Parisian revellers returning home in the early hours this weekend might stumble on an unusual sight: at 4am on Sunday morning, a Scottish man in blue Lycra will lift a leg over a bicycle under the Arc de Triomphe. With little fanfare, he will then push off for a quick ride around the world. Should spectators wish to greet him on his return, they can gather at the same spot 80 days later.
If Mark Beaumont pulls off his circumnavigation record attempt — 18,000 miles across 14 countries — he will break the existing record by about a month and a half, achieving under his own steam what Phileas Fogg, in Around the World in Eighty Days, managed by rail and by sea.
“I feel like people assume I’m going to do it, like it’s a done deal,” he says, speaking to me earlier this week during final preparations. “I feel like the only person questioning it is me. It’s incredibly scary.”
Ten years ago, Beaumont, 34, broke the same record, surviving floods in Thailand and a bruising encounter with a donkey in Pakistan. It took him 194 days. This time, only the rules are the same. According to Guinness World Records, a circumnavigation must involve 18,000 miles (28,970km) and passage through two antipodal points. The route is up to the rider, who may use support vehicles. Pedalos are not required: the cyclist flies across oceans, but the clock does not stop, be it for flights, rests or injuries.
To cut more than three months off his own personal best — and 43 days off the current record, set in 2015 by New Zealander Andrew Nicholson — everything else about this attempt will be different. Whereas before he carried his own tent and equipment, cooking his own food at night, Beaumont will ride a lightweight racing bike in front of a support team, including his performance manager, a mechanic and a motorhome in which he will sleep. The team will serve him the 8,000 calories a day that he will need to keep going.
“This time I won’t be stopping to talk to people, or sleeping in mosques and under roads,” Beaumont says. Nor will he be saddled with 30kg of camping gear. “I go back to the expeditions I’ve done and they have been fun, but what always bugged me was the sense of compromise. This is my one chance to put all my cards on the table. It’s a pure test of performance.”
Beaumont’s schedule is horrifying. Each day he will hit the road at 4am and cycle for 16 hours, with a 30-minute break every four. Five hours are scheduled for sleep. He will have to repeat this 75 times, leaving three days for flights, and two for contingency. On average, he must cycle 240 miles a day (almost 390km). By an imaginary straight road, that’s London to Newcastle. Every day. For 80 days.
Beaumont got into the endurance game early. Aged 11, he read about a man who had cycled the entire length of Britain, from John O’Groats to Land’s End. For reasons he cannot recall, he announced that he would do the same. His family persuaded him that Dundee to Oban, across Scotland, would be more sensible. Aged 15, he did the Land’s End ride, and “one idea just led to another”.
In 2009, after the world ride, Beaumont cycled 13,000 miles down the Americas, from Alaska to Chile, pausing to climb the highest peak in each continent: Mt McKinley in Alaska and Aconcagua in Argentina. In 2012, he nearly died when his six-man boat sank during an attempt to row the Atlantic in 30 days. “After that I said, ‘OK, I’m done’, I’m going to become a TV presenter,” Beaumont says. But while interviewing athletes about their own heroics at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he felt a familiar itch. The next year, he cycled from Cairo to Cape Town in a record 42 days.
In April this year, as a glorified training ride, Beaumont completed a 3,500-mile route around the coast of Britain in two weeks. He kept up his 80-day pace — but only just. The world attempt was on. It took weeks to plot a route linking international airports via paved, flat roads and avoiding war zones. First he rides from Paris to Beijing via Russia and Mongolia, managing the demands of media and sponsors along the way. When the Chinese state TV broadcaster offered more coverage if Beaumont diverted his route south of Mongolia, he declined; the winds would be less favourable. “If it doesn’t get us round quicker, we’re not going to do it,” he says.
From Beijing, a flight to Perth, a ride across Australia, up New Zealand, and, after another flight, from Alaska to Halifax in Canada. The last leg is the hilliest; from Lisbon back to Paris over the Pyrenees. “That’s going to be a real sting in the tail,” Beaumont says before a final training session. The rider has only one date in his diary in the meantime: September 20, 4am, Arc de Triomphe. “See you there,” he says.
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