With a total elevation gain of more than 15,000 metres and a full ride of approximately 650 km, the $16,000 MTB Himalaya is definitely one of the toughest mountain bicycle races in the world.The cross-country endurance race, in its 11th edition and being held from September 27 to October 4, is a seven-stage event which sees cyclists run through off-road tracks, broken tarmac, gravel, rocks, mud, sand, silt, water streams and moving traffic among many other obstacles.On top of that, riders have to overcome the challenge the mighty Himalayas pose before them before they can go home and say that they have conquered the world’s highest mountain range."I have raced in Mongolia, South Africa, Oman, Morocco but this is totally different. There is a lot more climbing, you get to see beautiful places, small towns, and it feels good that I am racing in the Himalayas," Spaniard Jep Gonzalez, who is racing in the Masters Solo category, told IANS.“When I go back and tell them that I have raced in the Himalayas, they will be like ooh! Really! Wow! European mountains are nothing compared to the altitude here.
”The race starts and concludes at The Ridge in Shimla but takes the bikers through the country side of Himachal Pradesh with several snow covered peaks, waterfalls, lush green meadows to view.“The race is very, very tough. The altitude makes it difficult. The stages have amazing climbs which you don’t get to experience in other parts of the world,” 36-year-old Luis Pinto, who hails from Portugal and is the top seed here, told IANS.There are four categories of participants -- Men’s Solo, Women’s Solo, Masters Solo (40 years and above) and Team of Two. The winners, who take the least amount of time to complete the seven stages in total, of all categories receive prize money with the Overall winner taking the cherry on the cake.“It is definitely tough. The climb is extremely difficult. Plus the track is very bumpy. The cliffs, the turns make it extremely hard. It is very challenging but at the same time it is very adventurous. I am here for that and to see the beautiful countryside,” 24-year-old Andi Seewald of Germany, who is Pinto’s toughest competitor in Men’s Solo and Overall title, opined.
The race starts from Shimla with night halts in camps at Gada-Kuffer, Khegsu, Kullu Sarahan, Bahu, Gada Kushaini, Luhri before returning to the state capital for the finish line. The bikers also travel through the Jalori Pass, the highest point of the race at 3,250 metres above sea level.This time the organisers, Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), received 88 entries from 15 countries, a number which is annually growing because of the appeal of the Himalayas.“The altitude makes a big difference. The track is easy. In Europe, you don’t have such great heights. It is just spectacular,” another Spaniard, Marcel Farris, 47, pointed out.Hero Cycles are the title sponsors of the event.