Sleepless in Mondello

Riding the Mondello24 Cycle (on 12 vintage bikes).

Part I: I have my way

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“WHERE’S MY BIKE?!” I cried.

I had just hurtled into the pits for my 16th and final bike change in the Mondello 24 hour race, and there it wasn’t, my final bike, my Moulton.

Taking in the surroundings, not only was there no bike, but the pit-crew had cleaned up the place in the last hour of racing.  Tables had been put against walls, a sofa was being sat upon by well-wishers I didn’t even know, and the can of Coke I had left for this very moment had disappeared.  To add to my distress I was being told in no uncertain terms I needed to get back on to the racetrack before the pit lane was closed at 11.30. It was 11.29.

The Moulton was fetched from where I don’t know.  Kindly Oisín O‘Briain swapped my timing transponder, someone else changed my Garmin, while a kindly gentleman put his arm around my shoulder, poured me a can of coke, reassured me it was all going to be ok, and whispered, “by the way, your pit is next door!”

The next person I heard was Joanne Murphy, race commentator, saying “here’s Brendan Hennessy of OldVelos and by God he’s cut it fine…. Pit lane is now closed”.

In a challenge I had kept saying I was going to take on ‘completely prepared’, I had nearly made my most monumental mistake.  I hadn’t really decided which bike to finish on –  the 1965 Moulton or my 1910 Alá-Alcyon?  23 and a ½ hours in, it seemed like a long time ago since I started out on the 1910.  But to be honest, this was a journey that started so much earlier, with a phone call from the aforementioned Oisín.

“How many bikes do you have?” he had asked, adding coyly “would you have one for every hour?”.  It was clear where this was going, and when he posted that I was going to ride a fleet of vintage bikes on the Mondello24 Cycle Facebook page, well that was it, it was public. 

Soon after, I received a message from fellow competitor Tom Daly, “I was just riding to Galway there and I was thinking really you should do it on 12 bikes, like a calendar.”  Tom had departed from Killarney. I wondered how far north he’d cycled to come up with that brainwave.

Weapons of Mass Confusion

Unlike Tom, I was a novice to long distance cycling.  Frequent advance queries about my targets for riding the race were all met with the same response: “Miles”.  Truth is I was leaving room for failure, “what”, as Tom had put it, “the engine was fine, but the transmission fails…how are your knees?”

To allay such fears. I turned from one pedalling philosopher to another, Audax rider Terence ‘T’ Rae.  T’s advice was legendary. “Thinking takes energy.  Do all your thinking in advance”. Such wise words.  I followed them, well, to a T. 

My pre-race journal features 20 pages of lists, bike choices and menus, although to be honest the bikes kind of chose themselves.  Once Tom had mentioned ‘the calendar’ I looked at the bikes through the eyes of time.  I had bikes from the 20’s to the 80’s, I just needed to add some to the beginning and end of the century. I always wanted something more than one hundred years old, and surely there’s an acceptable bike from the 1990’s before bikes turned into stealth bombers. I scratched around. 

As usual, some of the bikes just followed me home, like the afore mentioned 1965 Moulton which gave the crowds such glee.  Others required a bit more persuasion, namely the unnamed 1910 road frame.  It looks like an Alcyon but isn’t.  I call it alá Alcyon.  It has all the look of Francois Faber’s 1909 Tour de France winning machine, and all the weight of it too.  The front carbide lamp was a nod in the direction of the night-time ride ahead. To be honest, I knew I’d ride the night on something more comfortable.

The final piece of the puzzle was contained in an answer to an e-mail with just two weeks to go.  I rang Fergus White, athlete and mountain climber and writer of Ascent into Hell, I thought he’d know.  “Hi Fergus, your Di Zecca frame, what year was it made?” “Hi Bren, it was built in Bray in 1992.”.  Fergus’ bike had been hanging on my wall for years. Just waiting.

As race day approached, after some badly timed health issues, I knew which bikes I’d be riding and when,  and I began to live my life by those lists.  I stocked up on homemade energy balls. I fluted around with salt sachets. I accustomed myself to eating muesli and yoghurt bars.  Eschewing energy drinks, I found that lemon slices in my bottle made drinking more palatable.  Drinking enough fluids was a common pre-race topic.  Once I had decided upon my ‘on course’ nutrition, I turned my attention to my 3 course meals.  Oh yes, and my list said ‘snooze’ and I had every intention to do so.

Since the event, I’ve been asked about this a lot; did I take any breaks, what did I eat, did I sleep?  Did I what!

After the first 6 hours I knew the list said:

  • Heat Beef Stroganoff
  • Drink Sparkling Water with elderflower
  • Eat Fruit salad
  • Change Clothes
  • Sleep.

So that’s what I did.  And as I closed my eyes under the warmth of a winter duvet in my small VW van parked behind the pit garages, I thought to myself “this is me, riding the Mondello 24 Hour Challenge”.

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