Contador dethroned: Irish cyclist breaks Everesting record by 20 minutes

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The Everesting record recently set by Alberto Contador has just been toppled by Irish cyclist Ronan McLaughlin. McLaughlin’s time of 7:04:41 – which has been confirmed by Hells 500, the Australian group that administers Everesting – is a substantial leap forward, breaking Contador’s mark by more than 20 minutes.

Compared to the retired Spanish megastar, McLaughlin has a far lower profile as an athlete, but while he’s not a big name he’s (obviously) far from a slouch. The 33-year-old represented Ireland at the 2012 Road World Championships alongside Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche, and also raced U23 Worlds in 2008.

From 2008 to 2013, he rode for the Continental-level An Post/Sean Kelly/Chain Reaction setup, but then stepped back to amateur level. He currently works full time, is a coach at Panache Coaching, and is regularly at the pointy end of results in Irish domestic racing.

Ronan McLaughlin in a team photo, 2009.

McLaughlin’s not new to Everesting, either. Prior to Thursday’s record-breaking ride, McLaughlin held the fifth fastest time for the challenge. That ride, which was the Irish record, was set two weeks ago, with a time of 8 hours 13 minutes.

For this latest record, McLaughlin returned to the climb of Mamore Gap in County Donegal, northwestern Ireland, but rode a shorter, steeper and almost completely straight subsection. That meant that he was riding a segment averaging an eye-watering gradient of 14%, cutting 35 km from the total distance and adding a gravitational boost to his descent speed, which topped out at 86.5 km/h.

“I looked at the segment and realised if I cut out the flatter section – which I included the first time to give myself the chance to recover a bit more – I could increase the gradient, decrease the distance, and then the climb’s so steep that you have to go hard to just get up,” McLaughlin told CyclingTips.

To reach the height of Mt Everest, McLaughlin rode the segment 62.5 times.

A power file seen by CyclingTips shows McLaughlin rode a normalised power of 299 watts for 7.5 hours for a total elevation gain of 9,429 metres. McLaughlin’s bike – an S-Works Tarmac SL6 – was optimised for the record, with his modifications including stripping the bike down to just three gears, removing the bottle cages, and cutting his bars back. McLaughlin’s lowest gear was a 39x32T.

“I in no way consider myself on the same level as Contador,” McLaughlin told CyclingTips. ”I once heard Chris Boardman say that when he was trying to break the Hour Record on Eddy Merckx rules, that everybody can be world class on their day and their discipline. That was sort of my goal here – to prove that no matter if you’ve won two Tours de France or not, if you apply yourself and use all the marginal gains or science or whatever you want to call it, and train right, then anybody can be world class… If only for one day,“ he added with a laugh.

McLaughlin’s ride was a fundraiser for Ireland’s Community Rescue Service, a volunteer-run charitable search and rescue service operating across Northern Ireland. “I had this mad notion of trying to get the fundraiser to £8,848,” McLaughlin told CyclingTips. “I’m still a bit stumped for words.”

The Everesting phenomenon

In the absence of professional cycling, Everesting has had a bit of a moment. The challenge – which involves riding the same segment to achieve the same vertical gain as Mount Everest (8,848m) — was conceived as a personal challenge, but took on a more competitive edge with high-profile attempts.

Earlier this month, Alberto Contador came out of retirement to show that he’d lost little of his fitness and none of his competitive spirit. His mark of 7:27:20, which was set on Tuesday July 7 on Silla del Rey in Castila y León, Spain, was the lowest mark yet from the northern summer.

Contador toppled the mark set by Lachlan Morton (7:29:57) in Colorado. Morton’s ride – the second attempt on that segment – was of particular interest due to the fact that he narrowly missed the record on his initial attempt due to faulty elevation data.

Morton had in turn dethroned Keegan Swenson’s time of 7:40:05, with Swenson knocking over Phil Gaimon’s mark of 7:52:12.

The record has been fiercely contested on the women’s side too, with Emma Pooley holding the current record of 8:53:36. Pooley’s attempt took in 10 laps of the punishingly steep Haggenegg climb (6.8km at 13%) near the town of Schwyz in central Switzerland.

Pooley is the first female rider to complete an Everesting in under nine hours. Her ride eclipsed the previous record of 9:08:31 set by fellow Englishwoman Hannah Rhodes on June 4 on Kirkstone Pass in England’s Lake District.

Prior to Rhodes, the record was held by US racer Lauren De Crescenzo (9:57:29, set on May 31, 2020) and US WorldTour pro Katie Hall (10:01:42 – May 23) before her.

More to come.

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