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by Simone Giuliani
October 2, 2017
Photography by Jack Thompson and Gene Kehoe
It was six months ago that the first running of the 5,500km Indian Pacific Wheel Race came to a tragic end. Thousands of “dot-watchers” had been glued to their screens, watching riders make their way across the map of Australia. As expected, the race had turned into a showdown between two of the very best in the world of self-supported ultra-endurance cycling: Kristof Allegaert and Mike Hall.
But the end came unexpectedly and prematurely when Hall lost his life on the roads south of Canberra. The race was quickly called off as fellow competitors, organisers and fans of the sport tried to come to terms with the loss of a man admired by so many. At the time it seemed hard to imagine that the Indian Pacific Wheel Race would exist beyond its first edition.
“It was a tragic event and in one way you could go ‘This is all too hard — I don’t want to take that on again’,” chief instigator Jesse Carlsson told CyclingTips recently.
But the stories kept rolling in of people who had watched the ‘Indy Pac’ riders pass through their town, or watched the dots make their way across Australia. Many had been inspired to pick up their bike again and chase their own adventures. A trickle of email inquiries about a second edition of the race turned into a deluge.
It was an event that captured the imagination and many wanted to be a part of it. In fact, so many signed up for information about a 2018 running of the Indy Pac that the mailing list grew into the thousands.
But there was one thing that really bought home the decision to run the Indian Pacific Wheel Race again in 2018.
“I can’t argue with Mike’s mum,” said Carlsson.
Keeping that legacy alive is important to many of those who were close to Hall, including his mother Patricia. When Carlsson contacted her to let her know that the launch for the 2018 Indy Pac was imminent, this was part of the response he got: “Without such dedication from all, Mike’s legacy will diminish, but you have kept his memory shining like a beacon and for this I’m so very grateful.”
The 2018 Indian Pacific Wheel Race will start in Fremantle on Saturday March 17, 2018 at the symbolic time of 6:22 am. That is the time Mike Hall’s race tracker stopped moving on March 31.
“We want to continue on with the good work Mike started,” said Carlsson. “And that’s when he downed tools, so that’s when we will pick them up again.”
The 2018 Indy Pac will run from Fremantle to Sydney just like it did this year, following largely the same route. But don’t expect the second edition to be a carbon copy of the first.
The biggest change from 2017 comes with safety in mind. There will be stringent requirements around visibility and lighting for night riding. These requirements will use the Audax regulations as a starting point — which include reflective vests and two independent light sources, front and back, at night – and then build on them.
“Our unapologetic aim is for all these riders to get across Australia safely, so for our part we’re going to put in some pretty tight rules around lighting and visibility that actually go beyond what Audax requires,” said Carlsson.
Some with an interest in the sport have also called for a minimum amount of daily rest to be mandated for the riders, or for riding to be forbidden at certain times. However Carlsson points out that this is a far more complicated issue than many would realise at first glance. For him, ultra-endurance cyclists are managing unpredictable conditions, situations and terrain out on the road and need to be able to make the calls that are best suited to their particular circumstances.
“Riders must have the freedom to decide when and where they stop, for their own safety,” said Carlsson. He said that he had many experiences in previous events where stopping would have put him in peril — for example during extreme weather conditions or when he was being tailed by dingoes in the recent Race to the Rock.
Additionally, there is no time limit on the race, so riders don’t have any pressure to cut back on rest to finish within a set time period.
The ethos of leaving decisions up to each individual rider extends beyond a lack of ride time regulations. In 2018, part of the entry requirements is a letter to be carried by participants stating they are their own ride organiser, making their own judgements on what they’re comfortable with, how far they go and when and where they stop.
One of the biggest changes in 2018 is the introduction of a relay category. The route is split into four sections for the team classification, with each of the four riders riding one section. In this way the riders will have the camaraderie of riding for a team while still taking part in a solo, unsupported ride.
The first section is the remote 2,800km stretch from Fremantle in Western Australia to Adelaide, South Australia — more than half the race. The second team member takes on the stretch from Adelaide to Melbourne, the third rider will tackle the hilly stretch between Melbourne and Canberra and the fourth rider is left with the final “sprint” from Canberra to Sydney.
2017 Indian Pacific Wheel Race route map.
“It’s hard enough getting through a stretch by yourself and there’s going to be the added motivation of not wanting to let your mates down,” said Carlsson. “You’ve got to get your first rider through to Adelaide or it’s all over.”
There will be one “phone a friend” opportunity during the race — if one team member can’t continue, the next rider has the option of going back to meet that rider and pick up the baton early.
However, even with the teams category and the increased interest the race is bound to generate, the field will again be limited to 70 riders plus 10 invitational spots. Teams count as one rider given there is only one team member on the course at a time.
While rider numbers are staying the same as this year, the entry allocation process will change. Carlsson said feedback from riders who took on the race in 2017 suggested that the Indian Pacific Wheel Race should be classed at the tough end of an already very tough sport. This meant it was best taken on by those who already had considerable experience of such events. As a result, entries for the 2018 edition won’t be taken on a first-come, first-served basis — rather there will be requirements to demonstrate long-distance riding experience.
Ultimately what Carlsson hopes will come from the 2018 edition is, firstly, that all riders make it to the end safely. Secondly, he hopes that riders and dot-watchers will both learn something about and embrace the adventurous spirit of the Overlanders that explored this nation by bike a century (and more) ago. And finally, Carlsson hopes that the race will provide a unique opportunity and platform to highlight the need for greater respect and awareness for all road users.
“It would be fantastic if we come out of this this event with the message that we can all share the road and ride safely across Australia,” he said.
Start: March 17, 2018 at 6:22am
Route: Perth to Sydney
Entries close: November 11, 2017
Key changes: Visibility requirements, relay team category and experience requirements for entry
Further information: Indian Pacific Wheel Race Facebook Page and website