Fact Checking: The Triple Crown of Endurance Cycling

Endurance Cycling in Australia under Scrutiny

By Heath Ryan

 

The role of facts in the digital world is in the spotlight. This article summarises the facts behind the triple crown of endurance cycling. 

FACT CHECK 1 of 7: Who came up with the triple crown concept?

In early 2017, the triple crown of endurance cycling was coined by Heath Ryan, a Melbourne-based cyclist known as ‘The Dark Knight’. The idea of racing a bicycle across three continents in the same calendar year began during a conversation with Steffen Streich in April 2017. Impressively, Steffen had raced, solo and unsupported, across four continents in separate years (including the Trans Afrika in South Africa which no longer runs). 

Planning commenced that April, and by November I had places for 2018 in the IPWR, the Trans Am Bike Race, and the Transcontinental Race, making me the only person registered for all three unsupported transcontinental road races. These would entail 15,300 km, 112,335 vertical metres, 52 days of racing, 17 months of preparation, and A$20,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

When I told a friend about my plan, he said: “Wow, the triple crown!” And it stuck.

There is already a triple crown in professional cycling. It is achieved when a road cyclist in the same season wins three of: the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France, the Vuelta, and the UCI World Road Race Championship. Only two riders have achieved this: Eddy Merckx in 1974, and Stephen Roche in 1987. By other definitions, the triple crown means either winning three of these four titles in a lifetime, or completing the three major tours – the Giro, the Tour de France and the Vuelta – in the same calendar year.

Like the triple crown of endurance road cycling, there is no official professional cycling triple crown and no prize money. Only a sense of personal achievement.

 

FACT CHECK 2 of 7: The overlander route

Between November 2017 and January 2018, concerns about the IPWR emerged – emails went unanswered, and improvements to the route didn’t happen. So, I planned my own improvements, including: remaining on the main road into Port Augusta; remaining on Gorge Road into Adelaide; and departing Adelaide on the Mount Lofty bike path.

In January 2018, rumours of the IPWR being cancelled were heard, yet the official cancellation did not occur until 6 February 2018, five weeks from the scheduled start date. The reason given was the pending Coronial Inquest into the death of Mike Hall.

This was a blow to those who had spent six months preparing, training, and booking flights and accommodation. The impact of this late cancellation had an even greater impact on international competitors. Personally, twice I had signed up for and prepared to race the IPWR, and twice it had been cancelled. I was at a loss.

About half of the entrants rode an unofficial ride without an organiser, safety checks or a set of rules. I decided to race the historical overlander route, after discovering Oppy’s 1937 record-setting route from Perth to Sydney and Vic Browne’s 1969 record-breaking route from Perth to Sydney via Canberra. The main differences between Vic’s historical overlander route and the IPWR were: 1) the historical overlanders dipped their wheels at Fremantle but raced from Perth; 2) the overlanders finished their race at Sydney’s GPO; 3) the overlanders took the shortest routes to set records while crossing the continent, and 4) the overlander route had 130 years of history.

 

FACT CHECK 3 of 7: What is a valid endurance triple crown?

What is a valid triple crown of endurance road racing?

The triple crown of endurance road racing involves racing solo and self-supported, in the same calendar year, across the three continents that hold self-supported transcontinental races. When the 2018 IPWR was cancelled, I raced against Oppy and Vic Browne. In the absence of a reliable and officially organised self-supported transcontinental race with clear rules, I set out to race against history and against the clock using Mike Hall’s TCR rules.

As luck would have it, I bettered Oppy’s Perth-to-Sydney time [on vastly improved roads] by seven minutes. My time, in March 2018, of 13 days, 10 hours and 4 minutes is the fastest self-supported time from Perth to Sydney on a bicycle. I was also fortunate enough to complete the 6,734 km Trans Am Bike Race in June 2018, and the 4,000 km TCR in August 2018.

So, by the above definition, that is a valid endurance cycling triple crown.

 

FACT CHECK 4 of 7: Who are the new wheel dippers?

With the re-emergence of transcontinental endurance racing in Australia, we are creating a new generation of overlanders and writing a new page in the history books.

Below are some of the new unsupported records being created, along with some supported record holders from the original wheel dippers for comparison:

Perth to Adelaide:
Oppy (supported, 1937) in 9 days, 6 hours, 1 minute
Graham Woodrup (supported, 1988) in 6 days, 10 hours, 44 minutes
Heath Ryan (unsupported, 2018) in 7 days and 12 hours

Fremantle to Adelaide:
Kristof Allegaert (unsupported, 2017) in 7 days and 2 hours.

Adelaide to Melbourne:
Oppy (supported, 1937) in 2 days, 17 hours, 7 minutes
Graham Woodrup (supported, 1988) in 1 day, 15 hours, 16 minutes
Kristof Allegaert (unsupported, 2017) in 3 days flat (coastal route)

Melbourne to Canberra:
Vic Browne (supported, 1969) in 1 day, 12 hours and 23 minutes
Kristof Allegaert (unsupported, 2017) in 3 days, 5 hours (coastal route)
Heath Ryan (unsupported, 2018) in 2 days, 9 hours, 42 minutes (inland route)

Canberra to Sydney:
Vic Browne (supported, 1969) in 8 hours and 29 minutes
Kristof Allegaert (unsupported, 2017) in 1 day, 5 hours, 30 minutes (coastal route)
Heath Ryan (unsupported, 2018) in 18 hours, 40 minutes (inland route)

