“Ja!”, “Si!”, “Yo!”, “Here!”.
Roll call at school was always seen as a painful burden of the educational system, at international mountain bike races, it’s like you’re sitting in the front row at the UN.
The Mongolia Bike Challenge packed itself up and left the ritzy surrounds of Ulaanbaatar on Saturday morning, headed for a campsite next to an 30 metre high statue of Mongolia’s famed emperor, Chinggis Khan.
Twenty nationalities are represented this year at the Mongolia Bike Challenge. There’s a healthy dose of German, Spanish, Dutch and Italian, with a smattering of Australian, American, Japanese accents in the mix.
The usual pre-race chatter abounds; charged with excitement, tempered with a sense of relaxed apprehension. We first-timers are busy filling in the gaps between what we know and what to expect. Those that have done the race before are swarmed to at meal times like lycra-clad yodas.
One of those is Aussie Peter Selkrig, racing his second edition of the Mongolia Bike Challenge in succession. This years race has slotted perfectly into his preparation for the Masters World Road Race Championships in Denmark, where he’ll head after Mongolia.
Peter explains that the race is fast. Oh yes, there’s plenty of climbing, but says people place too much focus the truly epic distance of the two longest stages (4 and 5 at 175km and 170km respectively).
“You’ll cover 80km the first two hours of one of those,” he explains over lunch beneath the statue of Chinggis Khan.
Also listening in to Peter was Ryan Sherlock. The former Irish Marathon champion is in Mongolia for the first time and has returned to mountain biking after several years pursuing the road dream across Asia and Europe. Having tuned up at Beskidy Trophy, he’s one of the favourites for victory this week.
The friendly Irishman laments the fact that the furious argy-bargy of road racing in Belgium has led him to gain weight through his arms and shoulders – literally through the effort of wrenching on the bars in the sprint-settle-sprint kermesses. But he’s loving being back within the mountain bike fraternity.
“In mountain biking so much more of your result is down to what you do yourself,” he says, referring to the regularity of mass pile-ups in road racing. “You can control it.”
“If you get beaten in mountain bike racing, it’s usually by the strongest guy. So you wish the best for the guys ahead of you, you know they earned it.”
Ryan will have his first chance at being that guy tomorrow. The race begins with 113km loop that starts and finishes beneath the statue.
Come dinner tomorrow chatter will shift from expectation into experience.