Week at Battle Mountain #9 Race day Friday

Friday morning has the usual start. Early breakfast but I’m feeling much more refreshed and ready to run. Loaded up in the car, we headed out to the course. Karen had an early start and she’s doing the amazing thing of taking a shot at one of the long courses before we do what we’re really here for this morning.


But, with all the other racers and teams out at the five mile start, we turn off onto a side street… ok a nearby invisible dirt road that seems to lead out to the middle of nowhere… as all dirt roads out here seem to do. I get unloaded as usual and Derek is with me doing our routine pre-race warm-up and chat. Today is a bit different so he’s giving me the brief on the plan while we wait for Karen to do her run and bring Arion4 back to us. We’re a mere 600 meters away from the timing gates and we have the privilege of seeing some of the bikes in their final sprints. It’s quite a treat as I’ve not really seen them up to this point. One of the volunteers stopping traffic is there saying she’s glad we’re starting there too as she gets to see a part of the race she doesn’t get to see otherwise. It’s a morning of bonuses all around!


Karen whizzes by on the long course and I instinctively wave to cheer her on before realising she can’t see me. Soon enough though she’s joined us at our new start point for the day and the engineers are prepping Arion4. This morning’s race is somewhat different as it’s a 600 metre acceleration into the 200 meter timing gates, basically a mad sprint from the start.

The team and I have discussed this race a bit and even made a change to the bike to coincide with the change in our tactics. For the previous races we’ve had a specific plan of how I was to add power, this time it comes down to two techniques: 1) compress the five mile plan into 600 meters and 2) go like hell. Ultimately, they’re both the same plan in the end… and entirely #2


With the compressed plan we’ve decided to not bother giving me a data feed on power requirements. Ultimately, everything is going to happen so fast at there’s going to be no time to focus on specific changes. Today’s technique is simply: Sprint, change gear, sprint, change gear… Cadence is all going to be done on feel; power won’t be critical as it’ll all be max efforts, but speed will. I know there is a target speed to beat and that’s the only thing I have to pay attention too. As a result, Alex and Anwar, the visual and data specialists have reconfigured my data feed to give me speed. This will be the first time since Monday that I’ll actually know how fast I’ll be going down the course.


We wait by the edge of the course watching for the last launched bike on the five mile course to go by and I’m advised we are going to have to get situated quickly as there’s the usual limited time window for the road closure, but we don’t have time to kill before while other bikes launch. Then, we get word that one of the bikes didn’t start, and the next scratched. So, with more time to spare, we get on the course more relaxed.


I’m strapped in and the lid set in place. Taped up and secured the team reminds me, “Go all out, don’t hold anything back.”


I confirm the speed I’m trying to beat.


“28-point-something, right?”


Stephen replies, “Something like that, it doesn’t matter though, just give it everything you’ve got”


Leandre calls out, “Ready Ken?”




5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Arion4 Launches from the 600 metre mark
600 metre course launch. Photo: Michael Head

Leandre gets an extra powerful launch going. I’m not even trying to sync with him, there’s no time. I immediately go into a sprint, spinning in the realm of 140+ RPM I know I need to keep the cadence high to get keep this bike moving. It’s hard to sprint with 37 kilos of bike beneath you and your own mass of dead weight. I feel like a beached whale, already taking its last breath.


Cranking up through the gears I continue to sprint and change, each time the speed building nice and quickly, just as fast as I can feel the burn coming on in my back and arms. I’m targeting top gear in the cadence that I know I can get my best power from, and with each gear change my peak cadence drops just a little bit to hit that mark. I have a short distance to take advantage of every muscle, some work better fast some slow. My plan is essentially to burn them out in groups and let others take over to carry on.


With each gear change my power keeps coming on. Starting like a bat out of hell in a 70’s aerobics video, I’m quickly turning this into a massive strength effort. I know I need to be moving fast enough so that when I top out the gears I’m holding an optimal cadence. But at this point all I’m doing is watching speed and the flags.


With such a short sprint the timing flags come up fast. My eyes quickly shift to speed, flags, and back. There’s nothing else I can pay attention too, there’s no time. Lane position is still critical but I’m taking a big gamble, I’m just making sure that the yellow centreline is flashing just to the left of my peripheral vision. Every ounce of strength and focus is going towards this max power effort.


Shift and power up, speed is increasing and the flags are getting closer! Again! Again! Suddenly I realise I’m so close that there’s nothing more I can do to control the acceleration, whatever I have setup is where this is  going to finish. I slam the cranks forward pushing myself back into the seat. My head gets thrown back and I’m not even looking at the screen. The cranks drop and I I’m full on the pull stroke, my torso straining against the racing harness. Full power goes into every point of the pedalling cycle. I am, quite literally, trying to rip the cranks off of Arion4.


Triceps, then shoulder, then biceps, then shoulders and again. That’s the cycle of burning I’m feeling as I crank over. I try to keep a loose grip on the pedals, so too do I keep my face calm and relaxed, it’s wasted energy otherwise. But as the flags pass I take one last glimpse at the speed… this will not be for nothing!

Arms and shoulders burning, death grip in the pedals (I’m straining so hard I can’t afford to let them slip after all), slammed back into the seat, I’m half expecting to break the bike and then everything suddenly goes into slow motion. Glancing through squinted eyes I see the see the speed fluctuate just so but I’ll be damned if it’s going down, not these last 200 meters.

Battle Mountain desert
Desert blur. Photo Michael Head

The flashing yellow becomes a hazy glow, like the setting sun. The desert, a wash of golden streaks as I pass by. Suddenly I feel nothing, the roar of the bike has gone quiet and I swear I’ve stopped pedalling. I push and pull as hard as I can, my shoulders ticking over between. My breaths are deeper as they’ve ever been, I’m in desperate need of air and suddenly I see the flags pass.

