Think of bicycles and which is the first nationality to come to mind? That would have to be the Dutch, whose successive ambassadors have done more to promote the sport as a way of commuting over the past few years than any other members of the diplomatic corps.

But a group of Dutch expatriates are taking cycling to a whole new level. A few of them meet regularly to ride and have been seeking a way to turn their hobby into a fundraising opportunity, wanting to give something back to the community that they have made into their second home.

The inspiration came from something that two of the cyclists, Jeroen Jaspers and Stefan Sluijter, had experienced in Curaçao when they worked there: an uphill challenge. The event has been held for the past five years, attracted hundreds of participants and spectators, and similar events have started cropping else in other countries, such as Luxembourg. So why not Malta?

The result is the Malta Uphill Challenge 2019, which is going to be held on November 24 to raise money for Inspire Foundation, which is an important facility for people with various disabilities.

“I prepped my bike with thinner tires and dismantled every part of my bike that I would not be needing, just to lose as much weight as possible. My goal for the 2014 Uphill Challenge in Curacao was 30 rounds up the 18% slope of Fort Nassau and I needed all the help I could get. I was happy to find a lot of support from my family, colleagues and friends who all chipped in a sponsor amount per climb which made my effort even more worthwhile,” Mr Sluijter explained.

“I planned my water bottles and energy gels to be handed out to me every 30 minutes as I did not want to carry them throughout the whole race, again losing another few grams. The first hour and a half of the race went pretty ok, I just needed to make sure not to be overconfident with riding to fast as this will kill you in the last half hour, ‘steady pace Stefan, steady pace’. M

“More and more people around me were lowering their pace but the only thing I could think of was my calculation of how long I could use for each round. The closer I got to the 3-hour mark the more pain was going through my body, slowly I was beginning to lose the feeling in a few toes and my heart rate monitor went through the roof.

The last ride up the hill that was haunting me for the past few hours was finally there and with only a few seconds to spare I managed to hit the 30 laps. Truly exhausted but with a big smile on my face I was able to hand the organisation €500 and enjoyed the ice cold beer I so much deserved.”

Finding the perfect hill for the event in Malta was not as clear cut as one would expect. It needed to have a decent gradient, proper tarmac and could be too busy as the road would need to be closed off for a few hours.

“After many kilometers, coffee stops and meetings we finally drove down the Miġra l-Ferħa hill and a smile rose on our faces: ‘We got him!’ We are truly thankful for the municipality of Rabat for issuing us the permit for this event,” Mr Jaspers and Mr Sluijter recalled.

Rather than setting the distance, in this case, the race sets the time limit, and participants have to cycle up the notorious Miġra l-Ferħa hill as many times as possible within three hours. For those who want to calculate how much that will actually hurt, the course is approximately 1.6 km long, with a vertical climb of approx. 500 meters and a maximum slope of 12.3%.

During the race, all riders will have a digital tracking device fitted on their bike that will accurately track participants’ progress and time per lap.

The competition will honour not only the top three men and women who complete the most laps, but more importantly those who raised the highest amount of sponsor money.

Riders can get sponsors to support them on a ‘per climb’ basis or get a fixed amount for the whole 3-hour endurance ride.

Riders are allowed to take as many breaks as needed and only muscle-powered bicycles driven may be used.

The funds raised from this year’s event will go to Inspire Foundation’s Gozo facility, where an upgrade is planned to the classroom to equip it with suitable furniture and other learning needs.

On the morning of the race, participants will need to pay a registration fee of €10. They will get a freshly brewed cup of coffee, a light lunch after the race and tracking.  

Registration and check in is between 7am and 8am, and the challenge starts at 8.30am, with the prize ceremony at 12.30pm.

For more information on participation visit: www.inspire.org.mt