WILLING himself through sand dunes on a mountain bike for five days is what cyclist Lou McLaren calls a challenge.
He’s glad he’s done it, but his first attempt at the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge is likely to be his last.
“I wanted a challenge and that’s a challenge and a half,” he said. “I liked it, but I’ll never ride it again because I’m too old now.” McLaren, 74, and Andrew Hellier, 49, yesterday returned home after completing the iconic challenge from Purni Bore in South Australia to Birdsville in Queensland.
The Port Fairy cyclists were among a 16-rider field which defied 40-degree heat, flies, head winds and sand dunes on a course dubbed “Satan’s velodrome”.
Competitors ride nine stages across the five days, covering about 120km and drinking 20 litres of water each day. They have to ride at 12km/h or faster to avoid being collected by the sweep vehicle.
Most don’t complete the challenge entirely — McLaren rode 356kms of a possible 572kms while Hellier was one of just seven “100 per centers”.
McLaren’s son Mark, who rode the challenge in 2009, drove their support car.
“It’s a very tough bike race. It’s actually a race and it was harder than I thought it was,” McLaren said.
“If you can’t ride up the sand hills you have to walk up them and doing that with a bike beside you is very hard work.
“When you get to the top you have a view and you get back on the bike again and keep going.”
McLaren said his effort to ride 356km was more surprising given his limited training regime.
He had to have a cardiologist put him through a stress test before officials would accept his entry.
“I had given up all hope, and I had given up training, then all of a sudden I got a ride,” he said.
“For 10 days I did 500km to 600km and that gave me a bit of go. The first two days (of the challenge) I finished, then my bum got a bit sore.
“After that I never went so flash. But I really liked it, it was a great challenge.”
Mark McLaren said he was proud of his father’s effort in the outback.
“He’s been a top road rider his whole life, but just to go and see him flag himself to within an inch of his life, he went well,” he said.