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Olympic hopeful sets 24-hour cycling world record in Richmond

By Jeff Morris

Manotick Messenger/RichmondHub.ca

A world record was set in Richmond on Friday, March 12.

Cyclist Lucy Hempstead will enter the Guinness Book of World Records for cycling more than 812 kilometres in 24 hours on a stationary training bike. The previous world record for greatest simulated distance on a static cycle in 24 hours by a woman was 680km.

The 20-year-old hopeful for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris accomplished the feat in 12 two-hour increments.

Hempstead’s world record ride was part of this year’s ‘Crush Covid: Ride for Mind’ event held by her cycling team, the Toronto Hustle. The event was to raise money for mental health support and initiatives at Michael Garron Hospital, which provides care for many low-income and racialized individuals and families.

The goal of the event was to raise $380,000 in donations. The final tally came in at close to $420,000.

Olympic Cycling hopeful Lucy Hempstead used the Zwift cycling platform to set her 24-hour world record in Richmond Fri., March 12. (Photo courtesy of Doug Hempstead)

For Hempstead, the 24-hour ride was about more than just breaking a world record.

“Mental health is a 24-hour-a-day struggle,” she said. “Exercise is an amazing way to deal with stress and improve your mental health. I have struggled with my own mental health, so this means a lot to me.”

Her biggest worry heading into the 24-hour ride was “bonking,” a term used in cycling when you have “nothing left in the tank.” She said she would be eating “everything I can get my hands on” during the ride, but even that can’t always combat the extreme calorie burn and strain that a ride like this would have on one’s body.

The ride began Fri., March 12 at 6 p.m., and by the following morning, she was struggling. She focused on the music she was listening to and dug deep, and was able to keep going. By 2:30 p.m. Saturday, she hit kilometre number 681 to establish the new record.

The rest of the ride was an exclamation point.

Hempstead was confident going into the ride. She had done all the training and preparations necessary to know that if everything went has planned, the record was going to be hers. But just setting a new record was not enough.

“The competitive part of me wanted it to break it significantly,” she said.

She beat the record by 132 kilometres.

New to Cycling

Although she has her sights set on the 2024 Olympics, cycling is a relatively new sport for Hempstead. She was well known a runner in high school, specializing in the 400 metre hurdles. Two years ago, she attended University of Ottawa on a track scholarship.

Hempstead had always been a versatile athlete. She played soccer, volleyball and ultimate frisbee. Her bicycle was nothing more than something to get from Point A to Point B. She was also having injury problems with a stress fracture in her foot.

Lucy Hempstead celebrates breaking the previous 24-hour record of 680 km. The record she set in Richmond was 812km on a stationary bike in 24 hours. (Photo courtesy of Doug Hempstead)

Encouraged by her mother, Hempstead went to fitness testing session for the RBC Training Ground. The program was recruiting Canadian athletes and evaluating them to see if they had the potential to be future Olympic athletes.

From across Canada, Hempstead was one of 30 athletes identified out of 1,900 who tried out for the program. They put her through a series of strength, endurance, speed and power tests in front of officials from eight different The only problem is that the test identified her as having Olympic potential in a sport she had never taken part in: cycling.

“The RBC Training Ground program puts you through a series of tests and then assesses what sport you would best fit into,” she said. “The program determined that the best sport I was suited for was cycling. After that, Cycling Canada approached me, and I realized this was the best chance I would have to make the Olympics.”

Part of being named to the RBC Training Ground top 30 is funding and access to resources that will help her reach her Olympic dream.

Hempstead was invited to the indoor cycling facility in Milton, ON, to ride on the steep banks of the velodrome oval track. She also started taking cycling trips into the Gatineau Hills to train and to get more accustomed to being on the road.

She also took part in a cycling ride from Toronto to Ottawa, which helped her prepare for her world record-setting ride earlier this month.

“There was a lot to learn and get used to,” Hempstead said. “It’s one thing to ride on a stationary bike, but being out on the road and handling the bike was new. Learning a new sport can be complicated. And I also had to learn about bike maintenance.”

While her time trials have been impressive, Hempstead got a chance to take part in a couple of road races and fared very well. Most of her racing has been done virtually.

 As a member of the Toronto Hustle cycling team, Hempstead has begun to flourish in her new sport. COVID-19 has made it difficult for her to compete with most events in 2020 being cancelled. Her training continues, and her endurance tests rank her among the top athletes in Canada, make or female.

While she is training, Hempstead put her university studies on hold. However, she still finds time to run.

“I still run as part of my cross-training,” she said. “I run competitively, but I don’t compete.”

While running and cycling are both individual sports, there is more of a team element in cycling.

“Cycling is more of a team sport, and there is a professional tour,” Hempstead said. “If you are a pro cyclist, the Olympics more or less becomes part of the schedule.”

In track, the sport revolves around the Olympics and, to a lesser degree, the World Championships.

“Coming from running, the Olympics is where you want to be,” Hempstead said. “You grow up watching it and wanting to be there.”

Getting to the 2024 Olympics will take a lot of work, but it is a realistic goal.

“My family has been very supportive and very understanding,” she said. “Right now, I have to race as much as possible. For the next year, I am going to be wherever there are races.”