Mongolia Bike Challenge – Tales from the Knobbly Side pt 1

this race report was supposed to be on VeloNews.com but they seem to have forgotten about it, so here it is for your reading pleasure, or not, as the case may be.

this is not the 2nd part of ‘the skinny’ – this is just the racing part stuff. cheers!

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Day 1: 120km, 2,300m elevation

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No point talking about the exhaustion because I do not have the vocab to even get close to describe what is going on in my body right now. Suffice to say that I feel like I’ve been hit by a Hummer.

Repeatedly.

The day began well enough, holding my own for 27km with the big guys, including the 2012 MBC winner Cory Wallace, but then the diarrhea tablets wore off and the Mongolian countryside became far too familiar with the sight of my backside.

Seeing as there is barely a bush in this sparse landscape, never mind a tree, several of my fellow participants now recognize me more easily with my shorts round my ankles than they do when I’m properly attired.

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But talk about a loo with a view!

The food poisoning compounded the after-effects of the influenza I picked up on my first day in Ulan Baatar – that’s what you get I guess if you go from 40 degree heat in Singapore, where I’d been racing in the Singapore National ITT and road race on the weekend before the MBC started, to a 2-hour ride the following Monday in 15 degree cold on the Mongolian steppe.

I surprise myself sometimes with what a delicate creature I am.

Anyway, I was battered. The legs had never been so bad on the bike, and this was, without a doubt, the hardest route I’d ever ridden.

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In fact, it was only the second MTB race I’d ever taken part in – the last being 24 years ago, when I was 17.

And I go from years on the road to this. A 7-stage epic of a race over mountains and through rivers and literally into swamps, in conditions that range can range from dry heat to snow to blinding dust storms.

Talk about a baptism of fire.

In the end Corey showed his immense power and stamina by finishing some 8 minutes ahead of the second and third placed riders.

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Catherine Williamson of Yorkshire, England, smashed the women’s competition wide open by coming in almost 30 minutes up on the second placed rider – awesome ride.

Me? 36th place, over 2 hours back. Spanked!

 

Day 2 – 128km, 1850 m elevation

Two things I haven’t mentioned yet. First is the country. Without doubt Mongolia possesses the most stunningly beautiful landscape I have ever seen.

In fact, to call this a ‘landscape’ doesn’t do it justice. It’s more of an ‘envelopment’. Surrounded on all sides by lush, rolling green hills with tracks leading off in all directions, there are no barriers here, save for the odd coral here and there. You can literally wander off into any direction you like and no one will ever stop you.

The people are immensely tough – they have to be to survive minus 50 degree winters, even in the city, where sometimes those who have no central heating gather in the sewers under the street for warmth, in their thousands at times, I’ve been told – but also very welcoming.

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I was told that if you are in the hills and in need of rest or food, you can enter an empty ger, help yourself to food and take a nap, and when the owners return they will not wake you, but wait for you to wake up. Anything else is considered to be ill-mannered.

And their MTBers aren’t bad either – on both Day 1 and Day 2 the Mongolian-staffed GENCO MTB team has taken the team prize.

Second thing is the organization here that put together the 2013 MBC – headed by Italians generally and also heavily assisted by Mongolians, it is a work of industrial art. The instigator of it all, Willy Mulonia, came here years ago to ride and just wanted to share the magnificent sensation of riding through this land with others – so he started the MBC, a dream that took years to come to fruition.

It was one man’s dream that became one shared by many, and that, I have to say, is bellisimo.

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So, the race. Started off good again, 35km this time with the leading pack of 12, my gut stuffed with more anti-diarrhea medicine than your regular drugstore carries, I was feeling good when, suddenly about 38km in, pop went my weasel.

It went better than yesterday but as a roadie I have to learn how to sustain my energy output. Road racing is all about conserving power then letting it out in limited bursts, whereas MTB racing is just a hardcore sustaining of strength that sits just at the rider’s threshold. I am in awe of these guys, and not just the front men and women, but the lot of them.

As I lag I get passed by rider after rider, as they stomp on the pedals and churn out the speed. On the downhills – where as a road racer you can relax and recuperate – the concentration levels needed to stay on the track are huge. There is no down-time, no dawdling at the back of the peloton, no taking a breather mid-pack.

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It’s just full-on, all the time. Quite incredible. And in no short measure, very humbling. I didn’t think I’d come here and win but I did think a top 10 might be possible, but no chance! Sick or not, I am getting properly schooled here, make no bones about it.

After 12 river crossings and two very steep and grassy climbs, finally I got onto the last 15km stretch, a slightly downhill hardtrack with a tailwind – and finally I could release the roadie in me.

My form before coming here was decent – I won the Singapore National Champs ITT and put in a big effort to help my teammate Tjarco Cuppens win the 140km road race. Maybe it’s coming back?

With a 148km day coming tomorrow with another 2000m plus of climbing, and a 20km climb to end the day, I doubt it’d make much difference to be honest. Looks like another grueling day.

The day today was won by Pau Zamora with Corey Wallace losing very little of his huge lead in the GC.

On the women’s side of things, Katherine Williamson domination continued as she again smashed the field.

My Forza-CrankPunk teammate Kyosuke Takei of Japan sits very handily in 5th.

 

BIO: Englishman Lee Rodgers is a freelance journalist and sometime cycling pro who rides on the Asian road circuit with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, and is the writer of www.crankpunk.com, a site that chronicles his adventures and thoughts.

 

He also runs Crank Punk Coaching Services. He can be contacted via www.crankpunk.com.  

 

 

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