Willing myself to keep the power in just in case I’ve gotten lost, I keep in on. 1, 2, 3… every revolution of the cranks… cranks I’m counting them to distract myself from the pain but it’s no use, I let go, there’s nothing left in my arms and shoulders to give. I coast, looking all over my display  to try to locate where I am on the course. I can see nothing but desert. No flags, no people, nothing… I can only hope that I’ve really passed the flags; that I’ve not imagined it.

Arion4 rides through the timing gates
Through the timing gates. Photo: Michael Head

Wanting to roll on my side and curl up for a nap, no… die, I realise I’ve got a long way to go, I know my speed was good but it’s not enough to just coast to get to catch. Plus, I need to recover, not that I want to, I just want to stop and get someone to take the lid off, but I don’t even know if I have a chase car. So, there’s no choice, I assume I’m on my own and I pop Arion4 in to a low gear and spin out, keeping the blood flowing, hoping for a good recovery. If the claustrophobia wasn’t bad enough at the starts, this is worse; my only freedom is to keep going when I have nothing more to give.


It turns out that the ride to catch is a surprisingly long way away and I actually have to work at keeping Arion4 moving. No rest for the wicked! I get to catch and the lid is off, the fresh morning air is such a relief. But, I’ve been cooking inside Arion4 and the air now feels quite cold. With Karen set for her sprint, the team quickly ask how it was, it tell them it was good, and nod to another record done and dusted (I hope), and they’re off with Arion4 back down the course. No time for an early celebration.


After a while, I’m fairly recovered, the volunteers and teams offering water and bananas. Sitting on a lawn chair, I feel like I’m at a bit of a picnic. It’s a treat that I now get to hang out at catch finally really get to see some of the other riders come in. It’s quite a sight; most of them look to be on the verge of death and having trouble walking. Yeah, I know the feeling. Chatting to some of the other riders, teams and supporters, we finally see Karen pull in to catch. She’s rolled over to the recovery area and we have a catch-up. She’s her usual calm self.


“How’d you do?”


“Yeah, good”




“Yeah, no problem”


Or something like that!

Karen and Ken at catch with Arion4
Karen and Ken suspect two 600m victories. Photo Michael Head

And at post-race meeting it was confirmed. Two more world records: 30.30 mph for Karen and 33.81 mph for me! Four world records between us, and with that we pick our Friday night launches.

Karen Darke clebrates another world record
Karen celebrates victory again (30.30 mph). Photo: Michael Head
Ken Talbot celebrates another victory
Ken celebrates victory again (33.81 mph). Photo: Michael Head

Week at Battle Mountain #9 Race day Friday: PM


Friday evening proves to be interesting. The winds are questionable. There’re no clear trends giving an indication that they might dissipate, and most teams take their shots. Karen launches before me, her third race of the day, that’s dedication! I’m the last rider of the 2nd heat and by the time my launch come up it’s still not clear if the wind will die down enough, but we take the gamble and set off. Later we find that Karen while having another great run, wasn’t wind-legal, so doubts were in order.


By now the launches are routine and I’m off. Everything is smooth and after a good rest and some food, I’ve recovered from this morning and ready to break that long course record again. Apart from a few minor bugs over the week Arion4 has been holding together exceptionally well. Whatever issues have some up the engineers have been able to sort out quickly. So, it’s looking like it’ll be a good run.


I loosen up through the first stage of the power plan. Everything is definitely good, the wind is bumping me around but it’s not unmanageable. Speed is building nicely and, since we didn’t take the speed reading off the data feed, I can see what I’m actually achieving, and it’s actually a very weird experience. I tell myself not to chase it (the speed), I know what happens when I do, and I start to focus on power and cadence again as usual.


The first power step comes in and I step it up a notch; it’s not much, just enough to get things rolling a bit more. But, I’m feeling like I’m dragging a bit, like I’m fighting to get the power down. Maybe I’m more tired than I thought, after all, it was a full-on effort this morning, but I’m still rolling and the speed is still building so I keep going.


A gear change comes up and I’m starting to feel like I’m dragging even more. “It’s all psychological,” I tell myself. “Just keep it going. It’s just pressure, like the rides when JP and Davie were watching and you botched it.” The next power step comes and I follow suit. Power is up; cadence isn’t where it should be though. I look at the speed; it’s not where it should be either. I don’t know literally what my speed should be, but I know it should be higher than moments ago. I watch the data feed for a while as my speed should be increasing. I’m getting my cadence up a bit to prevent bogging down, but it’s slow and thick like molasses.


As the next power increase comes I watch the speed; no change. OK, clearly there’s something wrong with the data feed or the speed sensor. No problem, it’s extraneous data anyway. I realise then that it’s probably the fact that I’m seeing the speed and I can’t easily correlate it with power and cadence expectations, and that’s what’s throwing my mind off.


So, I go back to focusing only on power and cadence as before. The power steps are coming faster and bigger now. Each time I’m matching but each time my cadence is bogging down more and I’m fighting the gears. Everything feels thick and sluggish as I start to struggle to match cadence and power. Not only that, my arms are starting to burn, much more so than on the last long run, they shouldn’t be this early. And I glimpsed the speed… not an ounce of change.


I fight through the last couple steps of the power plan. I’m committed now, half mile to go before the flags, and they’re in sight now, there’s no point bailing now, surely this is just an illusion. But I’m not a happy camper, I’m frustrated, as I really want to not only break the record but at least get close to validate my efforts on Wednesday.


Suddenly my data feed illuminates: MAX!! I put every ounce of frustration into this last effort; it might as well be useful. I’m straining as bad as this morning, everything is burning and I can’t take deep enough breaths. I’m dragging so much and ready to give up but I fight through it, you never know when an illusion might be masking success. My eyes are only on power and cadence. Cadence isn’t ideal but power is looking exceptional, right where it should be. I’ve match them all so surely it’s a good run.


