Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lance Accepts Mark Slavonia's Challenge

I failed to ride up the world's steepest road - Can Lance? If he can, we'll raise $10,000 to fight cancer!

1/6/11 Update - I just got a message from Lance Armstrong that he made it up Waipio Valley Road in 9:30, at 430 watts, 46 average cadence. Now we know - the world's greatest cyclist can climb the world's steepest road.

1/4/2011 Update - I just got a note on Twitter from Lance Armstrong. Looks like he's going to give it a try! I can't wait to see if he can make it. If you've got Google Earth enabled on your computer, check out the map above in Google Earth - the tilt function really shows how steep this road is.

Waipio Valley Road on the island of Hawai'i is the steepest road of its length in the world, rising 800 feet (250 meters) from the historic Waipio Valley to the plateau above in just 6/10 of a mile (1 kilometer). The average grade is 25% and the peak grade reaches 40%. In places it's steeper than Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, New Zealand and Canton Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA, which are often cited as the world's steepest streets. It's also MUCH longer - the steep part of Baldwin is only about 300 feet long. Waipio Valley Road is really a road, not a street, and as such is a greater challenge for a cyclist. It is sometimes disqualified from consideration as a road because it is open only to 4-wheel drive vehicles, but it is a paved road maintained by the government. The only rival I can find for world's toughest road bike challenge might be Scanuppia, do Besenello, which is longer but less steep than Waipio Valley.

I am a masters bike racer who lives in San Francisco, CA. On Valentine's Day, 2010, during a cycling vacation to the Big Island, I tried to ride up Waipio Valley Road on my road bike. My power data and GPS can be seen here, as lap 3. I was able to ride up 522 ft. of the climb's 800 vertical feet, but I was thwarted on the climb's four steepest sections and I walked up 278 vertical feet. The steepest section I managed was 24.3% for 76 vertical feet. Including the walking, the climb took me 17:24, during which I rode 8:23 at about 350 watts.

I thought the climb was difficult on a road bike, but perhaps possible. The biggest challenge wasn't really wattage, but balance, traction, and torque. The locals at Hilo Bike Hub tell me that they've done the climb on mountain bikes, but never road bikes.

Lance Enters the Picture - My 150 Characters of Fame

I then drove to Waipio and rode the beautiful Waipio-Hawi loop. I stopped for lunch in Hawi and checked the web. Lance Armstrong's twitter stream noted that he had also done the Waipio-Havi loop that day - darn, I missed him! So I tweeted that I had done the same ride as Lance, but he skipped the world's steepest road. To my amazement, Lance noticed this and tweeted me back asking me where this road could be found.

I sent Lance the info then laid down the challenge - if he could ride a road bike up Waipio Valley Road without stopping I'd donate $10,000 to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and I was hoping that the idea would catch on and others would join my challenge. Soon after, I got a note from Lance's friend and training partner John Korioth challenging me to put the cash on the table. To demonstrate my seriousness, I made a $5,000 online donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation and sent the confirmation number to John and Lance, telling them that I'd donate the rest if Lance could complete the climb.

Mark Slavonia

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