TRAGEDY ON THE INDIAN PACIFIC WHEEL RACE
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