Cyclists are a competitive bunch. From racing to Strava segments, many aspects of the sport are geared towards beating your rivals or friends. Even on a friendly training ride it’s a tradition in the sport to sprint for a town-sign. Any excuse to beat someone else over a line, be it real or imaginary.
But during lockdown this year riders were left on their own with only their thoughts, the view and their GPS device for company. Out of this limitation, one challenge has taken on a new status – Everesting. For those who don’t know, to Everest is to ride one climb over and over until your vertical gain over the course of the ride totals 8,848 metres. The height of the worlds highest mountain.
This isn’t something new, indeed it’s regularly done as a fundraising activity. But over the last three months it’s taken on a new meaning with amateur and pro riders across the world taking it on. Some have done it for the mammoth, hilly ride it naturally becomes, but others have taken the challenge more seriously and as a result the record has been tumbling.
Pro Rider Lachlan Morton famously took the world record back in early June after 42 ascents of the Rift Canyon climb in Colorado, only to lose the record after miss-calculating the elevation gain on the climb.
The Australian WorldTour rider who has taken on several adventure and gravel rides in the last season, went back a week later to retake the record in seven hours 29 minutes and 57 seconds.
In the UK Hannah Rhodes set out to break the British women’s record on the Kirkstone pass in the Lake District in early June and ended up taking the out-right British record with her nine hour, eight minute and 31 second ride. It didn’t last long however. Ten days later Cris Stevenson lowered it by six minutes, only for 19-year-old Mason Hollyman of the Zappi Holdsworth team to shave another 15 minutes off the record six days after that.
So why are these riders taking to the hills in a grueling, and rather monotonous attempt to set a record? Well, rather like mountain climbers themselves – because it’s there, because they can, and because there are few other ways to satisfy their competitive urge.
Try it yourself?
If you fancy the idea of Everesting there are a few things you need to consider when planning your attempt. Clearly you need to have the fitness to survive a minimum of ten hours in the saddle, likely more for most mortals, but you also need the hydration and nutrition and likely a bit of support along the way.
Planning wise the easiest way to Everest would be to do it on Alpe du Zwift, as so many people did in Spring. It’s the mental stress that is more likely to get you when attempting it on a static bike however. Probably why most of the people doing it this year did so in groups, connected via chat rooms or other forms of communication.
Doing it on the open road you first have to find the best climb. Ideally it would be near your home as you don’t need any extra travel before or after the ride, and it helps if you have friends or family to come along and join you for a few reps.
The hill itself mustn’t be too steep. Although a steep climb gains vertical metres quickly, having to use too much force to push on a steep gradient will damage your muscles, and you won’t last the distance. But too shallow a gradient and you don’t gain height quickly enough making for too long a ride.
Take Dutch pro Etienne van Empel who recently Everested (clearly not chasing any records) on a climb in the Netherlands that gains just 31 metres. He had to repeat the 0.5km climb 292 times on a ride that took him nearly 13 hours.
An average of ten degree incline is said to be ideal. The length can be anywhere from one mile upwards. Too short and the number of reps could get to you, too long and you risk not getting the recovery between climbs. The calculation needed is simple; divide the height of Everest – 8848m – by the metres gained on your chosen climb and you’re left with the number of reps of that climb you need to do.
Multiply the number of reps by the length of the climb and you have the distance you’ll end up covering. From there you can start to work with average speeds (up and down) to get an idea of how long your ride will be. It’s then worth doing a few test runs on the climb to see what effort is required to hold that average speed. But remember, no matter how well you pace yourself you’re almost certain to end up doing the last third of the reps considerably slower than the first third. So keep that in mind.
You’ll need a GPS device on which you can record the ride and then upload it to a site like Strava where it can be verified.
But one of the most important factors is, surprisingly, the descent. Not only does the ascent have to tick certain boxes, the descent does too. In order to do complete challenge in a good time you need a quick descent. The last thing you want is to be wasting precious time or energy on this part of the ride. It needs to be quick, straightforward (no tricky corners), safe (no hidden junctions etc.) and as free from traffic as it’s possible to have.
And if you do take it on, be sure to let us know about it.