Mongolia Round 4- Onwards to East Timor

Every year the Mongolia Bike Challenge continues to grow and expand into one of the Worlds longest and hardest mountain bike stage races.  This was my fourth trip over here and was by far the best organized and most racey event of them all.  In the first couple editions the MBC took place down in the Gobi desert and around the the Khangai Mountains.  The scenery and adventures of these editions was unreal, but the race was at the mercy of mother nature with floods, dust storms, snow and other unrully weather, often making it more of a survival challenge then a bike race.  Last year the organizers changed the route to the central eastern part of the country, through some great national parks and the enormous steppe lands.   Here the weather is a more stable, the logistics easier with tourist camps surrounding the area and the scenery still spectacular golden grasslands, spectacular rock outcroppings and a wide open feeling of freedom that only a few places in the world can offer.  Again last year some troubles were run into with flooding rivers and cold weather but changes were made and for the 5th edition the organization had a well layed out plan with backup plans in case of sever weather.

From day one things rolled pretty smoothly and the 75 racers of the 5th edition of the MBC were treated to 900 km of great racing through one of the Worlds great nomadic landscapes with the Mongolian culture evident and inspiring around every corner.   Crystal clear rivers, roaming camels, rolling grassy hills, zippy antelope, countless herds of sheep & goats, wild stampeding horses, snakes,  local Mongols living there Nomadic lives, every day was a slow moving national geographic movie which kept us entertained every step of the way.

Having won the last 2 editions, there was a pull to come back and try to complete the hat trick.   Early on in stage one it became blatantly clear that this was going to be a real battle as European road pro Luis Pasamontes (Spain),  a young Italian XC star  Nicholas Pettinà and Czech pro Jiri Krivanek were all in fine form and inspired to make my life hard.  Pettina and I would split day 1 with each of us gettting one of the KOM bonuses (King of the Mountain), and then he would launch an attack with 20 km to go and hold on for a 6 second lead over myself, with Passamontes using his diesel engine to come in right behind.  Oh boy this was going to be a tough week!

Day two was an emotional roller coaster as I flatted 30 km into the 120 km stage, trying to drift away from Pettina and Passamontes they looked back to see my mechanical difficulties and both launched out of the saddle to leave me in the dust.  My first flat fix didn´t work so I pulled out a tube popped it in and was soon back into the race in about 10th position,  4 minutes behind the leading duo.  I was in trouble but dug deep and managed to pull back into 3rd position and was closing in on the leading euros with the gap just over a minute as we headed into the big climb of the day.  Perfect I though, I could hopefully catch them before the KOM and then have another good fight to the finish.  The tables turned as they blew a course marking and lost 3-4 minutes, I was lucky enough to have my head up at the lightly marked intersection and spotted a sign further up the course which kept me on track.  I yelled at the lost euros but they couldn´t here nothing, luckily race referee Danielle was right there and was able to get the other guys back on track approximately 3 minutes behind me.  Now in the lead I was inspired  with the huge opportunity to jump into the Pink leaders jersey and put in some serious damage to the europeans.  Using every ounce of energy in the last 60 km through countless river crossings and beautiful alpine meadows I managed to expand the 3 minute lead to 13 minutes by the finish line.   My work was in the bag, now it was up to the Euros to do there work in the coming 5 stages.

Stage 3 the tables turned again as one by one things went sideways, eventually leaving myself alone in 3rd chasing the two leading euros with over 60 km of racing to go.  The day had started off with Pettina attacking through some muddy sections and gaining 1.5 minutes on the peloton.  With Passamontes and my belgium powerhouse teammate Christof Marien still with me I was content to let Pettina take the lead and use up his energy.  At one point Christof brought us to within 20 seconds of Pettina but I asked him to ease the pace to let Pettina burn through a few more matches before we caught him.    Soon after Christof would flat, Passamontes would attack through the feedzone, while Krivanek and myself stopped for drinks.   Pettina saw Passamontes chasing behind, waited for him, and soon the two euros were off on another mission together and my game plan had backfired.

