Cyclists across the globe continue to push their bodies to dizzying new heights amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meet Nicolas Chatelet, a mathematics teacher from Paris. Over the weekend Chatelet rode his bicycle up and down the legendary Pyrenean climb Plateau de Beille until he had climbed more vertical feet in 24 hours than anyone who has ever thought to measure such a feat. And he finished the long climb on his 26th birthday.
According to his Strava file for the ride, Chatelet ascended 69,449 feet and covered 314 miles in 23:59:42. His vertical gain appears to have topped that of American Colin Patterson, who last month ascended 68,633 vertical feet while riding laps on a steep climb in San Luis Obispo, California.
Patterson believed he had set a new Guinness world record for his ride.
Chatelet is a passionate amateur cyclist who is a member of the Orléans Cyclisme Loiret club. He was motivated to tackle the zany feat because all of the amateur events in France have been canceled due to the global pandemic.
“I embarked on this challenge because with the health situation there were no more races and I have always been a fan of long distances, whether it is to get around or to have fun,” Chatelet told VeloNews. “I wanted to see if I was able in addition to the length of the effort to add a performance.”
Chatelet grew up in the Pyrenees and chose the Plateau de Beille because of its steepness (8 percent), and because the climb tops out right at 1,000 meters in vertical gain. The climb is also nearby his parents’ house, so he could have family and friends support him throughout the ride.
“It was quite easy to count the difference in altitude with portions of 1,000 meters and just before having to turn around there was an area where the guides could set up the base camp with a nice view,” Chatelet said. “When we went over the shorter part, I chose it because it did not require braking downhill and was steep, moreover it was low in altitude.”
The climb is hallowed ground for pro riders, and since 1998 it has served as a summit finish during the Tour de France on six occasions. In 1998 Marco Pantani’s victory atop the mountain served as his opening salvo in what would become a victorious battle against defending champion Jan Ullrich. In 2007 Alberto Contador took the stage victory en route to the overall.
Chatelet chose relatively basic gearing for his climb. He rode 53/39 chainrings with a 11/27 cassette. He began riding at 5:45 a.m. on the morning of August 1 and completed 11 ascents of the climb in succession. Friends and family rode alongside him and others cheered him on from the roadside. After eight hours of riding, he began to feel the effects of the soaring temperatures in the valley. He became dehydrated and could no longer eat, and he had to make a five-minute stop at his base camp to try and re-hydrate for the second half.
“During these four hours I had a lot of doubts about my ability to finish the challenge, even if I had prepared for the second third to be the harder mentally,” he said.
Then, later in the afternoon, Chatelet had to change his plans completely. At hour 12 bad weather rolled into the valley, and the top of the climb became covered in a cold and wet mist. While descending in the cold mist Chatelet decided to only ride the section of the climb below cloud level in order to keep his body temperature warm. So, rather than tackle the full 1,000-meter ascent, he carved out a 180-meter section and began to ride shorter laps up and down.
“I am satisfied to have had the lucidity to do it because when everything is planned it is difficult to make this kind of decision after we no longer had any idea of what vertical drop we had done and we no longer had any benchmarks,” he said. “It also made it easier for us to manage the night.”
For 12 hours Chatelet climbed up and down the short segment, eventually logging 58 laps on the short section throughout the night. To carry him through the night he drank Coca-cola and ate energy products from the brand 3action. He also ate plenty of homemade goodies, including quiche, banana bread, and cookies.
As the night turned to dawn Chatelet lower back seared with pain, and he contemplated stopping early. Two friends rode alongside him in the dawn hours and encouraged him to complete five more ascents.
“It allowed me not to slow down,” Chatelet said. “While it could have made me mentally explode, they found the right words and the right way to accompany me, it was really a special moment.”
When he was finished he was in such pain that he required help dismounting his bicycle. Family members surprised him with a homemade birthday cake.
Now, nearly a week after his ride, Chatelet said his back and his feet are still sore. But his joy of the ride remains.
“What I also remember is the many people who came to ride with me or to encourage me throughout the race, there were many more people than I expected and it made me feel I had a great time and I thank them all once again, they are clearly an integral part of the end result,” he said.