For cycling hero Mark Beaumont, Africa awaits

Mark Beaumont training ahead of his Africa Cairo to Cape Town cycling record attempt, at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, in Glasgow, Scotland, 19th February 2015.

Having ridden round the world and the length of the Americas, the continent of Africa is the latest challenge for this endurance athlete. He tells Arusa Qureshi what he’s expecting.

Mark Beaumont training ahead of his Africa Cairo to Cape Town cycling record attempt, at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, in Glasgow, Scotland, 19th February 2015.Mark Beaumont spent a year travelling around the Commonwealth in the build-up to Glasgow 2014. He followed the journey of the Queen’s Baton, presented television coverage and covered 118,000 miles in the process. But for the record-breaking round-the-world cyclist, spending that year presenting and hearing other athletes’ inspirational stories made him realise that he wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel himself. Instead, he decided it was time for him to get back in shape, get back on the bike and do what he knew he did best: smash another world record.

Mark rose to prominence in 2008 by breaking the record for circumnavigating the globe on a bike by 82 days. He then cycled the Americas on a 13,000-mile journey that saw him ride all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. His last major expedition, which involved rowing the Atlantic in an attempt to complete the first sub 30-day crossing, ended prematurely as the team’s boat capsized, resulting in an urgent rescue. He was sure he had hung up his sporting career for good after surviving the ordeal, but three years later Mark is preparing for his next record-breaking bike journey from Cairo to Cape Town on 9 April. It will involve almost 10,000km of difficult terrains, deserts, mountains and border crossings, and for the Perthshire-born cyclist, will mean completing the ultimate hat-trick in endurance rides.

Route map“If you look at a world map,” Mark says, “the circumnavigation, the Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and the Cairo to Cape Town routes are the three biggest endurance routes, and therefore records, that stand. Having completed the first two, I’ve long looked at the Africa route and seen it as the final continent for me to complete and thus bring home the record.” Last broken in 2011 by Dutchman Robert Knol, the record stands at 70 days. But Mark plans to go a lot faster in an attempt to bring it down to 50 days. The endeavour comes with its own set of challenges, but, physically and mentally, Mark is ready.

“I’ve been training with the Scottish team,” he explains, “and I’ve been trying to take my training to a whole new level. I’m in great shape and I believe physically I can do this. Mentally, I always think that all you can really do is draw on experience. I’ve done big expeditions and I know psychologically what it’s like when you’re out there. You know that you’ve got that resilience; you know that you can dig incredibly deep; you know that it’s going to be brutal but you can get through.”

MarkBeaumont_0854Having spent some time filming in Africa for the BBC during his epic tour of the Commonwealth, Mark is familiar with some of the environments and cultures that he will be experiencing. But despite this valuable understanding, there are still some challenges that Mark knows he will have to face.

“People worry about lions and kidnappings and all these exciting things. I think the things that are more likely to go wrong are road traffic accidents and malaria. Of course there’s a lot of bureaucracy at border crossings and one of my biggest concerns is being delayed not because of my ability to cycle fast but just because of certain things that are out of my control. But I’m working very hard to build a network of contacts on the ground to try to prevent that from happening.”

logo-texture-transparency-webDespite the range of conflicts under way throughout the continent of Africa, Mark is confident he will be able to overcome any obstacles in order to beat his two main targets of smashing the record and filming and capturing the story. During his circumnavigation, Mark required an armed escort through certain parts of Pakistan for his own safety. There is thankfully only one stretch of the upcoming journey that will require similar security measures.

“The one stretch I will need armed security is through Northern Kenya so from Moyale down to a place called Isiolo, near Mount Kenya. It’s the part of the trip that’s probably the most volatile. But my whole journey will be GPS tracked so if anything does go wrong, I can literally hit the mayday button at any time and my team back in the UK will be able to tell immediately if I need help. But ultimately, it is a solo expedition so I won’t have back-up with me all the time.”

Taking on such an expedition requires a huge amount of determination, which Mark clearly displays. This bravery and thirst for adventure can be traced all the way back to his first mini-expedition which saw him cycling across Scotland from Dundee to Oban at the young age of 11. But it would be wrong to say that he always planned to become a full-time adventurer.

“I studied economics and politics at university and planned to go into finance. After graduating, it was a natural step for me to take a year and go on one big mad adventure round the world. But even then, even when I finished the round the world, I had no idea I’d then go on to create a full-time career because the honest truth is that I had no idea you could make a living doing expeditions. I just thought I was going to do this once after university and then go back to being an accountant or work in finance.”

But seven years after that initial expedition, Mark’s Cairo to Cape Town attempt shows that he is still able to do what he is most passionate about as an athlete and as a storyteller. So what does the future hold after this upcoming expedition?

“I’ve got another world record that I’d like to attempt in 2016. It’s back on the bike but it’s not something that I’m putting much effort into until I see how Africa goes. I think the decision I’ve made is to try not to do any trips that are over a couple of months because I’ve got a young family and the days of being able to do half year expeditions are behind me. But I’m still keen to go out and film some exciting trips and I reckon I probably have another four or five years if I can really push it as an athlete.”

The expedition will be backed by Lloyds Development Capital, The Drum Property Group, The Wood Foundation and Endura. Mark will also be raising money for Orkidstudio, a charity that designs and builds projects around the world to benefit communities. To track Mark’s journey and to send him messages of support whilst he’s on the road, visit, or alternatively, tweet him @MrMarkBeaumont.#africasolo-web

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