It’s almost impossible to compare remote races against those in highly populated regions, or a cross country stage race which runs out of one town. It’s in the name; remote races aren’t near the regular amenities and services we would expect, which is part of what makes them such a unique experience.
There are a number of remote stage races around. The Crocodile Trophy and Mongolia Bike Challenge (MBC) are the two I have direct experience with. While I’d always thought the Croc was unique, in that it had a lot of challenges that could be surmounted with a little more planning and preparation, I’ve learned that there are some curveballs you can do little to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, the Croc is an amazing experience, but so many people come out of it wondering why those last few things to make it a great race that runs a little better aren’t done.
I’d put the MBC on a pedestal of sorts, “I think it will be like the Croc, but better organised” I’d remarked to various people. And at first this was the case. But as the week has worn on, various events have highlighted holes can be magnified by remoteness. Not to say this is lack of planning, but it comes as part and parcel of the challenge of running a multi-day race in a remote location. Throw in an Italian organisation, using Mongolian staff, amongst a predominantly English speaking group of racers, and communication can be fraught – at best.
Stage 5 was a farce, with the leading 15-20 riders sent down a valley as indicated by signage (and the director) to only be stopped and turned around – if they were able to be stopped in time. Cory Wallace and Mark Frendo ended up with 137km on the clock for a 96km stage. Many had over 100, I had about 102km. My eighth place on the road ended up as 23rd in the results, throwing away my GC position. My number plate and jersey number were handed in on Thursday evening. With Stage 3’s problems, Stage 4 coming up 30km short, and now this – the race had become an expensive training camp. There were a lot of disgruntled people, and in fairness to the director there doesn’t seem to be a correct decision to make. Neutralising the stage ignores the 60km solo break by Jason Sager that would have netted him a 3rd place. It also negates the time gaps that had developed from hard racing. And it certainly doesn’t replace the extra 40km that Wallace and Frendo did.
Come Friday morning, and I had been persuaded to re-start the race. And when one of the Mongolian team rolled off the front coming into the 2nd kilometre, I figured I’d join him. 112Km later he dropped me on a climb, and I was left looking at the shadows of circling birds of prey. One of the Zamora brothers came by about 10km later, and soon after I caught my previous companion. Two more riders caught up, but only one came past as the other imploded. With 20km to go, I thought that this break, fuelled by frustration, might result in a podium. Just maybe.
And then the lead group of Pau Zamora, Matt Page, Jason Sager, Thomas Vandendaal, Cory Wallace, and Antonio the roadie with the funny SMP bibs caught us, and it all split to pieces on the climb. I rolled in solo, maybe 10th or something like that. With 171km on the Magellan GPS – it was a long day out.
Racing can clear the head, and beyond some issues with the race itself, I’m relishing the Mongolian experience. Spinning the legs out with Cory and Peter post race, then sitting in an icy river chatting about nothing much, and retiring to a well appointed gehr is certainly an experience that’s out of the ordinary. We have one stage left, racing to a 13th century village that has been kept as it was since the time of Genghis Khan. And regardless of the results, that’s going to be another great experience.