Phoebe Heveron’s Insta profile says ‘Riding various bicycles in various places. Occasionally a doctor.’ I think she needs to add ‘Awesome Female’ to that list because Phoebe Heveron together with her cycling partner, Jack Williams. has just completed GBDuro21, a demanding 2000km self-supported bikepacking enduro race from Land's End to John O'Groats.
Having grown up with a cycling mad mum who didn’t own a car, Phoebe is no stranger to getting around on 2 wheels, but this was the first time she’d attempted an off-road race.
“I’ve always wanted to do Land’s End to John O’Groats and especially to ride in Scotland,” she said. “I love camping out and being in nature. I just didn’t realise how gruelling it was going to be.”
The event follows a route designed to embrace the versatility of 'all-road' bikes, covering big distances on road, gravel and single track. With 4 timed stages each running more than 500km, this is not a race for the feint-hearted. With the fastest competitor winning... absolutely nothing, it’s also so much more than just your finishing time.
This year the organisers had made a concerted effort to have a more even gender split and achieved 47% female entrance with half the finishers being women. “The atmosphere at the start line was incredible and inclusive,” said Phoebe. “It was lovely to be surrounded by all these women and they weren’t just there to make up the numbers, the 3rd place overall winner was a woman.” Former round the world cyclist, Jaimi Wilson, completed the course in 148 hours, 41 minutes and 49 seconds.
The first stage measured a whopping 630km and Phoebe was hugely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the ride. With a much slower pace on the off-road sections, she felt it would be months before she saw the finish line, but breaking the ride down into manageable chunks, she and Jack covered the ground. They were adamant they were going to finish. To enable them to sustain a decent pace, they would cycle for 16 hours and sleep for 5 in bivvy bags by the side of the track.
“The first few days were miserable,” says Phoebe, “as it was constant rain and we were so damp. At least we had each other to chat to. The fast riders had time at the checkpoints to debrief and sort out their kit, but the more sedate riders didn’t come across anyone for days on end which must have been hard, especially in the bad weather.”
Because of the hardcore nature of this type of endurance race so many don’t finish. “Giving up lasts forever and I didn’t want any regrets,” said Phoebe when I asked her how she overcame the really tough sections. She also admits that her friends and family could track her and she didn’t want anyone to think she was lazy!!!
“Riding through England was hard mainly because the weather was so bleak, but when we arrived in Scotland, the sun came out. It was like a reward for all the hard work. We cycled through the Highlands and camped by the side of lochs and it was breathtakingly beautiful. One morning we found a fancy café, only accessible by train or a gravel path. Sitting having breakfast in the sunshine was a very special moment.”
Phoebe completed this epic journey on her trusted Reilly Gradient. “It’s my most off-roady bike and I feel like it does have a personality. It’s so comfortable and responds well, plus I always get compliments when I ride it.”
The last 20k, she was hugely emotional. “Jack has loads of pictures of me crying,” she jokes, “but I felt so proud when I finished.” When I asked her how long it took, she says “I don’t know, 11 or 12 days I think.” Phoebe and Jack actually completed the race in 158 hours, 19 minutes and 40 seconds and were the first pairs ever to finish GBDuro, the next being 5 days behind them.
“Waking up the morning after the race in a hotel knowing I didn’t have to cycle was glorious. And having a shower was also pretty special.”
Next up, she is off on her bike to the South of France and then in November embarking on a year-long cycle expedition from as far south as Covid will allow in South America to Alaska.
Phoebe Heveron, you are an inspiration.
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