Jiri Krivanek and I had raced at the Crocodile Trophy the year before, with him finishing 3rd overall.  We worked well together for close to 2 hrs with him burrying himself to help me in the chase, but unfortunately he tired out and soon I was on my own.   This wasn’t an ideal situation.  Digging deep I got within 45 seconds of the duo at the last feed station and opted to blow by it in a last effort to catch the two.  Pettina saw me closing and dropped Passamontes, who I would soon catch but he was too tired to do much work and pretty soon I was alone in 2nd chasing down the motivated Italian.  Having blown the last feed station I was running on empty bottles for the last hour in what had been a really hot and dusty 135 km stage.  Pettinas gap would increase to 2.5 minutes by the finish as I fought dehydration and was on the verge of a serious metldown but luckily the finishline came just before this set in and the damage was limited on the day.   The camp this night was at 6000 ft high up on a rolling hill overlooking the vast grassy steppe lands below.  The sky was unreal that night with shooting stars, a 3/4 moon and one heck of a great feast as the MBC had hired a Mexican restaurant from UB to do the catering.

Stage 4 started on a long descent which Pettina launched an attack while I got stuck behind crashing riders in the dusty conditions.  Once out of the dust and into the wide open steppe lands, Pettina already had a minute lead.  Chasing hard I got close and then the Mongolian boys pulled up beside me and yelled “Cory, get on our wheels!!”.   These guys put in a huge effort, pulling me back up to the leaders, before they detonated and settled in for a long day afterwards.  Thanks my friends!

Soon after one of the riders in the lead pack came over to tell me something, reaching out with his arm but then his bike hit a bump and he crashed straight into me sending both of us to the ground.  Pettina saw this and immediatly took off on another attack taking advantage of the situation.  This wasn’t a very sportsmanlike move and got me fired up as you typically don’t take advantage of a fallen rider.   After a long chase back up to the group I gave Pettina some words and the the race was one.  Pettina and Passamontes were in alliance this day and took turns attacking, eventually I had to let Passamontes go and focus Pettina as he was 10 min back in gc while Passamontes was 17 back.  This was another weird situation as Pettina just sat on my wheel for 2 hours while I tried to keep a high tempo so his Spanidh friend wouldn’t get to far ahead.  This lasted to the KOM where I dropped him, caught up to Passamontes, and was soon rejoined by Pettina.  We would ride the rest of the day together through some beautiful Mongolian valleys and finally onto the finishing straight after 170 km of hard racing.   The finish sprint was a gongshow as we sprinted hard across a rocky field, dodging through a herd of a 100 plus sheep and goats.  I picked the right lines between the animals and took a hard earned W.  This evening was spent soaking in the crystal clear waters of a nearby river and stargazing under the mammoth Mongolia skies.  Again dinner was stellar as a local grill called the Rosewood did the catering, with large salads, soup, pastas and a solid meat feeding.

Stage 5 was another long 170 km stage, the Mongolians pulled the field for the first 70 km, Passamontes crashed and broke his bike, we road through some amazing golden grasslands with antelope bounding about and enormous eagles soaring above.  It was a rad day with Pettina and myself again sprinting it out with him taking the W.  This night there was a sense of relief around camp as we were set up at in a nice Ger tourist camp for the next two nights alongside a nature reserve and another refreshing Mongolian river.  Somewhere along the lines this day something got into my gastric system and I spent the night running to the toilet.   After another 5 toilet runs in the 1.5 hrs before the race start I set out as the last rider in a 47 km TT.  The course was great as we raced up and down some good climbs through a National park.   I packed toilet paper but luckily didn’t need to use it.  It was a suffery day though and Pettina clawed back over 5 minutes in the GC by taking the win.

Waking up for the final stage I was nervous as heck, the diahrea had passed but all systems were not ready to go for the final stage.  Right off the gun Pettina attacked up the initial climb in his attempt to bring down the 5 minute gap to my pink jersey and take the overall race win in the last 87 km stage.   I managed to weather this first storm and then my teammate Christof Marien came to the front and set the tempo into a solid headwind for the first 50 km of the stage.  He was like the mother ship with myself being a little pod sitting behind him out of the wind, counting the kms down.  Pettina was also sitting in, both knowing the real race was going to start at the first KOM.  At km 50 we sprinted for the KOM, it was a photo finish with him taking the 30 sec time bonus. Blowing by the feedzone he put in attack after attack and eventually I had to let him go as his surges were not doing my hurting system any good.  Settling into a diesel pace for the rest of the day I kept a close watch on Pettina, at one point he had a 2 minute lead, but I dug a little deeper and brought this back down to around 1:15 for the rest of the stage.   With 4 km to go I could smell overall victory and eased up on the last couple descents to play  it safe and make sure I came across the finish line in one piece.   I have never had so much relief at the end of a race as I did this day, finishing 2 minutes down, but still holding onto the gc lead by 3 minutes to take my 3rd consecutive MBC title.  If I was a betting man when I woke up this morning I don’t think I would’ve bet on myself as I was a bit of a mess health wise.  Thanks to Christof Marien, a strong head wind and a suitable course things worked out and I will savour this victory for a while. Also a big thanks to my Kona King Kahuna 29′re hardtail for putting up with all the abuse and getting me across the finishline in one piece for a third straight year!

