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/