TRAGEDY ON THE IN­DIAN PA­CIFIC WHEEL RACE

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Outdoor Bike Lane -

The new­est – and ar­guably tough­est – long dis­tance bike race in the world came to a tragic end in April, with renowned Bri­tish rider Mike Hall los­ing his life 400km from the end. Will the In­dian Pa­cific Wheel Race be back?

AS I cov­ered the last few kilo­me­tres in my car to the site of the crash that claimed the life of In­dian Pa­cific Wheel Racer com­peti­tor Mike Hall, a feel­ing of melan­choly descended. What was this leg­end of en­durance cy­cling think­ing as he rolled across the wide plains and rolling hills on the south­ern edge of the ACT in the pre-dawn chill? Maybe about the fin­ish, barely 400km away af­ter more than 5000km solo on the road from Perth? Per­haps about what he’d grab for break­fast? Or maybe of deeper things… where he’d been, where he was go­ing?

He had started the In­dian Pa­cific Wheel Race 13 days ear­lier at South Mole Light­house in Fre­man­tle, dip­ping his rear wheel in the In­dian Ocean be­fore set­ting off with 70 other riders on an un­sup­ported jour­ney across the Nul­la­bor, over the Aus­tralian Alps and through some of our big­gest cities.

And ‘un­sup­ported’ means just that; no fol­low­ing ve­hi­cles, no ser­vice stops, no pre-book­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion. Riders can ac­cept food from fans, but not a night’s lodg­ing, and most nights will be spent in a swag un­der the stars – or storm­clouds.

Ul­tra en­durance rac­ing has a place in Aus­tralian folk­lore, with riders tack­ling the coast to coast chal­lenge Ul­tra en­durance rac­ing has a place in Oz folk­lore, with riders tack­ling the coast to coast through the 1950s through the 1950s, of­ten re­turn­ing to streets packed with tens of thou­sands of peo­ple cheer­ing them home.

Mike had cov­ered a truly stag­ger­ing num­ber of kilo­me­tres in his too-short life. The af­fa­ble 37-yearold won the World Cy­cle Race in 91 days in 2013, and es­tab­lished the cross-Europe Transcon­ti­nen­tal Race soon af­ter. His last ma­jor vic­tory came in the Tour Di­vide from Canada to Mex­ico last year, rid­ing more than 2700km in 14 days.

A reg­u­lar on so­cial me­dia and an icon of the sport of ul­tra en­durance rid­ing, Mike’s death was wit­nessed by thou­sands of fans watch­ing the In­dian Pa­cific race via live teleme­try mark­ers, or dots, on the race’s web­site. Po­lice say Mike passed away at the scene, but his iden­tity wasn’t for­mally con­firmed for some five hours af­ter the pre-dawn crash. His dot, though, started mov­ing again be­fore his death was an­nounced, but at 90km/h and in the wrong di­rec­tion, un­der­lin­ing the worst for a le­gion of fans watch­ing from around the world.

The stretch of Monaro High­way where Mike and a car driven by a lo­cal res­i­dent col­lided is wide and well main­tained; po­lice are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the na­ture of the crash. Wreathes of wild­flow­ers are taped to the road marker near the ac­ci­dent site, but there are no other signs that any­thing un­to­ward has hap­pened.

The race – the brain­child of Melbourne ul­tra en­durance rider Jesse Caarl­son – was can­celled af­ter Mike’s death was con­firmed. Many riders, in­clud­ing the man Mike was chasing for the lead, Bel­gium’s Kristof Al­le­gaert, de­cided to com­plete their jour­neys to hon­our Mike, rid­ing to Bondi Beach to dip their front wheels in the Pa­cific Ocean.

It’s too early to know if the In­dian Pa­cific Wheel Race will con­tinue in 2018, but given the out­pour­ing of grief from around the world and sup­port for the com­peti­tors – not to men­tion Mike’s legacy as a doer, not a quit­ter – it’s fair to sur­mise that one of the world’s most epic cy­cling events will carry on into the sec­ond year of its re­birth.

“It takes a spe­cial sort of courage to start, and a rare mo­ti­va­tion to fin­ish, the things that Mike did in his short life,” said Jesse in a state­ment. “Mike ex­celled in the long­est and most dif­fi­cult cy­cling events in ex­is­tence – it was not about prize money or ma­te­rial win­nings. He did them to see if he could. He rel­ished the chal­lenge of test­ing his men­tal and phys­i­cal lim­its. He loved the thrill of the race.

“His su­per-hu­man abil­i­ties made him a hero, but Mike’s hu­mil­ity and care for fel­low com­peti­tors made him a true cham­pion.”

Above Mike Hall’s ul­tra en­durance career was un­matched in the modern era. Be­low the site of the crash, on the Monaro High­way near Can­berra

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