Stage 1 and day 2 of the Arabian Epic- Jordan was promising to be an exhilarating day of riding. With 46km of riding starting at 1000m above sea level and finishing at 200m below sea level we were all looking forward to ripping down the Jordanian countryside. Alas, as fun as the riding was on a stage that was predominantly downhill the real appeal of this stage and this race in general was something far more memorable/ interesting.
Many of the western competitors myself included had a preconception of Jordan as a hot, desert country with an abundance of sand and not much else. In reality todays ride really emphasised what a diverse landscape lies here. At the early morning start in Amman riders were freezing single digit temperatures as we rolled out and headed downhill initially on the banks of a creek bed through the suburbs of the capital. Due to some recent heavy rain the early creek crossings were made somewhat more challenging and required some disembarking and wet feet wading. Once our of the creek the bed the vista’s opened up as the race proceeded through the town of Iraq-al-Amir which is a pretty Jordanian village shrouded in green vegetation that overlooks the dramatic scenery downhill toward rocky and sandy mountains that typifies the landscape as you get closer to Palestine and Israel. Interesting riding through here to see how resourceful the locals are with the little water they do have. Not a drop is wasted with sophisticated aquifers and water channels dating back to Roman times that help keep this predominantly dry country functioning.
From Iraq-al-Amir the trails turned to dirt roads which really in my opinion added to the MTB experience of this race as they grant you an opportunity to appreciate the grandeur of this country and it’s terrain. Rather than focussing 100% on a technical gnarly singletrack a portion of your brain power/ focus is freed up to appreciate the landscape you are in.
From here we twisted down through valleys then up some steep, dry climbs encountering Shepard’s and their flocks of sheep, Arabian men accompanying donkeys on dirt roads. It really does feel a little like you are in a verse of the bible rather than a MTB stage race. Adding to this element of the race is the afternoon tourist ‘experiences’. After the stage today a trip is organised to visit the site where Jesus Christ was baptised, post stage tomorrow we are planning a trip to Mt Nebo where Moses was shown the view of the ‘promised land’ toward Jerusalem. So far I was classify this whole experience as much more than a bike race rather a cultural/ historical experience with a bike race on the side. If you are an MTB rider with a single fibre of interest in religious/ ancient history you will get A LOT out of this race!
Saying that, there was a race on today. Jan De Henau from Belgium continued his winning ways from the prologue yesterday with another victory ahead of your author and marathonMTB.com team rider Justin Morris. Unfortunately for team mate Mike Blewitt he suffered an early flat which cost him some time and likely his 3rd place spot on the GC. German rider Christof Cords came in 3rd and consolidated his lead in the masters GC.
Tomorrow we have the ‘Queen stage’ on the cards a 65km stage with 3000m+ of climbing around the famous aforementioned Mt Nebo.