One week on and the fatigue is finally starting to wane. The adrenaline is still buzzing in the group emails flying around. Times are up and it is official, the Cycling Weekly team has come second in the mixed leisure class at the Le Mans Velo 24 hour race.
Riding on the famous Bugatti tarmac was the draw card of the event. One that attracted 1,748 athletes from all over the world, including a solo attempt all the way from New Zealand. 355 teams lined the straight outside the pits and waited for the cannon at 3pm on Saturday, August 21. The Le Mans-style start sent riders skidding in cleats over to their bikes, being held by another team member on the other side of the track, with a frantic mount the race was on.
The 4.2-kilometre loop had only one hill from the straight up to a Dunlop tire over bridge, four hairpins and several fast straights. Instantly, two pelotons formed while the solo and two-person teams stuck to their gameplan on the inside of the track ready for the long ride ahead.
Our team of eight – five boys and three girls – had thrown around ideas about what would produce the best results without fatiguing us too much. It was a fine balance between keeping the pace and intensity high on the track yet reducing the changeovers. You were penalised for taking anything shorter than one minute and 30 seconds in the pits. We decided to go for an hour on the track at a time and hobbled together a plan to warm up while another team-mate called the current rider in. Genius.
The French turned on the weather; we all lay in the campsite waiting for our turns in sweltering tents or topping up the tan on the deck chairs under blue skies and white rays of sun. The pits provided the only cool shelter for the team and at midnight when the thunder and lightning cracked together overhead, the cave kept the team dry too.
Out on the track the boys did the first stint and came in buzzing. The feeling of getting in to a group and holding yourself in there was a first to us all, having never road raced before. As the night went on the girls had their turns and then the boys graciously took the night shift. I woke to the thunder and frantically ran around in the monsoon rains clearing up the campsite while the boys slowed the pace on the track and the peloton fragmented as the tarmac turned to glass.
The girls cracked on with the morning shift as the boys rested and chowed in to more Maxifuel Recovermax and 9Bars. Heading out on to the track as the sun was coming up and drying the road was a fantastic feeling. I felt tired yet drew inspiration from the soloists still going round and round like mice. They had ridden out of the dark and the rain to see the orange sunrise. I found it hard to get in to a group and stay there. My lack of racing skills were prevalent yet I was loving my first time on electronic gears: thanks Shimano for the sweet ride.
Later the rest of the team revealed they had found it hard for the first few laps, being spat out the back of the snake as it flicked around a corner. Yet after a few laps they could hold in a group, making it easy to keep a 40kph average.
Broken yet elated the sprint for the finish happened at 3pm and we were second, only three laps behind the first-placed team. We had done 210 revolutions of the track and covered 878.85 kilometres, the same as we had driven to get to and from the event. Next year we are getting on the podium!