Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Dubai resident to pedal 1,000km in 60 hours for ultra bike ride in Africa

Niel Copeland will take part in the Race around Rwanda ultra endurance cycling event on Sunday

Ultra endurance cyclist Niel Copeland aims to complete 1,000km race in Rwanda in just 60 hours. Reem Mohammed / The National
Ultra endurance cyclist Niel Copeland aims to complete 1,000km race in Rwanda in just 60 hours. Reem Mohammed / The National

One man will showcase the ultimate pedal power on Sunday as he attempts to complete a gruelling 1,000km international bike race in just 60 hours.

Niel Copeland, a Dubai resident with a penchant for ultra-distance cycling, will be one of 65 riders from around the world taking part in the Race around Rwanda event.

Biking his way through gravel roads and steep inclines, the 45-year-old will climb a total elevation of about 17,000 metres - the equivalent of two Mount Everest’s

Travelling through isolated countryside, Copeland will start and end his journey in Kigali, the country’s capital.

Fatigue, by far, is the biggest challenge. I’ve hallucinated twice. I saw aliens on the side of a road in Oman and a 100 foot mouse on a cliff in Corsica

Niel Copeland

As a solo, single-stage race, there will be no support vehicles along the route and no dedicated rest stops.

Just one man, one bike and one small bag to carry food, drink and spare bike parts.

“That is what makes ultra-racing unique,” he told The National.

“I’m going to a country that I have never been to before, racing through areas I have zero knowledge of and have no idea where I’ll be sleeping or what food I’ll be eating.”

Surviving on limited rest and burning up to 10,000 calories a day, he will spend up to 22 hours a day on the bike. He hopes to complete the race within just two-and-a-half days.

When the competitors set off from the start point on February 2, the clock will run continuously until the last competitor crosses the finish line.

“I’ll sleep by the side of the road or anywhere that looks half decent," he said.

"We actually joke and say bus shelters are like luxury hotels for ultra-distance racers.”

Surprisingly, Mr Copeland, a cycling coach at Turn Cycling, said his fuel of choice is junk food.

“It’s not a bike ride, it’s basically an eating competition on two wheels.

Ultra endurance cyclist Niel Copeland aims to complete 1,000km race in Rwanda in just 60 hours. Courtesy Niel Copeland 
Ultra endurance cyclist Niel Copeland aims to complete 1,000km race in Rwanda in just 60 hours. Courtesy Niel Copeland 

“I need to eat about 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day and fast food is one of the easiest ways to pack in 2,000 calories in 15 minutes. Chocolate bars, nuts, sandwiches and sugary drinks are good too."

With no preferential treatment for competitors, riders have to rely on what is commercially available to everyone. And roadside petrol stations become "gold mines" where most of their food is purchased.

With an interest in riding from a young age, this isn’t his first race. After competing in his first endurance event in Oman in 2018, he went on to finish eight separate ultra-cycling races covering a total 40,000km on his Moots Routt RSL bicycle, which is valued at about Dh60,000.

“Most cars don’t clock up that many kilometres in two years.

“There are so many unknowns when competing. I get this nervous knot in my stomach when starting something that I have no idea if I can finish, but that is what got me hooked.

“Fatigue, by far, is the biggest challenge. I’ve hallucinated twice. I saw aliens on the side of a road in Oman and a 100 foot mouse on a cliff in Corsica.

“They turned out to be bushes, of course, but your mind just works in crazy ways when you are running on a lack of sleep.”

Mr Copeland started training for this race in November and typically he rides five or six days a week for up to five hours a day.

In Rwanda, an on-board GPS computer will direct him where to go and an alarm will go off every 30 minutes to remind him to eat.

And while he is confident he will finish the race in his target time, he does have one concern.

“If I get approached by gorillas, fine. Maybe then can keep me warm at night with a cuddle," he said.

"It’s the black mambas I'm scared of. Snakes are one of my biggest fears."

Watch Niel Copeland's journey live at www.youtube.com/turncycling

Updated: February 1, 2020 11:47 AM

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