Feature: Everesting with Vitus Pro Cycling

It was a busy week for the Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK team with two ‘Everesting’ attempts for their chosen charity, CALM. We chat to the team …

Feature: Everesting with Vitus Pro Cycling

“I think I have lost ten years of my life” was team boss Cherie Pridham’s opening comment on her Everest ride as she walked her dogs yesterday. “It was an epic ride” Cherie added, “which is sinking in slowly.”

Team owner Cherie Pridham and Freddie Scheske (along with Tom Mazzone and Joe Sutton) completed the Everest Challenge after a lot of hours on the turbo

It was certainly a great achievement by the former women’s professional rider who said having the help of her riders (Freddie Schescke, Joe Sutton, Adam Kenway and Tom Mazzone) was key in getting through such a long effort on a turbo. “The lads were incredible. There wasn’t even a discussion before the hands went up and they said ‘we’ll do that with you’.

Cherie described the effort saying “we started out together and as you go through, we got split up as they are pro bike riders and were climbing faster than me. I had to pace myself but actually PB’d on the first ascent trying to stay with them. The key in an ultra effort like that is pacing yourself.”

It may not have been harder than the days when the Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK team owner Cherie Pridham rode the Women’s Tour de France but doing the Zwift Everest Challenge in a ride lasting 13 hours, certainly left Chez feeling just as physically exhausted. Cherie did the challenge just over a week ago and when we spoke last night, she was still feeling the effects of that ride.

Asked whether, being in separate locations but together on Zwift, the team kept in contact, Cherie says “absolutely. We were on the Discord app for the entire duration but at the back end of the ride, there wasn’t a lot of chatter LoL! Occasionally during that time, there’d be an ‘anybody there’ come up and a quick reply and a few words before silence for another hour LOL.”

Having ridden the women’s Tour de France and some of the big name climbs, I asked Chez is it possible to compare a virtual climb with a proper mountain alp. “No. On the road, you have the wind and other elements to battle with but in terms of the effort, for me, it was pretty similar.”

Adam Kenway then backed that up with his own ‘Everest’ challenge last Saturday but this time outside on the Sir William Hill Road climb at Grindleford. Adam completed over 41 reps of the 2km climb in the Peak District, which has an average gradient of 9.7 per cent and a maximum of 16.5 per cent.

“I think we as a team have to think out of the box and be diverse in what we do and make things exciting for the sponsors and fans. Keep the challenges going and that is what the lads have certainly been doing. When we have a meeting, we all come up with these ideas and we go out and do them.”

The team don’t have anything outrageous planned for the coming weeks but the riders in the team will continue with their eRacing and the team has just had another invite to a stage race in America and they are waiting for the next Zwift Pro-Am in a few weeks. The efforts of the team and its riders are certainly not going unnoticed by the team’s sponsors which is the important thing for a professional outfit such as Vitus Pro Cycling”.

“I’ve had emails, messages, and phone calls of absolute support for what we are doing. One of the team’s big sponsors rang and told me how much he’s enjoying the content on social media and so I think we have found a niche way of doing something positive whilst normal racing is cancelled. It’s been phenomenal really and we are enjoying what we are doing. It would be a long boring summer if we weren’t making the effort to do something”.

For three of the team’s riders, the ‘Everesting Challenge’ on Zwift was a tough one.

Freddie Scheske (winner of the Salisbury round of the Tour Series in 2019)
Freddie says “That was definitely one of the hardest rides to complete, mentally. I’ve suffered more on a ride before, but when you have to get home, or to the end of the race, you don’t have a choice but to keep pedalling.

This was in my living room, and there was nothing to stop me just climbing off the bike, I doubt I would have been able to finish if I were on my own, and not riding with Adam, Tom, Joe and Cherie. Each climb would take just over an hour (average 68 minutes) and we were setting a fairly steady pace trying not to box ourselves for the end.

Total climbing time was just over nine and a half hours and total elapsed time was 12 hours in the saddle. The climb was pretty savage though. Part of the Zwift Everest Challenge dictates that we had to have the turbo trainer difficulty set at 100%, in other words “realistic”, so the 15% sections of the climb really felt like it! You don’t get much of that around Calpe as they are quite cruisy fast climbs”.

