Monday, March 4, 2013

A Year of Mountain Bike Stage Racing (...or Camping)

I quit my job in the middle of 2011 and put my savings to use in a way that would make most financial advisors squirm uncomfortably…I spent a year (and most of my retirement nest egg) travelling and racing multi-day mountain bike stage races in different parts of the world.
What started off as a modest 2 month trip to the Mongolia Bike Challenge and Tour de Timor soon evolved in to something more, until a year (and a bit) later my race calendar looked something like this:

August 2011 Mongolia Bike Challenge       10 days racing
September 2011   Tour de Timor 6 days racing
October 2011   Crododile Trophy 10 days racing
March 2012   ABSA Cape Epic 8 days racing
July 2012   BC Bike Race 7 days racing
September 2012   Tour de Timor 6 days racing

If you do the maths it adds up to 47 days of stage racing over a 14-month period, with most of those nights spent in a tent in a vast array of locations ranging from the desolation of the Gobi desert to the mountain villages of Timor Leste to the tropical far north Australian outback to the wineries of South Africa’s Western Cape to the sports fields of British Columbia.

The quality of the tent accommodation varied among the races. At the Mongolia Bike Challenge, tents were provided and then riders chose whether or not to pay extra for a tent set-up and take-down service.

The Gobi Desert in Mongolia – not a tree in sight…for about the first five days!

Being wary of my finances, given that, at that time it was unclear for how long I would be without work, I didn’t take the tent set-up option and spent every morning of the race cursing that decision as other riders casually lazed around in their tents prior to the race start while I hurriedly tried to pack mine in time to make the baggage truck. While the tent quality seemed to be adequate, it was normal, each morning, to find small piles of Gobi Desert sand that had somehow forced their way inside during the fierce overnight windstorms. Needless to say, this did little to improve the indoor air quality much above what you might find inside a sand-blasting cabinet.

At the Tour de Timor, riders are responsible for bringing their own tents, which makes for some interesting accommodation given how tight international baggage allowances have become in recent times. I opted for a small dome tent but left the fly at home to save weight. It obviously worked because I managed to get on the podium a couple of times:

Although strangely, I seem to be wearing the Malaysian rider’s team-issue shorts:

That’s better.

The 2011 Crocodile Trophy was a challenge for many reasons (you can read more about that here) and the tents provided by the organisers were apparently not designed to prevent the ingress of water. This did nothing to ease the collective suffering of the competitors during the first few nights’ torrential downpour.

Despite the idyllic setting pictured above which was taken after the rain cleared, the first two stages of the 2011 Crocodile Trophy actually resembled this:

Crocodile habitat!

By the time the ABSA Cape Epic came around I figured that I’d probably already experienced the worst aspects of tent-style accommodation – sandstorms and torrential rain – and I was right because the only questionable aspect of the Cape Epic campsites was whether or not your tent was sufficiently close to the Wi-fi router so you could stream video from your tent prior to falling asleep.

I find it difficult to fall asleep without watching one of those funny cat compilation videos on the Internet. Thankfully at the Cape Epic, this wasn’t a problem. 

In Canada at the BC Bike Race, the tents were nice and fairly roomy however, unlike the Cape Epic they had to be shared with a partner, meaning that even if you did have access to the Internet (unfortunately there wasn’t much free Wi-fi to be found out in the mountains) you had to be more selective with the types of videos that you watched – strangely enough, some people just do not enjoy funny cat videos.

Make sure your tent partner shares your taste in YouTube videos before subjecting them to this kind of entertainment.

When the 2012 Tour de Timor rolled around the camping lifestyle must have started to lose its charm because myself and a few team mates ended up checking in to a hotel for a couple of nights. I use the term hotel loosely because in a remote village in a third-world country, hotel comforts are probably of a lesser standard than some people’s campsites in the developed world.

While a typical hotel in Timor Leste might look something like this:

It would seem that if you have enough money, camping can be made as comfortable as you deem necessary:

Nothing beats the “Sydney Opera House Camper Trailer” to keep the homesickness at bay.

So, if you like the idea of riding your mountain bike in exotic places and camping with hundreds of other people in small, public spaces, then why not give it a go…multi-stage adventure mountain bike racing, might just be for you.

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