Camped at a 13th century Ger camp was athe perfect way to end a steller week.  We lived like Ghengis Khaan and his clan for the night, eating plates of meat off wooden platters, running around the rocky hills behind camp, bs’ing under a full moon by a large bonfire and eventually retiring into old school yurts for a long nights rest.  After 4 MBC’s it seems like the organizers have really hit there stride and have a solid event to build off of in the years to come.

In a world that keeps on developing and spinning faster and faster, it becomes more and more special to escape to a land like Mongolia which seems stuck in time out on its grassy nomadic steppe lands.

After a few chill days in Ullanbaatar it was back on a jet plane to a far off land called East Timor.  This is a country which has gone through a very rough history declaring its independence from Portugal in 1975 only to be invaded by Indonesia forces.  For years the country was in the midst of battles, referendums, destruction of there country’s infrastructure, and massacres.  In 1999 the country was in a crisis as they pushed for independence in a referendum from Indonesia’s invasions. Activists in Portugal, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere pressured their governments to take action. Eventually East Timor became formally independent on 20 May 2002 and a member of the UN on 27 September 2002.

Now is a time of peace, hope and dreams in this small country and a few of us foreigners were lucky enough to be invited to take part in a 5 day bike race called the Tour de Timor to help in promoting the country to the world as safe place to come and visit.  We are honored to be here and have been astounded by the welcome and the enthusiasm of the locals to rebuild there country and show it off to us.   Check out the race website for stories and more info!     http://www.tourdetimorlorosae.com/

Thanks Danielle for the rad last photo.

Mongolia Bike Challenge

One of my favourite and one of the worlds most adventurous bike races starts tommorow as the 5th edition of the Mongolia bike Challenge kicks off across the vast unspoiled steppes of the land of Ghengis Khaan.

The full race story, pictures and results can be followed along at www.mongolianbikechallenge.com

Off to try and finish of the hat trick!

Canadian Marathon Championships

This years Canadian Marathon Championships took place on a rather short but very challenging 62 km course in arguably Canada’s capital of xc singletrack riding, Squamish BC.  The course designed by race organizer Dwayne Kress and his crew was a tour of  some of the  highlight trails intertwinded with a bit of fireroad to mix it up.

The night before the race I opted for  a solo camping mission along one of Squamish’s fireroads.  Hiking 2 minutes into the woods finding a stellar campsite pitched on a 20 ft cliff overlooking a small river down below.  With a mossy forest flooring, the sound of rushing water and some fresh air this made for a great nights rest.  The next morning I woke up and hiked down to the river for a chilly dip.  This was is better than any cup of caffeine and immediately shook all the cob webs out of the system. When I got out of the water I looked up to see a race official on the other side of the river setting up the start finish arch.  This was great to find out camp was just 300 ft from the startline and made for easy preps.  It was just a short wade across the river t0 the race start and I could easily return to camp for last minute preps.

From the get go it was evident a tight race was going to be on hand as a number of Canada’s top XC riders were on the start line including Canadian XCO Champ Geoff Kabush, holder of 12 National Titles (8 xc, 4 cyclocross) and fresh off back to back 12th place finish at the World Cups.   My teammate Kris Sneddon and I new he would be a force and had a plan layed out to give Kona its best chance at glory on the day.  Early on we would set the pace breaking apart the elite pack into a group of 5 including rising xc stars Evan Guthrie, Evan Mcneely and Kabush.  It became clear  that the two Evans were already getting stretched thin, and that Kabush had no interest in taking any pulls or doing work at the front of the group.  Kabush is a tactical racer and he was already pulling some strings to get the race in his favour.