Freddie explained that it was by far the longest ride he’d done in elapsed time on a bike. “Before this, the longest ride I had done was 220km (further than the Everest in distance) but that was only riding for 7.5 hours.

That was the day I joined Chez and Phil Jones of Brother UK, on the Tour of Britain 1 day ahead ride back in 2018. We were raising money for the Dave Rayner fund at the time. It was the Devon stage, so being local, I rode to the start town, rode the stage, and then rode home from the finish town. But that was nowhere near as gruelling as Mondays Zwift Everest”.

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Joe Sutton
“It is up there as one of the toughest rides I have done! says Joe. “I’m going to sound naïve but I wasn’t expecting it to be that hard. For the virtual challenge to match real life, the smart trainer resistance must be on 100%. Because I turn it off for races, I forgot how hard it makes climbing feel! So when we hit the first 13% section, I knew it was going to be tough.

Personally, the mental side of it wasn’t bad. When I decide I’m going to do something, I have to finish it. I think most cyclists are the same. I don’t thoroughly enjoy training in the rain, but I do it because it will make me a better racer. I knew completing this challenge wouldn’t help racing, but it could potentially save someone’s life, or even just make them smile. I am happy to suffer on the bike for that cause (the charity CALM).”

Asked how long he was climbing each time, Joe replied “I averaged about 70 minutes per ascent, plus a 12 minute descent which was nice! In total, it was a ride time of 11 hours and 16 minutes. I have ridden Alpe d’Huez a few times and I defiantly think that Zwift’s virtual version is harder!”

To recover from the effort, Joe says “I have had two days off the bike to enjoy the sun! When I start back it will be with two easy hours and then the real training starts again Saturday. It is fair to say, I have eaten A LOT these last two days!”

Tom Mazzone riding with Adam Kenway during his Everesting Challenge last Saturday. Photo @TonyWood29

Tom Mazzone
From the Isle of Man which has its own mountain, Tom says “in terms of intensity, it definitely wasn’t one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done but with the effort being indoors on the turbo trainer, that’s what made it such a challenge; mentally and physically.

It was made much easier, doing it with Chez, Freddie, Joe and Adam; knowing we were all in it together, for a very good cause in CALM but I definitely wouldn’t recommend spending 11 or so hours on the turbo without being well prepared for it.

Physically, I found it very hard to eat. Once I got to around 8 hours, I could barely eat a thing, my stomach just couldn’t handle it which had an effect on the body towards the end with the overwhelming feeling of the tank being pretty empty. I still haven’t really got back to eating normally a couple of days later, probably due to feeling so bloated from the litres of water I’ve been drinking.”

Tom says he was climbing the virtual ‘Alpe Du Zwift’ (modeled after France’s legendary Alpe d’Huez climb) for 60-70 mins with a descent of 12mins each time. “We had to complete the climb eight and three quarter times to reach 8,888m elevation.

The pace was mostly dependent on whether or not you got a ‘good run’ up the Alpe or not. There’s been lots of talk within Zwift racing world of how much the draft/blob makes a difference to your speed and it was the same when riding up the climb.

We started together at 8 am and rode at a good pace but gradually got split up throughout the day with food/toilet stops and pacing etc which made the ascents a little slower for the majority but with a couple of ascents to go, I had a 3 or 4 mates join me, which without realizing, made it much quicker but with lower power than previous climbs which was interesting and I wish I’d researched a little more!

Compared to the climbs back home, I would say in terms of length and gradient, there is nothing even close to that on the Isle of Man. For context, the Mountain climb from Ramsey to Guthries (Steepest Section) used in the Manx International is 5km long with an average gradient of 6.7% compared to Alp du Zwift which is 12.2km in length and an average gradient of 8.5%.

On the support he got during the ride, he says “on and off the bike, the support was great. We were joined by team-mates, sponsors, friends and family on Zwift but also chatting to each other on Discord and receiving phone calls from friends and family throughout the challenge was also great!”

On future challenges, the team have a big ‘eRace’ race in the USA to do and are looking at other ways to keep the team name and it sponsors out there in the public domain and doing things to engage with the fans which is important to team boss Cherie Pridham who realises that the season is a right off on the road and their focus is on 2021… My thanks to the team for the chat…

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