And just as I pass the last flags of the timing gates, I’m suspicious that I was able to spot them this time, I glimpsed at my speed… it’s not changed since the 2.5 mile mark. WTF? OK, I need to talk to Anwar and Alex about the data feed. The 2nd set of flags pass by and just like this morning, I actually have to pedal to get to catch. There’s something very wrong about this. It’s not been a good evening. I’m exhausted, still working hard pedalling to catch, and everything just feels a little wrong. Maybe this is just the end of my week; maybe I’ve just hit my limits.

Ken rides to catch in Arion4
Struggling to get to catch. Photo: Michael Head

I pull into catch and hear the tape removed, more so than any other day I’m desperate for fresh air. The lid comes off and there’s a wee puff of smoke escaping. I hear some of the team ask, “What’s that?” I’m thinking, “Surely it’s just the steam from all my hard work as has usually been around.”

Georgious and Stephen un-tapeArion4
Georgious and Stephen rush to get the lid off. Photo: Michael Head

Stephen and Leandre run up, there’s a slight panicked look in their faces.


“What happened? You OK?”


“Yeah, I think I’m just shot, after this morning and the week, I might just be done. Not a good run but hopefully it’s close, but I think the speed data feed was messed up.”


“No, we thought something was wrong, we were expecting you to stop, you were hardly moving”


“My power was good but I was really dragging, I just didn’t feel good, maybe I’m a bit exhausted.”


Then we hear some of the others on the team asking, “What’s that?”


My usual catch team of Harry, Georgious, and Kieran are examining the Arion4. Their hands reach into the bike near my feet and they are looking at something on the tips of their fingers. They’re taking close looks everywhere around the front of the shell.


“It feels like rubber “


“Yeah, but where’s it coming from?”


More close looks and someone calls out for Anwar and Alex to flip the lid over and more examinations ensue, eyes and fingers, the engineers are meticulously looking at everything in detail to see what’s happened. No part is being missed, even parts of my legs and feet. Clearly they know more than me at this point. They know my speed wasn’t anywhere near what it should be and I now know that my troubles weren’t psychological, at least not all of it.

Ken recovers in Arion4
Recovering after the toughest, yet slowest run of the week. Photo: Michael Head

Clearly I’m in the way so I’m helped out of the bike. Everyone is concerned about me, this was clearly a run gone wrong, and they all ask if I’m ok. I assure them that I am and I apologise profusely for failing the team. They keep saying not to worry about it I’ve already broken both records and anything we do now is just icing on the cake. I try to believe that, but I want more for me, and the team. I don’t want our records to fall. Ever.


Assured that I’m alright, the engineers all head off with Arion4, they’re like rats sharing a scrap of chicken, poking and prodding, huddled around, everyone trying to get a piece of it. They know something might be wrong, and they have less than 12 hrs to fix it.


We head to the post-race meeting again. Our team is thin on the ground. It’s mainly the staff advisors, Stephen, Karen and me. We’re not expecting any significant news, and the important thing is that Arion4 gets examined and situated. That’ll tell if it was me or not, and if not, what engineers will be doing all night. Deep down, I’m still thinking I failed and I just want to leave and recover, hopeful that I can redeem myself on Saturday.


Karen’s run is called and it’s not wind legal. My run is called… 36.73 mph not even as fast as my qualifying run. Plus, it’s not wind legal. It’s been a rough night for all: Of 12 possible launches, only 2 were wind-legal. One scratched, one had a dnf, and another crashed. It seems the week it taking its toll, on everybody.

Man insults the wind with a finger gesture
That’s what we thought of the wind! Photo: Michael Head

We’re not out though, we’ve still got tomorrow. As team leader, and as he’s done all week, Stephen helps Karen and me pick our launch times. Steven (Yes, if you haven’t caught on, we have Stephen and Steven, only slightly confusing. The former is the head of the Engineering students, the latter is the Arion (1-x) project supervisor) steps in and advises us that we’ll only be racing in the morning, we’ve already broken both records, this is just a bonus. Stephen clearly a bit tense and agitated quickly scurries off telling us they know what the problem is; they just need to fix it and he practically sprints back to get back to the hotel to assist the rest of the team. Meanwhile the rest of us head off to dinner. Whilst we get to rest, the engineers work has only just started.


It turns out that during my run two support brackets had broken, such was the apparent brutality of the combined riding of me and Karen no doubt! The result was that the front end of Arion4’s shell had collapsed onto the front wheel. We figure this happened somewhere between the start and the two-mile mark when I started to notice the speed wasn’t increasing. So, essentially all of my weight and most of Arion4’s weight was now resting on the front tyre creating a ton of resistance. Not only that it was shredding and burning the front tyre, hence the cloud when the team took the lid off, the shredded rubber in nose of the shell, and why I was so desperate for fresh air… I’d been breathing in burning rubber for about three or four miles. But, the good news, as Stephen pointed out to me, I’d produced my highest power levels of the week during this run!


But, would the engineers have the bike fixed and ready to race for Saturday morning? And how would we fair after five days of intense racing?

Arion4 packed up in a van
Packed up and heading back, one last shot tomorrow

Week at Battle Mountain #8 Race day Thursday

Thursday morning; no rush to get up. In fact, I can’t remember much about this morning. I’m pretty sure I went out to the course but I can’t say I recall watching launches or catches. Whatever happened, it was sure relaxed and leisurely enough for me to have allowed me to relax and kick back. I did want to races as much as possible, and I did want to break my record again, or at least get close to confirm that it wasn’t a fluke that someone could dispute, but I also wanted to see Karen have a shot on the long course. Plus, the wisdom of team management clearly remembered what was said on that Sunday testing day, no half measures, and recognised that I needed a break. I had one, and it was worth it.

Karen Darke prepares for launch in Arion4
Karen Darke on her way to another record. Photo: Michael Head

Though I didn’t race, Karen did manage to break her previous record with a nice wind legal run. Well done Karen!

