The desire for adventure, and a challenge, that uproots you from the normalcy of everyday life, is something that many people around the world have, and mountain bikers especially. Although some might be happy with the relative safety and comfort of riding their local trails, and achieving ‘PBs’ and claiming ‘KOMs’ or ‘QOMs’ – there are others who have more tangible life goals they want to pursue. Something that tests them. Something that takes them out of their comfort zone. A challenge that they’re not quite sure they can achieve.
That’s what took me to Mongolia for the Mongolia Bike Challenge in 2013. I knew a little of the race, from details gleaned from Cory Wallace and Ray Giddens. They had given me a bit of a run down on what to expect, and some tips for what to take to make things a bit easier. So here’s a modified version of some of those tips, and my own.
1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
This counts for every stage race. Keep clean, keep healthy, keep racing. Think about you, your utensils, your clothing, and your bike. Hand sanitiser is good, but what was really useful was a collapsible sink, some washing powder and dish soap, plus some brushes and sponges and a rag. Never wear kit for two days in a row, make sure you wash your chamois, and your bottles and of course your gloves. There are lots of horses in Mongolia. Keep your bike clean too, as you don’t want to miss a small problem hidden under the day’s trail grime. A pack of wet wipes also goes a long way.
2. Feed the machine
What food makes you happy? Like, happy after you’ve spent 170km in the sun and a cross wind? If it’s feasible – pack it. Comfort might be found in a big tub of peanut butter and rye bread, or in your big bag of cashew nuts. There’s plenty of food at MBC, but if you know there is something you like, then bring it. Or, find it in UB. The American supplies store might be your best friend.
3. Pass the salad
There’s lots of bottled water at the MBC. And some vegetables at dinner too – which is great! But chances are they are washed in the water that you’re avoiding. So just be mindful.
4. Breakfast – the meal of champions
Almost any cyclist has a breakfast routine. Don’t skip it just because you’re on a stage race. Pack your favourite cereal if possible, or get something similar. There’s a lot to be said for enjoying regional eating, but with all the other stresses on your body and digestive system on a stage race, maybe just let it start the day with something it knows?
Do you like instant? You’re in luck! If not, something like an Aeropress is probably your best friend. hot water is not an issue, but it’s just how you use it.
If you have to stick to a weight limit for luggage (which is likely) then consider salt tablets instead of your normal electrolyte drink. A few of these taped to your stem or bars might look suss, but should keep you running as usual. I did this, and had no problems with cramping all week.
7. Consider comfort
That weight limit again… don’t skimp on a good matt to sleep on, warm bag, and good jacket and warm hat – and trousers. Recovery is best done when you sleep well, sleep soundly, and sleep warm.
8. Know your routine, and trust it
This is a stage race standard, but get used to what your routine is for what helps you recover, and get ready for the next day. Don’t be swayed by what others do. But do learn from them. You’re still best to do what you know you need to do to not just get things done, but to feel good about it. With about 100 other people doing possibly different things, it’s not the time to second guess what you’re doing.
9. Get a SIM card
From personal experience, I should have got one. We had 3G for much of the race. A week is a long time without contact with loved ones. It’s great to get off grid. But it’s not so good to be uncontactable if you’re in need, and need to reach out. Or vice versa. Plus you can Instagram some epic images!
10. Don’t drink the milk – or the fermented one