TORQ have recently started supporting the London Skaters Speed Team with our range of performance nutrition products. The team recently took on the Le Mans Rollers a 24 Hour team relay race held at the famous race circuit. Here’s the race report from Speed Skater Garan…
In the world of inline speed skating, few races are as impressive as the Le Mans 24 Hour Rollers. Held on the famous Bugatti Circuit, thousands of skaters take to the track each year in what must be the biggest race in Europe. I was competing in a team of 5 in the Enduro category, alongside 2 of the club coaches, Adrian Wordsworth and Fred Houinato, along with Errol Spence and Matt Cardell-Williams.
At 3:59pm, in typical Le Mans style I lined up alongside 600 skaters, ready to charge for their skates on the other side of the track. Each 4.1km lap would take between 7-8 minutes. The first 2 minutes of the course were the worst, heading straight up Dunlop Hill, made even harder by the temperature on race day creeping upwards of 30oC. My primary goal for the start lap was to look for the strong 10-man teams to draft. They’d be faster as they have more rest so I could conserve energy.
Lap over, I searched for our next skater. In a mass of wheels and team colours, at 20 mph, this is never easy, but I spotted him. Errol accelerated off, hands behind his back braced for the baton exchange. I pushed, transferring my momentum to him for his ascent. I headed back to the pit to get out of the sun, re-hydrate and rest.
We kept the race plan simple, a 5-man rotation until 11pm then we’d rotate one person off for 2 hours rest. Night is the best time at Le Mans, track-side lights strobe past as the cool night wind runs through my helmet. I shout encouragement as I passed a London solo-event skater, Nutcase!
At some point in the night everything changed. Gyro and Synergie the teams placed in 2nd and 3rd respectively were only one lap ahead. We knew who they were. They knew who we were, and they were working together. We had a race within a race, no other teams on the track mattered. Catching that lap was easier said than done. They stuck to us like glue, letting us do the work. Some choice words were exchanged transcending the language barrier.
As the sun rose, Synergie made a fatal error. A fast line of skaters came past at the base of the hill. Could we hack the pace? Gyro hopped on the back. Synergie was tired, I was tired and I could see his brain working – “Stick with Gyro” vs. “You only have to mark the London team”. I held back but tiredness won. Without Gyro, we could pick Synergie apart.
Our pit crew analysed Synergie’s shift pattern. When would their weakest skater next take to the track? Any gap would do, 10 metres, 20 metres. We had to pick our time. At 8am, I turned into the home straight with Synergie on tow I broke into a sprint. They made a panicked change and sprinted to catch up. I pushed Adrian at speed. Synergie had the hill to face after the sprint. Adrian however was “fresh”. Gap established, we needed to claw back 8 minutes, a few seconds each lap. Hours later, Synergie come past. I count…1, 2, 3…..31…Errol came charging in with a huge push shouting after me how close they were. I found the energy to reel them in by the top of the hill! I held myself 10m back and got my breath back before making an attempt to pass. They hopped on the back of me.
Exhausted, waiting again for my push, I saw Errol flying round the corner, alone! I skated as fast as I could to cement that gap. Once we were out of their sight, they were finished. We however had renewed energy to add every second of a buffer we could. In the 22nd hour of the race, Adrian came back into the pit with a satisfied look: “Lapped them”. Stick with them and 3rd place was ours. Feet hurting, legs burning, it was all about making it to the finish.
In the final 10mins, no changeovers are allowed. The race stops when the winning team crosses the line after the 24 hour mark. All other teams must skate out that lap. This means the final skater may have to do 3 laps! Despite being but a shell, I had that dubious honour. Any speed I once had was long gone. With each pass of the home straight we would receive a rousing cheer, followed by the silence of the uphill beyond. Synergie stuck with me still a lap down and still refusing to work on the front. We didn’t care anymore. As I hit the home straight one last time the crowd willed us on. 180 laps done, 300 metres more, that much I could manage.
Standing on the fly bridge at Le Mans on the podium was a satisfying end to a race fought more tactically and intensely than previous years. It took a big effort to get us there – from the 5-man team, our pit crew, and other club-mates too. LSST also came 2nd in the duo event, with all our other teams performing strongly. Bring on next year!