off without him.
“I’m not going in it to wear tread off my tyres,” Carlsson told CyclingTips. “So for selfish reasons I’d love to see a race between say Kristof and Mike and the best guys in the world, but I’d love to participate in it too.”
Carlsson has lined up against Hall before, years ago in his first race of the genre – the Tour Divide in 2013 – where he was runner up to Hall.
“I’d love to race Mike Hall with a bit more experience,” said Carlsson. “In the Tour Divide I was very inexperienced, so to race him again with a lot more experience under my belt is a huge opportunity.”
You’d have to say that Carlsson has two big advantages: firstly being a local he is used to the Australian conditions and has had the long summer days to train in. Secondly, given he is the organiser, you’d doubt there is anyone who knows the course better and has spent more time examining the challenges, pitfalls and opportunities.
On the other side of the coin, he has invested so much time and effort into the planning that it must have been challenging to find time to look after his own physical and mental preparation.
Sarah Hammond launched herself onto the endurance racing scene at last year’s Trans Am. The Australia rider wasn’t unused to challenging herself on the bike but had never really raced before, let alone taken on an unsupported race of that scale. Yet she threw herself into the race, surprising and delighting followers by becoming the first female to ever lead the Trans Am. Difficulties and inexperience meant it was a position she couldn’t hold, but she still managed to finish off her first race with sixth overall.
Then, just a couple of months later, she decided at the last minute to take on the Race to the Rock, a 2,310 kilometre ride on rough trails and unforgiving terrain to Uluru which was organised by her long-distance-cycling mentor, Carlsson. Hammond, who had only ridden a mountain bike a handful of times before this, won the overall in horrendous conditions that stopped the rest of the field firmly in its tracks.
With last year’s success while still learning the ropes, it will be interesting to see how Hammond fares with more knowledge of racing and in the familiar territory of a home country race.
“Now it’s time to do a race with some experience some knowledge and more strategy, more tactics and when I’m hopefully stronger physically and see what happens,” Hammond told CyclingTips. “This is a good opportunity to race again in a field that’s going to test me heavily.”
The first woman to set a world record for fastest circumnavigation of the globe, Juliana Buhring is a name not to be looked over in any race. True, she hasn’t had the best run in to the Indy Pac, ending up in hospital a couple of weeks ago to get six stitches put in her knee.
However, it would be unwise to dismiss her as she has the experience and a record of delivering strong finishes in major races.
Buhring was one of the women who first made it clear that females should be looked on as strong overall contenders in this type of racing, a message brought home by Lael Wilcox’s Trans Am win and Hammond’s Race to the Rock victory. Buhring was the first woman to finish the Trans Am in 2014, taking fourth spot overall.
Others to watch
The field also includes many other strong riders who have plenty of experience in long distance riding. These include two of the top finishers in last year’s Trans Am, Steffen Streich who came second and Kai Edel who came fourth. Then there is Jackie Bernardi who was the first female finisher at last year’s Tour Divide and strong cycling couple Beth and Seb Dunne who both rode the Tour Divide in 2015.
Trans Am organiser, Nathan Jones, is also on the race roster but the Indy Pac is just a small part of his adventure. Jones has worked the event into his plan to cycle solo around the world.
There is also a strong field of Australian riders drawn to this type of racing by one of the first opportunities to do it in their home country, such as Harley Johnstone who is more commonly known as YouTuber Durianrider. There haven’t been the opportunities to take on this style of race on home soil for the Australian riders so this is where there is ample potential for some unknown names to announce their arrival as contenders in the world of ultra-endurance racing.
Then there are the riders like cycling journalist Rupert Guinness and regular bike packer Paul Ardill, the latter of whom is in his 70s. They are likely to quickly see the front of the race ride away once they leave the start line, but will still be riding distances day after day that most would consider unfathomable.
How to follow the race
Following ultra-endurance races can often be about watching dots moving over the map and then trying to work out what is happening by trawling through social media. Often you don’t find out the real story until the race is finished, when the participants have time to tell it. This time around though it is bound to be much easier to stay up to date with what’s happening. There’s a real drive to keep regular updates flowing from both the organisers and a number of media savvy participants. So here is where you need to check in to see what’s happening:
Follow the dots
The first port of call to follow this type of race is always dot-watching. The riders are all carrying tracking devices and you can watch them move across the map in real time. It is surprising how much you can gather from that one little dot. You can not only spot who is in the lead, overtaking, slowing down or stopped but also get down to the everyday details — are they McDonalds junkies or do they head to Subway instead? You can follow the dots here.
Indian Pacific Wheel Race site and social media
The organisers have put together a great website, full of all the key information about the race which can be found here. Then there is the Facebook page which will contain regular updates and is already home to a wealth of rider interviews, videos and pictures. Of course we shouldn’t forget their Instagram which is @indianpacificwheelrace and Twitter. The hashtag for the event is #IPWR.
If that’s not enough to keep you busy there’s also the Curve YouTube channel, which not only has video posts but some fantastic Indy Pac Raw interviews with the riders.
Participant social media
There is a long list of participant social media accounts’ here but probably the easiest way to keep in touch with them all is to check the official hashtag #IPWR.
There’s also bound to be plenty of video coming out throughout the race. Some of the riders you are likely to find posting footage from their journey are cycling journalist Rupert Guinness, who will be posting to a Facebook page. Then there are prolific YouTubers Cycling Maven and Durianrider.