This time on Faster, I’m talking to a trio of ultra-endurance riders about how you survive and win in some of the most extreme races in the world.
Emily Chappell won the 4000 km Transcontinental race in 2016. James Hayden won it in 2017 and 2018. Shu Pillinger is the first British woman to finish the brutal cost-to-coast Race Across America, which she did in 2015.
I find out about the dramatic differences between “normal” bike racing and events that continue non-stop for anything up to two weeks. And we talk about the sort of rider who can cope with it. “If you looked at the start line of a Transcontinental race, just the physical ability of the riders would be a bad way to try to pick the winner,” says Emily.
Instead, you need the ability to keep eating, the ability to keep riding through the hallucinations of sleep-deprivation, and the ability to measure an effort over days and days of racing. Above all, the three of them tell me that it’s a mental game. As James puts it, “Over a race that lasts for days, your own brain can be your worst enemy.”
We discuss the unexpectedly big differences between unsupported races like the Transcontinental, where riders must fend for themselves with no outside help, and supported races like the Race Across America, where the rider has a team of helpers.
Finally, we hear from Shu on how her RAAM ride was only possible with the help of someone reading a pornographic novel in a Belgian accent.
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Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. As a rider he won multiple national titles in both Britain and Ireland and competed at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. He was a three-time Brompton folding-bike World Champion, and once hit 73 mph riding down a hill in Wales.
As a writer, he wrote the award winning The Hour about his attempt on the sport’s most famous and sought-after record. He followed that up with Faster, about the training, the science the genetics and the luck behind the world’s fastest riders, and Re:Cyclists, a history of cyclists from 1816 to the present day.
He’s written for outlets ranging from Cycling Weekly to the New York Times, and has presented and and commentated for the BBC, Eurosport, Channel 4, and Sky Sports.
Before he did any of that he was a legal academic at Cambridge and Sussex universities. He now lives with far too many bicycles in London and Cambridgeshire.
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