Interview with Leigh Timmis: The Fastest Cycle Across Europe
Updated: Jun 4, 2019
By Toria Cox
Leigh Timmis is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of human endurance. In 2010, he left his hometown in Derby, to cycle around the world on a budget of just £5 per day. This unique and epic adventure took Leigh 7 years, covering 44,000 miles and 51 countries.
Not long after returning in 2017, Leigh realised he needed a fresh challenge. After 6 months of research, he concluded that the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Cycle Across Europe presented an exciting new target which would take him to the “next level”.
After 8 months of preparation, with the support of the University of Derby’s Human Performance Unit, Leigh was ready to start his Guinness World Record Attempt. On 10th September, he set off from Cabo Da Roca in Portugal on a 4,000 mile cycle across the continent which finished in Ufa, Russia. The record stood at 24 days and 18 hours. Leigh smashed the record in 16 days and 10 hours!
We caught up with Leigh to see how it feels to hold a Guinness World Record…
First off, congratulations for smashing the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Cycle Across Europe! How does it feel to hold a Guinness World Record and can you quite believe it?
Thanks very much! I think it will take a while for it to sink in that I’m a world record holder. It’s incredible to think of what I’ve achieved but it’s the year long journey that I went on to get to that result that is truly incredible.
How did you celebrate?
The team and I arrived at the finish line; a train station in an unknown city in Russia, in the rain and cold and dark. It wasn’t the most glamorous finish! A few hours later, after our first proper showers in 16 days, we met up in a hotel room and the team surprised me with a bottle of alcohol from each country we’d passed through. We had a couple of drinks and fell asleep!
What were your motivations for taking on the Record for the Fastest Cycle Across Europe?
I have found that adventure is the thing in life that fulfils me and that I excel when challenged. In speaking engagements, I talk about setting goals that push yourself in order to find the best version of yourself. This goal was set so far outside my comfort zone, that I went way beyond where I thought my limits were and found new depths to my character. Breaking a world record also gave me an opportunity to help others. Raising awareness of mental health and fundraising for charity MQ were very important to me due to my first-hand experiences of depression.
For you personally, what was the hardest moment of the Guinness World Record attempt, and how did you overcome that challenge?
In preparation, there were incredible difficulties to overcome in bringing a project of this scale to fruition, I was a cyclist but I had never managed a project like this. The original start date in June had to be put back due to a lack of funds, at that point it would have been easy to give up. I reassessed the requirements and took a different approach to sponsorship. I used this setback as an opportunity to ensure that I was moving ahead with a clear vision of what was required and to build a team who could deliver that.
Most people assume that this was a physical challenge but, on the road, the hardest thing to overcome were the mental struggles. Only five or six days in to the attempt, I began to experience extreme fatigue and tiredness which led me to falling off the bike. I had already reached what I thought was my limit and still had over a week to go. I had to dig deeper and redefine my limits. We had worked on psychological interventions to prepare me for this but it was the human element of the team that got me through with their belief, positivity and support.
What was the best moment of the Guinness World Record attempt?
The start line on the first day. This was the moment when a year’s worth of planning a dream became reality. I had visualised the lighthouse at Cabo Da Roca many times in training, so to be there felt surreal. The adrenaline kicked in, the pedals turned, and the sun rose as I cycled above the clouds in Portuguese mountains. The day went better than planned and we crossed the first country ahead of schedule, it was perfect.
Now you have completed the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Cycle Across Europe, is there another challenge on the horizon?
As I said, adventure is in my blood and I’ll continue to challenge myself. In the short term, the project is still not over; for me it is really important to analyse every aspect of what we did and to learn lessons from it – it is only from learning that we will improve for the next challenge. I will be sharing my record-breaking experiences and lessons in motivational speaking engagements in businesses and schools. I will also be focusing on writing a book and working on a documentary with the media team. Ask me what’s next in another month and I’m sure I’ll have some exciting new plans up my sleeve!
During the World Record attempt, Leigh has been raising money for Mental Health Charity, MQ. So far, over £1,300 has been donated to this valuable cause. Donations are still being taken! To support and donate to MQ, please visit: give.everydayhero.com/uk/europe-cycle-record