Updated: Since this story went to print we heard the terrible news that Kristina Rivers’ husband Nic passed away suddenly from an overwhelming infection. Father of their two young children, and a well-known and much-loved member of the local cycling fraternity, 43yo Nic was Kristina’s #1 supporter on her cross-Australia ride and indeed took the photos in this article. All here at Bicycling Australia extend our heartfelt condolences and offer our deepest sympathies to Kristina, her family and friends. Rest in Peace Nicolas Robert Rivers.
While Kristina Rivers was riding her way into the record books, she reflected that she was not a naturally gifted athlete, which makes her achievement even more extraordinary.
Kristina set a new World Record for the fastest woman to cycle across Australia, arriving on 14 April 2023. She rode 3970 km in 11 days, 8 hours, and 6 minutes, with Guinness currently verifying the record.
Firmly in her sights for the duration was the previous record set in 1998 by Helen Shelley of just over 13 days.
What makes it even more extraordinary is that she was originally going to ride from Sydney to Perth, and just two days out, the plan was switched, with the team flying to Perth to ride from Cottesloe Beach in Perth to Manly Beach in Sydney.
A Late Change Of Plans
Kristina and her husband Nic who was a major part of her support crew, made the last-minute change after receiving advice from their friend and supporter Mark Hardy who is one of the founders of Weatherzone. They didn’t hesitate to turn their plans upside down.
Kristina and Nic knew that the weather was one of the major factors for Kristina’s previous attempt nearly a year earlier. That record attempt was thwarted by weather and her physical condition, and forced her to pull out, 2400 km into the ride at Port Augusta, partly because she didn’t have the strength to go on but also because she would not have beaten the record.
Some might give up after such a setback, but Kristina says that it gave her confidence that she could achieve it with the right preparation and team around her.
For her successful attempt, Kristina had an expanded team on call including her physio, nutritionist, kinesiologist and more. She also had her friend and massage therapist Angela Brackson on the road which meant she could receive regular massages and therapy, and benefit from the extra moral support.
Kristina rode a regular carbon road bike for this epic feat, a Canyon Ultimate which is considered an ‘all-rounder’. The only changes that Nic made for the ride were to switch to more ‘gravel’ style gearing and to add tri bars to the handlebars to give Kristina more options for hand and arm placement. The gearing was changed to a single 46-tooth chainring at the front, and a 10 to 44 cassette on the rear.
28mm Rubber & Two Flats
He also changed several wearing parts like the bearings and bottom bracket to ensure the bike was in top condition. He fitted it with new 700 x 28 road tyres, which overall lasted well, with just two tyre changes due to slashes from road debris. The biggest challenge was keeping the chain clean and lubed, particularly after they hit wet weather after Wagga Wagga, so every time Kristina stopped for a short break Nic was working on the bike.
Support crew Nic and Angela travelled in a rented motorhome and were backed up by a wider team on-call, and Nic’s mum looking after the couple’s two children Indira and Eleanor.
They chose the Easter holiday period because there would be fewer road trains on the roads, particularly on the road across the Nullarbor Plain where there is no shoulder.
Based on weather predictions they knew they needed to reach the town of Norseman which is at the start of the Nullarbor in WA in two days to keep ahead of any problems, and they achieved this.
16 Hours A Day
A typical day for the ride was divided into four four-hour riding blocks with 15-minute breaks, starting at 4 am, and on average her goal was to complete 340 km per day. This meant Kristina started and finished in the dark.
Nic and Angela stayed well behind Kristina for the majority of the epic journey and moved up closer when a break was due. In those 15-minute breaks, the focus was on refilling the bottles, checking the bike, and massaging the body. Kristina says that this plan worked well for about seven but after that, she was so tired she slept during each break, with her helmet still on!
Kristina is quick to point out that her journey across Australia was not all suffering, there were also beautiful moments. For the majority of the ride, she was heading east, and every morning got to watch the sun come up.
It was dark for the first two hours of each day and after that, she would watch the world wake up, then watch the sun as it rose high into the sky and descend behind her. After dark the moon would rise which, she described as ‘golden and bright’.
On one of those long days she crossed the Nullarbor she said it touched her soul, and she rode 410 km on that day.
The worst part of the journey was coming into Sydney where it was dark and wet and Kristina had to be vigilant to ensure her safety, despite her exhaustion. On Sydney’s outskirts a friend joined her, and some others as she got closer to the finish in Manly. To ensure her ride was recorded as a solo attempt her riding companions had to keep five bike lengths behind.
To be eligible for the Guinness Book of World Records, the team had to keep a journal, use a witness book, submit video footage and GPX files to prove that it took place.
To get ready for the ride, Kristina undertook consistent endurance training of about 16 hours per week around her local area. It was all based on quantity rather than speed. Her coach Mark Fenner worked with her for about 18 months beforehand with every ride focused on recovery and endurance.
The thing that Kristina would change if she could go back in time is to stick with the plan. After Wagga, she decided to keep riding for 24 hours rather than sticking with the successful formula. By doing this she became so exhausted that she was slower, and in hindsight she would have been quicker by sticking with what had been working up until that time.
And if you’re wondering why Kristina undertook this incredible journey, she says “Because I believe if we’re not pushing ourselves beyond our known limits, we’re not finding out what we’re truly capable of. I want to inspire my daughters, and you, to step out and try hard things – I believe that anything is possible.”