8 Hours Cycling @ Spa-Francorchamps

On last Sunday I had the opportunity to ride my racing bike on a real Formula 1 track, as the AstroTeam was one of the 104 teams at the 1st ever 8 hour cycling race at Spa-Francorchamps – the track of the Belgian Grand Prix. We were among the 37 Quattro teams (Pierre, Stan – replacing Kristof who unfortunately got injured from overtraining -, Tijl, and Your’s truly – preparing for the first hour in the rain below) racing on the circuit.

The event was very professionally organised, with electronic timing system (using a wireless transponder placed in a standard cycling bottle) and live tracking of the results in the box. We rode in shifts of approximately one hour (Tijl, Pierre, me, Tijl, Stan, Pierre, me, Stan), changing – passing the bottle with the transponder to the next rider in the pit lane, while both riders had to be strictly off their bikes – after 3-5 laps. As Pierre had a broken spoke, he had to come in earlier, so I got the transponder while I was still preparing at the car, thus we lost some time here (that’s why my first lap seems to be unrealistically long in the table below – the pitstop time is also included), and I had to jump into the middle of the action still a bit unprepared :D

It was a lot of fun! Although the weather was not the best. It was the worst probably during my first hour, with basically continuous heavy rain, slippery asphalt (I took the downhill corners a bit more careful after my rear wheel slipped for the first time, right after I have seen the same thing happening with another rider ahead of me), and low visibility (even my fancy pro cycling glasses got a ‘bit’ foggy) – with tons of water splashing into my face from the wheel of the cyclist in front of me…

I could say it was very Belgian :D There was so much water, that the elevation data in my GPS got completely messed up, as the openings of the barometric sensor got fully blocked…

Luckily I managed to stay dry during my second hour. Oh, I mean, I managed to not get even more wet, as I had to ride in the same clothes as before (luckily I could change into dry clothes for the time in between the two shifts), and you can imagine that nothing got dry in three hours… But it was part of the experience, and as the air temperature was not cold (19°C), I did not really mind the rain. It made the whole event much more interesting (and harder in the corners of course) for sure.

You probably think that a Formula One track is probably completely flat. In case of Spa-Francorchmaps, this is really not the case. See the plan above, and data from my ride below (click for larger size, a lap starts at a bit before the 21 km mark and lasts till a bit before the 28 km mark), plus you can check out the course from a recent – very realistic – video game here :) So the two climbs had an impact on our speed for sure, especially that we had to be very careful with the downhill curves given the slippery conditions.

At the end we came in 24th overall (out of 104 teams) and 12th in the Quattro category (out of 37 teams), having ridden 37 laps (the picture at the end of the post does not display the final results), which is 4 laps less than the winning team. We had an official average speed of 31.192 km/h (I say ‘the official one’ because the official length of one lap is 7004 meters, but the optimal line – especially with a bike – is shorter, ~6.9 km here), compared to the 35.351 km/h of the winner quartet. I think this is a very nice result, especially when you compare our training load and equipment to the ones’ who had finished ahead of us. Especially that my goal was to finish in the top 50% (overall and within our category, while the result was top 25% and top 33%). My best lap was 12:21.694 (34.0 km/h, while I had a final average speed of 32.0 and 32.7 during my first and second hour, respectively), and only Stan was faster than me from our team. His ride was truly amazing, with a best lap of 11:19.675 (37.1 km/h)! Clearly, we can thank several positions to him :) The times for the rest of the AstroTeam were also very good, Tijl had a best lap of 13:08.535 (32.0 km/h), while Pierre’s fastest was 14:50.046 (28.3 km/h). We will ride next year again. Maybe the same race, maybe a 24 hour one ;)

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