The Yak Attack is the highest mountain bike race on Earth as it traverses through Nepals grand Himalayan mountain range. It starts out on the World famous Annapurna trek, taking us up over Thorong La pass at 5416 M. From there we’ll drop down to 4000 M and head into the tourist restricted area of the Upper Mustang Valley, eventually reaching the border of Tibet. Over the course of the 11 days, 8.5 of those will be between 3500 M and 5416M with the temperatures anywhere between +25 and -20 degrees celsius. It’s part race but more so a proper mountain adventure!
In 2014 I came here unprepared and had my ass handed to me, getting sick on the first day and never recovering. The combination of turbulent food, rough living conditions, high altitude and tough riding has meant the local Nepali riders have dominated the race winning everyone of the 9 previous editions. As far as a race goes, it’s the most scenic MTB race in the World i’ve been to, and per kilometre one of the toughest. The days are short averaging 35-45 km but they can be deceptive, often requiring some hike a bike, extremely rough and unforgiving terrain, cold temperatures and thin air.
Trying to ride up around 3000-5400 M above sea level slows things down considerably. The oxygen level of air is still the same as sea level at around 22%, but there is less air being inhaled every breath as there’s less pressure in the atmosphere. By the time we hit 3000 M the effective oxygen will be cut down to 14.5% and by the time we hit the top of Throng La Pass at 5416M it will be around 10.7%, half of what we take in at sea level. This means alot of long slow breaths and trying to diesel our way through the days instead of bursting efforts which would surely leave us gasping for air and in a world of hurt.
Since the last race ended in India, MTB Himalaya, I set up base camp in the Indian mountains at 1950M for 2 weeks, with 3 nights up around 2800M. 1950M is on the cusp of being good for acclimatization, as 2200-2600M seems to be the desirable level but after having a decent crash, it seemed smarter to stay down a bit lower in higher oxygen levels to help with the recovery. Since coming to Nepal my buddy Peter Butt and I headed up onto the race course and stayed in the town of Manang for 5 nights at 3500 M. The first 3 days we felt the effects of the altitude as our heart rates went up and our sleeps were disturbed as our bodies acclimatized. By the 4th night the bodies seemed to have come around and everything shifted back to normal although our rides during the day left us gasping for air, especially once we hit over 4000 M!
The lead up to the race has been a real experiment and will be interesting to see if the pre-altitude training has any positive effect once we start racing. One thing which has been a bonus has been living in the India-Nepal region for the last 6 weeks getting use to the sketchy food/water and adapting to the cultural differences. Its starting to feel a bit like home which should help control these Nepali mountain goats in the coming days. Theres also a handful of fast foreigners here which are wildcards and should keep the race interesting as it always a battle trying to race over here.
Kona has a new distributor in Nepal and one of there shops, Panc bike helped sort out some last minute gear and fixed the bike. It’s great to see the Kona brand come into the Nepalese market as these guys have some perfect terrain for mountain biking and they certainly need bikes which are durable and can take a beating!
Stage 1 of the Yak Attack was a bit of a shocker today with flat tire just before the start and one at the finish. In between the body was running really hot and misfiring after feeling pretty good in the leadup. It seems the curse of the Yak Attack from 2014 is still lingering around but there’s 10 more days to go. Hopefull things will turn around and I’ll finally crush this demon. After this it’s officialy game over on what has been a solid 12 month race season starting all the way back in Costa Rica last December.
Race Results can be found here for the next 11 days of the race: Yak Attack Leader Board