My short time in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race was still enough to get a fascinating perspective on the frankly bizarre mindset that you have during the event. You’re a dot, obsessing about other dots. It’s very, very odd and unlike anything else.
WORDS & IMAGES - James Raison
The race starts like any other: with plenty of sprinting, jostling, and surging for position. I thought it would be a slow roll out of Perth after people digest the sensible flakes they ate for breakfast. Nope. On the rivet!
Day 1 unfolds incredibly strangely. You spend the day around your fellow dots. Leapfrogging and getting leapfrogged. At the 320 km mark I settled into a hotel in the town of Merredin. The race was still hotly going on ahead of me. The veterans pushed on, knowing exactly what to do. Many first-timers pursued them hotly, caught up in the excitement. I was acutely aware that this was the best I would feel for the whole race. So stop I did.
Check the tracker as soon as my eyes opened on day 2 and I see some people have done 400+ km to my 320 km. Shit. Get out of bed!
What goes up must come down - unless you’re one of the select few contenders. As the days wear on, you start to see the sorting. The dots end up where they should be.
You freak out as people roll into the night while you’re just settling down to sleep. The next morning you’ll often see their bivvies lining the roadside, or clustered under shelters in parks, even on top of picnic tables.
That is the nature of this race. Everyone has their own plan, ideas, and races to run. Some roll long and slow. Others roll short but fast. You shouldn’t worry about others too much, but you do. Constantly. Ultimately you will end up where you should. There is no hiding in this race. FTP, V02, and all sorts of cycling metrics are almost irrelevant. What matters is moving. I was getting beaten by people I could have ridden away from with ease on a regular road ride. That is irrelevant out here.
Faffing about is incredibly easy, incredibly frustrating, and incredibly detrimental to your race. A couple of times I found myself in the same service station as other riders. As I pondered the meaning of life, the differences between brands of beef jerky, considered which iced coffee would be more delicious, projected the future development of my saddle sores, and dreamed about Peter Sagan holding labrador puppies, other dots had come in and were already gone. That 5 minutes they were moving while I was immobile takes a long time to undo on the road.
Mornings were ultra-frustrating. I’d usually pulled out a bunch of crap from my bike and it was strewn around my hotel room floor. The decision not to pack it the night before meant 10 minutes of morning faff. The distance between towns means there’s a pile of dots stopping in the same place. Check the tracker: some of them have already gone and I’m still tightening straps and stuffing Mars bars into my jersey. F#$K!
There’s nothing quite so frustrating has having another rider in view ahead or behind you and being literally powerless to change the gap.
Most riders around my position were capable of infuriatingly similar speeds. The vast open spaces mean you can see them for miles, especially at night. Their lights flash ahead of you, mockingly. Behind, the little white eyeballs are staring at you. Watching you suffer. Watching you grit your teeth in a vain attempt to distance it.
It is hunt and be hunted. Everyone is exhausted and riding at 50% capacity. So crossing the smallest gap can take almost forever. Another rider left a rest stop 15 minutes before me. It took me nearly 3 hours to catch and pass them. They left the next rest stop before me too so the dance repeated. Everyone is fighting with a hand tied behind their back. Exhaustion, dehydration, and horrid nutrition makes every punch weak and ineffective.
ROADIES VS ENDUROS
Jesse Carlsson put it best when he said roadies don’t always understand endurance riders. I, a roadie, like to ride hard and rest hard. Endurance riders know how to move slower, but more efficiently, and thus are faster overall. They can push on with less sleep. They train their bodies to require less food and water. Kristof, Mike, Jesse, and Sarah ride with unfathomably little water. They commit to their discipline and mould their bodies and minds to be exceptional at it.
Roadies like me have to carry a lot of food and water. I need to constantly stoke the engine with Kool Mints and Mars Bars. I can ride fairly quickly but I stop more often, sleep more, and will spend more time sitting on my arse staring hatefully at my bike. Endurance experts are amazing.