Cycling for almost two days at a stretch: without sleep, without long breaks and in the rain. What may sound to many like torture was a long-planned event for the two KUKA employees Andreas Rotunno and Michael Reitmayer. Together with 34 other cyclists, the two of them covered 1,060 km spanning Germany. In a single weekend.
It is the middle of the night from Saturday to Sunday. According to the clock in the hostel in Flensburg it is half past two in the morning. There is feverish activity in the rooms of almost 40 cyclists as they prepare for a major tour. The route is to take them 1,060 km all the way across Germany from Flensburg in the north to Oberwössen in the Chiemgau Alps in the south. There is just one snag: they have only 40 hours to complete the trip.
But let us start at the beginning: Andreas Rotunno and Michael Reitmayer have been enthusiastic cyclists for a long time and are both members of a cycling club. When they heard of the mammoth tour, their response was immediate: “Let’s do it.” After all, the whole thing is for a good cause and is intended to raise money for children in need. Once Reitmayer had sent in his application, Rotunno did not hesitate to do likewise. They both received their notification of acceptance at the same time.
Preparation is key
Two months before the insane project, they both started with intensive preparation. Every two to three weeks, they embarked on tours of several hundred kilometers. They always cycled overnight to test how their bodies would react to fatigue on the bike. A couple of times, they also practiced staying awake for 40 to 50 hours at a stretch. That alone is an enormous challenge for the body.
On a Thursday in June things got serious – it was time for the bus ride to the starting point in Flensburg. Once there, the cyclists checked their equipment again and packed the most important items in supply boxes. Not only was it important what went into the boxes, but also how. Alternating breaks of five and ten minutes were planned for every two hours during the tour, to be counted down precisely. That left not much time for rummaging around. The contents of the large plastic box had to be labeled and meticulously sorted. During the tour, the boxes were transported by support vehicles and set up at the correct locations for the tightly scheduled breaks.
Saturday morning: all the boxes were loaded up and the cyclists were ready to go. At exactly 4.30 a.m. the participants set off. After a film team from German television company NDR had accompanied the departure, everything actually went according to plan for a whole hour. Then it started to rain – for eight hours. Temperatures peaked at 12 °C, dropping to 5 °C overnight. This did nothing to dim the spirits of the cyclists, however: “This is something we will be able to tell our grandchildren about,” Reitmayer said.
The tour remained broadly on schedule as far as Leipzig. That was where the complications were to begin: road surfaces wet from the rain, cobbled streets, tram lines, traffi c lights and road construction. Almost an hour was lost here. How, then, could the schedule be adhered to – the most important thing after the health of the participants? By Sunday morning it had finally become apparent that it was no longer possible. The organizers ran through every possible scenario to reach the destination on time. The decision was finally taken to transport the participants in groups for several kilometers with the support vehicles and then drop them off again.
In this way, the entire group made it to Oberwössen on time at 8.30 p.m. on Sunday evening. Several hundred people lined the street to welcome the cyclists with thunderous applause. “I had no idea that so many people were waiting for us,” recalls Reitmayer. And how does one feel after such a cycling marathon? Rotunno grins. “Apart from a slight backache, I was fine. I was already back in the saddle the next day.”
A similar tour is planned for 2020. One possibility is a non-stop ride from Munich to Rome for an audience with the Pope. Rotunno and Reitmayer want to take part again to raise funds for the good cause.