Roo Fowler Heads To The Himalayas To Tackle The 1,000m+ Climbs Of The World's Highest Stage Race.
SOME NINE YEARS ago I was flicking through the pages of MBUK when I stumbled across some amazing images of incredibly high snowy peaks set beneath impossibly dark blue skies. The words ‘Yak Attack!’ stared out at me from the page. It all looked and sounded so exotic, it drew me in, and I began to read. That feature planted a seed in my head. It sounded like the ultimate adventure – a multi-day stage race through the highest mountains in the world.
After bugging me for nearly a decade, the seed finally sprouted. Months of preparation and two days of travelling later, I’m astride my bike in Besisahar, deep in Nepal and around 850m above sea level, nervously awaiting the start of the race. Today’s stage is just a warm-up – 33km and 1,200m of climbing, with one main up and one main down – and while I can see snowy peaks, they seem far away. For now, the scenery is mainly rice terraces. It’s an unremarkable start – that is, until we drop off an open ridgeline, not dissimilar to something you’d find in the Lake District, and find ourselves teetering along rocky ledges with water pouring over us and vines hanging around – instant rainforest! Further down, as we slide round tight hairpins on greasy singletrack, there’s a clearing where a stunning 100ft waterfall cascades into a deep green pool. No big deal here, just part of the scenery!
The next day we start the race proper. It’s a monster of a stage, with over 70km to ride and nearly 3,000m of elevation to be gained. Two phrases coined by the race organisers at the previous night’s briefing come back to haunt us today – “updulating” and “Nepali flat”. “Updulating” terrain includes some downhill gradients but heads inexorably upwards, while “Nepali flat” describes the way mere hills seem to get overlooked out here, when the highest mountains on Earth are lurking in the background. The bumpy 4x4 track we’re following is relentless. Every now and then the road is paved with cobbles, which try to stall us with each pedal stroke and bounce us around on our saddles.
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