A British man has become the fastest person ever to cycle around the world, pedalling past the finish line in London's Hyde Park less than six months after he set off.
Sporting a shaggy red beard and a suntan, an exhausted James Bowthorpe was greeted by cheers from friends and family yesterday after an epic, 18,000-mile circumnavigation that has taken him through 20 countries in 175 days.
"I'm a bit tired," said Mr Bowthorpe, 31, whose journey was sponsored by The Independent. "It's been a long six months and I'm just finally relieved to be here – and glad that the world isn't any bigger because I couldn't have done it."
Facing an attempted kidnapping in Iran, a bruising encounter with a wombat in Australia and a severe case of "Delhi belly" in India that saw him lose a fifth of his body weight, Bowthorpe has clocked up an average of more than 100 miles a day, sometimes cycling twice that distance in his effort to bag the biggest prize in endurance cycling.
The cabinet maker from Balham in south London has taken 19 days off the record set last year by the Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont. Speaking from Mexico, where he is taking on a new challenge, Beaumont called Mr Bowthorpe's achievement "phenomenal". He added: "James has had a lot of challenges and it's amazing that he's managed to do such a good time."
Mr Bowthorpe has ridden without support since he left London last March, carting 90lb of clothes, gadgets and camping gear across some of the toughest roads in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. During the 5,000-mile leg from Vancouver in western Canada to Boston on the east coast of the US, he cycled for seven weeks without a day off.
The red-haired adventurer now has an anxious wait while adjudicators at Guinness World Records sift through receipts, photos and his satellite tracking log to confirm he has cycled the 18,000-mile minimum required for an attempt. In the meantime, he faces arguably the greater challenge – to raise £1.8m for charity, or £100 for every mile he has ridden.
It was Mr Bowthorpe's late grandfather's battle with Parkinson's that inspired him to take to two wheels. After two years volunteering at What's Driving Parkinson's, a research team based at King's College Hospital in south London, he steered his talent for cycling towards fundraising. "I knew I would have to do something really tough," he said.
Despite support from fellow charity cyclist and Tour de France star Lance Armstrong, who called Mr Bowthorpe "a noble man" on his Twitter feed, Mr Bowthorpe has so far raised only £55,000. "The real work starts now," he said.
Those who followed his progress online via his "Where in the world is James?" website were given regular updates on his gruelling efforts to clock up 150 miles a day, often fighting "demoralising" headwinds, tricky terrain and 40C temperatures.
He has also had to contend with what he called "some idiots" on his journey, chiefly the person who threw a kebab at him out of their car window somewhere in Western Australia.
In the main, however, he has received what he described on his blog as amazing kindness, with people providing him with free meals, clothes and bike maintenance. A mechanic at Bullmoose Brothers in Kentucky in the US donated the cranks off his own bike when Mr Bowthorpe's failed.
Some of the patients Mr Bowthorpe has helped were among more than 100 supporters who greeted him in Hyde Park. The cyclist's girlfriend, Nadja, hugged him as he crossed the line, where he was later joined by parents Wendy and John. "I found it extremely moving when he left," John Bowthorpe said. "We didn't know if or when we would see him again and so I have complete admiration for him that he has managed to keep going day after day."
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