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Victory – in the world’s longest cycling race – and over type 1 diabetes

Gus Kirkpatrick celebrates the incredible achievement of his brother George, who won the solo category of the Red Bull Timelaps event on 26-27 October, the world’s longest cycling race, while managing his type 1 diabetes.

When my older brother George called me and asked me to be his support crew for the Red Bull Time Laps event in Windsor Great Park, little did I know what I was in for.

On the Tuesday of race week, he received an email saying someone had dropped out of the Men’s Solo Race and by 6am on Saturday morning we were on our way to the event!

As we pulled into the Great Park, I suddenly realised the sheer scale of the event, as hundreds of teams were setting up their marquees and tents, prepping for the next 25 hours that lay ahead of them.

As we drew closer to the midday start time, we attended the race briefing amidst countless intrepid faces with multiple questions asked, as this was the inaugural year of the solo category.

Whilst most of the riders enter the event in teams of four and take it in turns to complete laps of the course, George had entered the solo event which was as straightforward as it was tough – whoever rides the most laps in 25 hours wins.

The unique brutality of such a long and gruelling event clearly presented us both with significant challenges given we both have type 1 diabetes.

Just before the start of the event we sat down in our tent and discussed team tactics. My priority was to deliver effective and efficient nutrition and hydration throughout the 25 hours and, primarily, to ensure that George’s blood sugar remained within our predetermined target range. Simultaneously, I had to manage my own blood sugar to ensure we both made it to the end of the event!

As midday came and went, they sped off for the first few laps of the course and everything was going swimmingly. George made a tactical decision before the start not to sleep and as a result we had to remain extra vigilant with regards to checking both his and my blood sugar levels.

We were both wearing CGMs and whilst monitoring my own, I stood at the side of the track and every few laps would run alongside George as he slowed down and scan his sensor. Having got the reading, I would then shout it out to George who would then shout back instructions for the following laps.

Between the laps I would return to our tent and depending on what George had said, I would refill our bottles and make him the desired food.

At around 7pm the sun began to set and before too long we were facing driving rain and howling winds. As George went round we battled to keep the tent and all the kit inside it dry whilst tents around us were being blown away.

Whilst constantly doing our best to keep morale high, completely soaked to the bone, we realised we had to bring George in as he had the onset of hypothermia in his hands and feet and it was beginning to get dangerous as he couldn’t feel the brakes or change gear.

We got him into the tent and we did a full kit change into warm, dry kit and had a full meal, which consisted of hot tea, warm rice and Nutella and banana sandwiches. Having thus far not needed any insulin due to persistent exercise, we decided not to do any before we sent him on his way.

The power hour

In the early hours of the morning, his blood sugars were gradually rising so we decided that some insulin was necessary. At 1:30am we pulled him in to do a couple of injections and prepare for the Power Hour. This is when the clocks go back and from 1am to 2am any laps completed count as double. (This is what makes the event 25 hours and the longest one-day continuous cycling event in the world).

Before starting the Power Hour we checked the leader board, and we could see that George had a 3 lap lead over one other rider. Having analysed the lap times of the competition, we drew to the conclusion that he had chosen to do faster laps but have longer breaks.

As a result of this different approach, the competition made better use of the Power Hour, completing 7 laps against George’s 5 – therefore putting him a lap ahead with 10 hours to go.

As the hours ticked by, George dug deep and continued clocking up the laps. As the sun began to rise and the riders thawed, it was a welcome relief after a very long night!

By this point George had retaken the lead due to his risky decision of not sleeping throughout the event. As the sun was beaming down on the Great Park we realised that it was now a case of holding the lead and not overdoing it.

With only an hour and a half left and his blood sugars dropping we brought him in for one final fuel stop. Filling both his bottles with Red Bull and stuffing as much food into him as we could, we sent him on his way for the final push.

George celebrating his amazing achievement

When I saw him cross the finish line it brought a tear to my eye, it was one of the most extraordinary sporting achievements I have ever witnessed. Not only to have won the event, but he biked over 650km; in 25 hours; without sleeping; with type 1 diabetes.

It really was a true testament of the character he is, and he has proven to not only me but also everyone out there that anything is possible with type 1 diabetes; it is simply a case of mind over matter. It sounds cheesy but when people ask who is you role model in life, I would genuinely say George.

What he has achieved so far in his life really is awe-inspiring. He is an inspiration and what he has proven in life is that if you put you mind to it anything is possible.

Click here to read an interview with George in Cyclist magazine.