Karen Darke Celebrates another record broken with Stephen
Karen Darke celebrates another record broken. Photo: Michael Head

Wrapping up the morning, we go through the usual routines of the post-race briefing and results. Karen and I manage to get launch slots for the evening runs. I, as a result of having set a new record and the way that launch positions are selected, I no longer had the best choices and ended up getting a slot earlier in the evening, thus increasing the chances on a non-wind legal run. Typically, the best run, as it has the lowest winds, is the very last one of the evening which I’d been lucky to get, or get close to up to this point, but that was no longer to be. With success comes misfortune, haha!

Nik Runner monitoring the wind conditions
Nik Runner monitoring the wind conditions. Photo Nik Runner

Thursday evening rolls round and the teams are getting ready as usual, but there’s caution. The winds are relatively high. Since there’s no point wasting energy on a run where you won’t be wind legal, everyone was concerned about whether it was even worth launching. Luckily, this is where the experience of the Liverpool team comes in. Wind speeds are radioed from the timing gates to the start line and the team knows when it’s safe to launch with illegal winds where there’s a chance that they’ll calm down but the time you get to the timing gates. It’s no guarantee, and a high wind launch does risk getting blown over or expending energy unnecessarily.


Ellen in Velox SX Launches as the first bike of the evening. But in the two minutes it takes to get to the next launch Velox 8 has scratched, or cancelled their run. So too has Bluenose and the final launch of that session, Karen, in Arion4. The winds are just too high to risk wasting energy or safety needlessly.

Harry analyses the wind conditions at Battle Mountain
Harry assessing the wind conditions before launch. Photo: Michael Head

The second launch group sets up on the course and I’m the fourth to go. The winds are looking close, it’s really a flip of the coin at this point. Altair 6, ETA Prime, and Milan SL all launch but out team advises me to scratch, and I do. I know they know what they’re doing. We’ve already set the record and though I want to beat it again and prove it’s not a fluke I it’s not with the risk. Especially when you consider that we still have another record to try to break so there’s no point in taking any chances when it might ruin victory tomorrow morning.


At the post ride briefing we’re vindicated. In the first group, Velox SX doesn’t manage a wind-legal run. None of the three bikes that launched in my group got wind-legal runs. In fact, even in the last group where everyone launched, none were wind-legal. Unfortunately it proved to be a very unlucky night with the weather conditions. But, at least I was well rested having ended up with the whole day off riding except for warm-ups. This meant that Friday’s run was going to get everything I could give it. Well rested with a chance for the second record opportunity tomorrow? Yes, I believe I’ll take that.

Week at Battle Mountain #7 Race day Wednesday: PM

Wednesday afternoon comes round and I’m out and about a bit early. I roll over to the team to have a wee chat. They assure me they’ve resolved the issue and explain what’s happened. It all looks good to me. Of course, they ask about me as I did eventually confess about what had a happened the night before. I’m feeling surprisingly well and maybe it was a good things we got the flat. If we hadn’t, I would’ve had to recover after a full outlay of energy in the morning run. But at least with the flat I got to conserve some of my power.


With Arion4 set to go and the engineers certain they’ve resolved the issues, and with me feeling a lot more fresh than I was this morning (i.e. alive), we head out to the course. I’m warming up on the bike chatting with Derek to stay focused and calm, the camera crew from London Southbank University are roaming around, filming, and asking questions, not helping me to relax to be honest. The engineers are doing their routine final checks.


Out on the bike, it’s feels like a good day. The wind seems alright; possibly calmer than previously which is an exceptionally good sign. Ultimately, in 2018 there were apparently an unusually high number of runs which were disqualified due to illegal winds. Perhaps we are all in luck tonight.


People chack wind and data at a table in the desert
Wind and speed checks. Photo: Michael Head

In front of me are two bikes and oddly I’m not the last one to launch this time. Usually the bikes are launched fastest to slowest so that there’s no overtaking. For some reason though, tonight Calvin Moes in ETA Prime is behind me. Bear in mind Calvin is shooting for the 90 mph record. Leading the group is Lieke De Cock in Velox8 trying  for the women’s record, and just in front of me is Ishtay Amminger who, just last night, broke the record in one of the Men’s youth categories. There’s a theme here.


Settled into Arion4 and getting strapped in, there’s suddenly talk and an advisory of what to do if I encounter a bike ahead of me. I’m reminded that the passing lane is on the left and to stay well clear of the other bike. I don’t know if everyone is just excited about all these particularly fast and potentially fast bikes and riders all together and the energy is building or if there’s some genuine hope and belief. I assume it’s everything and take it all on board. I decide I will not be the slow one, I resolve that I WILL pass Ishtay. I will (and I’m already trying to figure out if I can wave to him as I pass).


Lieke launches. Ishtay launches. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, push, sync, lunge and it feels like a clean launch. I can only hope that Leandre has let go in time, but I’m sure he has as he’s been spot on for every other launch. As usual I’m setting my position on the road so that I’m riding the apex of the road camber as closely as possible. I’m precariously close to the left lane and potential disqualification but I don’t want to risk any unnecessary counter steering, given the issues we’ve had. The wind feels reasonably calm out and I’m not drifting. This is a very good sign as it was all the counter steering that was causing the flats. Maybe this is it.


Conserving my power at the beginning, I’m easing into the acceleration. I’m trying to maximise and take advantage of the narrow cadence band that I know gives me the most power per number of revolutions. All the previous runs have given me the chance to recognise just when to change gear so I don’t bog down or over spin. The power steps start coming and I’m matching them. I know I need to be efficient here, but with the talk of passing Ishtay, my mind wants to go all out with the power, but I hold back.


I still have no idea of my speed without that data feed but I’m into the power increases so I know I’m doing well as is check my distance. I’m quickly approaching the 2.5 mile mark and here’s where I get a bit nervous and where I become exceptionally attentive. It’s always been at about the 2.5 mile mark where I’ve gotten my flats and I’m watching the display closely to see if I can see anything in the road to avoid. It’s not quite clear enough to tell but I’m watching the road like a hawk.


