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The world’s third toughest mountain bike race: MTB Himalaya in India

A report by the participant Sarah Appelt

(more information about the Hero MTB Himalaya race)

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A Total of 9 days, 7 race days, 630 km, 15000 meters of altitude, 68 participants. These are the facts of the 11th Hero MTB Himalaya, which was held on from September 26th till Oktober 4th 2015.

But these facts do not nearly describe the emotional and challenging race over the remote mountain ranges of the Indian Himalayas.

Small traditional villages, steep paths, rushing waterfalls, dense forests and waving children at the edge of the path were daily companions on the sometimes 100 km long open-day routes, during which on average of more than 2000 metres of altitude had to be overcome. Over small single trails, muddy forest roads and stony paths we were ashamed up and down and had to climb one or the other mountain pass.

MTB Himalaya

The race was a big challenge for almost every of the 68 participants, who were a colorful mix of professionals, amateurs and former professional racers, such as Reinmund Dietzen.

In the meantime, the multi-day race is no longer an insider’s tip and interested and talented riders from all over the world have found their way to India this year, not only to compete, but above all to experience the unique experience of a multi-day tour in the still largely unknown part of the Himalayas.

This year there were 44 foreign participants from 12 different nations, with Portugal, Spain, Germany, Nepal and the Netherlands particularly strongly represented.

In addition to many “normal” mountain bikers, whose hobby is to ride races of several days around the world, there were also “big names”. Catherine Williamson from England , Luis Leao Pinto and Ilda Perreira from Portugal, Pau Zamora from Spain and Andi Seewald and Reimund Dietzen from Germany are all successful mountain bikers who have ridden and won many international races.

Das Spitzenteam mit Luis Pinto und Andi Seewald

The leaders  Luis Pinto and Andi Seewald

Among the more or less experienced mountain bikers, I belonged as well.  I was clearly one of the less experienced, it was my first big bike race ever.

As an organizer for trekking, climbing and mountain biking tours in India, I have been commuting back and forth between Germany and India for 5 years now. Staying in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, I spend much time in India and have been playing with the idea of participating in the racefor years, but due to time and financial reasons I have never been able to do so. The organizers also tried to motivate me to participate in order to make mountain bike sport in India more popular among women. After all, we had seven female participants this year, but only one Indian at the start. So in 2015 I was actually one of these seven and I would like to describe my experiences and impressions of the race in the form of smaller diary entries.

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Reimund Dietzen, former Tour de France participant and two-time winner of the master category of the MTB Himalaya race

26.09.2015, Day 1 Registration day

Arrival in Shimla, starting place of the race and capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. As the former summer capital of the British, the small town at an altitude of 2000 m has retained its British charm and a steady stream of Indian tourists visits Shimla especially in the summer months, due to the pleasant cool temperatures.

Shimla

Shimla

It was the first time everI got here. However, I did not get much from the city itself, because I went directly to the hotel, which the organizer Hastpa had booked for the first and last night of the race.

The East Bourne Hotel is a very comfortable seminar hotel with cozy rooms and a great terrace.

I was already very nervous, but was received nicely by the organizers and got my welcome package with start number, chip, jersey, backpack and tour profile. As I slowly scrolled through the daily profiles of the daily stages, my assumption that this race was going to be a challenge was confirmed: steep downhills and ascents, long daily distances, many meters of altitude to climb and everything on dirt roads and trails!

Ein hartes Rennen mit täglich bis zu 3000 Höhenmetern

A tough race with daily altitude  of up to 3000 metres

Although I consider myself to be relatively fit (I just came back from a multi-day Manali-Leh Highway Mountain Bike Tour, which covered several 5000 meters of passes), but even at the sight of the bikes of the other participants, I quickly realized that I was a bit naive with my Trek 4500. All other mountain bikes had light carbon frames, 29 wheels to get better  over loose debris, clip pedals, thick tire profiles and often a full suspension. Great!

Mein Trek 4500- ein tolles Fahrrad, aber doch nicht ganz den Ansprüchen des MTB Himalaya Rennens genügend

My Trek 4500- a great bike, but not quite enough to meet the demands of the MTB Himalaya race

Nevertheless, I remained confident. My goal was not to be at the front, but to keep up and test my training condition and to have a good time with other mountain bikers. The latter, in particular, seemed realistic and promising.

