Max Stedman and his ceaseless pursuit of the Everesting record: 'That hill will always be there for me'
The British climber is considering going for an unannounced attempt in his quest to take the world crown
It was rushed, but that needn't matter: when someone's fixated on an idea, sensibilities and preparedness can go astray.
"It wasn't ideal and there were a few late nights setting everything up but I really wanted to give it another go," says Max Stedman.
In the September of 2020, the Canyon dhb SunGod rider set the new British Everesting record, accumulating 8.848 metres of elevation gain in seven hours and 32 minutes. It was a monumental effort, but it fell more than half an hour beneath two goals of his: to finish the challenge under seven hours, and to reset the global record that stood at 7.04-41.
As Stedman headed into the autumn, his goal of virtually summiting Everest on a bike quicker than anyone else before him got even more complicated: American Sean Gardner posted 6.59-38, and then previous holder Ronan McLaughlin came back and put the record on the shelf with a blistering 6.40-54.
Still, Stedman remain undeterred. "There's something about it, you know," he tells Cycling Weekly.
And so on the penultimate October of 2021, the 25-year-old returned to Crowcombe Hill in Somerset with the intention of riding 59 laps of a one kilometre segment that averages an excruciating 18-19 percent gradient.
This time, though, Stedman wasn't going for McLaughlin's record. "What I wanted to do was to smash the British record, put that out of touch," he explains. "I wanted to put down a good marker under seven hours, something I could comfortably sit on."
It started well. "I went out at a sub-seven hour pace and was feeling good," he recalls. "Last time I was over-geared and had a steady drop off, but this time I was lapping at seven minutes, and I was on for a 6.55 schedule so I was on course for what I wanted, but I knew the all-time one wasn't in danger."
Riding on his custom Canyon Aeroad CFR bike with 1200g, unreleased, tubeless, carbon spoke Hunt wheels, Stedman had told CW a few days before that around 5,500m is when "it starts to get bloody grim." His statement would bore fruition. "At lap 36, I realised I wasn't looking good," he adds.
"I did an 8.20 lap followed by a 9.30 one. I then did a 10 minute lap when I could just about get up the climb." The effort was over. At 6,150m, he abandoned his quest.
"It was pointless: I had nothing left in the legs," he continues. "I fuelled as best as I could, but the legs gave in, really. I needed better legs."
It wasn't a complete shock to him. "I needed more time to prepare, I knew that. Knocking it onto the end of the season wasn't the best idea - just doing it is hard, never mind going for records.
"Last time out I had six weeks of proper preparation: I had no racing, not much to distract me, but this time I've had the Tour of Britain, the Nationals, and been ticking along with other things. I guess it was a nice way to fully rinse the legs before the off-season though."
His disappointment was tempered by the acceptance that he was simply unable to reach the near 9,000m mark. "Even though I didn't do it, people were loving it," he says.
"I was in the gutter and everyone's not thinking I'm s***e, they're like 'he tried and he's not done it again but fair one, mate, it's the end of the year.'"
As one of domestic racing's most talented riders, and with the future of his trade team up in the air, Stedman could very well be in different team colours next year.
And whoever he's riding for, there will be another attempt. "I'll dedicate more time to it, a lot more," he says.
"That hill will always be there for me. I think it would be nice to do it without telling anyone and do it when the perfect day arises.
"I could set myself a three-week block and when the weather comes I go for it. It's just so hard!
"Part of me wants to go to Ireland and do it on Ronan's climb. Crowcombe hill is great because it's local, it's an hour from home, but then it's not perfect because it's so steep, so sheltered and you don't get the wind advantage."
As Stedman muses over other options - "perhaps there's another one within an hour from my doorstep" - he remains committed to his intention. "I'm not done with it yet," he insists. "I'll be back next year."
Thank you for reading 10 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
Former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer to ride Unbound Gravel
Unbound 200 contestants will be joined by a gravel newcomer of note this year. Former Tour de France race leader Jan Bakelants is joining in on the fray.
By Anne-Marije Rook • Published
POC Ventral Tempus MIPS Review - A helmet for riding in the rain, and being seen
Bright, light and comfortable, but not cheap
By Tyler Boucher • Published