A quartet of indomitable cyclists set off to break a record on the route from Leh to Khardung La in India. One of the highest road passes in the world, it tested them severely: an elevation of more than 1,800 meters for 40 kilometres, oxygen deprivation, and brutal weather. Take a look behind the scenes of this project organized by WeLoveCycling.com.
7. 12. 2017
The entire project, which resulted in the previous record being broken by three cycling enthusiasts, was more than a year in the making. “Preparations got up to full speed last autumn, when we first visited Ladakh. We had to confirm if such a project was even feasible, so we drove through the course of the race, visited the municipal officials, started looking for a cooperating local agency, and verified logistics – that is how to transport everything necessary to its place, including the accompanying cars,” describes Milan Dědek from ŠKODA’s marketing communications.
Who among the four daring cyclists broke Christoph Kluge’s previous record?
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Around 80 people contributed to the organization, preparations, and actual realization of one of the most demanding amateur cycling challenges, as did two ŠKODA SUVs accompanying the cyclists during their attempt to break the record. KODIAQ and KAROQ stood up to the test at 5,350 metres above sea level. “For every new model, we are looking for an optimal link to the world of cycling. Our new SUVs are extraordinary cars so we’ve decided to showcase their great qualities and abilities in appropriate conditions,” explains Thanh Vu Tran, head of ŠKODA marketing communication. “We’re glad that the cars’ performance perfectly matched our expectations,” he added.
A moment etched into everyone’s memory was when there suddenly occurred a change of weather on the day of the attempt. “After a week of final preparations with magnificent weather, it suddenly started to snow during the race, the temperature fell to zero – and the visibility nearly did, too. Now, imagine that this was at 5,000 metres above sea level, pedalling hard on a bike, and trying to finish first,” Milan Dědek describes.
In addition to harsh weather, there were a number of other challenges for the entire preparatory team on the day of the race. "The complexity of the whole project was difficult, as was getting the cars approved for India. We could almost write a book just on the transportation of the cars. It was also important to choose a production agency with experience in filming at high altitude, obtain a permit for filming in a militarily critical area, and hire experienced local drivers who could be safe guides on the local roads", relates Josef Matějovič, head of WeLoveCycling.com.
The cyclists also had to make diligent preparations. For a month before the race, for example, they slept in special tents which helped them to simulate the high-altitude conditions, thus facilitating acclimatization to the location.
Into the breach!
In the end, three men and one woman set off for India. The woman was Eva Lindskog from Sweden, multiple-time Queen of the Mountain titleholder on the STRAVA sporting social network, and also a runner who had finished a 161-kilometre ultramarathon and climbed the legendary Mont Ventoux, one of the most demanding peaks on the Tour de France. In the end, Eva broke the record by several seconds, and thereby established a women’s record for the route from Leh to Khardung La. “My goal in the competition was to beat Kluge’s time of 3 hours 4 minutes. That was my only goal. I had a strategy to pace myself and see what time his was and to be a little bit ahead,” the cyclist commented after the race. The three men at the start were: Bartosz Huzarski, a 37-year-old former professional cyclist from Poland who has participated in the Tour de France. It was Bartosz, in fact, who succeeded in breaking the record of five years standing by almost half an hour and made himself the clear winner in this brutal challenge. “From the mental side it was really hard. You know there’s not much oxygen; every move you spend extra energy so I was mostly sitting on the bike. And approaching 5,000 m it wasn’t even possible to stand up. There was so little oxygen,” explains the triumphant Pole.The other participants were Andrea Schillirò from Italy and Valenti Sanjuan from Spain. Schillirò beat the previous record, as well, but the determined Spaniard also put in a heroic performance. He had arrived to the Himalayas only the day before the race – straight from hospital. He had been there after completing ten Ironman races in as many days. About halfway to Khardung La, Sanjuan had to be provided medical attention and needed several deep inhalations from an oxygen bottle, but he did not give up and also completed the race.
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