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CyclingTips’ own Ronan Mc Laughlin has reclaimed the Everesting world record.
The Irishman climbed the necessary 8,848 metres (29,029 feet) in a blisteringly fast time of 6:40:54, almost 20 minutes faster than the previous world record of 6:59:38 set by America’s Sean Gardner on October 3, 2020.
This isn’t the first time Mc Laughlin has broken the Everesting record by a considerable margin. In July 2020 the former-semi-pro-racer-and-coach-turned-tech-writer climbed the height of Mt. Everest in 7:04:41 – more than 20 minutes faster than the previous record, set by none other than six-time Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador.
Mc Laughlin’s new record, set last Tuesday March 23, was completed on the same ascent as his first record ride: the climb to Mamore Gap in the northern reaches of the Republic of Ireland. The 810 metre segment Mc Laughlin rode is a nearly-dead-straight section of road that pitches up at a punishing average gradient of 14.2%, climbing 117 metres in the process.
To reach the height of Everest, Mc Laughlin had to complete just less than 76 laps. He ended up completing 78 just to be safe. The elevation gain of his chosen climb was independently verified by geographic data systems company Integrated Informatics and his ride was officially verified as a new record time by Hells 500, the organisation that manages Everesting (headed up by CyclingTips’ Andy van Bergen).
“I have been lucky enough to do a lot on a bike, and get a lot in life from bikes,” Mc Laughlin said after his ride. “Undoubtedly though, getting this record again is right at the very top. I am usually my own harshest critic in terms of the achievement, but I am already super proud of this one.
“To work all the way through winter and then finally take another 19 minutes off the record on the very first chance I’ve got this year is special.”
Mc Laughlin had been planning another Everesting attempt in the European autumn, hoping to beat his own record and become the first to complete an Everesting in less than seven hours. That attempt was ultimately postponed due to COVID-19. In the meantime Gardner went and broke Mc Laughlin’s record and the seven-hour mark in the process.
Mc Laughlin trained through the Irish winter, restricted by tight coronavirus lockdowns, and set his sights on another attempt when the weather improved. He waited for favourable weather conditions on the Mamore Gap, and eventually got them. On the day of his ride last week, with temperatures hovering around 10ºC (50ºF), Mc Laughlin had a 20 km/h tailwind up the climb.
Not that he did it easy.
“The ride was tough as you’d expect and I didn’t feel super as I hadn’t got my full taper due to weather forecast changes,” Mc Laughlin said. “But considering the challenge that it is and the pace I was riding, it was never going to feel super for the whole ride and something was sure to go wrong at some point.”
While something did indeed go wrong, it wasn’t his body that let him down. With roughly 10 laps to go Mc Laughlin suffered a near-catastrophic rear-tyre blowout.
“It happened on the descent as I was accelerating away from the top turnaround, while I was super-tucking,” he said. “For a second I thought I was a goner but I somehow held it up. The bike was like a bucking bull as I was fighting to get it slowed down. At one point I considered crashing myself into the ditch rather than risking hitting the tar. But ultimately I limped it down the remainder of the descent to the bottom turn where I had a spare bike sitting.”
Mc Laughlin rode two laps on his spare bike while his mechanic swapped out the wheel on his main bike. As you’d expect, the changeover cost him a little bit of time.
“I was doing 5:20-something laps right up until the puncture,” he said. “The puncture lap took 6:32 and the laps on the spare bikes were high 5:30s so the puncture cost me 1:30, if not more.”
Mc Laughlin covered a total of 126 km over the course of his Everesting with an average weighted power of a truly elite 296 watts. That average was 6 W higher than his previous record-breaking effort. All told Mc Laughlin completed his Everesting roughly 24 minutes faster than his previous effort on the same segment.
As with his previous record-breaking ride, Mc Laughlin took steps to make his bike as light as he could. “I had lighter wheels, lighter frame, lighter saddle, lighter levers, lighter brakes, lighter cranks, lighter cassette, lighter pedals,” he said. “But then I did add some weight back in with the front fairing.” Last time around he went to the trouble of cutting down his handlebars and removing all but three cogs from his cassette. He didn’t go to such extremes this time – instead he went for a comparatively conservative seven cogs.
Mc Laughlin’s previous record in July 2020 came amid a flurry of activity atop the Everesting leaderboard. In June, Australian WorldTour pro Lachlan Morton set a new mark which Contador then bettered a couple weeks later. Also in July, former world time trial champion Emma Pooley set a time of 8:53:36 which remains the fastest women’s Everesting on record.
It was roughly two months after Mc Laughlin’s first record that Gardner pushed the record below seven hours. That record held firm for almost six months, until Mc Laughlin’s blisteringly fast ride last week.
“All things considered I am delighted how well it went,” Mc Laughlin said. “It was only possible thanks to the team. Unfortunately the whole team couldn’t be here this time. We had to keep the whole attempt so tight on numbers [due to COVID restrictions] and other than my dad, Andy Deery, Mitchell Mc Laughlin and his mum Sadie, nobody knew it was happening.
“It’s such a shame because good friends and long-time team members – Chris and Alan especially – missed out. And to have had a crowd on the climb for those last few laps could have made a huge difference.”
Even without that support Mc Laughlin managed to set a very impressive new mark. As ever with Everesting records, the question now becomes: how long will this one last?