Retired pro Iris Slappendel chases new land speed record

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Iris Slappendel retired at the end of the 2016 season after a 12-year professional career in which she was an invaluable asset to many victories of her trade teams and the Dutch national squad.

Since retiring, she’s been as busy as ever, getting her UCI Director Sportif certification, launching her own cycling apparel brand, providing commentary at live races, getting involved in developing young riders, and much more.

Now, the 32-year-old is gearing up for her biggest challenge of the year: setting a new world speed record for women.

As part of World Human Powered Speed Challenge in September, Slappendel will attempt to break the current (unpaced) record of 121.81 kilometers per hour (or 75.68 mph).

The bike that is meant to help Slappendel set a new record. Photo by Bas de Meijer.

The challenge was put before the 2014 Dutch national road champion via email last October. Students at the Technical University in Delft and the VU University Amsterdam are teaming up for the Human Power Speed Challenge in Nevada, USA, and were in need of strong riders to help pedal them to success.

Slappendel was intrigued.

Barely retired, Slappendel aced the physical testing, coming out on top of the 30 potential candidates. Local racer Aniek Rooderkerken (of CS030 cycling club), who matches Slappendel in stature and strength, also made the cut.

Since December, the duo has been working on strength training, getting aero inside the bullet-like machine and learning how to ride a recumbent.

“Pedaling is the only commonality, other than that it’s got nothing in common with a race bike,” Slappendel told local media, admitting that it took several crash-filled practices before she got the hang of it.

Custom-made to fit her dimensions, the recumbent is completely enclosed, meaning that Slappendel has to breathe through an oxygen mask and use LCD screens to see through two cameras that are mounted on the outside of the cabin.

Slappendel says it more closely resembles a computer game than road biking.

Slappendel and Rooderkerken have been practising on various models of recumbent bikes for months, but last Sunday, they took the race bike, the Velox7, out for a trial run. Now that they’ve gotten the hang of how to balance a recumbent, the aim was getting up to speed –80 km/h to be precise.

On five kilometres of closed highway, Rooderkerken clocked in at 82 km/h on her first run. Slappendel, taking a second run to break 80 km/h, topped out at 83 km/h.

“It was very cool, but also very scary. It was going well, but it’ll have to go 40 kilometres faster in the United States. 40 kilometres on a regular bike is fast, so I cannot imagine riding 120km/h or faster,” commented Slappendel.

Attracting teams from the world-over, the 18th annual World Human Powered Speed Challenge will take place September 10 through 16 along State Route 305 outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada, USA.

The course is at 1,408m (4,619ft 1,408m) altitude, and features an eight-kilometre (five-mile) acceleration zone leading to a 200-meter speed trap.
Slappendel and Rooderkerken are the first Dutch women’s team to attempt the record in seven years. The women’s record has been in the name of French ultra- and recumbent cyclist, Barbara Buatois since 2009. Buatois has been competing in a “Varna” recumbent designed by Georgi Georgiev, whose bikes have won numerous record across all categories over the years.

Stay tuned for an update on Slappendel and Rooderkerken’s attempt to come next month.

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