On September 12, Saris + The Pro's Closet's (STPC) Gavin Dempster is embarking on an epic 830km ride on one of Scotland’s most unforgiving routes in an attempt to take down a record which currently stands at 31 hours and 23 minutes. We got in touch with Gavin to hear about how he plans to take on this massive challenge.
Follow his progress live this weekend!
Gavin Dempster will be riding alone for a very, very long time as he tries to set a new fastest known time on the North Coast 500 route. Photo courtesy Gavin Dempster.
Question: Hey Gavin! We’re stoked to learn more about your upcoming ride but first give us a little background about yourself!
Gavin Dempster: My name is Gavin Dempster, I live in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands with my partner, Sarah, and our mad spaniel, Chuck. I work as a bike mechanic, then spend most of my spare time riding bikes. Life mostly revolves around cycling! I race road races and time trials for Torvelo Racing. For the last few years, my main focus has been on racing on Zwift, winning the 2018 European Zwift eCrit live final, and finishing third at the British Cycling eRacing National Championships. This year I joined Saris + The Pro’s Closet and won the Tour of Gila stage race, the iconic real-world race hosted on Zwift due to the pandemic.
Q: You’re a force on Zwift, but you’re about to do something crazy hard outdoors — attempting to break the North Coast 500 record. What is the NC500 and what’s the record?
GD: The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile (830 km) touring route around the north coast of Scotland, starting and ending at Inverness Castle. The route passes some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland with rugged mountains, wide-open moorland, forests, lochs, castles, and white sand beaches. The NC500 was launched only five years ago, yet in that time, it has reached a global audience of over 3.3 billion and ranked by so many independent sources as the best road trip on the planet. The NC500 is also regarded as a challenge for endurance cyclists, the route features over 10,000 meters of climbing on some of the most volatile and isolated roads in the UK. In August 2015, adventure cyclist and round-the-world record holder Mark Beaumont established the record for the route, completing it in 37 hours and 58 minutes. In June 2016, former pro cyclist and Commonwealth Games medalist James McCallum completed the ride in 31 hours 23 minutes, beating the initial record by more than six hours. I’ll be attempting to take that record by as much as I possibly can on September 12-13!
Q: Why do you want to do this ride?
GD: Restricted by the limited racing opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Torvelo team and I began to look for a new challenge in 2020. A new focus to fill the void. It would need to be something a bit special after months of uncertainty. The allure of a special record, on a special route, became too hard to resist.
Q: Will it be self-supported, or do you have a crew following?
GD: I have an amazing crew of teammates, friends, and family ready to support me on the ride. They’ll be following to help me fuel and navigate through as I ride!
Q: The kit for an attempt of this magnitude must be overwhelming! Give us a quick rundown of your gear for the ride.
GD: The bike I will be using is Kinesis GF Ti road frame built with DT Swiss ARC 1100 wheels, 28mm GP5000TL tires, SRAM Red eTap, Quarq cranks, Ritchey bars and stem with clip-on TT extensions, an ISM saddle, lights from Exposure, and a Garmin Edge 530. It’s a titanium frame that was designed for racing across continents so it is right at home on a ride like this. I’ve been riding it for three years and have used it on everything from ultra-endurance races to road races and even live Zwift races.
For kit I will be taking every piece of cycling clothing I own, the weather in Scotland is famously unpredictable, so I need to be prepared for anything! I’m estimating that I will burn around 25,000 calories during the ride so we will have to prepare a mountain of food to get me through! I'll be eating a lot of different things and a mix of sweet and savory foods to keep things interesting. I love my food, but it gets difficult to force that much food down! Will have some oatcakes, sandwiches, scones, rice cakes, pancakes, and cold pizza. The ultimate Scottish ride food is a macaroni pie.
Q: You’re three days out from the attempt — are you feeling ready?
GD: I’m ready to go! All that needs done is to wait for the weather forecast and work out a pacing strategy. I know the route very well and understand just how tough this will be, but preparation has gone well and has given me confidence that I can do it.
He's known for crushing the competition on Zwift, but IRL, Gavin Dempster is just as talented. Photo courtesy Gavin Dempster.
Q: What has your training been like leading into the NC500?
GD: For many, this year has been a challenge to train as they normally do due to COVID. For me, nothing has really changed! I do most of my riding indoors on Zwift and my training is mainly just lots of Zwift racing with lots of easy riding between races. For a few months this year, I had more time to train and was putting in 20+ hour weeks on Zwift and have come out of it with my best form ever!
My favorite training rides are the long, hilly races on Zwift like the 100km race every Sunday. One recent race with my teammates Matt and David we rode a four-hour race with three hours in a breakaway and a finish up Alpe du Zwift, it was brutal but these are the days that prepare you for the mental battle of an ultra-endurance ride. A couple of weeks ago I raced a four-race Zwift Pro/Am series with Saris + The Pro’s Closet, which is definitely not normal preparation for a ride like this. Since then, I have done a couple of five-hour rides outside and an eight-hour Zwift session.
Q: Have you ever done a ride/race this big?
GD: In 2018 I finished fifth in the Transatlantic Way race—a 2,500km unsupported race down the west coast of Ireland and finished in 6 days. The weather and the roads in Ireland are very similar to those in the north of Scotland and I will draw upon many of the experiences from that race to get me through this ride.
Q: Given your history of hard races and rides, how come you’re just now giving it a go?
GD: I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind for a couple of years to try for this record. With the cancellation of every outdoor race this year it was time to give it a go, something to focus on with so much uncertainty around.
Q: Thanks for giving us a look into your preparation and the event! How can we follow along with your ride?
GD: We will have a live GPS tracker running throughout the day, so you can follow along here!