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24 HOUR RIDING IN LE MANS

In August our team of riders, attempted the mighty 24 Hours of Cycling Le Mans, a Shimano sponsored event at the famous motor racing circuit. Armed with the latest Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets, Chris Hall, Francis Cade, Katie Butler and Nick Harnett joined Shimano staff rider Kevin van den Besselaar in the mixed group category at the annual race. Nick tells us how things went.

The first thing you need to know when approaching the Le Mans 24-hour cycle race is that the main battle doesn’t take place on the circuit. It’s the cycle-eat-sleep-repeat strategy that provides the biggest challenge for would-be racers. The bike riding might be quick, furious and ultimately the most satisfying part of 24-hour racing, but the races are won or lost in the pit lane.

Arrival

Just before 11am on the day of the race, the team arrived at the circuit, bristling with energy and anticipation at what lay ahead for the next 29 hours. We were greeted with a sea of lycra, as thousands of cyclists were already putting the finishing touches to their pit lanes and warming up on the circuit. We arrived at our home for the next day and night - a VIP box overlooking the famous pit lane - unpacked and got to work on nailing down our riding strategy.

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Riding Order

We decided for an even split for racing time. Chris Hall, a seasoned 24-hour racer already, took the first two hours, setting a blistering pace in the heat, and giving our team a head start in the competition. We raced in 90-minute blocks, giving each other a good few hours rest in between, enough time for recovery and rest ahead of the next time on the track.

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Riding the Le Mans circuit

The Bugatti circuit in Le Mans was the real star of the show. A fast, smooth loop with braking-free corners and minimal elevation - the hours spent on the circuit flew by as bicycles sped along a finishing straight more famous for hosting the best in four-wheel performance rather than two.

Equipment

Each of our bikes were equipped with the very latest Dura-Ace and Ultegra tech, some of which was upgraded on-site by Shimano’s team of mechanics. Having the best in performance at our fingertips relieved some of the pressure of worrying about mechanical failures deep in the night, and allowed us to concentrate on the task in hand - smashing those laps!

The Night Shift

Around 9 pm the race took a turn, as the setting sun brought thousands of blinking red lights to the circuit. Our strategy for keeping ourselves going overnight relied on alternating back to back shifts. If you had to wake up at 3 am to ride until 4, you might as well stay awake to ride from 5 am until 6 as well. Overnight the party atmosphere increased, as the music was pumped louder and teams rallied around each other to encourage healthy competition. It was the hours between 9pm until 6am that made the 24-hour race really special; the warm glow from the floodlights kept us smiling as we took turns flying around the Le Mans circuit.

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The Finish

Before we knew it, the sun rose for another warm day in Le Mans. The pace slowed as fatigued riders drained themselves in the late morning, a last gasp effort to keep their teams high in the rankings. We were able to keep our overnight momentum going, and shortened our efforts to make the most of tired legs. Following a final 30 minute stint each, we were done - sharing a sweaty group hug, having united as a team across the 24-hour race.

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Next Year

There’s a special sense of satisfaction you get once you complete the 24 Hours of Cycling Le Mans. You’ve competed alongside Europe’s very best 24-hour racers, leading them around corners and hanging on when the pace ramped up. You’ve grown closer as a team (hard not to when sharing a room for a day), and together you’ve raced on one of the most famous circuits in the world. After packing down our bikes, and loading up the vans for the return journey to the UK, our minds drifted to August next year, contemplating our plans for meeting back in Le Mans for round two!