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'I just like riding my bike' The 13-year-old kid who Everested the Kemmelberg

Joe Robinson
23 Aug 2018

Cyclist chats to Tom Seipp: 13 years old, still at school (obviously), and a bit of a bike riding phenomenon

Meet Tom Seipp. Tom is 13 years old and currently enjoying his six week summer holidays before returning to school in September to start Year 9. Tom's summer has been filled with the usual things like going out with his mates, watching some TV, playing instruments and the simple matter of Everesting the famous Kemmelberg climb in Belgium. 

Yes, you read that correctly, Everesting the Kemmelberg. Last week, Tom, alongside his dad Richard, completed the mammoth cycling feat of matching the elevation gain of Mount Everest by repeatedly climbing the cobbled Flemish climb of the Kemmelberg 137 times in one ride.

In order to complete the task, Richard and young Tom rode for 31 hours 18 minutes and 55 seconds to cover the 221.39km needed to reach the 8,848m target, stopping for only a few minutes every five reps to mark off their efforts on a makeshift chart and grab some food.

If the task wasn't mammoth enough for someone not even old enough to buy a lottery ticket, the decision to make his attempt on a climb that strikes fear into the pro peloton annually at Gent-Wevelgem seems insane. 

But for Tom, it was simply something fun to do while enjoying his time off from school.

'I chose the Kemmelberg partly because I have good memories from riding the climb on my tandem with dad back in 2016, but also as just something fun to do during the holidays,' he told Cyclist.

That youthful naivety of just riding his bike was what helped Tom (and Richard) see through this ride to the end. 

Easy as Everest

You see, this wasn't Tom's first Everesting attempt. When he was 12, he managed to complete the feat on Stwlan Dam in North Wales - which you can read about in Richard's blog - but that was easy in comparison as a result of its paved tarmac and steady 10% gradient, as dad Richard points out.

'Tom everested Stwlan Dam when he was 12 but that was just your classic tarmac climb, plenty of switchbacks and a steady gradient of 10% which you could spin up all day long,' he said.

'The Kemmelberg, with the cobbles and the steep gradient, was hard. During the day, we watched loads of people get off their bikes and walk up the climb which just gives you an idea of how hard it is.' 

Tom and Richard often found their concentration and energy levels lacking, almost bringing them to a halt on the climb. You'd think that after 137 reps, both would have found the 'best line' but with tired legs, the best line was often the easiest with zig-zagging being the chosen climbing style.

Tom notes that the hardest point was the early hours of the morning, particularly at 03:00 when 'your body is telling you to go to sleep' but they got through this knowing that before long it would be light again.

Flemish fans

As the day drew on, Tom and Richard's journey began to catch the Flemish wind attracting the attention of locals. The resident of the house at the bottom of the Kemmelberg became curious of this father and son duo and about what they were doing, bringing them chocolate and cola, Tom's favourite, to keep them going.

They were also joined briefly by multiple Transcontinental winner Kristoff Allegaert, who rode all the way from his home to offer his support, having learned of their mission.

'Kristoff and I follow each other on Twitter and he became aware of what we were doing,' explains Richard.

'He rode all the way from his home just to see us and give us few bars of Twix chocolate and a bottle of coke for Tom, his favourite thing to have when he rides'.

Kristoff visited them twice, returning the next day again with chocolate and soft drinks, while the helpful local who lived at the bottom of the hill supplied them with hot coffee, both of which helped push them through the final few reps.

Eventually, they were done: 137 reps of the Kemmelberg and enough vertical elevation to have scaled Mount Everest or so they thought. 

A slight oversight with Richard's Garmin had seen them start each climb nine metres off where they needed to be. Instead of climbing 8,848m, Tom and Richard had actually recorded 10,034m of elevation, 1,500m more than needed and enough to see them both inducted to the 'High Rouleurs' club. 

Riding 221km, climbing over 10,000m all on one of Flanders's toughest Bergs, like me, you are probably thinking 'when will this kid be riding the Tour de France?'.

But for Tom, becoming a pro or imitating your idols is not what this is all about. 'It would be nice to be a professional rider but I wouldn't say that it is one of my life goals,' explains Tom.

'I just like riding my bike.'

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