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Holger Schaarschmidt about the Hero MTB Himalaya race

Two years ago I was able to meet the mountain biker, adventurer and world traveller Holger Schaarschmidt during the Hero MTB Himalaya. Holger did not only have a very friendly appearance, but was even able to finish the race with a terrific 5th place. So that race enthusiasts get an idea of the nine-day race in the Indian Himalayas not only from my point of view as a “hobby mountain biker”, but also from a professional viewpoint, there is an Interwiev with Holger. For everyone interested in the race Chalo!Travels offers all-round carefree package including a three-day trekking tour and a visit to the Taj Mahal.

Hello Holger, can you introduce yourself briefly?

My name is Holger Schaarschmidt. I was born and raised in the west of Saxony, more precisely in the Muldental, the valley of the castles. There were hills, but no mountains.. Nevertheless, since my earliest childhood I have discovered the freedom and independence that mountain biking offers me and explored every hill and valley by bike.

In my early twenties, I decided to take a generally accepted serious life path. Studied supply and environmental technology and became a graduate engineer with an office job. The compensation was made with extensive bike tours, punk rock concerts and some trips. I quickly realized that I was missing out on something. A part-time job with the bike tour operator ULP Tours should initially offer compensation. The beginning of a nomadic life. I had found a job where I could share my passion for being outside and sharing it with other people and conveying the joy of it. The serious job as a planning engineer was soon terminated, the flat in Leipzig was vacated and the plan for the winter season was already made:  I would work as Ski and snowboard instructor. The optimal combination. For 8 years now I have been working as a guide for mountain bike tours in summer and as a ski and snowboard instructor in winter. Since I can freely organise my work, there is a lot of free time. My dream of discovering the world by bike came true. Again and again I take a break for several weeks or months to discover the most diverse regions of the world. I have already travelled by bike through Europe, China and Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Andes in Peru and Bolivia, and on a trip through Central America. An absolute highlight in my life, although not a typical cycling trip, was the MTB-Himalaya race in northern India!

You were quite far ahead in the Hero MTB Himalaya race, overall on 5th place and once even 3rd place in a stage. How did you prepare for the race and what kind of training do you recommend for race participants?

Difficult to answer. In my job, I sit on the bike every day and train my basic endurance all the time. If you can set it up in any way, you should daily commute by cycle to work in every wind and weather. Ride altitude meters and train your bike handling skills to become confident. The trails are sometimes challenging and a fall in India’s mountains will be more consequential than, for example, in the Alps, where the rescue is perfectly organized. But don’t forget balancing sports! Go running, best trail running, do  strength endurance training, no matterwhat, but it should keep you moving.

How is the MTB Himalaya race different from the Bike Transalp or other races you have participated in?

The main difference is mainly the friendly environment. Every participant is the same – whether you are a professional or a hobby cyclist. You sleep in the tent every night. The food is madness! Delicious regional dishes are prepared for each meal. The farmers of the respective stage location supply the ingredients. An equally strong support team is available for about 80 cyclist. Everyone knows everyone. Both in the field of cyclist and among the helpers. The competitive behaviour in the race was also different from, for example, a Transalp or Trans-Black Forest. Although all participants gave everything, there were not the typical scrambles. Of course, this is also due to the narrow  field of participants. The whole environment is very personal. You come as a participant and go as a friend or part of the family.

You mountainbike a lot in the Alps. Can you briefly highlight for the readers the differences of mountain biking in the Alps and the Indian Himalayas (landscape, routes, level, infrastructure, etc.)

The first obvious difference is culture. Other people, different ways of life, different architecture, rural poverty, a different understanding of how to deal with the environment. The most striking thing for the European participants will be the rubbish that is ubiquitous and, of course, the huge gap in the wealth of rural populations compares to the centres of cities. The difference between biking in the Alps and the Himalayas is not huge. An old mule trail or connecting path between two mountain villages looks the same in the Alps as in the Himalayas. Surprisingly, even partly the vegetation in the high altitudes resembles. Extensive pine forests are reminiscent of regions of the Alps. The Wildlife… Instead of marmots, monkeys jump across the streets and in the valley stalwarts you have everything from arid cactus and shrub landscapes to the humid tropical rainforest. Including the singing of birds in the trees, bright colors and the scent of moist humus and forest. Furthermore, most Alpine valleys are rather narrow and the peaks rugged. The region of the race has many wide valleys.

You can’t really compare the infrastructure. The Alps are the best tourist-developed mountain region in the world. No matter where you go, in more or less close proximity there are huts that supply tourists or villages with supply options. In India, this does not exist in this form.

What did you particularly like about Hero MTB Himalaya?

The family environment, the interesting culture, friendly people, the varied route, beautiful trails and the camp… luckily we only had great weather.

What did you have your biggest troubles with?

No idea… actually only with the procurement of spare parts… but you are good at improvising here… therefore, it is important to bring enough material before the race… i.e. tubes. That’s where I had the biggest wear and tear.

How were your experiences regarding changing camps during the race How did you cope with the overnight stay in the tent, shower tents etc.?

Leisure hours in the camp

Super. I often reached therein before the camp-building team. Nevertheless, the camp support team and nice food was already tehre. In the meantime, people have stretched out and exchanged ideas with the locals or the pupils and teachers of the local schools. Those who expect luxury will surely be disappointed in the camps. If you are looking for an authentic experience, you are in the right place.

What special preparations does it require for a mountain bike trip/race to India (vaccinations, luggage)

Information on the necessary vaccinations can be obtained from the Tropical Institute or the Foreign Office. If you travel a lot, you should already be well prepared. In order to be able to drink water everywhere without worry, take some water purification tablets with you. Otherwise, the transport of bikes is somewhat planning intensive. When transporting it by bus, check whether the bike is stored properly. It is best to transport it in a shipping carton or bike travel suitcase. This avoids possible defects.

Your best moment during the race/trip in India?

The encounters with people away from the race. The small explorations through the places and the nearby mountains in the sunset and the view from the tranquility to the colorful bustle in the camp.

How did you like India as a travel country? Are you interested to come back and if so, where will you be drawn?

I do not understand the question 😉 Of course I will be back. This is not just a race, it is more a meeting with friends for biking in a wonderful country. Where? Well… I just don’t like the extreme heat… therefore only in the mountains … to North India.