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Rolling out

Images from the SRMR Instagram feed showing riders massing for the start at 09:00 in Bishkek this morning

Silk Road Mountain Race: Riders to watch.

Who’s going to win the first edition of the Silk Road Mountain Race?

Ultimately, we don't know. But we do know that the winner is certainly going to be an experienced rider, good at riding off road, used to riding at altitude, and good at looking after themselves.

Of the 96 riders pencilled in to line up at the start line in Bishkek there are a few riders who stand out.

Jay Petervary, from the USA, stands out as a favourite. Jay lives high up in Idaho, so will certainly be acclimatised to the altitude. But more than that Jay is a survivor. He has won the Tour Divide, Italy Divide, the Arrowhead 135 snow race and the Iditabike race across Alaska in the winter. He is extremely experienced in wilderness riding and will be very well prepared for all eventualities. He'll be strong and consistent, and this will pay off in the quest for victory.

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Lee Craigie, from the Uk, is also vastly experienced with remote off-road bike packing trips. She has already spent time in Kyrgyzstan prior to the race so should already be well acclimatised to the altitude. She is a highly skilled mountain biker, representing the Uk and Scotland in major championships, plus has ridden the Highland trail 550. Lee is certainly one to watch.

Another standout name has to that of Bjorn Lenhard, who only finished the Transcontinental Race a little over a week before starting the SRMR. He finished 3rd at the TCR, on top of a TransatlanticWay Race win earlier in the year, and is no doubt one of the best ultra-distance racers on the planet. Whether he's got enough left in the tank to be competitive in Kyrgyzstan remains to be seen though.

Stay tuned to find out what happens!

Scenes from the pre-race briefing in Bishkek today. The race starts at 09:00 local time on 18th August (04:00 GMT) WhatsApp Image 2018-08-17 at 12.39.23

Final hour fixes

Getting to the start line is, in many ways, the hardest thing about ultra-racing. With so much planning and research going into getting there, it's heartbreaking to see some riders suffering bike-related issues in transit to Bishkek.

It seems that the local shop 'Gergert Sport' has been the go-to place for many that need to bodge a repair before the start, and we only hope that their attempts at getting going again are successful.

For those riders whose bikes have been lost in transit altogether, we have everything crossed, and hope that you are reunited again soon.

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Horses for Courses

With little known about the SRMR route, other than that it's going to be very remote, and mostly unpaved, a lot of attention has been paid to what the ideal bike setup will be. Here, we take a look at a few of the options, from MTB, to gravel, and something in between.

What bike? What tyres? What GPS? These are just some the gear-related questions that the riders of this first edition of the Silk Road Mountain Race will have been asking themselves (and each other) over the last few months. As the first arrivals begin to assemble at the start in Bishkek, we are already seeing some very different answers to these questions.

If ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’ then Lee Craigie certainly hasn’t been wasting any. Having spent a few weeks in Kyrgyzstan already with her faithful Shand Bahookie (Jimmy to his friends) we imagine they are both already pretty used to the altitude and the terrain. Lee’s setup is nearly the same as she used in her most recent Tour Divide attempt, as well as her recent second place on the HT550.

Her choice of super-wide 12 speed gearing for the climbs and Jones-style handlebars for long days in the saddle all make sense - but even with a lightweight carbon fork and wheelset, an MTB may still prove slower on the smoother, flatter sections of the course (if there are any).

Moving on, and we can see that the pairing of Chris Hall and Rob Quirk have taken a more ‘gravel’ approach to their builds. Rob - of Quirk Cycles - built both bikes himself, and the latest one (that he'll be riding) was designed specially for this event.

Whilst Lee’s MTB is fully rigid, Rob’s gravel bike actually features 30mm of suspension in the form of the wild looking Lauf fork. Some very expensive looking deep-section Zipp 303’s complete the build. If anyone from the Zipp warranty office asks, Rob has asked everyone to attest that the wheels never left Surrey, and any rock damage is just from potholes.