To counter this I launched a mini attack up the first climb, with Sneddon letting the gap go, causing Kabush to chase.  We would get a small gap coming out of the first singeltrack section onto a fireroad in which again he just sat on my wheel claiming to be tired and not willing to work.  I sat up, waited for the other 3 and then we would cruise the fireroad for 10-15 min before hitting the next patch of singletrack, this time Kris going off the front.  This worked great with Kabush having to burn a few more matches chasing back up.  Just as he caught Kris half way up the 25 min legacy climb, I also caught on and went off the front again, dropping Kris and stretching Kabush thin.  Again he would catch my wheel as we headed down the Angry Midget decent and back onto a fireroad in which he would just sit there on my wheel.  Going into the next singletrack he launched off my wheel and attacked, and slowly pulled away using is technically superior skills.  Not long later Kris would come by on a long descent, this was no surprise as he has had his A++ trail riding skills this summer already claiming victory at both the BC Bike Race and Singetrack 6.

For the next 45min-1hr the race would stay this way with Kabush leading, Kris 45 secs back, and myself another 45 secs back.  Mentally this was a tough time as those guys were out of sight and we were riding a lot of technical trail really hard. All I could do was hang on and try not to lose any more time at best.  Thoughts started going through my head that this wasn’t going to be my day and I started comforting myself by making up excuses that the course was just too short and too technical for my abilities and that 3rd place was still very solid against these two.

This lasted for a few minutes until I got angry at myself for thinking this way, got out of the saddle sprinted all out for 30 seconds to get the adrenaline firing, sprayed water across my face, essentially trying everything to  snap out of this negative mindset.  I cursed a couple times and then put every once of energy into the pedals to at least stay close to these guys so I would have a chance to real them in on the next climb or in case they blew up or mechnicaled.  Going through the last feed the gap was still around the same, with 15 km left to go it wasn’t looking very bright but once I hit the legendary 5 pt climb everything changed as I looked up  3 switchbacks to see a labouring Kabush. 

This lit a fire under my ass, catching him  at the top was a huge rush and it quickly became  evident he had blown through all his matches and was a very hurting man.    Not too long after I started to catch glimpses of my teammate Kris which was suprising as we were going through a long singltrack section.  This alerted me that he must also be running thin on matches and I told myself to just chill and not make any mistakes in the next bit of trails.  After that there was about 4 km of fire road in the last  6km of the race which I was confident I would have the leg power to outride him at this stage of the race.  Once on the fire road I caught up to Kris  and charged past him.  Getting about a minute gap on the small climb was just enough to allow me to cruise the last section of trail and then sprint home on an all time high of adrenaline and endorphins to defend my National title  and earn the right to wear the Maple Leaf for another year!

If there was one race all year I wanted to win it was this one.  With the shorter distance, technical course, and level of riders showing up to contest for the jersey there were a lot of question marks.  If I started thinking about it too much it would’ve been easy to mentally lose the race before it started.  Instead the lead up to the weekend was perfect which boosted the confidence that this thing was winnable if all the cards played out right and I had some luck.  Too boot I had my Kona Hei Hei Supreme dialed in which was the perfect bike for the rough course.

Growing up Kabush was a rider I looked up to as he was always down to earth, approachable, stood for clean racing and hauled ass!  Too this day I have the upmost respect for him, for what he has accomplished and for going through the dark doping era as what seems to be one of the few clean riders who was at the top.  He pushed through this dark time in the sport and to this day has been dominating the North American racing scene and preaching the “Race Clean ideology.”       It was hard having him sit on conserving his energy in this race and then having him launch a massive attack, but that’s bike racing and Kabush is well known for being one of the wisest most tactical racers out there.  Luckily Kris and I had a plan coming in and stuck too it.  It worked out great for both of us and it was a full team effort to finish 1-2 again this year once the dust settled.  It was the same picture last year as Kris and I road away from the field working together to build a massive lead and then opted to sprint it out.  It’s a bummer there can’t be two winners in some races but when it comes down to business we both know we will play fair and fight it down to the line once we have tried to work over the rest of the field.

After the race we had big plans to head up to Whistler to watch the finale of CrankWorx but after the dust settled it seemed wiser to chill around Squamish for the evening to let the day soak in over a couple ciders and another peaceful night in the woods.  The rest of the weekend was rad going on cruisy spin with the Balance point crew, burgers in Whistler with Neal Kindree, a trip to Kona USA to re-supply for the next round of races, a night with Dik and his family in North Van, a North Shore ride and then a nice boat cruise back to Victoria to recharge for some fall time adventures oversees!

Huge thanks to Ryan Edwards, Ruedi Schnyder, and Spencer Paxson for the feed zone support.