46 minutes. 46 minutes for a first attempt at Alpe d?Huez is simply staggering. What makes it all the more astonishing is the fact that the two cyclists who set the time have only been cycling properly for less than one year.
That result by the way, would have meant a top-100 finish in the Alpe d?Huez time trial in the 2004 Tour de France, only nine minutes down on Lance Armstrong?s winning time.
Meet Kenyans, Zakayo Ndbri and Mwangi Samwel, 26 and 24 years old respectively. They are part of one man?s dream to see a Black African rider in the professional peloton, a dream that may well be realised.
The two men, who incidentally have never been out of Kenya until now, will next week tackle the outright record for the Alpe. There is some dispute as to where record-holder Marco Pantani?s ascent time started, so Armstrong?s 2004 record will have to do. 13.8km to ride: 37:36 to beat.
Hailing from the Eldoret village in Kenya, which has produced many of the world?s top marathon runners, Zakayo and Mwangi will spend twenty days in total in France (due to visa restrictions) preparing to get as close as possible to, or even better, Lance?s record.
The project started with a Singapore investor?s trip to Eldoret. While there, he came across several cyclists, all with talent to burn. He then selected four of the most prodigious and trained them for a couple of months in Singapore and Malaysia. The two most talented, Zakayo and Mwangi, were then invited to travel to France to challenge for the record.
Early signs are promising. Today the twosome tackled the Alpe in a traditional Thursday morning mass time-trial, beating some of the region?s top semi-professionals by over two minutes (pictured, with Zakayo on the top step). Their times? 42 minutes for Zakayo and 43 minutes for Mwangi. Those times would have placed the riders comfortably within the top fifty in the 2004 Tour de France time trial.
Their host for the two weeks is Bryan Noble, owner of Chalet Michelle in the region, who is entering the two riders for as many road races as possible and to teach them the basics of riding in a group. ?The ultimate aim,? says Bryan is ?to come close to or beat Lance?s record. They might not beat it but I think they?ve got a reasonable shot of coming within a minute of it, which would still put them in the top five of the pro peloton?.
Even if they ?only? come within one minute, it would still be faster than Miguel Indurain, Carlos Sastre or Laurent Fignon ever climbed the mountain.
The idea behind the project is to give the riders the best possible chance of achieving something on the fearsome Alpe, which has made and broken many a career over the years; ?maybe one or two of the European professional teams will pay attention and give them a chance?, Bryan says hopefully.
The two riders are no strangers to endurance sports, with Zakayo recently winning a ?vertical marathon?, a running ascent up the stairs of one of the world?s largest skyscrapers in Singapore.
?But at the end of the day, the only way they?re going to get spotted by a cycling team is by doing something amazing on a bike,? says Bryan. Time, as they say, will tell.
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