A 24-hour world record attempt falters, but is still a win

Abdullah Zeinab rode an astonishing 607 km, raising over $27,000 for a Ugandan cycling club.

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Abdullah Zeinab’s 24-hour world record attempt came unstuck early. Targeting Ralph Diseviscourt’s almost unfathomable mark of 915.39 km – requiring an average pace of over 38 km/h for an entire day – Zeinab had his work cut out for him. 

When he was throwing up on the roadside, hours into the attempt, a new record began to look unlikely.

Before the attempt, however, Abdullah Zeinab looked almost uniquely capable of giving the record a shake. The ultra-endurance racing star had form, after all.

The Melbourne-based rider burst onto the ultra-endurance scene in 2018 as the winner of the continent-crossing Indian Pacific Wheel Race. A year later, he conquered the Trans Am, riding 6,800 km from the west coast to the east coast of America in the record-breaking time of 16 days, nine hours and 56 minutes.

Both of those events required an astonishing degree of stamina and self-determination. The 27-year-old Australian would need to call on both for his latest challenge – an attempt to set a 24-hour world record, raising funds for a Ugandan cycling club along the way.

Laps on laps in Lara

Not far from Geelong, in the satellite town of Lara, the car company Ford has a testing facility that includes a 4.8 km long parabolic test track. Imagine a velodrome, then blow up the scale until it’s three lanes wide with endless straights and gently banked corners. There, on the fringes of the You Yangs Regional Park, Zeinab set out to ride 191 laps. 

In the setting sun’s golden glow, Zeinab clicked in and hunkered down into the aero bars of his Giant Trinity, prepared for a very long ride that would feel much longer. His shadow stretched across the width of the track, into the brown grassland surrounding him. Spinning circles around circles, golden light turning into grey, Zeinab was alone with his thoughts and a Sisyphean journey ahead of him. 

I say “alone”, but that’s not true, really. An enormous support crew waited for him in the straight, cheering him over the line on each of his eight-minute laps, organising food, tracking his times, giving him a mental boost. 

Ultra-endurance cycling is often a solitary pursuit driven by intrinsic motivation, but for this world record attempt Zeinab wasn’t riding for himself, but for others. Half a world away, in Uganda, members of the Masaka Cycling Club also willed Zeinab on.

The Masaka Cycling Club is an amateur racing group that has been forced to strike its own path to escape the grasps of a corrupt national cycling federation, and Zeinab’s ride was to raise funds for the construction of a new clubhouse. There, the riders would have access to quality infrastructure, including e-racing facilities to showcase the unseen depths of cycling talent that East Africa has to offer.

From darkness to light

Through the bleak darkness of the night, Zeinab rode onward, although he was in a bad way early on. An upset stomach had Zeinab vomiting regularly on the side of the track from less than four hours in. Astonishingly, even with his body conspiring against him, he was still averaging more than 36 km/h after 10 hours on the bike. 

Twelve hours in, as the sky began to lighten, Zeinab had covered a remarkable 445 km. Through the morning, though, Zeinab’s speed began to dwindle and after 18.35 hours, having ridden 607.27 km, his attempt was over. 

At a superficial level, Zeinab’s ride was unsuccessful, but that’s an interpretation that also completely misses the point. At time of writing, more than AU$27,000 had been raised for Masaka Cycling Club’s new home – a facility that will provide opportunities for an entire community of riders, for generations to come. 

And as for Zeinab? He’s doubtless exhausted and feeling rough, having faced a big ride and some extremely challenging circumstances.

But despite illness and exhaustion, Zeinab still rode an absurdly long distance, even if he fell a few hundred kilometres short of his goal. In so doing, he made many people’s lives much better, and demonstrated colossal levels of grit and determination in the process.

Head here to donate to the Masaka Cycling Club and show your support for Zeinab.