Mongolia Bike Challenge: Days 3 & 4

ah, found em!

MBC: Tales from the Knobbly Side, Part 2



Day 3: 53km, elevation unknown

Rumors round the dinner tent of rain and dropping temperatures brought a sense of dread to the competitors of the 2013 Mongolia MTB Challenge, as ahead of us the next day lay 148km of slog through rivers – 12 in fact – and swamps filled with a mud so black the sight of it alone sends a shiver down your spine.

After another cold night in the gers we awoke to find that the rain had indeed come but thankfully passed in the early hours. Still, it was bracingly cold and the day promised another long day in the saddle, anywhere from around 7 hours for the leaders to 10 hours for the folks at the back.

that's a grimace, not a smile...
that’s a grimace, not a smile…

Still though, waking to the Mongolian landscape is something else. Going to sleep to it’s not bad either, with a canopy of stars that start at the horizon to send you to slumberland.

For me the day began with a lingering sense of dread, as I really do not like the cold and had been suffering, as you’ll know if you read part 1 of this diary, from some pretty chronic diarrhea on the previous two days.

Yet Day 3 brought with it good legs for once this race and I got off to a decent start, dropping off the hectic pace set by the big guns and settling into my own rhythm.


The route was more suited to my style with a long flattish section that allowed me to crank out a decent pace, with herds of goats, cows, horses and the rather magnificent and very hairy yaks gazing disinterestedly on.

Up a forested ridge the mud came, and with it two little bumps on the descent, as I headed headlong over the bars after outing too much faith in my burgeoning MTB skill – you just don’t encounter too many submerged rocks in road races…

At 50km I was still feeling ok, rocking along in my own little world somewhere in the top 25, when I was met with the first feeding station three kilometers later. A bit earlier than expected as it was supposed to be at km 55, but less expected was the gaggle of leaders who were stood around wearing their aluminum sheets (mandatory bike kit here).

Up ahead, I discovered, the river was raging so fully that it was deemed impassable –  and that is saying something in this event.

“There is a family with some gers 8km back,” said one of the organisers. “We will cancel the stage and head back there to wait for the evacuation.”

Evacuation! When said in an Italian accent it has a ring of the romantic to it, but it turned out to be less than that – a lot less.

After an hour of pushing and some riding we arrived at a gathering of some 6 gers and piled into the first one. How many MTBers can you get into a Mongolian ger? About 40, as it happens.

And does it stink? You betcha. Sheesh, talk about smelling salts…


Two hours we sat there stewing in our collective juices before the ‘evac’ began, which entailed a 4 hour journey by Russian van to our next camp. A long, long day that, as we were up at 5:45am and at the camp finally at 8pm. And wow, was it cold…


Day 4: 125km, 1400m elevation

Ah! The legs have decided to return. For a few days there I was actually feeling my age. I was so not looking forward to riding down from our camp, at 1800m, and on into the valley in the cold that I actually took off my cycling gear twice before the start, fully intending to climb into the bus even before the stage start.

In the end though ego got the better of me – I just couldn’t give up. And so off we went, on this shortened stage (it was planned to be 175km but the previous day’s events led to the cut) at breakneck speed down the hill. Much to my pleasant amazement I I found myself in the lead group – for a bit – then remembered the previous day’s and backed off.

awesome crankpunk teammate, Razif Salleh!

Still, the fear of flying downhill on 12-inch wide trails over rocks and wash-outs is receding, ever so slightly. Which is good.

I ended up in a small group of four for a time which became a chasing group of eight, which then again disintegrated as we plowed our lonesome furrows up a long, grassy climb that really tested the legs.

From there on it was down, down and then down some more, hurtling through the thigh-high grass over a very rocky line. Man, it was awesome, the wind sweeping the grass over the path, rendering it invisible at times.


Adrenaline? Main-lining baby!

And then we had the run-in over a hard-packed track with a serious tailwind and me and my two companions were really steamrolling it, hitting the high 40s over the trail.

Then it was a swoop off the track and a final 100m over a knobbly field for the sprint – which, again to my amazement, I won.

Top 20 maybe? Not sure. Don’t really mind. The MBC might really stand for Massive Bloody Challenge, but if this doesn’t make you realize you’re alive, you’re past saving (*was 15th)

It’s heaven on an MTB, no less.

Sweet indeed.


The winner today was Jason Sager of the USA (Jamis), with Mark Frendo second (Aus, Oyu Tolgoi)  and Thomas Turner (Jamis, USA) in third.

Corey Wallace (Kona) leads the GC with Antonio Ortez at 6.30 minutes back and Mark Frendo a further 2 minutes down.

In the women’s race Catherine Williamson further extended her lead with another massive ride (and stage win) over Sonya Loomey. Erin Greene is in third.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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