It’s a cycle race across that makes the Tour de France seem like a luxurious romp.
On Saturday at 6am, 70 riders will set out from Fremantle on the first Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a gruelling solo ride that will take them almost 5500 kilometres across the Nullarbor then through the Adelaide Hills and Snowy Mountains to the Sydney Opera House.
And because it’s what’s called an unsupported race, they will be either carrying all the food, water and repair supplies they need or buying them at service stations, supermarkets and bike shops along the way.
The leaders are expected to ride for more than 20 hours a day, throwing a swag beside the road for a few hours’ sleep before setting off again.
“It’s almost like The Hunger Games on wheels,” organiser Jesse Carlsson says. “Riding is only one part of the puzzle.
“The logistics of it – staying safe and making sure you’re well fed and well watered – are critical. It doesn’t matter how fast you are, if you run out of food, you’re not going anywhere.”
Carlsson, who is also riding in the race, was inspired by the feats of pioneer outback cyclists as The Overlanders.
“There’s this rich history of ultra endurance cycling in that’s largely been forgotten,” he says. “Even back in the 1890s, when the bike became more widely available, these adventurous young blokes headed across the desert with no known water sources, no GPS or anything like that, just to see if they could make it to the other side.”
Carlsson has ridden similar unsupported solo races overseas, coming second in the Tour Divide, which is 4500 kilometres off-road from Canada to the US-Mexican border, and winning the Trans Am Bike Race, which is 6800 kilometres from the US west coast to the east coast.
“A lot of riders here who have talent lament the fact they can’t find the time or money to head over so I thought let’s put something on and have a big showdown.”
While professional cyclists have support crews that include managers, mechanics and masseurs and watch their diet closely, the modern Overlanders won’t have any of those luxuries.
“They’ll be getting familiar with pies, sausage rolls, potato cakes and all that greasy service station food,” Carlsson says. “It’s not a gourmet tour across by any means.”
One of nine women racing, Sarah Hammond, expects the constant pain to be “horrific” as she rides hard.
“It could be your knees hurting or your back hurting,” she says. “I’ve strained my neck in the past, I’ve had altitude sickness, I’ve had sleep deprivation where you’re falling asleep at the bike and everyone suffers saddle burn and cysts and blisters.
Taking on the race, she believes, involves “a special kind of crazy.”
To buy supplies along the way, Hammond will carry a credit card, cash in case it’s not accepted and coins for any vending machines she needs to use for a snack or drink overnight.
Journalist and author Rupert Guinness, who is also racing, thinks it could be one of the toughest unsupported, solo races in the world given the likely extremes of weather.
“The hardest thing will be the inevitable moment – not just once but a number of times – when the rationale will be to stop and say ‘this is ridiculous’ and have to push through that,” he says. “Those moments will come.” Three of the racers
Paul Ardill, 74
A veteran cyclist who has previously ridden from Perth to Sydney, he is aiming to finish in 24 days. One of his reasons for racing is to get his mind off his triathlete daughter Cheri Lutz’s sudden death last year.
Attitude: “My wife has express posted me to Perth and said I’ve got to find my own way back.”
Sarah Hammond, 36
The Melbourne cyclist started riding “the crazy stuff” with the Trans Am Bike Race across America last June, losing the lead when she accidentally rode 100 kilometres off course. She thinks this race will be harder because it’s more remote.
Attitude: “You see some pretty amazing stuff while you’re suffering.”
Rupert Guinness, 55
Inspired by the pioneer outback cyclists, the longtime cycling journalist hopes to finish in three weeks. Professional riders Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis think he is “mad”, which he finds difficult to argue against.
Attitude: “Part of my interest is seeing, when I do bottom out emotionally and physically, how I handle those moments.”