With less than 3 weeks to go until the beginning of the 2017 Mongolia Bike Challenge the 108 riders who have signed up will be starting to think seriously about how they have or have not prepared for this race.
The profile for this year’s edition has taken on a different look to years past with shorter distances but still plenty of climbing involved. I took a good look at the stage descriptions and came up with a list of what I think will be the areas/challenges of this race that require the most preparation. Full link to the stage profiles here.
1. The Altitude of The Mongolia Bike Challenge
Those who have raced, ridden or even tried going for a brisk walk at elevations of 1500m above sea level or above will know that it is an EPIC STRUGGLE! With most of this race at this elevation or higher, this I believe will be one of the deciding factors for those at the pointy end of the race. In 2014 I lined up for the Tour of Utah road race in USA with a few days at the 2000m+ elevation before the start of the race.
Riding at this height above sea level is like trying to do a full gas race whilst only breathing through a straw. It can be very, very miserable. Your mind knows you can be going much faster but your cardio vascular system keeps telling you NO! GIVE ME MORE AIR! Riders can prepare for this and effectively enhance the size of their cardio vascular system by spending time at altitude (minimum 2-3 weeks) before hand. For those restricted to the confines of urban areas there are a number of ‘altitude gyms’ popping up around the suburb’s that allow you train in an enclosed space simulated at 2000m+ asl.
Alternatively, you may be from Colombia, Colorado or Livigno in Italy in which case you have a distinct advantage already on the start line. Think riders like Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran! Alas, I have done none of the above. I currently live in a coastal suburb where my apartment actually sits slightly BELOW sea level, so I’m not expecting to have any advantages in this domain.
2. The Conditions at the Mongolia Bike Challenge
Mongolia is a rather remote country. It appears that outside of the capital Ulaanbaatar the existence of hotels and restaurants is rather unlikely. Subsequently, the entirety of this race is spent camping in a traditional yurt or ger.
This sounds adventurous and exotic however can be an enormous challenge to the unseasoned stage racer. Although shorter than previous editions, the stages in the Mongolia Bike Challenge will be long and hard days. Recovery is difficult at the best of time during stage races add to this the discomfort of sleeping on the ground in a location very different to your comfort zone and recovery becomes an even bigger challenge.
Those with previous ‘off piste’ stage race (The Pioneer, Cape Epic, Crocodile Trophy for example) experience will likely fare better than those who are fresh to the racing- camping setup. A good nights rest, a good feed and good hygiene are all very important for effective recovery. All of these will be an extra challenge in Mongolia, guaranteed whoever starts the race no matter what their experience will finish a hardier character I am sure.
With more than a few camping stage races under my belt now and plenty of backcountry trips in my own tent and a fairly basic general level of personal hygiene I am confident I can meet the demands of this aspect of the race without too much distress.
3. The Terrain of the Mongolia Bike Challenge
Looking upon the stage descriptions for the Mongolia Bike Challenge apart from the altitude the other challenge thrown into the mix is the amount of climbing. With many stages exceeding 2000m of elevation gain, climbing will be a decisive factor in this race. What the course seems to lack in technical singletrack is more than made up for in the challenge of the elevation gain.
My training for this event has been close to non existent due mainly to the everyday demands of ‘life’. One area I have paid some attention to is climbing. The commute I take on my CX bike to my day job is about 45km and is more or less entirely uphill. I have taken this route 4-5 times a week and have fitted a bigger chainring to my 1x setup to encourage myself to engage more of a strength workout on each ride. Many of the climbs in the MBC appear to be what i would call ‘strengthy’ climbs rather than long, relentless alpine climbs. Hence, I am hoping I have developed some strength from my commute with a big gear and perhaps some of the latent strength from my days as a road racer is still there hidden under 3 years of neglect.
The trails appear to be predominantly 4WD/ dual trail and rough, grassy, rocky and exposed. Throw into the mix plenty of Siberian wind and we will have some super tough racing rewarding the strongest in the field.
With the years of having the ability to focus on training and racing behind me now my goals for this race are a little different from what they would have been 5 years ago. I of course will do everything to ensure I make it to the finish line. I would also like to appreciate the race and the situation for the amazing experience it promises to be. Undoubtedly there will me many frowns and pain on the journey but I am excited to get there and discover what this race and this intriguing corner of the world have going on.
Stay tuned for a ‘bike check’ on the Norco Revolver FS I will be taking on the MBC very soon.