‘You need to be strong in the mind and focused’- Italian ultra-cyclist aims to ride across the Antarctic

Omar Di Felice is aiming to reach the South Pole before becoming the first man to ride across continent

Omar Di Felice
(Image credit: Mirrormedia.art)

Sometimes getting up in the morning and preparing for a ride can feel like an ordeal, particularly in the depths of winter. The cold wind, driving rain and snow can feel like the biggest of turn offs, even if you have friends joining you for a casual Sunday morning group ride. 

In stark contrast to your typical Sunday morning club run, Omar Di Felice (opens in new tab), an Italian former professional bike rider, turned ultra cyclist, will be taking on 60 days alone in the bleakest of surroundings in Antarctica. 

This November, Di Felice will aim to reach the South Pole by bike. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Italian is also aiming to cycle across Antarctica, becoming the first person to do so in the process.

The Italian admitted to Cycling Weekly that the hardest part of his latest adventure will be the amount of time spent unsupported and alone. 

“It’s for sure a mental challenge, and will be the biggest achievement of my life if I manage to reach the South Pole and then the other coast,” he said. “You have to be strong with your mind and try to keep focused every day,” he added. 

Di Felice isn’t a total newbie to challenges that would send a shudder through the average person.

In Winter 2021, he became the first ever cyclist to reach Everest Base Camp (opens in new tab), on the Nepalese side of Everest. The Italian completed his personal challenge across the entire Himalayan region alone and without any form of support team. 

Omar Di Felice

(Image credit: Mirrormedia.art)

However, his beginnings in the sport were from a different angle. Di Felice told Cycling Weekly that the beginnings of his two-wheeled love affair were sparked by seeing Marco Pantani flying up mountains on TV when he was 13-years-old.

Inspired by the Italian great, Di Felice had a brief stint as a professional rider but admitted that the sinister world of road racing at that time was a turn-off for him.

“I spent one year as a professional back in 2006 with a small Italian team,” he said. “I retired after just one year because it wasn’t a good time to be a cyclist back then.”

“There was a lot of doping everywhere, a lot of scandals. It just wasn’t the best background for me so I quit and started with long distance ultra-cycling.:

After competing in various ultra-cycling races and events, Di Felice turned his attention to challenges like crossing America as well as the Gobi Desert. In 2021, he also rode from Milan to COP26 in Glasgow to raise awareness of climate change.

During all of his experiences, the Italian said that he grew to love riding in the winter, which sparked an attraction to Antarctica and his biggest challenge to date. When breaking the news of his latest plans to family and friends, Di Felice explained that the reaction was positive even if they feared for his safety.

Di Felice said: “Oh the initial reaction was good. They know this is my passion and natural background to take my bike and go off completely alone. I know that for sure people are scared for me and the dangers of this adventure.

“They know they don’t need to tell me about the risks though because they know how well I plan for things and how prepared I am. I’ve planned all the details including involving rescue services just in case.”

"IT'S DIFFICULT FOR SURE BUT NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE"

Omar Di Felice

Di Felice in his specially designed thermal suit for the adventure

(Image credit: Mirrormedia.art)

The Italian explained that he has prepared for all possible scenarios during the 60-day adventure on his steel bike, made by Italian brand Willier, as he looks to reach the Leverett Glacier. Di Felice will ride in a unique thermal suit created by UYN, and drag all of his supplies behind him, with his only link to the outside world being a satellite phone.

“The most important thing to consider with this is the amount of time completely alone. I will be taking a tent that alpinists would use on Everest as well as a special sleeping bag because temperatures could reach minus 30 or even 40 degrees,” he said.  

“I’ll be in my warm suit all the time and carrying two stoves with petrol so I can melt water to drink and cook. So I’ve planned all the exact foods I need so that I can eat the right amount of calories to keep warm and keep cycling."

The 41-year-old explained that the most difficult part of his preparation has been ensuring that the weight of his pack is exactly balanced to allow him to still pull it by bike across the snow. Other daring adventurers have previously pedalled to the South Pole, but if Di Felice manages to pedal across the region then he will become the first person to do so. 

However, he explained that despite that huge goal being in the back of his mind, he intends on taking on the challenge one day at a time. 

“If I can just reach the South Pole then that will be a huge achievement but if I can cross the region then yes, I will be the first man on a bike,” he said. 

“I don’t want to think about the end as 60 days alone and 2,000 kilometres is hard to imagine alone. I will just proceed day by day with a slower goal. If I reach the South Pole then if I have time I will think about the other coast. I have just 60 days' permission to be there, it’s difficult for sure but nothing is impossible.” 

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