I first heard about Mike while cycling in Vietnam, when I was asked whether I knew him and the work he was doing for Newborns Vietnam, a UK based charity which trains nurses and equips a neo-natal unit at the Da Nang Hospital. When Mike smashed the round-the world cycle race record in 2012 (totally unsupported in 91 days 18 hours) his initial intention was to just race rather than raise money for charity.
When asked by a friend if he would support Newborns Vietnam he later admitted “there was such a focus for that sort of thing that to not raise any money would have been an opportunity wasted. I was looking around at various charities I could raise money for, because I didn’t have a cause that was close to my heart. Newborns Vietnam just seemed such a perfect fit.” The following year (2013) Mike led a group of cyclists in the Vietnam Challenge Ride and returned again in 2015 with his good friend and fellow ultra-endurance cyclist Juliana Buhring, to raise further funds for his charity of choice.
It wasn’t until I first watched the film ‘Inspired To Ride’ that I myself became inspired to find out more about this extraordinary individual. Off the back of my own round-the-world tour I was looking for another challenge and unsupported adventure. It all fit, Mike’s excellence and enthusiasm for this style of riding saw me digging to find out more, and it was no surprise to learn that Mike had created one of the best unsupported ultra-endurance races in the world.
His own palmarès is simply incredible, here’s a selection:
World Cycle Race
TramsAm Bicycle Race
19 days 8 hours 47 mins
91 days 18 hours
14 days 11 hours 55 mins
17 days 16 hours 17 mins
13 days 22 hours 51 mins
Speaking just recently with another one of Mike’s friends, Eddie Clark, he says Mike was a genuine, honest and humble man who would never gloat about his performances or achievements and has no doubt it was the Tour Divide that set him in motion to becoming the premiere unsupported long distance bike rider that he became. He also believes it is what inspired Mike to create his own race. Mike’s later dominance of the Tour Divide only served to underline this… his record ride in the 2016 edition still stands.
In 2013 he ran the first edition of his own brainchild, an unsupported race across Europe he called the Transcontinental Race. Mike’s vision was to create a totally unsupported race with as few rules as possible, relying on each riders own integrity and courage. It was a massive undertaking and would challenge any rider, however experienced. In truth for many, it would change their lives forever.
Thirty one cyclists set out from Westminster Bridge in London, heading for Istanbul in Turkey via the Muur Van Geraardsbergen (the first checkpoint), a steep cobbled climb made famous by the spring classics. From there they headed for the Passo Stelvio, the highest paved pass in the Eastern Alps (and the second checkpoint) before the final run in to the Bosphorus Straight in Istanbul and the finish. The winner, Kristof Allegaert, finished in 7 days 13 hours and Juliana Buhring was the only woman to start and finish. It was a huge success and the Transcontinental would go on to become the ‘must do’ event for bikepackers from all over the world.
After having followed the race as a ‘dot watcher’ in 2016, I signed up and was accepted for TCRNo5, the 2017 edition. By this time other events had sprung up, no doubt hoping to emulate the success that Mike’s race had become. I eagerly followed the majority, watching as riders competed against each other and the differing terrain. Dot watching (following riders on an online map) had become addictive and none more so than the upcoming inaugural running of the Indian Pacific Wheel Race (IPWR) in Australia. This would see the two best ultra cyclists in the world, Mike and Kristof, going head to head for the first time.
I sobbed uncontrollably when I heard the news that Mike had died less than 500 km’s from the finish of the 5,500 km race. A car had rear ended him and by all accounts, killed him instantly. Although I’d never met him, Mike had become my friend, encouraging and inspiring me to do more than I’d ever done before. The realisation that I would now not ever be able to meet this ‘real life’ hero was like a knife in the gut, tearing at me and I was genuinely grieving. It just didn’t make sense, how could we lose him. Wasn’t he the indestructible force that brought many of us to the game?
Two years have passed and his legacy not only lives on, it has inspired others to follow. New races are emerging all the time and The Transcontinental Race has continued to honour him; it is rightfully seen as the golden standard for an unsupported bike race. This year 685 riders from 38 different countries applied for TCRNo7 and the number of women competing has increased to 62, the highest percentage yet. Mikes vision of making the event accessible to all has been realised and the TCR team who formed Lost Dot Ltd as the new organisers are going from strength to strength. The race under its founder became the ‘must do’ ultra-endurance cycle race and now continues on in his memory in very safe hands.
It’s impossible to know the true impact Mike had on our sport, but from my own perspective I truly hope you’ll understand a little of how he affected my life and thereby, many others. We all need a role model, a hero if you like. I remember when both myself and my late wife Caroline were fighting cancer in 2005, a very special woman called (Dame) Jane Tomlinson inspired us (particularly my wife) to fight on. Like Caroline, Jane’s cancer had returned and she was given just 12 months to live. Six years later the disease took her, but her spirit and fighting qualities inspired Caroline and gave me a few more years with her.
Mike gave me back something I thought I had lost forever, the need to see what I was made of, and after his death, #BeMoreMike became more than just a hashtag to me. I still have unfinished business with the TCR and I’m pretty sure his influence will see me find what I’m looking for. It has been a long journey and many reading my own story would be more than happy to settle for what I’ve achieved, but that’s not in my nature and certainly not in keeping with #BeMoreMike.
CREDITS: Grateful thanks to the following for allowing me to use their images: Eddie Clark, John Stevenson, Gene Kehoe and Anthony Pease.
To everyone involved at Lost Dot Ltd.
Thank you Anna Haslock for your guidance.
To Pat Hall, a very special lady.
I wish to counter the premise that one cannot enjoy intensely one’s surroundings whilst expending oneself. Indeed I’ll go further and assert that the effort of climbing a mountain or crossing a continent serves only to enhance its delights and majesty in a manner no leisurely wanderings can approach.