It wasn’t my first time riding the trails of Cappadocia in central Turkey. In fact, in recent years I’ve become somewhat addicted to the amazing landscape and culture of this lunar like slice of Middle Earth - not to mention its world class mountain biking.
This was just a few weeks back, and I’d managed to score a trip to the annual Salcano Cappadocia Cycling Festival; something I’d been hoping to do ever since my first visit here three years earlier.
The Cappadocia region lies in Central Turkey, far from any recent woes, and is seemingly light years away from just about anywhere else in the accessible world.
Eye popping lunar like desert landscapes fractured by lush green valleys and topped with fairy tail rock pillars is how it rocks and rolls here. Many of these pillars come with ancient cave dwellings carved into them, and they all combine to make Cappadocia truly otherworldly.
This, naturally, conspires perfectly to make for top shelf mountain biking. All are naturally evolved trails that not only blow your adrenaline valves, but which have the jaw-dropping backdrop to match – and I’m not exaggerating. Garnish this with a mountain bike stage race and as you might imagine you end up with something truly special, quite unlike any other race out there.
Racing in the area has been taking palace since 2007, when the European Championships took place in these hallowed valleys. The festival and accompanying stage race followed on shortly afterwards, with the same precision organisation, but with a distinctly old school relaxed feel to it, This is not just for the elite, it’s all about the ride too, and riders come in all shapes and sizes and from all corners of Eurasia and beyond just to taste this magic trail mix.
Racing was not on the cards for me; I was along to do some leisurely riding and shoot the race, and so followed most of the stages by bike and with cameras on my back, and then flew solo for a few days.
An urban eliminator race kicked off the 4-day UCI ranked race, and took place on the historic pathways around the hilltop castle of Uchisar, a huge structure painstakingly carved into a rock outcrop.
A time trial around the neighbouring Pigeon Valley followed on before a superbly technical marathon stage to the famous Fairy Chimneys of Love Valley. Competition finished up with a tough cross-country stage around the steep and loose trails surrounding Uchisar.
Sure enough the racing was hot, dusty and really hilly, but for most the reward came in the form of simply riding these trails through such a unique landscape, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There can’t be too many places around where you can legally do this.
Aside from the racing there was also a multi-day leisure ride taking place, which runs separately and is fully guided and supported. I was too wrapped up in chasing racers to ease off and smell the local olives with the “easy riders,” maybe next time.
For all of Turkeys recent troubles, I can’t say that I ever felt a hint of anything other than a huge welcome and safety.
There are many great mountain bike stage races around these days, but most require you to find a teammate, invest a not too small sum to ride, and of course to get yourself into better shape than you’ve probably ever been in – and that’s just to survive the ride.
Here, that’s not the case; it’s a refreshing step back to a time where mountain bike racing didn’t require you to melt the credit cards, when things were not just about the racing, but more about the ride and camaraderie.
As one Iranian rider said to me (with a jaw splitting grin); “I think God created Cappadocia for mountain biking.” It’s hard to argue with that, and this is an event that just about any level of regular rider can be a part of, and come away with a great personal return. The riding here is second to none.