To find a gang of humans whose idea of fun is to go and try to break the standing cycling record for one of the highest Himalayan passes, we needed to dig deep. A route spanning 40 kilometres with a constant 5-per-cent gradient, unstable harsh weather conditions, and an atmosphere with half the regular amount of oxygen proved to be a weirdly tempting invitation. After an endless stream of portfolios, training records, and sifting through pages of STRAVA data, our four-headed team emerged in front of us. They all come from different countries, walks of life, and are a pretty haphazard crew by the look of them. But they had one goal in common – conquering Khardung La, one of the highest motorable roads in the Himalayas (5,359 m), and, most importantly, sending the original record home to think about its life choices. Three of four succeeded. How they did it? And what about the fourth? Read on!
Bartosz Huzarski (Poland)
The one who ended up winning and beating Christoph Kluge’s original 3-hour record first was none other than a former pro cyclist, a Tour de France veteran, and cycling academy founder Bartosz Huzarski. Besides finishing Le Tour three times, he has also ridden the Giro d’Italia twice and Vuelta a España one and half times because the last one was cut short by an ugly crash. All in all, he’s seen a bit of the world under the colours of his former team, Bora-Argon 18, and also made exploits to Tibet on his own so he had previous experience with altitude cycling.
His thoroughly planned 14-day schedule of training, dieting, and resting before the Catching Breath challenge proved to be successful as he shaved 30 minutes off the previous record. When asked if he would like to return and best his own record, he offers a firm “Never, ever again!” but after a few minutes to reflect, he admitted that you can never know what future has in store.
Andrea Schillirò (Italy)
The second to arrive at the finish line was Milan-based freelance photographer, tattoo enthusiast, and backpacking cycling fan Andrea Schillirò. His focus lies in sports-related and landscape photography and long road bike trips and nature camping, which all go nicely hand in hand. The testament to his love for long distance cycling was the fact that he was on a one-month camping trip through Alaska when we first got in contact.
Although he had his doubts about such a gruelling climb and felt especially challenged by Bartosz, a former pro, he trained with a Hypoxico tent, simulating the oxygen-lacking mountainous conditions, and decided that his tactic was going to be to “just push like there’s no tomorrow”. And it paid off because he too ended up beating Kluge’s record and boosting up his STRAVA data and confidence nicely.
Eva Lindskog (Sweden)
The first and only woman sent to go toe-to-toe with Khardung La was Swedish Eva Lindskog. As a multiple Queen of the Mountain title holder on STRAVA (actually around 1,800 individual entries and 60,000 m of elevation gain), she was what you would consider a perfect choice. But this self-professed endurance specialist is no one-trick pony. Besides this admirable feat, she also managed to finish a 100-mile (161km) ultramarathon, climbed Mount Ventoux, and underwent day-long bike rides of over 300 km.
Her plan from the beginning was to “just” beat Kluge’s record, no matter by what difference, so she patiently and steadily kept the pace with our special ŠKODA KAROQ – the car that exactly copied the speed and route of the original record and Eva passed the finish line literal second before the car did. Lindskog ended up setting the women’s world record for Khardung La.
Valenti Sanjuan (Spain)
Last but not least, here comes an indestructible, lively optimist and endurance events enthusiast Valenti Sanjuan from Spain. Although he ended up the only one of the group not beating the record, he needs exactly zero excuses as to why he didn’t succeed. Just by the way, his past adventures include 55 hours of nonstop, sleep-less mountain biking from Madrid to Lisbon (770 km), Titan Desert, a race consisting of 600 gruelling kilometres through the Sahara desert, and Leyenda Del Dorado in Colombia, 7-day MTB event in Colombia with 16,000 m of climbing.
From the start, it wasn’t clear whether he’s going to participate because shortly before the Catching Breath challenge he took part in 10 Ironman races in 10 days (you read that correctly) and needed stay in a hospital after an injury. He finally arrived just a day before the race and not having as much time to acclimatize to the Himalayan altitude as the others, he ended up needing medical attention halfway up the pass. But he was determined to not to let the snowstorms, biting cold, and crumbling roads of Khardung La win and crossed the finish line even when the record chances were lost.