Also pairing drop bars and suspension is Bombtrack ambassador Joachim Rosenlund, who will be riding Bombtrack’s latest adventure bike, first spotted at Eurobike this year. No details on a name yet, but we do know that this aluminium dropbar bike runs on 27.5 MTB wheels, has 40mm of suspension out front and Joachim may even be running a dropper post.

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Having completed the HL550 on a gravel bike last year, if there is anyone that can tame the rocky backroads of Kyrgyzstan on drop bars, then it’s probably Joachim.

Jay Petervary is also lucky enough to be riding something new from his long time sponsor, Salsa. Whilst we expect many others will be riding the Tour Divide-inspired Cutthroat, which Jay helped design, the man himself will take to start line on one of the v4 Warbird prototypes that have been around since Dirty Kanza.

Unlike in more road-focused events, like the Transcontinental, only few riders in the SRMR seem to have opted for aero bars. Jay has chosen to keep it speedy with a set that feature flip-up arm rests, giving him a few more hand positions, and this might be just what’s needed after a few days on the rough stuff.

Who’s got the right bike for the hills, who's on the wrong bike for the rocks, and whose bike will make it out through the black hole of Bishkek's 'oversized luggage' system in time?

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Stay tuned to find out.

Josh Ibbett Silk Road Mountain Race preview

We take a look at the course and standout riders for the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race, starting August 18th in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and explore what it will take to win.

  • Website: silkroadmountainrace.cc
  • Location: Kyrgyzstan
  • Length: ~1,700km
  • Riders: 94
  • Last year’s winner: n/a
  • Terrain: Mixed

This Saturday the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race kicks off in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and should be a very different event to those races we have become accustomed to following here on DotWatcher.cc. With such a big, unknown adventure afoot, we're excited to see what happens.

Starting and finishing near Bishkek, at an altitude of 800m, the race follows a route through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan over 1,700km of gravel, single and double track, and old soviet roads that have fallen into disrepair. As well as the variable state of the roads themselves, there’s notably over 26,000m of climbing at altitude that’s likely to require some hike a bike, as well as the sheer remoteness of the country itself. At Checkpoint 2, near the Chinese border, there’s almost 400km of road without prospect of resupply. Here, true self-reliance will be paramount, and riders have SOS functions built into their SPOT trackers.

There are numerous high altitude passes over 4,000meters, with the vast majority of the route over 2,000m. As such, altitude sickness is a real danger for those not acclimatised, and self-preservation will be key with very few medical facilities available on the route. Planning when and where to sleep or push on over high passes will be essential, for both safety and optimum recovery.

Food will also be scarce at times with long sections with no resupply. Water should be available as long as riders take appropriate filtering and treatment equipment however it will be important to always carry a good food cache to ensure good energy levels are maintained. High altitude and low energy could result in poor decisions being made, the consequences of which could be accentuated by the remoteness.

Tarmac roads will be few and far between on the race route, with the vast majority of the roads and trails being made of gravel. Those expecting smooth gravel roads will be in for a shock though, as many of the Soviet-built and time-forgotten mountain roads are simply a mess of rock and sand. The risk of puncturing is very real, particularly if narrower tyres are used, so of course wider MTB tyres have been employed by many, not least for the extra grip and comfort. Race director and founder Nelson Trees reckons that the ideal bike is “probably a rigid 29er with at least 2.0 inch tires”, but that a rider “would also be OK on a modern gravel bike with 650b and 2.0 inch tires”.

Despite being the first edition of the race, a field including the likes of Lee Craigie, Jay Petervary, and Björn Lenhard (recently 2nd place at the Transcontinental Race) will be competing. While there are 12 days between the race start and after party on September 1st, it’s anyone’s guess as to how quickly the first rider will complete the course.

This race will be won by the most consistent and sensible rider. It's going to be about survival. No spares will be available, so riders will need to be self sufficent and carry the right tools, spare parts, and nutritional supplies, to get themselves out of trouble should it arise.

Yes, pedalling strength will be key, but survival skills and sharp wit will make the real difference in this race - at the front of the field, and at the back.

Good luck to every rider from Dotwatcher.cc! Ride hard, enjoy the views, and stay safe.

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