2.5 miles goes by with no issue. There’s a huge sense of relief then the sudden realisation that I’ve got a whole new section of the course to ride. I’m still wary though, “was it at 2.5 miles or was it further?” I wonder. A power increase comes and I step up a gear, churning through, not letting my cadence get bogged down. Stabilised, and with Arion4 staying smoothly on track I check the roadside markers and spot 2 miles.


Arion4 travels down the course at Battle Mountain
Arion4 on the course at Battle Mountain. Photo Michael Head

This is definitely good news. All the flats have come before this and I know I’m in new territory. No longer worried about the possibility of a flat tyre and no longer fighting the wind like on previous runs, I put all my focus on the remainder of the ride. From here on out the power increases come fast and furious, and with each new one the next hits even faster.


There’s no time to hesitate or think, my focus is keeping the flashing yellow centreline of the road just on the left of my screen, spotting the power changes on screen I match my output and coordinate my cadence, I know what speed it should be but I need to check that it feels right too. I can’t risk an overspeed or bogging down at that this point as any mistimed gear change could destroy everything I’ve built up.


Watching the countdown markers go by I see 1 mile. This is it. The last mile is where there is absolutely no flexibility, everything has to be perfect. A power step comes and I match it, quickly but smoothly, another, then another, I have no perception of anything other than power, cadence, and that flashing yellow line. The gears are topped out and my cadence is reaching it maximum for efficiency, but soon I won’t care about efficiency.


The countdown boards go metric (yes, oddly they countdown in miles at first, then switch to metric), and I glance into the distance on the monitor to see a flag. Simultaneously, the screens flashes MAX and nothing else in the world matters…


Full pelt, every ounce of energy I have goes into an all-out maximum power sprint. That’s one hell of a feat, maxed out already and trying to punch 37 kilos of bike and my um… plenty of kilos, into an instantaneous sprint. I’m no longer watching my lane; it’s too late now and if the power in my arms is equal it shouldn’t matter. I’m not longer timing my breathing; I’m in serious anaerobic territory here. Deep breath and push / pull / push / pull and more. Deep gasp, every muscle in my arms, shoulder and back is screaming, desperate for relief.


The first flags go by and I’m at my limit but I have no choice, I’ve got to keep this going for 200 meters. I can barely see; I can’t even see the flags at the end of timing, only the yellow flashing line. It would come to be a good friend.


I know I need to keep this power in longer. It’s a 5 sec max effort power that I’ve had going well before the flags and it’s just got to keep coming. I start counting, 1, 2, 3,  I know it’ll take me about 8 seconds at record speed, 4, 5, 6, almost there, just one last breath and push, I scream, 7, 8, 9, CLEAR IT, SAFETY MARGIN, 10, 11, 12 and that’s it.


My whole upper body is crying out, my legs are starting to spasm, I’m gasping for fresh cool air, my muscles burn but I gear down and spin to keep the blood flowing and maximise my recovery potential, all I want to do is roll over an take a nap though. The air is hot, I’m hot, dehydrated, I just want some ice and water. Fresh air, oxygen; I can breathe but it’s not fresh, no airflow means I’m breathing in the last 10 minutes of used air.


Recovering enough to remember what’s next I apply the brakes and this isn’t helping my recovery. I don’t know how much but I’m definitely carrying some speed, evident by the burning in coming from the brake. It’s hot and it stinks, the air is becoming more and more putrid by the second. I think about coasting to a stop but that clearly not going to happen, not coasting this fast.


Alternating braking and spinning I keep the blood in my muscles flowing, I keep everything loosened up, I stay relaxed, then flush that with deep breaths of burning brake pad. Thankfully my arms recover quickly and it’s not long before I can start to relax a little, and breathe a bit better, just enough not to gag. I see the orange and yellow safety vests approach quickly and ease to a hard stop and feel the brace of people grabbing Arion4’s shell.


Immediately, I uncouple the shell, desperate to try to push it off. There is fast jostling about and I hear the tape being peeled away as I see someone sprint around the nose. I feel like I’m going to throw up and I try to remain calm as the lid comes off. Blinded by the light, with my legs thrashing about I take the deepest breath of warm dusty air I can manage. It’s no cool ocean breeze but I’ll take anything I can get at this point. At this very moment, I hate Battle Mountain, I hate the IHPVA, I hate Liverpool, I hate cycling, I hate that I’m here.


I hear the ripping of tape holding down the two computers in the back of Arion4, Stephen comes running up giddy as a schoolgirl. I beg for him to turn on my implant with the remote he’s carrying for me. He kicks it in and I keep saying higher, higher, cranking it well above the maximum limits I advised him to stop at, it’s the only thing that will suppress the pain in my leg and stop it thrashing and potentially damaging the bike.


Between breaths I see and hear the team from the chase car talking excitedly to the team at catch. Stephen and Leandre and damn near hooting and hollering, Harry is damn near jumping into the cloudless sky. Stephen leans in, the biggest Cheshire Cat grin on his face, nearly bouncing out of his shoes, and I see he’s got the SRM in hand. Immediately turn away and say, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know!”


“That was amazing…”


“We were watching the speedometer in the truck and…”




Stunned looks appear above me from everyone on the team as I’m lying in the bike.


I quickly say, “We knew it was going to be close, and we know that our data is a bit higher than the gates, and I don’t want you to tell me we did good, then have the officials tell me it was just under”


They get it, but everyone on the team is acting like kids on a field trip to a candy shop at Disneyland. I take comfort in that but I have no idea what the results are. I had no sense of speed while I watched it all happen on the screen in front of me. All I know is that I hit the targets and didn’t get any flats, I’ve done what I can do. I’m rolled into the recovery area while someone grabs my chair. I’m sipping water and hiding under an umbrella held by one of the mechanics. But at this point, with all the smiles from the team… I love Battle Mountain, I love the IHPVA, I love Liverpool, I love cycling, and I ESPECIALLY love that I’m here.


