The only way is up

Now in its sixth year, Rapha Rising returns to challenge riders to climb the combined heights of the major cols the pros will tackle in the Pyrenees – 9,366m – within nine days or less.

Four Rapha Cycling Club London riders – Russell Ashford, Walter Beckers, Leon Cerrone and Justin Haigh – will be setting off in the early hours of Sunday the 19th of July to complete the challenge in a single day. Not only will they look to achieve the vertiginous 9,366 meters in 24 hours, but by doing so they will also smash the elevation required to achieve the infamous Everesting grand total – 8,848m. The only catch – apart from amassing the same altitude as Mt. Everest in one ride – is that the climb must be out (up) and back (down) along one road.

Rapha sat down with the four of them to find out a bit about their relationship with riding gradients…

RAPHA: Russell, this was your idea, correct, why do it?

Russell: It’s a great excuse to spend a whole day with three of my favourite people to ride with. It should be a good laugh, but the OCD in me won’t allow me to go just to 9366m so, if all goes to plan and I don’t capitulate, 10,000 is a nice round number for me to notch up.

Justin: This is the type of challenge that takes many, including myself, well out of their comfort zone and needs to be approached with a bit of planning and dedication. Having tried Rapha Rising previously I know that it’s difficult to achieve when building it around your normal riding schedule. By attempting it in this fashion it provides a single focus point to build towards, and by doing it in a team it gives me the support and encouragement that should get me through the inevitable lows during the challenge.

Leon: I’m doing it because Russ told me to…

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RAPHA: Walter, you recently Everested a famous climb in your home nation…

Walter: Yes, I recently Everested the Stockeu, one of Belgium’s toughest climbs and a favourite of Eddy Merckx. He gained one of his most memorable victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège by attacking solo over the Stockeu at 90 kilometers from the finish. It’s steep and after 6000 meters of climbing my legs were starting to feel the continuous efforts. But with about 10 repeats left, a huge smile appeared on my face.

RAPHA: Why do something like that? Do you enjoy climbing to that extremity?

Walter: My wife keeps telling me that I’m a man of extremes who’s constantly pushing his boundaries. But that’s part of the beauty of something like this, mental and physical battle between the mountain and the cyclist. Although the road uphill is a very rewarding challenge, you’ve got to throw in some of your best moves to push your body and mind to the limit. But once you’ve reached the summit you feel relieved and invincible. Last year when I climbed Col d’Izoard, I saw some motorcyclists giving high fives when they crossed the KOM finish line. Wouldn’t it taste bittersweet if you didn’t have to suffer to reach the summit? Imagine you’d stand on top of a mountain without any physical efforts or negative thoughts of quitting? Every pedal stroke uphill contains the human drama of weakness and heroism. That’s the beauty of it.

Russell: Yeah the mountains are alluring, dangerous, dramatic, beautiful and steeped in history. This challenge is a nod to that but it’s about doing something new, going ‘somewhere’ you’ve never been, find the hills less climbed.

Justin: Mountains are special. Each has its own character and more often than not you have to beat the elements as well as the gradient. Nothing is more satisfying than cresting a summit where the reward is two fold; relishing in your achievement, and the exciting prospect of long nail biting decent on the other side.

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RAPHA: Any climbs that stick out for you?

Russell: Without question the Muro di Surmano by Lake Como. Steep, narrow, just ridiculous. I do remember having a hard time up the Courchevel during the Haute Route last year too.

Walter: Probably the Monte Zoncolan.

Leon: I rode Chamonix–Nice last year, the Cormet de Roseland and the Izoard were horrible.

Justin: The Valeta Pass in the Sierra Nevada range in Spain at over 3300m. The lunar landscape there offers no protection and the thin air pushes you to your very limits.

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RAPHA: Do you guys admire any climbers?

Russell: Walter Beckers.

Leon: Yeah, Walter Beckers…

Walter: I don’t idolise anyone but Phil Deeker, creator of the Rapha Cent Cols Challenge, who inspired me to ride 100,000 climbing meters in 23 days for charity last year is an exceptional human being and well seasoned col hunter, driven by passion for mountainous cycling adventures.

Justin: If I have to name someone, I’ll say Richard Virenque. Mostly on nostalgia as when growing up he was always king of the mountains. Like most of that generation he fell from grace, but I like the fact he rode on feel and always attacked the summit on the drops sur la plaque.

RAPHA: How do you think you might celebrate afterwards, chaps?

Leon: I’m off to Tuscany for a wedding… If I can still walk to the train station. The Saturday after, I plan to leave no bottle of Aperol full. I’m drinking spritzers from sun up to sun down.

Walter: By thinking about the next challenge!

Justin: Keep it pro: eat and then sleep.

Russell: Champagne and Chips.

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RAPHA: Any tips for other Rapha Risers or Everesters?

Walter: Pick the right gear to get the job done: compact gearing with a dinner plate 34-32 on the back and pack a gilet/collar/gloves for descending. Treat the climb with respect and love and you’ll be able to enjoy your journey. Don’t forget to fuel too. A power meter has given me a lot of knowledge about my abilities as a grimpeur [climber]. For instance I know exactly how many watts I can keep pushing when riding uphill. It can help you survive a long and hard day in the mountains by riding within your self. Especially if you know that tomorrow and the day after you’ll have another big day in the saddle.

Leon: I tend to climb out of the saddle so we’ll see how that works for 9,366m…