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This past weekend, Rapha undertook the challenge of riding the ‘Rad Am Ring’ 24 hour road race challenge, around the famous Nürburgring motor circuit. The format was simple, with an eight person relay type scenario, riders were to complete as many laps of the demanding and lumpy 25km circuit they could within 24 hours.
Nicknamed ‘The Green Hell’ by none other than motor racing legend Jackie Stewart, the track comprised of a rollercoaster ride of screaming descents, snappy banked turns, steep kickers and a tough 4 km climb, ending in an 18% rise. With 500 metres of climbing per lap, and many climbs steep enough to warrant using the little ring, we were in no doubt that this would be a tough race to be competitive and fast in.
Setting up with the Mobile Cycle Club as the team HQ, numbers were pinned on in anticipation, with fellow riders milling about and exchanging stories of the course, and what to expect, conditions-wise, for the next day. The heat reached a blistering 26°C as our first rider, Michael, prepared to start the race.
The transponder was affixed to his bike and we wished him the best as he made his way to the start line. At around 1:15pm we heard the Tannoy announce that the race was underway.
40 minutes or so later, the pit lane became a hive of activity with riders careering down at breakneck speed to reach the next rider in their relay team. Many a dangerous hand-sling manoeuvre was performed with transponders jammed in waterbottles and thrust into an awaiting hand. Michael sprinted along the pits, and after a swift exchange of transponder, Kieran was away.
I sat on the bike awaiting the return of Kieran, palms sweating as I didn’t know what lay before me. The difficult nature of the course, the fact I needed to keep a decent time so the boys would not have to close a deficit, and reservations about riding so fast amongst such a large group of competitors (around 3000 in all the categories) played on my mind. But, as I hurriedly jammed the transponder into my chest pocket and motored away on to the course, those thoughts soon melted away.
After the twists and turns of joining the course, I was soon out and heading towards the Nordschleife (northern loop). The smooth tarmac allowed for swift accelerations, and soon enough the glorious first 8km of downhill was all but over. Reaching speeds of up to 55mph, I grinned as I teased the bike through each of the corners. This was fast!
Hitting the uphill section, the course became silent, with only the sound of heavy breathing permeating the air. Surrounded by hill upon hill of lush green forest, wheels were followed and the climb was slogged out. No such luck as to finding a moment of shade on this exposed course, the sun beating down and cooking the riders, the heat adding to the agony of the seemingly never-ending 5km climb.
On my pit swap disaster struck. Disorientated, I thought I had overshot our team-tent. I hurriedly scaled over a fence and rejoined the correct pit lane, only to later discover I had indeed gone the right way (a costly error that would prove dear as the final results came through).
Ben suffered a similar fate of confusion, when upon taking a wrong junction, found himself heading out for an unexpected second lap. In such heat and without extra water this was a suicide move. However, Ben, being hard as nails, still hammered around to return with a laptime only slightly off his first.
As nightfall came lights adorned every handlebar and helmet, with the course being unlit for the lion’s share, with the two worst corners being the only spots to benefit from any type of lighting. To my shock, the descents didn’t slow down, as teams were keen to push the lap times in the evening, knowing this is where significant advantages could be gained. For each of us, the night lap seemed to be the highlight, proving such a surreal yet exhilarating experience, reaching such large speeds in near pitch black, adrenaline firing as the light trail of the rider in front was followed meticulously.
As the six of us started fatiguing we were saved by the 2am arrival of Florian, going well and truly above the call of duty, arriving after a long drive from a wedding he attended that day, the poor bloke was ushered straight on to the course as the rest of us sought to snatch a modicum of sleep. We took refuge in sleeping bags on the floor and closed our eyes, ever aware that in a few short hours we would be prodded with a gentle reminder to saddle up and get back on the circuit.
The copious espressos from the Mobile Cycle Club were very much appreciated as daybreak arrived, by both riders and bored and tired friends and family. We roused ourselves up with food and drink in an attempt to kick start the engine into one final lap, where the aim was to truly empty the tank. Each rider gave it their all and I don’t doubt this contributed to us coming a very respectable 4th out of 49 teams.
Although we were a little disappointed not to podium, we consoled ourselves that we rode with six riders for the bulk of the event, and then even with a seventh we were still short. And all that to only be beaten by one solitary lap by the winners, I felt my mistake became costly!
The experience to ride such a track was one that will stay with us all forever. Michael, Stefan, Jack, Ben, Kieran, Florian and myself had obviously all caught the moto-circuit bug, as each of us declared that we will return next year. Only this time, we will win!
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