Ken Talbot and the University of Liverpool team sit next to Arion4 in the recovery area
Recovering after a successful run. Photo: Harry Fisher

Chatting away, word has either spread or everyone is just exceptionally friendly today.


“Well done!”




My teammates keep coming over congratulating me, patting me on the back, some near hugs of praise. Cheeky grins are all over the place, but thankfully no one is giving anything away, though many of the proper from other teams and the volunteers are baffled that I don’t want to know. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed, and I suddenly realise that Calvin was supposedly behind me but he didn’t pass me. Feck that must be a good sign that an 80 mph contender didn’t catch up with me!


The ride to the post-race briefing is tense, clearly the others want to talk about the results but I just chat about the ride. No doubt we stopped for one of the iced protein blended coffees on the way, so cool and refreshing they were; and healthy too, or so I claimed.


The team gathered in the community centre as the other teams, volunteers, and spectators drifted in. More congratulations come as we wait and I’m trying to be casual about it all but I’m really starting to wonder. Someone comes by and shows me a video of me going through the timing gates. It certainly looks cool, and this gent asks if I know my speed. Just as I say, “no and I don’t want to, not yet” he swipes to revel some text. He quickly pulls hit tablet away as I turn my head but I just catch a passing glimpse…


“Noooo, it can’t be true,” I think.


Now, now I’m desperate to hear the official results.


But it’s a long time coming; it feels like they are drawing it out as long as possible. Announcements are made about the race and policies, thanks are made, volunteers are arranged for tomorrow’s races and they finally get to the times….


Jennifer, in Velox8 from an earlier launch group has her speed called, but it’s not wind legal.


The next group had no runs. This does not bode well. It clearly been another windy day, and that can ruin everything. Now it the last launch group, my group…


Lieke in Velox8 is called. Wind legal. This is promising but don’t get your hopes up, anything can happen.


Ishtey in CO2 is called. Wind legal. Ahhh, this is looking good.


I glance over to the team and there’s nothing but smiles. We’re next…


Ken Talbot, in Arion4…


51.58 mph!… there’s muttering, a few quite cheers, everyone is glancing our way. We know that the next set of words is the most critical, the tension is palpable…


Nik Runner checks the anemometer at Battle Mountain
Wind speed check. Photo: Nik Runner



Immediately the room bursts into cheers, people are roaring, half the Liverpool engineers are crying. WE DID IT!! A new handcycling world speed record, 51.58 mph, and wind legal!


Ken Talbot celebrates breaking a workd record
51.58 MPH!! Photo: Michael Head

And the most amazing part of this is that everyone is excited when a record is broken, the competition isn’t so much about who does it, but that someone has done it. And I wasn’t the first this week. Ishtey Amminger broke a Junior record on Tuesday and Karen Darke absolutely smashed the women’s handcycle record on Wednesday morning. Each and every time the cheers and congratulations were just as powerful because that’s what we were all here for, to see the records fall. Here, I need to give a big thanks to Russell the rider from London Southbank University.  LSU had a few issues with their bike as it was damaged by the couriers. Russell had been generously been offered the chance to ride Milan SL while he waited for repairs on his bike. But on Wednesday morning, Russell had opted not to pick a launch place so that Liverpool could get a good one. Russell’s generosity and sacrifice allowed us to have the good fortune of getting on of the few low wind launches. Teamwork! The icing on the cake was the post-briefing congratulations from Mike Sova, my constant shadow in the chase car. The congratulations were honest and genuine, but I could see the disappointment as well, no one wants to have to step down, but his bike, Avis Arrow stood at number one for 7 years.


With today’s racing done it was time to pick launch slots for Thursday morning. As I was breaking down in tears of joy 10 minutes after my record was called, Karen has been coordinating with the team to try something with the race organisers. Once I recovered, Karen then asked I wouldn’t mind sacrificing my slot so the team could convince the officials to let her have a shot on the 5-mile course.


Knowing how well I did on the 5 mile course vs the 2.5 mile course and knowing the spirit of the races, I said, “Absolutely!”


Was I afraid that she might beat my speed? Yes I was, but that’s half the point of the WHPSC, break the records, no matter who has set them. And with that, I got to relax on Thursday.


Week at Battle Mountain #6 Race day Tuesday & Wednesday: AM

Tuesday I awake at a luxuriously late 5 am for breakfast. Happily, the team recognised that there was no need to cut my sleep short and they arranged to have all the team head out early to get ready for Karen’s launch, then one of the advisors would return to collect me for arrival during one of the breaks in the launch groups. Thus began a week of luxurious limo service and a standard routine… crack the door open so the team knew I was alive; then eat, get dressed, warm up with the bands, and visualise record setting runs before getting collected.

My driver arrives and I’m set to go. The town is surprisingly active in the early morning as we head south on SR305. We talk about random things, a little about the race a little about engineering, a little about life. All in all it’s a relaxing half our drive until we’re caught at the roadblock. Luckily it’s the roadblock for the races but still there’s this panic moment where I think we’re not going to get to the start in time. Luckily the pros have worked out all the details so I don’t have to worry. It’s an odd sensation being down here. Yesterday I got to see the launches of the other bikes but today, I’m not even at catch, I’m a spectator staring at the back of cars and it’s a bit surreal.

Sitting in traffic at Battle Moutain
Late arrival, waiting in the roadblock temperatures and pressure rising. Photo: Michael Head

It’s exciting to see the bikes come into the finish, the little I get to see. Whilst the extra hour of sleep is a godsend, it does mean that, for the most part, even with a week of racing I pretty much never saw Karen race! But, I missed much of the others as well, every team is working quick turnarounds with their bikes to often accommodate two pilots so there is a lot of to and fro, prep ad recovery, and not much mingling and socialising apart from the few minutes in the recovery area before heading out.