Even my roommate Laxmi from Nepal was very nice and right at dinner I befriended Andi Seewald and his mechanic Radl Rasti. Andi had set his goals high and announced that he wanted to win the race, although it would also  be the first multi-day stage race for him. With Rasti I could immediately agree, that he would also have an eye on my bike from time to time, because apart from a tube change I didn’t really know about repairs! What luck!

Laxmi, Teinehmerin aus Nepal, eine gute Freundin und Drittplazierte!

Laxmi, a participant from Nepal, a good friend and third place!

We enjoyed the delicious dinner buffet, consisting of Indian and continental delicacies. Then another German joined us: Hinrich lives in Delhi and works there as a manager for the great Hero bicycle entrepreneur, who is also the main sponsor of the race.

Hinrich should be a good support and friend for me in the next few days.

27.09.2015 Day 2 Shimla- Gadakuffar 56 miles

MTB Himalaya

An early breakfast at 6:30 am, because at 8:00 am it was called flag off to the 16 km away official start. Even 16 km can be long, especially if it goes up and down, so that I wouldn’t have mind a second breakfast at the actual flag off!

In a group of 5 we started the race with a steep slope with a lot of loose debris and partly also on a narrow path. Just as steep as it went down, it went up again. So steep that some even pushed. I kept myself brave on my bike and was happy when a 20 km long flatter piece followed. Now I was all alone. I hadn’t really imagined that! We were a total of 70 participants and now I had the whole route for hours to myself?

The first hunger was announced and I approved a bar. I was not used to riding such long distances without proper breaks, I had to get used to intake calories regularly with high-calorie bars and drinks during the next few days. The way I managed today, was not so good! I was totally hungry, stupidly missed the first meal point (I didn’t want to waste any time) and then longed very much for the 2nd food point. But it should bcome quite late, after a few more ascents and descents. Quickly I ate 2 bananas and took an energy drink, then went on for the last 20 km, which lasted forever!!! After a total of 86 km and 5 1/2 hours I reached the camp again completely starved, dirty and exhausted! I had a faint foreboding what to expect in the next few days, because today it had been one of the shorter routes!!

The camp I looked down on from the finish line was a dream: on a green clearing stood neatly lined up blue-lit tents. When I finally reached the camp, I was happy about my little single tent with thick air matress, a hot shower in the shower tent and delicious snacks from the dining tent.

The snacks, consisting of scrambled eggs, Indian pakora (fried vegetables), baked chicken and popcorn with a hot Indian tea, quickly strengthened me. It was comfortable in the camp and during the dinner I finally got in touch with the other riders, some of whom had been in the camp  2 hours before me. Two Portuguese came up to me and were quite amazed that I had even made it to the finish with my bike, the English top rider Catherine showed me the camp and with Hinrich, who reached even later than me,we cried about our physical pain, which unfortunately was not limited to our legs.

Das Camp

The Camp

After the dinner, then quickly the evaluation of the day and off we went to the cozy tent. I fell asleep immediately.

28.09. 2015 Day 3 Gaddakuffar- Khegsu 107 km

MTB Himalaya

I wasn’t doing well that morning. My body was still nor recovered from yesterday, we had to get up early and I was in a bad mood. But after a good breakfast and some oil on the chain of my cleaned bike, which Rasti had taken care of the last evening (he had to attach new brake pads), the world looked little better again.

In fact, I also had a pretty good start on a simple climb, which then went into a rather rickety descent with single trails, on which I was very slow and had to walk partly. I didn’t see most bikers anymore!

MTB Himalaya

So I was alone again and so it should be for the next 6 hours.

On the next steep climb up to Narkanda, a ski station, I was able to catch up a bit. Riding mountains uphill I was just better at!

I enjoyed a gentle descent over grass and moss and then I went down on a small road. I passed many smaller villages with friendly children who even offered me apples! Sorry, but unfortunately there was no time for that!

This time I ate bars, chocolates and bananas from the beginning onwards. Surprising what all one can eat while sitting on the saddle for hours! It went again steeply uphill for the second round high up to Narkanda. The 8 km flatter route through the forest simply did not end. Then finally, the road came into view and with it I went down to the Satluj River on a 30 km long descent. Unfortunately I am not a friend of downhill friend and so I suffered big time during the jerky descent over a lot of loose rock and was also not really fast. My suspension wasn’t the best and the smaller climbs in between didn’t make it any easier!

