From our friends on the Topeak-Ergon Team
The Mongolia Bike Challenge is a 7 day stage race covering 850km and about 12,500m of climbing (read: 528 miles and 41,000′ of climbing). It is touted as one of the top 5 hardest mountain bike stage races in the world taking place in one of the least populated places on the planet. Its capital city, Ulanbataar is the coldest capital city on Earth.
Racers faced very harsh living conditions, extremes in cold and hot temperatures, high wind, unplanned course changes and cancellations due to impassable areas, sickness, and a visually psychologically difficult course with endless, barren rolling grasslands to cover every day.
The race started a couple hours outside UlaanBataar at the Chinggis Khan Statue complex on Sept 1. The race featured a very stacked male and female field with pro racers with national and world titles.
“The race was a very tactical race. Almost every start was extremely fast. If you didn’t make the small lead group at the front, you were in trouble.” Sonya would be just off the pace of the lead group most days spending hundreds of kilometers riding alone in the wind.
“I didn’t do any road racing specific training and it showed. I could not hang with the surges and wasn’t sure that if I tried to go into the red, that I’d recover. The stages were so long in length that I was afraid to risk blowing up trying to stay with the lead pack. It cost me a lot of time every day to not make the selection.”
Sonya finished consistently in 2nd place for 6 stages to Cape Epic winner, Catherine Williamson. “I was happy to be riding strong. I had a good race and suffered greatly to hold onto my placing. It would have been nice to have the shelter of the pack and it was frustrating to dangle behind it every day knowing how much easier it would be if I could just make the group!”
The later stages of the race went a little better for Sonya. She was able to stay in the lead group for longer. “I was very happy that my power and efforts were consistent through the week. It ended up paying off. I had been sick with an upper respiratory infection since day 2 of the race, but it wasn’t seriously impacting my riding. I rode above my level and posted some of the highest power numbers for myself all year.” Stage 7 proved well for her. The last 10km of the race featured steep climbing with rutted technical descents, and she was able to overtake Catherine and take the win on the final stage.
“The living conditions of the race were the hardest part. I was just happy to survive without having to quit the race. I slept on the dirt in my sleeping bag, didn’t shower for several days (the shower was a hose pulling ice cold water out of the river!), and managed not to get the stomach sickness that was going around. The nomadic Mongolians are very tough people- living like them for just a week was insanely hard!! It was definitely an experience I won’t forget!”
Sonya Looney: 2nd place GC Pro Women, 2nd place Stages 1-6, 1st place Stage 7