Rolling down the course I’m watching for key points again, building up my memory of it in reverse. After the flat tyre yesterday, I’m scoping out the road surface in more detail, looking for any grooves or scrapes in the asphalt. I note a few and spot some landmarks which ultimately prove somewhat useful later on. We pull into the start areas and slip in next to the other team cars and my bike. It’s already been prepped and set up for my warmups. Tucked in the shade, rollers on the bunny ears I hop on and start my warm-up.

Derek is, once again, parked in my chair behind me, bracing my bike. Monitoring the situation; he’s giving me time updates, letting me know who’s launching, telling me how Karen’s run went, and keeping me in good company and relaxed. The call comes to get to launch and the same routine ensues; drive up, get lifted into Arion4, and this was about the time I got stunned with some news: the cranks had to be shortened. The only thing I really insisted on during the testing, the one thing the team really pushed the boundaries out on in the last week of construction was getting the longer cranks… and now we’d stepped backwards. I knew we’d need the longest cranks possible but space was limited, and now I was worried.

A view of Arion4's adjustable cranks
Adjustable cranks. Photo: Michael Head

But, Stephen informed me that Karen had requested they be adjusted as the longer length not only brought about clearance issues with the shell, but also our bodies. It transpired that the cranks were so low that they had apparently been ripping off a little bit of flesh from Karen in every revolution. Okay that’s a fair excuse. I did then feel that I should come clean as I was hiding a bit of a secret. Not only did I have to time my breathing with cranks to clear them but they were smashing into my abs, right where I have a titanium battery implanted. After all the racing on Monday I awoke to find a massive black bruise about the size of a palm on my abdomen. Figure I was pedalling at about 100 rpm, and each run took about 10 minutes overall, and multiply that by two races; that’s essentially how many times I’d been punched in the gut yesterday. So, part of me was relieved, the other part knew it’d just have to work that much harder.

Secured in the bike under the usual routine I checked the cranks and to be honest, the clearance did feel better. Focusing on how to channel extra power I take a last sip of water and promptly spit it on one of the engineers belting me in. The lid drops and I watch the last of the bikes launch before me.

“Ready, Ken?”

“Rider ready!” (That still? Focus…)

Fingers drop, 3, 2, 1 and the push. My pedalling syncs with the speed before the last lunge and I’m off. The cranks may have only been five mm shorter but it feels downright roomy now, though I still have to time my breathing with each revolution. The bike is stable, but like yesterday, it’s gusty.

I’m watching my line, trying to come as close as possible to the centreline knowing Mike Sova is still observing. It’s proving to be a challenge as it’s really gusty out, and I’m drifting. A couple of gusts push me into the emergency lane and I’m hard right on the steering to get out. Another blast sends me towards the shoulder, so badly I hear later the team in the car behind me we’re worried I was crashing. Fair play, I did let slip the nickname I earned from riding; Crashy Crasherson. (Which, to my delight, they did put on the bike!). But no crashes today, there’s too much at stake.

View of Crashy Crasherson name sticker
Crashy Crasherson. Photo Ken Talbot

I’m keeping my line as best I can, occasionally drifting out of place but still able to step through all the power increases. The speed is building and it’s a fine balance correcting for all the gusts. A steady wind would be easy to deal with but not this. I’m watching for the few questionable sections of the road that I think might be puncture hazards and avoiding them, or trying to… maybe it’s the wind that’s doing in all steering though. Power building is stable, steering is semi-controllable and I can see the timing gate flags.

At this point I pretty much stop worrying about steering. I’m near the top of the power plan and I’m putting so much force into the cranks that the need to steer is largely non-existent, or I’ve lucked out and the wind has died down. Suddenly “MAX” appears on the display and I’m at full power, pushing as hard as I can. I’m not thinking about steering, only full power and whether I’ve passed one or two sets of flags. Straining, I keep the power on until the bridge that’s not a bridge; I know that’s well outside the timing gates. It might be excessive but I’m not taking chances. And as quickly as I’ve sprinted I back off, shifting down and spinning out to keep the blood flowing and to prevent lactic acid build-up while I coast and enjoy the ride to catch.

But, here’s where my notes are a little hazy… I know I clocked an official speed but I also know I got another flat; that was a theme with me! No doubt it must’ve happened in the deceleration zone but a flat it was. Another one at about 40-some mph. Immediately, the engineers were all over it, looking for the culprit, seeing if it was a fluke off the road or if it was another adjustment. They scurry off to check things out as we all head back for another post-ride briefing.

At the briefing, it’s announced that Karen racked up a respectable 38.66 mph and I managed 45.18. So close to the record, but still so far away. Clearly all the corrective steering was taking a lot away from power generation, but this was an improvement over Monday’s maximum speed. Mind, I did begin to wonder. When I sat down with Stephen as we put together the power plan, what we found was that the predictions indicated that we had slim margins to work with, and that was only with an optimal plan and optimal conditions. Any variations that were made to the plan resulted in a speed below the record. It was going to be close. Maybe this was a sign, the wind certainly wasn’t optimum.

Tuesday afternoon was a nice change of pace. “The Show and Shine” was on at the community centre where all the teams had the chance to bring in their bikes and display them to all the visitors and especially to a local group of school kids. There was so much excitement and genuine interest from the kids it was amazing. With Arion4 being such an unusual design we had a massive queue of kids wanting to take a look, but that might have been helped by the fact that we gave the kids a chance to sit in it and try pedalling. The enthusiasm was great and many of the kids had brilliant well thought out questions. I suspect there might be some very talented engineers coming out of that group!

Kids trying out Arion4
Georgious helping at the Show and Shine. Photo: Michael Head


The only downside was that I was exhausted and trying my hardest to stay awake. Fairly easy to do with all the hustle and bustle, excitement, and enthusiasm from the kids. Though afterwards I was ready to crash and luckily I could. But, not only did we have the “Show and Shine” there was also the locally organised bike parade and drag race. I really wanted to be a part of those but I was in desperate need of some sleep so I sent my enthusiastic “personal representative,” Georgious, out with my bike. Actually, I think Georgious just wanted to go for a joyride and do some racing, and he did. I understand he did quite well too, despite only haven ridden my bike once or twice during out testing near Liverpool.

