The Swiss "Spirit of Bike" team has covered 700km of Australian desert on their two bikes dubbed Intellibike, in the World Solar Challenge surpassing the planned 450km.
The ten cyclists headed out from Alice Springs on Wednesday morning, confident after beating all of Intellibike's previous records. With a steady average speed of 71km/per hour, the Swiss team made their way to Coober Pedy, a small mining village in southern Australia.
The Swiss continued on although Dutch team Nuna were declared the winners of the 6th World Solar Race after they crossed the ceremonial finish line in Adelaide on Thursday.
The race, which was first held in 1987, left Darwin in the far north on Sunday and took competitors to Adelaide on the southern coast via Alice Springs.
The Intellibikes were created by a group of professors, assistants and students from the Bernese city's engineering school. Instead of solar panels, the bicycles rely on batteries, which drive a small electrical motor.
The motor then multiplies the rider's efforts, allowing the cyclist to cruise at perhaps between 30 and 40 kilometres an hour - 75 at best on a flat road.
Andrea Vezzini, one of the project's coordinators, was thrilled with the team's progress. After a difficult start to the race, marked notably by extreme weather conditions and technical troubles, the proto-type bicycle has started to prove itself.
Vezzini says there are three reasons behind its success. "Firstly, we have not had any technical troubles, the wind from the north helped push us along and then I think that the cyclists are really pushing themselves to the limit."
The team was travelling at such a speed, that, in the excitement, one technician even forgot to pay for petrol, as he impatiently hurried to catch up to the caravan of following cars.
The only sign of civilisation along the deserted route is the service stations which crop up at regular 100km intervals. Besides the road-trains (the great trucks that travel the deserted roads), the only forms of life the team encounters are lizards, and the eagles that cast giant shadows on the red earth as they fly over the cyclists' heads.
Arriving at Coober Pedy proved to be an unforgettable moment for the team. "It was a magical moment," said Laurent Rimet, one of the 10 Swiss cyclists. It cannot be forgotten that the region resembles a lunar country: the horizon gone from view, a land of ochre burned by the sun and oversize rubble.
Team members said the surreal surroundings reminded the "Spirit of Bike" team that the film "Mad Max" was filmed at Coober Pedy.
by Stephane Hiscock
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