The 2018 Mongolia Bike Challenge rolled out of Ulaanbaatar for the ninth time today and for the racers from 22 countries what lies ahead is a journey across some of the most magnificent landscapes on earth - over 600 km and more than 9,300 metres of climbing through the wilds of Central Mongolia and the land of the mighty Genghis Khan.
The first stage was a 105 km marathon from Ulaanbaatar to the Geo Mandal Ger Camp in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. With almost 2,000 metres of climbing on the menu, the peloton settled into a steady pace from the outset.
Early on a lead group of 13 riders containing all the Khan racers as well as some Master and Sports class competitors broke away. It reduced to nine riders on approach to the first Grand Prix Mountain (GPM), which offered time bonuses to the top three across. There, in a decisive move, American Ryan Standish took the first GPM title ahead of Elijus Civilis the title defender from Lithuania and Frenchman Nicolas Raybaud.
After a rocky descent, this trio attacked with Antonio Ortiz from Spain, Piotr Kozlowski from Poland and Australian Alex Malone hot on the chase. The fierce chasing unfortunately resulted in a flat tyre for Malone while Ortiz and Kozlowski caught up with the lead group.
After a tough battle and several strong attacks by Raybaud and Standish, Civilis claimed the first stage in a sprint finish by one second in 4h09:28 against the Australian-born cross-country and marathon specialist from the USA, Standish who grabbed the race lead after his GPM time bonus.
“I’m used to short races where you arrive on Friday and practice the course," Standish said. "Race Saturday and Sunday, then leave straight away, so I am really enjoying this experience. It’s great to see more of a country and really get to know the other competitors!”
With a gap of 35 seconds, Raybaud crossed the line in third place, arriving in a group of three with Master 1 racer Kozlowski (+37 sec) who placed fourth overall and won his category. In the Khans, Ortiz placed fifth overall (+40 sec) and fourth in the category and Alex Malone from Australia was the fifth Khan across the line, finishing in 7th place overall (+18:11).
In the women’s category, Caroline Colonna from the USA came in first clocking 5h38:37 for a top 30 spot overall. The XTERRA Pro only this year decided to focus on mountain bike stage racing and said she was looking forward to this completely new experience. In second was the German Brigitte Jenkner (+23:49) ahead of the Australians Pippa Bell (+69:55) and Melissa Roberts (+69:56).
The competitors and crew are now resting in the comfortable Ger Camp set-up and enjoying this magical spot beneath the starry skies of Central Mongolia ahead of tomorrow’s Queen Stage. With 120 km and 2,750 vertical metres it will demand everything of the riders before they return back to the Geo Mandal Ger Camp for the second night.