Given that by Monday night I was ready to go home and we’d all worked really hard through Tuesday morning, the team made an administrative decision to take Tuesday night off so that we could all have a rest as we still had a long way to go.

Given that I’d had a good chance to rest on Tuesday night, you’d think I’d be fresh for Wednesday morning. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve mentioned repeatedly how hot it was and that I had to sleep with the air conditioning on. Whilst that was good for temperature, it was horrible for noise and that didn’t help my sleep. After Monday night I’d decided to put up a barrier of pillows on chairs and anything else I could find to try to deflect and absorb the sound from the A/C unit (Whoop, putting my audio engineering training to work!)

This barrier proved to be minimally effective and despite having the chance to have an early night, that just didn’t happen. Such is the impact of CRPS contributing to sleep deprivation. So, to help me get to sleep on Tuesday I turned off the A/C and was left with a cool & quiet room. Perfect, I drifted off to a nice calm slumber… Until I awoke about two hrs later feeling as sick as I ever have.

I’ll put up with a lot of things in life but the one thing I cannot stand is nausea. Immediately, I realised how hot it was in the room and quickly stumbled over to the A/C unit to turn it on, full fan, lowest temperature, luckily with a wall of pillows to pad my fall as I did. I managed to crawl to the bathroom, just in case, so close was the feeling, if you get my drift. Clearly this was heat exhaustion kicking in. After waiting for about half an hour for the feeling to subside I decided to message the team to tell them I was too sick to ride in the morning. But, as I tried to crawl to my phone I discovered how cold the tiled bathroom floor was. I had no other choice…

Also , discovering that a pillow was closer than my phone and I was in no shape to move, I grabbed said pillow and concluded, ; I’ve got another 2 hours that I can sleep. We’ve all come too far and invested too much time and effort to bail on this now, and promptly fell asleep on the bathroom floor. As luck would have it, I was able to sleep and woke up, not quite refreshed, but at least not feeling like I was about to die. The test though, would be breakfast.

Luckily all my relatives that had come to see the races had brought me tons of food to accommodate my allergies and I had a veritable grocery store in my room. I tried a few light snacks and they went down well, and moved onto my regularly planned breakfast. So far it was working. My temperature was better, food was staying down and I was making sure I had plenty of fluids. I was back on track and ready for a win. In some respects, overheating and horrible sleep may have helped. By the time it came to Wednesday’s morning run I was ready to put all my energy into proving that I’m stronger than my weak willed body that crashes under the influence of too much heat! And so I did.

The usual routine takes place at the start line. Lifted in, secured, radio checks, confirming the power plan, spitting on the engineers (oops). The lid drops down and I’m starting to think I’m getting used to the coffin like feeling, when I realise I’m not. I think back to the previous night and tell myself I’m stronger than that. I’ve overcome worse, and I’ll prove that I’m better than me… sure that doesn’t actually make sense but, hey ho!

“Ready, Ken?”

“Rider ready!” (That still, STILL? Focus…)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and the push, the sync, the lunge… and I’m off. I’m thankful that the morning is cool and it’s helping me stay fresh in the quickly heating bike. Channelling my energy I start building up speed, keeping things light and casual at first, just getting loosened up and keeping everything in control. The speed is building nicely, the bike is stable, but I can feel the wind kicking up again and it’s requiring a lot of counter steering to stay on course.

As in previous runs, there’s some hard veering off to the right and some occasional drifting around the centreline. It’s already becoming standard fare though and I’m rocking to keep the power on as I adjust the steering. At this point, I’m thinking it must be nicer being one of the leg powered riders as they get to keep the power independent of steering so they’re losing less power during their corrections.

I can’t tell how the speed is coming along but the distance down the course is flying by and I’m feeling surprisingly strong given how bad I felt last night. The power steps start to increase and I’m stepping into them smoothly each and every time, then suddenly…


My response is a mixture of ££*@£&#@!!, boredom, and disappointment. Yet again, another flat front tyre, and it turns out at about 40 mph again and right around the 2.5 mile mark! I was frustrated as this was another shot at the record lost and I was bored as it was becoming so routine now as this was either the third of fourth flat in as many attempts. I was disappointed too as I’d worked through all the issues around sleep and feeling sick and was getting surprisingly good power down. I could’ve just taken the morning off and had a full recovery. Oh well.

The intriguing thing about getting a flat front tyre at over 40 mph, as they always happened is this: So stable and controllable was Arion4 that the first time it happened; I was surprised, but I never felt like there was any risk or danger. Each flat thereafter it just seemed like a reason to slow down, as if you’re approaching a red light at a traffic junction. It wasn’t until I was out doing a Sportive the other day where I was approaching 40 mph where I remembered Battle Mountain and wondered, “What would it be like to get a flat front tyre now?” BLOODY TERRIFYING!!!

People gathered at the post-ride briefing
Post-ride briefing. Photo: Michael Head

As usual, the engineers jumped out and took the bike off the road while I got a ride to the finish. Just for fun, the driver showed me how fast the fastest bikes have gone on that course… nearly 90 mph. And here’s a good safety tip kids: Don’t try to wave at a grandstand full of people in a convertible doing 90 mph! In the short time it takes for the engineers to get collected with Arion4 they know what the issues is. Quick team, they are. We head to the post-ride briefing where it’s announced that I had a DNF with a flat but Karen has had a wind legal and record setting run of 41.86 mph! We head back to the hotel and I get some food and rest while the team work on Arion4. Clearly the sleep deprivation is starting to get to me as I can hear the team working and it sounds as if they’re in my room it’s so loud. It’s a small price to pay though, knowing that I don’t have to worry about any of the mechanical issues.