Stage six was the hardest and most challenging of all the stages so far at the Mongolia Bike Challenge. It was 126kms featuring some super climbs totaling over 2,600m in elevation gain. It was also a stage that I did surprisingly well in given I don’t climb so well. I finished 11th on the Queen Stage and this was a good effort due to the number of steep gradients that were also strewn with rocks and bumpy ground.
I lost both my water bottles on the first descent immediately after the start, so I was without fluid for the first 40kms. Race organizer, Willy Molina, did give me some gulps at the top of a small climb, which I had to stop briefly for. Despite the lack of fluid and the fact the weather was a little cooler, I was able to stay with the leaders. At the first feed zone, I collected my two bottles; one of them containing the REV 3 Energy surge drink that I have been using every day. I continued riding in the lead group, which had been whittled down to just 12 riders.
I did cop some flak from some of the riders for not pulling through on the front as I was disrupting the flow by not rotating through like you normally would in a road race breakaway. My intention here was to avoid working too hard and hopefully survive longer with the leaders. I did eventually start rotating through though! Once the track got more technical, a line of riders took a bad line through some deep ruts and long grass. This enabled Canadian’s Craig Richey to attack unanswered by taking a different line. Marzio Deho, the Italian chased very hard to reel Ritchey back in. I was clinging on to the second group for my dear life going over some sharp, but short climbs and was in 9th position for a long time. I was eventually dropped by the group I was in once the first of the ‘super climbs’ hit serious gradients.
I was riding solo in 9th position for most of the climb, only to be overtaken by two riders after the two-thirds point. It was truly an epic day as I was almost seven hours in the saddle, a long time to be riding on a mountain bike. I rode through forgotten valleys that were amazingly beautiful and devoid of any sign of the outside world. It was like riding back into medieval history, witnessing the nomadic life along the way. Their only livelihood is the herds of Yak, goats and horses they own. The children came running out to greet riders as they rode by. There was a line of kids all holding up Yak cheese for those who dared to eat it. I tried some the other day and did not particularly like it.
On numerous occasions riding through the valleys I would have to yell at the Yak and goats to get out of the way. After riding through this Valley of Nomadic Life, I then faced many challenging climbs, some steeper than the first KOM climb and this was extremely taxing on the body. Once cresting the second KOM climb, it took me a few moments to catch my breath back at the last feed zone. I made sure I grabbed a big fistful of dried fruit and gulped down several small cups of Sprite to give me the sugar lift I need at this late stage of the race.
The downhill that followed was extremely treacherous and even had a river flowing down the middle of it. I made it down without any problems and continued riding on extremely rocky terrain before doing a couple more stream crossings to emerge onto a wide-open grassy valley. In the distance, I could see a Mongolian cowboy herding his Yak over the “mini” mountain pass – the climb over the bumpy grassland was extremely steep and it took all of my focus just to remain on the bike. Once over the pass, I descended into yet another magical valley and passed the Mongolian cowboys and the running Yak. There was one Mongolian clothed in full traditional winter cloak holding his horse by the trailside observing my progress.
There was still yet another climb that was impossibly steep to get over and the lead up to it was very tough, riding through boggy terrain full of Yak droppings. There was even one spot that was a mud ‘quicksand’ of Yak business. I stopped at the last river crossing before the climb to re-fill my bottle with the pure river water. The final climb was also very tough and required me to dismount halfway up and push for about 200m before getting back on to ride.
Once over the final KOM climb, it was a fast but very rocky and wet descent to the finish line but not before dismounting to splash across the river to where the camp is set up.
This Mongolia Bike Challenge is a long and arduous one but I seem to be adapting well since the first three stages that were straight from hell. I feel like I am getting stronger with each day. In a race like this, its vitally important to recover from each day with adequate rest and nutrition.
Once at the camp, riders had to wait all afternoon for their baggage and tents to arrive. The route that was raced on was also very tough on the transport trucks; the water truck broke down and the luggage truck got stuck in mud. This meant that riders had to remain in wet and muddy bike clothes without the opportunity to shower till much later. I spent a lot of time staying inside one of the vans to keep warm from the chilly wind that was blowing at 2,500m above sea level!