When I finally reached the finish after 97 km, I was completly exhausted and at the thought of the next day, I had great doubts if I would make the race at all! After all, tomorrow was supposed to be the toughest day of the race and my energy was already gone today!

Ich bin total erschöpft, als ich das Camp erreiche

I was totally exhausted when I reached the camp

I even had to torment myself for the last 10 km of freeride to the camp. In total, it took me almost 8 hours. 8 hours pure riding time – only with short eating and toilet stops, I really wasn’t used to that!

Arriving at the camp, I just gave up my bike and rushed to lunch, a hot shower and then snacks. The days here seemed to consist only of riding, eating and sleeping.

I regretted having arrived so late in the camp, because the camp time was the most fun time of the day. It was good to talk to the riders, chat and laugh.

Unfortunately, the mood this afternoon was somewhat depressed: two drivers crashed badly. One with a broken shoulder, the other had broken his hip. I saw him being taken away by ambulance.

Critical voices from the ranks of the professionals arose. They, too, clearly found the stage too long, resulting in inconcentration.

I was a little relieved that not only the days on the saddle were too long for me, but also for the professionals, who actuall< arrived a few hours ahead of me. I was proud that I had mastered the day and, like everyone else, I took an even more cautious riding style for the next few days. If that is even possible.

My body hurt like hell. Interestingly, more my arms, wrists, neck and back wer aching, than the legs. How good that we had a team of physiotherapists with us, and so I enjoyed a full-body press massage. Good night.

29.09.2015 Day 4 Khegsu- Kullu Saharan 106 km

MTB Himalaya

Due to the critical voices and the injuries the dy before, the actual “King’s Stage” was shortened by 25 km, making it one of the easier stages of the whole race!

Amazingly, today became my strongest, despite the two days before.

The shortening of the route motivated me and also tomorrow’s rest day.

For 25 km uphill on asphalted road I kept up well, then came smaller descents, but also mostly asphalted, so that I could roll down well. This time I stopped at every single feed station: bananas, sandwiches, eggs: I needed energy!

Für Catherine aus England, der finalen Siegerin, geht es durch die Kornfelder hoch ins Dorf Saharan

For Catherine from England, the female winner, it went through the fields up to the village of Saharan

The last 14 km up to Kullu Saharan, a small culturally rich village, were brutal. It became very steep and very rocky, so that it could not be avoided even to get off teh bike time to time. I wasn’t faster than 3-4 hours per kilometer and I just didn’t seem to move. But even the longest climb came to an end. After two hours uphill I finally reached the finish and a nice camp up at 2200 m. At just under 7 hours I was in the good midfield this time and even made it to lunch.

Today everyone was a little more exuberant, because we had a rest day ahead of us. A quick massage and later  dinner, then off to the bed. I was extremly tired and just had to close my eyes to sink into a dreamless sleep! Good night!

30.09.2015 Day 5 Rest Day

I took the term “rest day” seriously and left the bike standing. Other race participants actually swung on the bike for a few hours or took walks. I couldn’t and didn’t want to!

My day consisted of a lot of sleep, food, good conversations and washing. I had to be washed, my bike and also my laundry. The day was pretty well filled!

Andi und Hinrich stärken sich für den nächsten Tag

Andi and Hinrich strengthening themselves for the next day

Also I used the afternoon for some yoga and I also found the company of some Indian village children, who eagerly stretched along with me.

1.10.2015 Day 6

Kullu Sarahan- Bahu 101 km

MTB Himalaya

Another long stage, which began with the 14 km long rickety descent from Kullu Sarahan. Great. Although Rasti had done something with my suspension, I still tormented myself over the stones and was the last to reach the end of the descent. Well, I had a good catch-up now and I did. 60% of today’s route was equal to the route of the previous day, so a lot of asphalt and a lot of uphill.. In between, challenging descents continued until the last 10 km long ascent. The day was over 7 hours long , but it had been a good day for me. Nevertheless, I was exhausted and had to disappear quickly into the tent after dinner, because I just couldn’t stop my eyes from closing!

Die gemütlichen Zelte laden zum ausruhen ein- ich habe sie leider nie lange bei Tageslicht gesehen

The cozy tents invite for rest – I have unfortunately never seen them for long in daylight

02.10.2015 Bahu- Gada Gushaini 50.5 miles

MTB Himalaya

Despite the “only” 80 km, today was one of the hardest racing days.

