Insider: Mongolia Bike Challenge – Stage 6

The finale, after today, the Mongolia Bike Challenge would be done for 2018. Exhausted bodies line up at the start for one last effort across the steppe to a finish line setting that promises to leave us breathless in more ways than one.

Words: Alex Malone

Photos: Paolo Martelli and Cyclist

I won’t miss the wind. Even now, sat on the balcony of the XIII Century Ger Palace, I’m only marginally protected by the hard wood steps. My position has been chosen carefully to balance a desire for afternoon sun and minimal breeze. The flags whip violently while riders mill about packing their bikes for tomorrow morning’s three-hour journey back to Ulaanbaatar. The view showcases the thin track we followed off the last GPM of the day, down into the valley and up again to the finale of the Mongolia Bike Challenge. I can spot the mark where the 5km to go sign was driven into the hard earth. Those final moments were bizarrely met with a mix of relief and sadness.

Tomorrow, the Mongolia Bike Challenge for 2018 will be done. By early evening Saturday, I will be on my way back to Sydney, the 24-hour long trip far from a highlight but the multi-flight journey will allow plenty of time for reflection. I’ll bet a bottle of Chinggis Khan Gold that by this time tomorrow, I’d much rather trade my seat and pre-package airline meal for a few hours grinding up and down the Mongolian steppe followed by a few Khan-sized plates of pasta.

The finish of a stage race, multi-day adventure or even hard week of training is in many ways difficult to process. Relief and elation clash with the knowledge that tomorrow, things change from what has become normality. There’s a simplicity in cycling that can, in certain circumstances, conquer all. The cumulative fatigue that builds during an adventure like the MBC quietens the mind. In a world where it’s almost impossible to switch off from the surrounds of city life, cycling and more specifically journeys to remote lands you would likely never visit on holidays, draws a new sense of life into one’s soul that is almost impossible to find elsewhere.

‘Guys! Really?!’

Apologies, the smell and sound of a diesel-powered generator fired up just metres from where I’m sat has nearly tipped me over the edge. There is no hard line power out here. But I am calm, I’ve moved to another glorious spot drenched in 1700 sun. Now I’m looking at another road that disappears into the distance over another picture-perfect Windows 98 backdrop. The generator hums along, the flags overpower the noise without hesitation. This is Mongolia.

Steppe Challenge

Everyone wants to win on the last day of a bike race. Well, maybe not everyone but there’s always more than enough crazy-minded riders left in the bunch that will happily collapse across that last finish line knowing they gave it everything. That’s what were told right, ‘it’s the last day, leave nothing in the tank’. So while my attack from the gun seemed like a plan that might just work, the GC more or less sewn up, it seems that not everyone was so eager to let just any breakaway go up the road. In fact, third place Antonio Ortiz was the one to really drop the hammer up the 1km ascent immediately from the start. Antonio launched, Elijas Civilis and Ryan Standish followed and after I gave what I thought was a reasonable acceleration I was immediately blown off the hillside. With 85km and more than 1,100m of climbing to go (the majority of the climbing coming in the final 40km), I stood down, today’s reserves not quite enough to match the best merely minutes into the day.

Finally, after an hour averaging over 30km/h, a group settled in together, steadily rolling across the flats until hitting the hills – where we’d meet three GPM points. It didn’t feel like my day, the tough-going valley tracks were just too much. Sometimes, however your point of suffering can be the best time to attack. Alas, neither of my small accelerations came to anything and so it was a matter of surviving as long as I could in the group until I was alone.

The 60km mark brought an end to my time with the front, the top three again showing their class against the rest. Behind, Piotr Kozlowski valiantly fought on while Rogerio Pires and Stijn Dekeyser found comfort in working together over the final hour. At the top of each GPM I watched the front three disappear as I checked the clock, the landscape often providing more than enough distance to allow one to watch riders well ahead of your position.

Up, down, up, up, up, down and finally up. This pretty much tells the story of the final stage. Looking at the full profile, the stage essentially climbs all the way to the finish, with just a few moments of respite in between.

By the time I reached the Palace entry, Antonio had finally got his much-desired stage win, Ryan had retained his pink Santini jersey and Elijas held onto his second-place spot overall. First in 2017 and second in 2018, something tells me Elijas will be back in 2019. The same can be said for Nico Raybaud who suffered a number of untimely punctures today, his luck well and truly running out this year.

Right now, I’m not really sure of my overall position. I had my day in the sun with Nico on Stage 3 and that’s the race highlight for the week. The place in the top-10 really doesn’t mater. So now, I’m closing this laptop down for a cold beer and a walk. (I found the results sheet later. Fifth overall. That’ll do).

Kit watch

For days, I’ve looked at the fluro yellow Ace jersey and considered pulling it out. Then I remember the night’s prior stage brief. ‘It could be wet through kilometre…’ it doesn’t even matter. Mongolian mud sticks to everything like glue. The jersey is left in it’s place and instead, I ran with the Redux one final time. It’s funny how one-piece (or thereabouts) outfits have become more acceptable outside of the TT scenario. Now, we see items like the Redux Roadsuit – everything you love about a skin suit but with the benefit of pockets and a jersey you can unzip – out during the week in bunch rides. There’s a simple reason for it: they are just damn comfortable. Bib straps, often too tight or loose are gone and instead, everything is stitched together in a way that just works. Pull it on, zip up, fill your pockets and you’re away. Maybe just don’t start wearing it on your Friday recovery rides.

Stage 6 – Results

Full results available here.

Stage 6 – The finale!

Strava activity:
Heart rate TSS: 213
Distance: 85.4km
Time: 3:31:26 (Wahoo time)
Total ascent: 1,169m (completed in around 40km)
Average speed: 24.2km/h
Calories burned: 2,920 (not sure I had many left to burn)
Maximum elevation: 1,729m
Average heart rate: 144bpm
Max heart rate: 160bpm (when you’re well and truly boxed)
17th Century Ger camp finish line: 1

Cyclist Australia/NZ