The Mersey Roads ’24’

The Mersey Roads National 24 Hour Time Trial.

24 hours against the clock, rider with the furthest distance wins and is crowned national champion.

The ’24’ is a race that is both feared and revered. The idea of riding non-stop against the clock for that amount of time is an intimidating prospect, and the distances that get ridden can be hard to fathom. The current record stands at 544.32 miles, set by Graeme Kemp in 2019.

Organised and run by a group of volunteers from the Mersey Roads Cycling Club since 1937, it’s an event with a long history that has an almost mythic status in UK cycling culture.

This year, Albion co-founder Charlie Stewart was on the start line…

Photos: Harvey Waller | Words: Charlie Stewart  

Sign on. The guy parked next to us is doing it on a tricycle, unsupported. He says he’s ridden the 24 before, well over 10 years ago though. This is my first attempt. This is my first ever time trial. I leave it as long as possible to get into my skinsuit. I don’t normally use chamois cream, but I’m using it today.

The start line. I’m definitely nervous, but the finish seems so impossibly far away that it’s almost confusing how I’m supposed to feel. Getting going is good. A relief. This ride is all I’ve been thinking about for months now.

Heading down to Prees Island. Headwind. Just trying to keep it steady, HR below 140bpm. I don’t have a power meter, I’m riding this on feel.

The Battlefield out and back. I’m going to be spending a lot of time on this road in the next 23 hours. The out and back takes just over an hour, it’s rolling with a couple of rises. The first half is into the wind, the second half you have a tailwind.

 

It’s called the Battlefield out and back because it goes down to the village of Battlefield and back. I try and settle into my work, breaking the loop down into parts – the rises, the downhills, the turns. Ride for about half an hour then it’s a nice tailwind back to Prees Island and a quick hello to the crew.

You start to learn the loop. You think the repetition will be boring, but being able to break it down into quantifiable parts is quite stimulating. I start another loop. Just over half an hour then that tailwind again. Don’t ride too hard on the rises. Keep your heart rate steady.

100 miles up, 4 hours 40 mins. All going smoothly, even if the TT saddle that I’ve only been riding on for the last six weeks isn’t feeling that comfortable. We go straight over the Prees Island roundabout and onto a new circuit, the ‘Quina Brook’ circuit. It’s shorter than the Battlefield out and back, about 20km, and takes just over half an hour to complete one circuit.


I crash on the first time around the Quina Brook circuit. I’m not really sure what happened. I remember being a bit uncomfortable in the saddle, half standing up to adjust my position and relieve the pressure, clearly not concentrating fully, and suddenly my weight was in the wrong place and I hit the ground. Hard. It takes 30 seconds for my vision to return to normal, and I quickly try to assess the damage. Am I ok? Is the bike ok? I’m ok, I hit my head but the helmet did its job. My left leg and knee are a bit banged up. Please let the bike be ok, this can’t be how the race ends.

 


I’m keen to settle back down into the rhythm of circuits after the spill. The bike is fine and I get another couple of Quina Brooks done and then take a planned stop for dinner. 18 minutes. First ‘stint’ done, and it feels good to stop and sit in the van for a few minutes. The boys have got me fish and chips, but I don’t really feel like eating it. I’ve been fuelling well on the carb drink I’m using, but I try and force a few chips down and take a bite of fish.

A couple more Quina Brook circuits then its back onto the Battlefield out and back for the night time part of the race. In four hours’ time it’ll be half way.

I had actually been looking forward to the night time part of the race. I’ve always enjoyed riding in the dark, there’s a novelty to it because it’s not something I do that much. It’s raining though. Showers up and down the route, heaviest right down at the bottom.

The rain isn’t really bothering me, and I opt to go without a rain jacket. I see other riders out on the course in their rain jackets. The weather must be in their head I think. Good.

Battlefield out and back, in the rain.


Battlefield out and back, in the rain.


Another scheduled stop, ten minutes for a coffee. ‘Stint 2’ done, two more stints to go, and they’re getting shorter. It didn’t feel so good to stop this time, and I was happy to get moving again. Back to the Battlefield.


Battlefield out and back, in the rain. There are a couple of downhill sections on the second half of the loop that I look forward to each time, a chance to stop pushing the pedals and freewheel, if only for a few seconds.


Battlefield out and back. Must be getting light soon.


Sunrise. Although not exactly a beautiful morning. A grey, damp dreary one. Daylight means the end of the Battlefield out and back and back onto Quina Brook. Nice to switch it up. I’d done about 250 miles on the Battlefield by now.


My eyes are starting to get tired. Not closing, just not working as well. Focusing up the road is harder. I try not to think about it too much, and just keep pushing the pedals and try to stay aero.


Final scheduled stop soon. Tick off a couple of Quina Brooks then you can have a brief rest.


The stop did me good. 15 minutes, and I closed my eyes for eight of them. They needed a rest. The boys tell me I’m in contention for a medal. Lots of people have scratched overnight, including a number of the fast men. Getting on the podium has never crossed my mind during this whole process, I just wanted to finish and get a good distance. Time to get back out there.


One more time around the Quina Brook circuit, then the marshalls usher me in a new direction to the finishing circuit. I had been enjoying ticking off the Quina Brooks, but a change of loop is always welcome.


After spending 20 hours on the Battlefield and Quina Brook circuits, the new direction towards the finishing circuit is disorientating. I’m tired and confused, where is Prees Island? We’re not going back there.


The finishing circuit. It goes round a prison. There are a couple of straight, slightly uphill sections into a block headwind on A Roads. Maybe its because I’ve been riding for 22 hours and I’m knackered, but it’s hard graft. My neck muscles are struggling to hold my head up. My vision is blurred. Still three hours left.


Can’t really hold my head up now. Even if I could, my eyes are knackered and I can’t really focus anyway. So I steal the odd glimpse up the road to make sure there’s nothing in the way, and I just keep pedalling. Close now.


A blur of just trying to keep pedalling until it’s done. I realise that I am going to finish, and do well. The clock on my head unit goes past 1pm, but I’m confused and I don’t know where to stop so I end up about 500 metres short of the correct time keeper and collapse in a heap on a patch of grass on my own. Where are the boys? What’s happening? I drop a pin and they scoop me up, put me back on my bike and it’s a few more pedal strokes round the corner to the correct time keeper. It’s done.


Back to the village hall for a shower. I’m in contention for 3rd place, but the official result hasn’t been announced yet.

I try and eat a bacon roll but it doesn’t go down well. We sit on the floor against the wall just taking in the atmosphere. I’m grateful to not be pedalling.

Then, it’s confirmed. I’ve finished in third place with a final distance of 472.5 miles. Absolutely buzzing.

A big thank you to all the people who helped me on this project – Ultan, Graeme, Sarah-Jane, Rhiannon, Tristan, Jake and Ollie, and the amazing support crew on the ground during the race – James, Harvey, Kendal and Rupert.

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