500 km a day over 18 hours. Every day. For seven days in a row. That’s what it took for Matthieu Bonne to break the Guinness world record for the most distance cycled in a week unpaced.
After a week in the Arizona desert, the Belgian beat the existing record with an hour and two minutes to spare, then continuing for another 30 km in his final hour of riding. The former record holder, the UK’s Leigh Timmis, only held his title for four months, having cycled 3,589.43 km in Miami, Florida, his attempt last November limited by the enduring presence of Hurricane Nicole. (Bonne’s record is provisional, pending certification, so Guinness still lists Timmis as the holder.)
For 29-year-old Bonne, a lifeguard from the Belgian coast town of Bredene and serial endurance challenge athlete, the elements also thwarted his original goal of breaking the 4,000 km barrier.
“Too much went wrong during the week,” he told Belgian radio station VRT. “Things we didn’t expect like mudslides and heavy downpours.
“We had specifically chosen the location because we thought that there is [usually] little wind and precipitation here, but you cannot control nature. If you can’t continue cycling because of this, you lose time in which you could otherwise ride more kilometres. But the goal was to break the record and we succeeded.”
Despite the wind, rain and mudslides, Bonne managed to stay ahead of the world record pace, with the weather improving into his final two days of riding. He suffered his first and only flat tyre on the fifth day, which was changed in under five minutes, and as his team tried to squeeze every last kilometre out of the time they had left, a makeshift bed was set up in the back of one of the support cars to save the time of returning to base.
Over 130 hours of riding, Bonne’s average speed was 27.7 km/h, and having undertaken other challenges such as eight triathlons in eight days and becoming the first person to swim the entire Belgian coast, he says this feat was the most challenging.
“It was a very tough adventure, mentally the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I also went really deep physically, but in hindsight it was all worth it,” he said.
“The sleep deprivation cannot be underestimated. I was on the bike 20 hours a day. Then you only have four hours left for everything else. In it I had to eat, stretch and try to sleep. I never slept more than three hours a night.”