Home About Wahoo Against the clock – Team Wahoo race the Red Bull Timelaps

Against the clock – Team Wahoo race the Red Bull Timelaps

18 min read

Set in Windsor Great Park, England, Red Bull set out to achieve the unachievable – a 25 hour, 24 hour race.

Driving out of London westward, it’s early enough for us to see the last stragglers making their way home from Friday evening. It’s Saturday morning, and Stephen and I are heading out of London westward to the inaugural Red Bull Timelaps. Talk turns instantly to the race. The finer mechanics are still unclear at this point, although we’ve been discussing tactics for weeks. The unmistakable aura of pre-race trepidation hangs heavy as we collect another team member, David, and press on.

Set in Windsor Great Park, England, Red Bull have set out to achieve the unachievable – a 25 hour, 24 hour race. 150 teams of four riders will battle it out to ride as many laps as possible; the team with the most laps wins. Simple? Here’s the catch – the race falls on the weekend the clocks go back, giving teams an extra hour overnight to score laps on a secret section of the course. Laps ridden during this hour count double.

Team member #4 is Will Bjergfelt – Elite C-1 individual time trial specialist, coming off the back of a successful season racing for Neon Velo. A late addition to the team and at this point relatively unknown, Will is looking to launch Team Wahoo into a good position early on, we hope. The team meets at sign on, makes introductions and grabs coffee before unloading our van and setting up our pit area.

Stretched out before us is the mini festival Red Bull have pulled together, with the pits running along the left side of the track. As more people arrive, the pits become a metropolis of riders, bikes, tents, gazebos and almost everything in between, all of which will house and maintain each team over the coming 25 hours.

In the pits is the Wahoo warm up zone where riders can warm up on KICKR power trainers before heading out onto the course. We set up shop here. The race start of midday approaches, and the first man out, Will Bjergfelt, starts warming up. While Will is spinning out the cold morning and early start, the team busy themselves with their pre-race ritual of filling bottles, setting up ELEMNT pages and making sure Will is clear on the plan ahead of his first stint.

We swap riders and the race is restarted.  As expected, the brutally high pace seen on the first two laps is resumed. The field blows apart on the first lap, thankfully, David looks settled in the front group. As the laps start ticking past it becomes clear David is riding us right into the sharp end of the race.

We swap riders and the race is restarted.  As expected, the brutally high pace seen on the first two laps is resumed. The field blows apart on the first lap, thankfully, David looks settled in the front group. As the laps start ticking past it becomes clear David is riding us right into the sharp end of the race.

“It was just so much harder than I was expecting; I thought it would be like a time trial but it just isn’t. This is going to be a full-on road race breakaway. For 25 hours” says David, as he spins his legs to warm down after returning to the pits after his first stint. The team agrees, we’re now in Timelaps to win it. Not what we expected a few hours earlier driving through Herne Hill.

On each pass of the pits Will looks stronger and stronger, settling into the rhythm and controlling the pace at the front of the race. By the time we pull him in to swap over, unbelievably, he has managed to get us up to first place. As the lap times load onto our screen we burst out laughing –  

Will has set the 2nd fastest lap time of the race.

I took the next stint and form a partnership with a rider from Wellingborough Cycles. On our third lap Max Steadman of Bike Channel-Canyon screams past us with another rider. I dive for his wheel and manage to hold on, as we now work together and roll through to take turns driving the pace. The other riders continue to lift the tempo and I find my limit. Discovering I can’t keep touch, I decide to drop back to prevent blowing up. I find another rider, and do my best to keep my power right at threshold. All I can see is the screen of my ELEMNT, the other rider’s wheel and the haze of red lights ahead of me. Day turns to night, and by the end of my session darkness has totally enveloped the park.

I pull back into the pits and pass the baton to Steve. Steve and I have spent the last season racing together, so although I know he’s a strong rider, riding alone into the wind seems a demoralizing picture. Without a group to share the work, he ploughs into the first night shift alone, returning to the pits after a grueling hour-long solo effort drained and with cramp-flooded legs

Into the night we start to re-evaluate as the all-important Tag Heuer power hour approaches. We decide that Will should capitalise on the double points on offer, so decide to send him and David out for another short stint each before grabbing a well-deserved rest. It’s dawning on us that these sessions will be like racing a full-pace criterium or time trial, then warming down, resting, refueling before repeating. ‘Tough’ doesn’t do it justice.

My turn rolls around again and I go through my warm up. Out on the course, I realize quickly that I’ve not recovered well from my first session. I dig in, and stare at my power on the screen of my ELEMNT as I fly through the darkness. After the fourth lap I can feel myself running out of gas, and although a gel helps to stop me from bonking out I can’t find the energy to keep riding hard; my vision is going blurry and I can’t hold my head without my neck and back screaming at me.

I manage 5 laps; just enough set Will onto the bonus course with Team Wahoo  still clinging onto 2nd place. Luckily, he finds Rhys Howells (Team WIGGINS), one of a few pros racing tonight, and they burn around. Things are looking good, until a poorly-timed rear light issue forces Will back to the pits, but in order to get back he has to go the long way round. We lose two 2.5, more likely 3 bonus laps, forcing us from 2nd to 8th.

We press on and get David out on the track. He finds a strong group instantly and settles in. To help us hand-up food, water & extra lights, we use the ELEMNT Live track feature to pinpoint the riders as they approach the pits. With the race so fast & in the pitch dark I was just looking at a blur of lights hurtling towards me. Somehow, we managed to carry out 3 perfect hand-ups without dropping a single bottle.

Throughout the night we all manage to snatch bits of sleep here and there. People are propped up everywhere, against any flat surface, on beanbags, in tents, all trying to rest while the race flies past around them. I head back out onto the course, and manage to find my rhythm from before, treating this as another 6-lap time trial.

I head back to the pits while daylight drips over the treetops and brings with it drops of rain as we head into the final hours of racing. There’s still a long way to go as Steve tears out of the pits into yet another solo-headwind battle. I’m bewildered as to where these efforts keep coming from, and head back to the van to grab an hour’s sleep before my last stint. When I emerge Steve has swapped to David, who is emptying himself in what will be his last shift. I suit up and hop back on the KICKR.

David steams back through the pits to hand over to me. He doesn’t have enough energy to run alongside his bike after dismounting, and both rider and bike crash into the safety barrier at the side as I take off running to get back onto the track. Broken, he stands by his bike, bent double but glad to have given everything in his last stint. It’s up to me and Will now.

Headed up the climb for the final time I take a moment to think about how far we’ve come. I smile at how we left South London not expecting to make an impact on the race at all, but had come here and, despite technical issues, more or less sealed a top ten finish.

Over to Will for the final few laps. He drops the hammer once more, and dispatches riders clinging onto his wheel unable to keep his pace one by one. One more lap. We can see from the ELEMNT Live Track that Will is managing to average close to 400 watts in his final dig around the park, and soon enough he blasts through the finish line to bring us home 6th in the men’s race, 8th overall.

We leave the site each having ridden in excess of 200km. The drive back to London is shared with a glow of amazement shared by each of us. We’re tired, beyond tired, but happy we came here and beat all of our expectations. We talk about the moment we realized we could be in the race, and after we held the lead for a time what went wrong for us to have slipped down the ranking. Red Bull Timelaps, you broke us, but we will be back!

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