Mersey Roads 24 Hour – Keep it Going!

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This race was the one I had been looking forward to for so long. It should have been my ‘A’ race for 2016, the one race I wanted to do well in more than any other event. Sadly, I found myself by the side of the road come race day. While DVT stopped me from competing, it didn’t stop me from supporting and cheering others! 

So what makes the Mersey Roads 24 Hour so special? The atmosphere: A gathering of like-minded people. From those mad enough to enter a 24-hour time trial to those so generously offering their time as volunteers; from the army of supporters looking after their racers to the bunches of local club cyclists applauding the riders as they suffer through the last few miles, all in it together.

It is probably the most eclectic mix you will see at any time trial: from basic road bikes to top-of-the range time trial machines as well as tandems and tricycles; from those racing around the clock without putting a foot on the ground to those taking a more relaxed approach and stopping for a feed or a nap; from Audaxers dipping their toes into their first time trial to experienced testers defending their titles or aiming to break that magic ‘400’ or 500’ mile boundary.

Prees roundabout, which is used as a base camp by most teams, somewhat resembles a festival village and those needing a bit of motivation nearer the Espley roundabout on the night circuit were cheered on by one competitor’s fantastic support team swapping between batman and spiderman outfits.

More so than any other event the Mersey Roads 24 Hour has a strong sense of ‘community’. It is a real grass-roots event. It is hard to describe the atmosphere in words. But anyone who has ridden, supported or spectated at the Mersey Roads 24 Hour will understand what I mean. The best way to experience the atmosphere is to join the fun yourself next year, but meanwhile this video by Damon Peacock gives a superb insight to what makes the Mersey Roads 24 Hour so special.

Earlier this year, I was approached by Edric Hobbs, (then) a complete stranger with the generous offer to support me for my LEJOG record attempt next year. I knew he had entered the Mersey 24 Hr and once it became clear I couldn’t participate in the event myself, I thought ‘why not return the favour’? This weekend had long been marked out in the calendar anyway, the AirBnB was booked, the weather forecast was good, why not enjoy the event from the roadside instead?

Chris and I travelled down on the Friday evening, arriving late at a local AirBnB in Farndon, perfectly located at walking distance from the HQ. After a few hours on the turbo on the patio of the AirBnB in the morning, we went over to the HQ to meet Edric, his partner Caroline and friend Rob. Edric was in good spirits and remarkably relaxed for his first 24-hour time trial. Exploiting the luxury of 4 supporters, Caroline and Rob stayed mostly stationary at Prees while Chris and I moved to the various outliers on the course (Battlefield Church, Espley and the back of the Quina Brook circuit). Having 4 supporters gave us all the opportunity to catch a few hours of sleep and I even managed to squeeze in an early morning turbo on the Sunday.

It was interesting to experience a time trial from a supporter’s perspective. It is not quite the same as riding the event yourself, but you still feel the same excitement, the same nerves and can empathise with the mixture of pain and enjoyment the riders are alternating between. With 358 miles, Edric did a great ride, but failed his cunning plan to end his 24-hour ordeal just by the HQ 😉

Pictures paint a thousand words, so here is a selection that probably best sums up Edric’s race. It was a pleasure to assist him and get to know Caroline and Rob. I hope you all recovered meanwhile.

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Aside from helping Edric, it was good to see so many familiar faces. Michael Broadwith and his Team Arctic Tacx buddies Jonathan Shubert and Tim Bailey absolutely tore up the road and beat the old competition record by over 100 miles!  Have a listen here on the time trial podcast for Michael’s own thoughts before and after this fantastic achievement.

I don’t know how Tim managed to ride so fast without overheating in his black TT helmet and admire how Michael held such a super aero position for so long. It was also good to see local rider Victor Chetta mixing in at the sharp end of the race, finishing third in this first ever 24-hour TT, easily breaking his target of 500 miles in the process.

Each and every rider in this race has his/her own story. In my eyes anyone entering this race is a hero. But a few definitely stood out. Hugh Culverhouse, pedalling so strongly for 24 hours with just one leg (!), simply amazing. George Berwick on the back of the tandem who was racing the Mersey Roads 24 for the 49th (!?) time, wow what a commitment. The Audaxer bravely competing in his first 24-hour time trial without a support crew and sleeping in pure Audax style by the side of the road for a few hours before driving himself home?! All these mad people. I just love it.

And then there was my team: Born to Bike. Since the beginning of the year we had our eyes firmly set on the women’s team prize for the 24hr. Lynne and Jacqui had both raced this event multiple times, but with my entry falling by the wayside it initially seemed hard to persuade any of the others to step up to the challenge. Much to my surprise – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – Libby came to the rescue. Having never ridden beyond a 100-mile TT, she went straight in at the deep end, skipping the 12-hour altogether. Wow. I admire her courage and loved seeing how she fully committed herself to the event by raising funds for Cancer Research UK.

John Taylor, not only supported Lynne to her 7th (!) 24-hour title, but also wrote this fabulous report on how the race panned out for the Born to Bike team: Lynne, Jacqui and Libby won the Women’s National 24 Hour Team Champion’s title! It certainly wasn’t without challenges (e.g. hot feet, sickness, sore knees and shins). I enjoyed watching them from the road side and cheering them on through their highs and lows. Lynne made it look so easy and even gave me encouragement (“Jas your turn next year” she shouted as she went by) rather than thinking about her own race. What an amazing woman. It was great to see Jackie fight through some real lows in the night to then ride so strongly on the finishing circuit. And Libby just had the biggest grin throughout. I can’t wait to join them for the fun next year!

And finally, I think my biggest admiration goes to those who somehow manage to organise the Mersey Roads 24 Hour year after year. It takes a hell of a lot of organisation and an army of volunteers. A big cheers to the Mersey Roads 24 Hour, long may it continue to bring together such a wonderful bunch of people. I hope to compete alongside many of you next year and if you live near(ish), it really is worth coming out to spectate…

PS: Gina don’t forget that cowbell 😉

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