Insider: Mongolia Bike Challenge – Stage 5 TT

The individual time trial, the Race of Truth for those at the pointy end of the Mongolia Bike Challenge and a day to savour, replenish and relax for those of us here for the journey.

Words: Alex Malone

Photos: Paolo Martelli and Cyclist

A hard-fought battle from the back might sound like an odd result but that’s exactly how today would play out. Ryan Standish, Elijas Cervilis and Antonio Ortiz, starting in the reverse order, finishing across the line in the same positions as they sit on the general classification. Come again? Ryan first, Elijas second and Antonio in third. The gaps between each rider slightly larger than previously but with everything still to race for tomorrow across the predominantly uphill 88km stage featuring three GPM points – we’ll all suffer because of these bonuses. For Caroline Colonna, with an unassailable lead, today was to be a personal test, the numerous male scalps taken along the way further showcasing her dominance in this race.

Smiles and grimaces

Time trials are for the specialists but more specifically those who still have the energy, both physically and mentally, to push themselves against nothing but a clockwise moving hand. An individual effort with no one to follow, break the wind or sprint against, today everyone would be doing it alone. Drafting? Strictly prohibited.

The TT is a battle of the mind as much as the legs. If the legs are feeling good you’ll pass riders who have started in front. Each capture serving to fuel your motivation to push harder. It’s a satisfying sensation that unfortunately, I’m rarely afforded – such is my limited capacity against the clock. On the road, my strength has only ever come from tactical nous, reading the bunch and conditions, not horsepower. On the mountain bike, my score sheet is weighted more favourably across technical terrain. In a time trial – off or on-road – this ability is limited significantly and instead, one does what they can against the tidal wave of faster riders chasing from behind.

The Mongolia Bike Challenge TT is always run in the traditional format with a reverse starting order based around positions on the general classification. The lantern rouge is given free reign on the course and at one minute intervals riders are sent off until the rider donning the pink Santini leader’s jersey is unleashed on the field.

At 37km, the TT was long enough to shake things up. When the lights were switched off last night, the top three riders on the leaderboard – from third to first – knew a good or bad day could make the difference. Ryan would be doing everything he could to retain his grasp on the pink while the Lithuanian powerhouse Elijas would be putting his experience and outright watts per/kg to use. Antonio would be without his mini Armada but had shown zero weakness over the past two days. Both Ryan and Elijas feared him most but perhaps, the last two days of work up front would finally take their toll. Tomorrow is the final chance for any rider to make an impression on the Mongolia Bike Challenge, if that’s their objective.

Those at the front will bite down and expend every last calorie of yak’s milk, their soon twisted and contorted faces the telltale sign they want one final dose of glory. For those here for the unforgettable experience of riding across 550-odd kilometres of Mongolian steppe, their faces will beam past the horizon. The relief, overwhelming emotion and happiness of conquering one of the world’s most unique cycling events might just be worth more than that final pink Santini jersey. Maybe. It depends on who you ask.

Call it cheesy but tomorrow, every rider who crosses the line as an official finisher is a winner. No, that’s a lie. Tomorrow, cycling wins. Cycling always wins.

Kit watch

“Ooh wow! You’ve got the speed socks too!”, noted Piotr as we warmed up around the Ger Camp. Going all out in the equipment department, I duly pulled out the Redux Aero socks to match the Redux Roadsuit for today’s effort. ‘I think you need to be going 50 to get the benefits,’ I jokingly replied. “So just go 50,” said Piotr is his matter of fact Polish accent. Well, on the three occasions I managed to look at the speed during today’s stage, I was going over 50km/h. My average speed may not have suggested the need for such a wind-cheating combination but I didn’t cough up excess luggage charges at the airport simply to carry things around the Mongolian steppe. Besides, they match the suit and when in Mongolia, it’s vital to look at the part. You never know who you’re going to bump into.

Stage 5 – Results

Full results available here.

Stage 5 – Individual Time Trial – Details

Strava activity:
Heart rate TSS: 109
Distance: 37km
Time: 1:34:37 (official time)
Total ascent: 566m (more than enough!)
Average speed: 23.4km/h
Calories burned: 1,405 (MBCs version of a recovery day)
Maximum elevation: 1,508m
Average heart rate: 151bpm (sweet spot training…)
Fauna lessons: 1 (still feeling the sting of it two hours later)

Cyclist Australia/NZ