After a preparation day in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator riders for the 2017 Mongolia Bike Challenge were today greeted with the first day of racing in this 6 day stage race across the Mongolian steppe.
This year marks the 8th running of the MBC and race director Willy Mulonia states this is shaping up to be the most exciting yet with no clear favourite on the start list. This race has accrued a solid following with many former riders now returning to this race as staff and support. Such is the appeal of the unique landscape and scenery that this race traverses. I can see how it would be a destination that people want to come back to, there is so much more to learn about this place than I will be able to experience in the week of this race. Some parts of this country so far appear bizarre but amazing. Tonight we are camped in a traditional Mongolian Nomad Yurt. Which is quite eye opening as to how the rural population of this country lives.
Day one at the Mongolia Bike Challenge
The race today was preceded by a 15km neutral police escorted roll out to a ski village just outside Ulan Bator. A stop for a short moment here before racing began in earnest. The start resembled more like the start to a 2hour XC race.
By halfway up the first climb many riders were reconsidering their efforts as they were reminded that there was still 6 days of hard racing ahead. The early climbs out of town sorted the race rather rapidly into groups. The stand out duo was Cyclocross professional Gosse Van Der Maar and Lithuanian hardman Elijus Civilis. These two worked in earnest together and developed a convincing gap on the chasing group containing myself, Spaniards Odei Gil and former road professional Luis Pasamontes, frenchman Nicolas Bayraud amongst a few other strong riders.
The women’s category had a hard fought battle, taken out by Elke Willersinn from Germany followed by the Aussie duo of Jo O’Shaughnessy from Melbourne and Kia King from Darwin. Full link to results here.
The terrain was predominantly rolling countryside today. The tough climbs from earlier in the day made way for fast, sweeping fire trail descents for the 2nd half of the stage. Technical difficulty was close to non existent with a few cow patties and herds of local cows/ horses to avoid. Van Der Maar took the time bonuses on the the KOM today meaning that despite finishing 2nd on the stage will take the leaders jersey into tomorrows race, showing good company to his #1 race plate.
My day in Mongolia
I had an obscure day on the bike with my Norco still missing with the airline I was kindly organised a loaner hardtail by the race organisation which saw me through today. I’m very grateful to have been able to race albeit not on my own machine. The altitude was something I noticed and suffered with today, the struggle to go a pace that would normally be no issue is very noticeable. Regardless I was grateful despite being dropped from the main chase group. I then pushed on for 50km of solo soul searching racing to come in 7th place holding off the second large chase group.
The race is a true hard race. Quite old school like The Crocodile Trophy from years past. Long hard days with a few obscure obstacles and challenges thrown at each riders direction making for an exciting adventure to be a part of this event! Tomorrow is the queen stage with 120km and 3000m of elevation gain. Van Der Maar has consolidated himself as favourite for the climbing day!