Islington boy becomes youngest cyclist to conquer French mountain pass
- Credit: Archant
Cycling enthusiast Steve Earl had always cherished the ambition of conquering the highest mountain pass in the Pyrenees alongside his son Alfie – one day.
However, it’s fair to say Alfie is some way ahead of schedule – having successfully reached the 2,115m summit of the Col du Tourmalet, which is part of the Tour de France route, at the age of just eight.
The Highbury boy is believed to be the youngest ever cyclist to complete the testing 12-mile ascent – the equivalent of riding up a mountain from Highgate to Potters Bar.
It was the second time Alfie, who turns nine in August, had attempted the Tourmalet and he achieved his goal in three and a half hours, despite having to cycle through thick cloud on the final section.
“You couldn’t see sideways, apart from looking onto the cliff,” Alfie told the Gazette. “The first time I didn’t get that far, I only got to [the village of] Bareges.
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“This time, when I got to Bareges there were people saying ‘this is impossible’ so what I was trying to do was prove them wrong. I wanted to do it while I was still eight.
“There was an 11-year-old coming down the other side, with people surrounding him and saying ‘you did it, you did it!’ and then they saw me coming up the hill, so they asked my dad how old I was.
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“That just made me keep going even more. At the top people wanted to meet me and shake my hand and say ‘well done’ and I felt proud of myself.”
Alfie’s feelings of jubilation were not tempered by the fact that, at the age of eight, he needed some assistance to carry out the tradition of raising his bike above his head at the summit.
In fact, the only disappointment for the St Joan of Arc RC Primary School student was having to wait 15 minutes for the Tourmalet café to open – and then seeing dead flies drop from the ceiling into his hot chocolate!
After returning home to Islington, Alfie discovered that his achievement had earned him a letter of congratulations and a signed shirt from British Cycling.
Despite his lack of years, he has already accumulated a fair amount of cycling experience, having learned to ride at the age of three and been inspired by watching Liam Philips in action at London 2012.
Since then, Alfie has raced at the Olympic track twice himself and last year he and elder sister Saskia both completed the Tour of Flanders, a challenging 44-mile event that incorporates several cobbled hills.
The siblings raised more than £2,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital – a cause that holds personal significance because their brother Ivan, now seven, underwent life-saving open heart surgery there at the age of 18 months.
Mum Sarra explained: “They all got into cycling when Steve did the London-to-Paris as a thank you to Great Ormond Street for saving Ivan’s life.
“They did a really complex five-hour operation and without them he would have died by the age of five. After Steve had completed his ride the children wanted to do something to fundraise for Great Ormond Street as well.”
Alfie, who prepared for the Tourmalet challenge at two of London’s most difficult rides – Highgate West Hill and Swain’s Lane – is hoping to attempt London-to-Paris alongside his dad next year.
He is also planning to tackle the Alpine course of Mont Ventoux and the Stelvio, in Italy, in the future.
But the youngster, whose other sporting interests include football, rugby, hockey and ice hockey – as well as BMX racing, in which he has just qualified for the national championships – is keeping an open mind as to the possibility of a professional cycling career one day.
“I might have other ambitions, so it could just become a hobby, and if I have a really big ambition I might not be able to be a pro cyclist,” added Alfie.
“Some people in my year are saying they want to be footballers, but they might not be and then what else could they be if they only work on one thing? I’m still making up my mind.”