Unfortunately and often to my own detriment, I am a fiercely competitive and stubborn person. Happy to admit this. So telling myself to take it easy, just get through these first few days of Mongolia Bike Challenge with minimum effort, that was a hard thing for me. But I agreed with what others were telling me and faced with the only other option of not starting the race at all… well that wasn’t an option!
As we were speeding away from the larger than life stainless steel Genghis Khan statue, my ‘race autopilot’ took over. Vying for wheels, trying to get a good position, hanging onto that front bunch. God they were going fast!
Needless to say, by the first hill I was in no-man’s-land: dropped off the back of the fast bunch, overtaken by a few other smaller groups, but ahead of the back markers. My heart rate was high. By myself with no vans or other noises about, I could hear my heart pounding like it was going to explode out of my chest. At the top of the second hill I was wheezing and gasping for air, in between coughing up chunks of gunk. Not even 50km had ticked over yet…far out, this is going to kill me.
These were not hills, these were mountains! But at the top of each climb, from what felt like being up in the clouds, the views were spectacular. The scenery throughout the day was so varied; vast open plains, huge grassy hills, rocky peaks with crazy-fast descents. The sections of spruce and pine trees offered some respite from the hot sun, but they were vary rare. We learned later on in our travels that only about 9% of Mongolia is forested.
That day turned out to be super hot and a lot of people got cramps and dehydration. I rode by myself a lot towards the end but made good friends with a few of Spaniards, including the lovely Caterina, who I ended up riding with for the first three stages.
A fellow racer described the stage perfectly “That was not a welcome to Mongolia hug, it was a slap in the face”. Ouch! The relentless hills were tufts of grass that made climbing bumpy and slow. A lot of the hills finished with a steep pinch that meant walking was the only option. My garmin recorded 120km and 2500m of climbing in 7 hours. Nearly double the scorching time set by Cory Wallace.
Immediately after I finished I went to our Ger. Sitting on the floor, all covered in mud and cow shit, quite dehydrated and completely shattered, I questioned my ability to actually ride my bike the next day. I certainly hadn’t expected the terrain to be so physical and demanding.
Thankfully, starting early in the mornings meant we had the afternoon to debrief, shower, clean bikes, refill water bottles for the next day and eat. Did I mention eat? This week was going to be a race of attrition, and even just lining up to start the next day meant eating eating eating! By the time I crawled into bed I was feeling satisfied. I made it through day one and I was still alive.
I reckoned that the next morning would be it, the make or break. I was either going to wake up horridly sick and unable to race, or my body will have gone through the recognition phase and accepted that yep, this was happening so better get used to it. Sunrise would tell.
Strava file for Stage 1 – http://app.strava.com/activities/82240872
Most pictures © Erik Peterson, others by and The Seb