Fremantle to Sydney:
Kristof Allegaert (unsupported, 2017) in 13 days, 11 hours (coastal route)

Perth to Sydney:
Oppy (supported, 1937) in 13 days, 10 hours, 11 minutes
Vic Browne (supported, 1969) in 11 days, 6 hours, 47 minutes (via Canberra)
Heath Ryan (unsupported, in 2018) in 13 days, 10 hours, 4 minutes (via Canberra)

 

FACT CHECK 5 of 7: You can call yourself an overlander

‘Chapeau’ to the organisers of the 2017 IPWR, who brought unsupported ultra-endurance transcontinental road bike racing to Australia. Hats off also to the 70 racers who started in Fremantle on 18 March 2017, and to the 42 still racing on 31 March 2017. Make no mistake, we were all wounded soldiers that day. There were no winners. Some riders went home to grieve and heal; some were left with unfinished business; others chose to complete the distance to Sydney.

A year later, the event was again cancelled. Many were gutted and out of pocket, but congratulations to those who rode regardless, as some decided to complete the distance as a ride not a race.

September 2018 saw the ACT Coronial Inquest into the 2017 death of Mike Hall. A number of 2017 IPWR racers attended the Inquest – some officially, others for personal reasons. There were seven of us in attendance on one day. We were like mourners paying our respects.

The Coroner will present her findings and recommendations in January 2019. Many in the endurance cycling community are apprehensive after learning how shoddily the Australia Federal Police (AFP) investigation was handled.

Regardless, if you ride from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean, you can call yourself an overlander, joining a tradition going back over 130 years. The bicycle is part of Australia’s history and psyche, and the overlander club is an illustrious club indeed.

 

FACT CHECK 6 of 7: The longest commute in the southern hemisphere

The reputation of endurance cycling in Australia is in tatters. This is partly because of the shoddy investigation by the AFP into the death of Mike Hall. It is also partly because the ACT Coroner’s Court could not challenge the AFP’s brief of evidence. Domestically, our laws are weak, and often poorly and inconsistently enforced. Internationally, our races are cancelled with little explanation or notice, and our law enforcement makes us look like a ‘banana republic’.

Referring to the ‘automotive hegemony’ in the USA, the organisers of the Trans Am Bike Race recently stated:

We've seen our friends and family accused of negligence … despite being some of the most accomplished cyclists on the planet … We've seen evidence lost and or destroyed and we'll be damned if we see another court case stating someone was dressed improperly … We will require two daily photos of bike and rider to be sent to us …

This is a direct reference to the ACT Coronial Inquest into the death of Mike Hall. In short, create your own photographic evidence in case your next of kin need to prove you were adhering to the road rules. This sadly is Australia’s legacy to justice for cyclists who ride on our roads.

The TCR said in its recent safety guidelines:

… there is no evidence to indicate that cycling long distances … is any more dangerous than commuting or otherwise using a bicycle as a means of transport. … Our experience in attending the inquest into the death of our friend Mike Hall taught us … [after already knowing that] … we live in a world where, in a court of law, the wearing of a plastic hat can be used as the main indicator as to whether or not an individual is of a reckless disposition and/or culpable … We must now, regretfully, extend that to the wearing of fluorescent clothing … [this] is not the silver bullet to solve the complex issue of road safety for all road users. … [P]ersonal protective equipment (PPE) is the least effective safety measure …. However, police and prosecutors can base an assessment of a cyclist’s attitude to risk and culpability by the colour of their clothing.

The Europeans are accusing Australia of victim blaming and of ignoring globally accepted research. This accusation is justified, as Australia cannot be relied upon to fairly and consistently enforce its road rules, and the Australian legal system cannot be relied upon to hold Australian motorists accountable.

We can join the battle against automotive hegemony by exercising our right to ride a bike from Perth to Sydney. Just because something is called a ‘race’ doesn’t mean it is dangerous. Riding from Perth to Sydney, to quote Edward Hore of the Australian Cycle Alliance, is “just a long commute” – maybe the longest commute in the southern hemisphere.

 

FACT CHECK 7 of 7: Has anyone achieved the triple crown of endurance cycling?

The Overlander Bike Race was created to meet the international and domestic demand for a self-supported transcontinental road bike race in Australia. At just over 4,500 km, The Overlander Bike Race can be completed in roughly two weeks and can serve as a warm-up event for the other North American and European events. It has a 130-year pedigree and deserves its place as one of the qualifying events for the triple crown of endurance cycling.

Just to clarify some facts:

  • The US race is called the Trans Am Bike Race.

  • The Trans Am starts in Astoria not Portland.

  • The Trans Am includes 55,500 not 88,000 vertical metres.

  • The TCR has a different route every year. In 2019 it will run east to west for the first time.

  • One person has completed the endurance triple crown. Heath Ryan, in 2018.

And, looking forward, with any luck there will be four unsupported transcontinental races on primarily sealed roads with a recognised set of rules in the world in 2019, and maybe five or six in 2020, including:  

  1. The Overlander Bike Race across Australia (West-East) in early March

  2. The Trans Am Bike Race across America (West-East) in early June

  3. The NorthCape Tarifa across Europe (North-South) in late June

  4. The Trans Canada across Europe (West-East) in July

  5. The Transcontinental Race across Europe (East-West in 2019) in early August

  6. ???

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