With an incessant, pounding rain in the Nomad ger camp in Mongolia the night before stage 5 much of the bunch were feeling apprehensive about this shorter but very difficult stage. The rain added an extra element of stress to what was already shaping up to be a brutal and decisive stage in this years race. 2nd place overall Gosse Van De Meer was hoping to make up the 7 minute gap that separated him from the race lead on a course that suited his strengths. However 36 year old race leader Elijas Civilis still had plenty of gas in the tank to defend his lead.
Race day in Mongolia
When morning broke, much to the relief of the race the rain had eased but much of the damage to the trail had been done. The race began under dreary skies and immediately the profile pointed skyward. A group of approximately 15 riders was formed at the front of the race, this group was becoming nervous and a number of crashes occurred in the slippery conditions of the opening 35km.
Unlucky Australian rider Guy Cowan managed to break his handlebar before the race crew came to his assistance and helped with a trailside repair to get him to the finish line, making for a gutsy ride in treacherous terrain. Meanwhile, the courageous French rider Nicholas Raybaud took another courageous gamble with a solo attack at the 30km mark which saw him again spend many kilometres in the lead solo and taking a few KOM points on his journey.
The proven strength of Civilis and Van Der Meer however extinguished the hopes of a solo victory for Raybaud making the catch with 20km to go and Van Der Meer again with the sprinting prowess taking the win.
The women’s race proved dramatic again today, with race leader Jo O’Shaughnessy fighting strong whilst succumbing to an overnight illness and finishing the stage in 3rd place but retaining her overall lead. This paved the way for young Kia King the Aussie rider from Darwin who was talked into coming to this race by her mother whom is also competing to take her first stage win.
The finish of stage 5 is in a stunning yurt camp on a mountainside overlooking the epic terrain that has typified this race. Sleeping in a yurt and experiencing the living conditions of the nomadic Mongolian people has to be one of the strongest appeals of this race. It is definitely something I will never forget.
The final stage 6 followed which was a 25km TT around the aforementioned yurt camp. As comes with remote stage racing, stomach issues had began to plague the camp by this point. However, given the strength of the riders here, regardless all riders were able to take the start line today. Some fared worse than others with indigestion problems. 2nd place GC Van Der Meer was one who had taken a basket load of pills to finish the stage today. His 2nd place was without threat. The course took riders on another very stunning loop with a 500m elevation gain climb thrown in to make things interesting. Strong rides were put in by the Spanish duo of triathlete Guillaume Bisquette and former track racer Oedi Gil. But the master of the race proved he is a very deserving race winner Elijas Civilis took victory on the final stage to match his title as overall winner of the Mongolian Bike Challenge for 2017.
Women’s winner Jo O’Shaughnessy held on despite suffering from the aforementioned ailments and took her first ever victory at a MTB stage race. A former triathlete from Great Britain Jo has a long history as an athlete which showed as the racing got harder and harder this week. Jo stated that coming to the Mongolia Bike Challenge was a “yearning for adventure”, having also raced on the road for many years Jo has shown her class as a mountain bike athlete at the MBC. Jo relished in the atmosphere of the MTB scene as being “much more relaxed than the road scene”. A possible force to be reckoned with in MTB stage races into the future!
Reflecting on the Mongolia Bike Challenge
This race has produced many champions over the past 6 days and 2 very deserving champions of this race. This race rewards determination, endurance, gumption and a very high pain tolerance. Every rider will return with their heads held high in achieving a spectacle not just in the MTB racing scene but in life.
Mongolia is a very unique part of the world to have a mountain bike race and one that is definitely worthy of ‘spectacle’ status. A full recap of the race to follow soon. If it sounds like something you’re into, early bird entries are open now.