Not many keen amateur cyclists can lay claim to have knocked off three of their bucket list climbs in the space of a few months. Alfie Earl found time to tick off the Tourmalet in the summer. This October he went back to France to conquer Ventoux, then hopped in a car to cross the border into Italy to have a crack at the Stelvio in the space of 48 hours. All very commendable you may say until you find out that Alfie is only 9 years old!
We caught up with young Alfie to find out what his motivation is, what it was like to climb these three mythical mountains and pick up some tips on how to overcome such challenges.
The cycling bug really hit Alfie in 2015 when he and his twelve year old sister, Saskia, decided to do the Tour of Flanders to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital. His brother, Ivan, had received treatment there four years earlier when doctors said that the 18 month old would be lucky to reach five years old without major heart surgery. Mum, Sarra, explains that, “He did and after that experience he had to return for more surgery a few months later to have his ribcage wired straight after he dislodged it during recovery…Today he’s strong and healthy thanks to the skill and care of the fantastic team of surgeons, nurses and carers at GSOH.” Alfie and Saskia surpassed their Justgiving target and raised £1,774.
After completing Flanders, Alfie looked for his next challenge: climbing the mythical Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. In cloudy and chilly conditions in June of this year, he took three and a half hours to reach the top, becoming possibly the youngest ever rider to do so. He was greeted there by over a hundred cyclists and walkers who had heard he was coming – they formed a guard of honour for him and insisted on shaking his hand to congratulate him as he and Dad, Steve, tried to make their way to the café for a much needed cup of coffee.
Not content with that, Alfie decided to have a crack at Ventoux and the Stelvio next: "After I did the Tourmalet in the summer, these were the two other legendary mountains I wanted to climb. I had read about them. I knew they would be really hard but I told myself I had to do them this year while I was still quite young and to show wimpy kids who whinge that anything is possible."
On 22nd October, Alfie ticked the first one off his list when he set off from the base of the mountain at Bedoin in sunny conditions. "The forest was the worst bit and it went on for ages.” As they got higher the infamous wind that has haunted many a rider on their attempt to master this mountain began to blow up, but Alfie gritted his teeth, determined to reach the top. “When I got to the summit I realised I hadn't actually changed onto my lowest gear but at least it was good training for the Stelvio.”
"After I did Mont Ventoux on Saturday I knew I could do the Stelvio, but it would be tough… My mum and dad drove me hundreds of miles to Provence and then over to Italy the next day.” It’s difficult to know exactly the ages of everyone who’s ever climbed the Stelvio, but we do know that one Ivan Basso, twice winner of the Giro and nicknamed “the smiling assassin” did it when he was also 9 years old. It could be that he did so in the spring or summer of his ninth year, in which case, Alfie would have been younger than him by some months.
Setting off from Prado in drizzle, then icy rain, low cloud and later, snow, Alfie and Steve completed the 28.5km climb on 24th October riding past snow boarders as they approached the top. “I'm really proud of myself for proving that a nine-year-old can do this. It was my choice - after the Tourmalet I wanted to do both as soon as possible and I did them in under 48 hours. It was cold and I was really tired but I got a jersey for doing each mountain and my mum got me a big pack of Match Attack cards.”
His post ride warm down included a trip to the Finnish sauna at Bormio Spa where he was drenched with freezing buckets of water and given an ice massage. He said he liked the Italian way of cooling down as well as the massive plates of pasta pomodoro he had for both lunch and dinner.
“Next I'm going to do London to Paris in May with my sister who's just turned 12 but I wanted to give my bike a rest for a bit first." Apparently little Ivan will be joining them for part of the ride too.
What advice can he give aspirant climbers? Well, apart from a few training laps of Swain’s Lane and Highgate West Hill as prep, Alfie claims not to have spent a lot of time gearing up for his mammoth feat. In fact he said that two climbs he knocked off in the space of 48 hours were “some early Spring Classics warm-up.” It seems he reckons it’s all in the mind:
"Keeping going, always. Don't even think about going back, because then you lose. Pain is just God's way of telling you that you're alive." Chapeau, Alfie!