All of the riders were particularly nervous in the morning and tried to prepare for the day with extra energy in the form of gels and electrolytes.

Today it should go to the Jalori Pass at 3010 meters, the highest point of the race. Almost 3000 metres of altitude had to be covered today!

Am höchsten Punkt der Tour: Wir haben 15 min Zeit um den Tempel zu besuchen

At the highest point of the tour: We have 15 min to visit the temple

The climb was very steep and accordingly very slow. In between, a loop was installed, where it went on narrow paths through a dense forest. For me again rather a sliding passage, which also cost me time. Would I be able to finish today before the time limit at 6 pm? I did everything I could.

The last 4 km up to the pass were particularly steep. Although I was on the saddle, pushing the bike might have gone faster.

Trotz der Anstrengung- die Landschaft ist überweltigend

Despite the effort- the landscape is super-worldly

Then a 10 km long descent and, to the chagrin of all riders, another 20 km uphill! Oh no. I was at the end and was struggling to stay on the bike and finally reached the camp at 5:30! Yes! Just before nightfall and before the time limit!

With over 8:30 hours of riding time, my longest day to date. Due to these long days on the saddle, unfortunately my hours in the camp and thus also my regeneration time for the next day shortened. I was looking forward to the end of the race.

Of course, I didn’t get to see much from the top riders. Pintu, Andi and Pau road head-to-head every day, with the Portuguese Pintu always able to finish with the day’s victory. Among the women, Catherine remained ahead, with a great distance to Ilda and the Nepalese Laxmi. I was in fourth place, because the other participants had to drop out of the race.

03.10.2015 Gada Gushaini-Chindi 65 miles

MTB Himalaya

I didn’t want anymore! Please don’t get me wrong: the race was great! I enjoyed being here, everything is super organized, great scenery, delicious food and impressive people who became good friends. But the race days are just too long for me. My energy is gone.

Nevertheless, I sat down on my bike again this morning, but I was quite unmotivated: again almost 100 km.

MTB Himalaya

And these 100 km stretched. Especially for me, I’m also slow when it goes downhill!

At the first loop, where it goes 10 km uphill and 10 km downhill (again very steep), the first riders came already from the opposite direction, whereas I was just about to start the loop!

But my will power is strong and I can torment myself. Again it was a lonely day and this time even my longest: 9:30 hours of pureriding time. Only shortly after 6 pm I was the last to roll to the finish line! The other riders were either ahead of me or dropped out of the race.

In fact, the race marshals tried to redirect me on a shorter route. But I refused: I was going through this now till the end! And I also made it, even though the last 5 km were again very, very steep and tedious!

04.10.2015 Chindi- Shimla 43.5 miles

MTB Himalaya

Ok. One last time tormenting. I can do that. Luckily it went almost 50 km downhill, so for the first 3 hours I was almost rolling down on a good road. Then, of course, came a 20 km hammer ascent through dense forest and very loose ground. But what’s the point? Only a few kilometers left and the race is done!

Meanwhile, my buttocks were already hurting. I just couldn’t sit anymore.

When I finally rolled to the finish i was overjoyed! Wow. I had made it, had shown enough willpower and endured this race! I never thought in advance that the race would be so exhausting. One of the biggest sporting challenges of my life!

Einfahrt ins Ziel- Einen weiteren tag überstanden

Entry to the finish – Survived another day

But also a mad event that I will not forget so quickly! I have made good friends from all over the world, learned a lot about mountain biking and also learned a little more about myself!

I was looking forward to the night in a soft bed, a long shower and the last relaxing evening with the whole team, consisting of organizers and participants.

SO sehen SIeger aus

The winners

Not much has changed in the placement. Pintu came to the podium in front of Andi and Pau. Among the women it was Chatherine, Ilda and Laxmi.

In the Master category, the German Reimund Dietzen made it for the second time in a row, ahead of the Italian Balboni and the Spaniard Falco.

I myself am one of the four women who have made the race.

In total, only 40 participants out of 68 have come through the race. I was on 36 th position.

Next year I will be back, but then with another bike!

Read the race report of MTB Himalaya 2016. Here I was already in a better shape!

Here a comparison of the Bike Transalp and MTB Himalaya.

Chalo!Travels organises an All inclusive ” Race Package” with a Mini-India Trip at the end.