What do you get when you combine mountain bikes, a 400+ km trail, 15,000 m climb, snow, ice, and crossing the highest accessible mountain pass in the world all in 11 days? Torq Yak Attack. Ranked by Mountain Bike UK Magazine as one of the five toughest mountain bike races in the world, Yak Attack completes its sixth race around the Annapurna Circuit.
Being an avid mountain biker who has lived in Nepal for the past five years, I had to participate in the 6th edition of Yak Attack. This year had the largest international field with professional and experienced recreational riders from all over the world taking part.
The race started with four hot and dusty days of back roads from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar. Some participants suffered dehydration in the intense heat that accompanied the steep, rocky roads during the long stages.
On the fifth stage that marked our entry into the mountains, Besi Sahar to Taal, the first 32 km was an undulating climb on a dusty road. The "reward" as we escaped the heat: 5 km of 100 per cent hike-a-bike, through a steep, rocky, and staircase-laden trail to the finish, a sign of what was to come.
On the 22 km from Taal to Chame the next day, we spent half the time with our bikes on our backs hiking up steep trails, and then we rode through thick mud, loose and rocky trails for the remainder of the journey.
To the joy of most riders, the trail from Chame (2,570 m) to Manang (3,540 m) widened and was almost completely bike-able. But participants had to adjust to altitude. The race had already lost three participants due to mechanical, physical and work-related issues before Chame. Stomach problems would claim two more experienced international participants before the mountains were finished.
A day of rest and acclimatisation in Manang, was followed by the two toughest stages of the race. Manang to Thorong Phedi (4,450m), while mostly ride-able, was a challenging stage that finished at an elevation of 4,400 m, a height that most of the international competitors had never been to before.
The next stage, the Yak Attack signature, was a 4 am start that had all of us carrying our bikes in the snow up to the top of Thorong La Pass. It was cold, dark, and icy as we made our way to 5,416 m. On the last stretch we were lashed by harsh winds that literally stopped racers in their tracks. While I fared well going up the pass and was in 5th place at the top, the start of the descent on the other side offered another test: a mix of trying to ride, falling, and pushing the bike down 5 km of ice and snow. It included 10 minutes of frozen pain, lying on the snow after a crash. The beautiful stretch from Muktinath to Kagbeni reminded me of what mountain biking is truly about.
As a first time participant, the heat was the most challenging. As we reached the mountains, I became stronger and had my best day crossing Thorong La. I was happy with my performance and proud of my Nepali friends who continued to do very well. Congratulations to Ajay Pandit Chhetri for winning the competition, third year in a row and Narayan Gopal Maharjan for coming in second.
Six internationals finished faster than any foreigner had ever completed the race and experienced stage racer, Peter Butt, finished third place, the first international to do so.
Yak Attack is an amazing race and challenges mountain bikers in every way: long stages, long climbs, high altitude, long hike-a-bike, demanding technical descents, and food-related troubles that can make even experienced locals suffer.
This is a race that puts Nepal on the mountain biking map. This year, the number of international competitors (20) outnumbered Nepalis (12) for the first time in the race's six year history.
Hot off Annapurna, Ajay Pandit Chhetri and Narayan Gopal Maharjan are on their way this week to compete in the Cape Epic in South Africa, the largest stage race in the world. This is a direct result of their success in Yak Attack and the support of past participant John MacGillvray. Ajay also joined the Torq Fitness UK training and racing last summer with help from the organiser, Phil Evans.
More pictures and video:
"They had wings"
"The Yak Attack is one of the most challenging races on the international circuit. The course is demanding and requires that riders are fast on their bike, but also good at carrying their bikes and can hike quickly. The range in landscape was one of my favourite aspects of the course with racing on the dusty, hot valley floor to the high alpine snow, rocks, and single track. I wasn't surprised but was still impressed with the ability of the Nepali riders. They climbed like they had wings.This race has a lot of potential for growth and will attract the type of racers that likes more than just a challenge on the bike. It'll attract those seeking true adventure."
- Sonya Looney Topeak
Ergon Racing Team
Day 1: Kathmandu to Nuwakot Bazaar (45 km, 983 m ascent)
Day 2: Nuwakot to Dhading Besi (50 km, 1,359 m ascent)
Day 3: Dhading Besi to Gorkha (56 km, 1,700 m ascent)
Day 4: Gorkha to Besi Sahar (61 km, 1,121 meter ascent)
Day 5: Besi Sahar to Taal (2,100 m) (42 km, 1,635 m ascent)
Day 6: Taal (1700 m) to Chame (2,570 m) (23 km, 1,365 m ascent)
Day 7: Chame (2570 m) to Manang (3,540 m) (30 km, 1,044 m ascent)
Day 8: Acclimatisation and Rest
Day 9: Manang (3,540 m) to Thorong Phedi (4,450 m) (17 km, 980 m ascent)
Day 10: Thorong Phedi (4,450 m) over Thorong La Pass (5,416 m) to Kagbeni (2,776 m) (28 km 1,000 meter ascent)
Day 11: Kagbeni (2,776 m) to Tatopaani (1,190 m) (67 km)
Day 12: Tatopaani to Khanyaghat (Group Ride) (35 km)
|YAK ATTACK 2012 Results|
|1||Ajay Pandit Chhetri||Nepal||25:15:44|
|4||Mangal Krishna Lama||Nepal||27:46:15|
|6||Dhanjit (Santosh) Rai||Nepal||30:20:09|
|7||Raj Kumar Shrestha||Nepal||31:35:02|
|11||China Bikram Lama||Nepal||32:37:01|
|18 ||Doug Brain||UK||36:02:56|
|27||Ajay Narsingh Rana||Nepal||45:07:18|