It was dark on Mamore Gap on Thursday night when Ronan McLaughlin smashed the world record set by a two-time Tour de France winner.
The Donegal man rode to the top of the world in his native county by setting a new standard in a torturous cycling challenge called Everesting. It’s a simple if brutal idea, of riding up, and down, a hill, any hill, multiple times until you’ve cumulatively climbed 8,848metres – the same height as that Himalayan giant and about twice as much elevation as you’d find in the stiffest stage of a Grand Tour.
McLaughlin made 62 and a half ascents up the steepest section of the fearsome climb in the Urris Hills in 7 hours, 4 minutes and 41 seconds slashing an enormous 23 minutes off the time recorded by retired Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador. Earlier this month, the seven-time Grand Tour winner had set a new standard by riding the Silla del Rey in Castile and León 78 times in 7 hours, 27 minutes and 20 second, to better the record of Australian pro Lachlan Morton.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet. I finished about 10 o’clock and I’ve just been running on adrenaline since then. Obviously I’m super excited to have broken the record, it’s unbelievable,” says the 33-year-old, who has been taking calls all day, in between juggling minding his daughter.
The Donegal rider, who rode for Sean Kelly’s An Post team from 2008 to 2013 and has a day job working as an active travel officer for Sunstrans, the UK charity that encourages kids and families to get out on their bikes, had targeted the overall record after an attempt earlier this month of 8 hours 13 minutes, then the fifth fastest time recorded.
However, he decided to cut out some of the flatter sections of Mamore Gap for this second attempt, giving him a 0.8km stretch with a stinging average of 14 per cent. This reduced the distance by 35km but also meant just 30-40 seconds of recovery time between each effort on his 123km ride.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a better road than Mamore Gap on the whole planet. It’s the perfect gradient and it’s completely straight, so you’re maximising elevation gain and descending speed,” says McLaughlin who is also runs Panache Coaching.
“There was quite a bit of hesitation about picking Mamore Gap (the first time) because it’s so hard. I didn’t know if it was possible to do it 64 times, but when I was going to do it again, it had to be Mamore.”
McLaughlin’s time had to be verified by Hells 500, the custodians of the challenge, and they discovered he’s completed the effort with more than a bit to spare. He used a stripped-down bike, a Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6, with just three gears, no bottle cages and cut-back handlebars to reduce the weight he was carrying on each ascent, knowing that every detail was crucial to saving time.
“I watched a documentary about Chris Boardman tackling Eddy Merckx’s hour record. Chris Boardman didn’t consider himself anywhere near Eddy Merckx’s level but he knew if you apply yourself and do everything right on your day everybody can be world class. That was my inspiration and what I was hoping to prove.”
McLaughlin is also raising money for Community Rescue Service, a volunteer-run search and rescue charity operating across Northern Ireland and one that is close to his heart after a very personal experience.
“We had first-hand experience of how they work when my wife’s uncle went missing in November and they were there in November and December in the depths of an Irish winter walking mountains and roads. I wanted to something for them since and this seemed the right opportunity.”
The well-known domestic rider, who won the last two editions of the Shay Elliott Memorial, doesn’t have the palmares of Contador, but believes his achievement will inspire others to take on the challenge and push the boundaries.
“All records are out there to be broken,” he says. “So I’m excited to see who goes for it next. With Alberto Contador having done it it probably scared some people off, whereas, to the vast majority I’m an unknown amateur from the North West of Ireland, and go and takes 23 minutes out of it. It might inspire people that 6 hours 59 minutes is possible. It would be exiting to see that.”
For now McLaughlin claims he’ll be trying to avoid being lured into any more ridiculous challenges. “Although I’m pretty sure after the first one two and a half weeks ago I said never again,” he finishes, laughing down the phone.
Everesting on Mamore Gap for CRS: https://www.gofundme.com/f/22imvh8w1c