Across Inner Mongolia with Dan Carruthers: the 2012 Genghis Khan Mountain Bike Adventure

Culture, Travel | by James Weir
Posted: September 12th, 2012 | Updated: November 26th, 2014 | Comments

Dan Carruthers, known on the interwebz as Genghis Khan Mountain Bike Adventure, a rugged and thrilling trek across the Inner Mongolian grasslands. The pictures of the event found on this page are courtesy of Kirk Kenny. Here, Dan tells us about his experience.

Welcome back to China Travel, Dan. Could you briefly explain to our readers what the Genghis Khan Mountain Bike Adventure is?

The 3-day MTB adventure presented by Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) is a mountain bike race across the Mongolian steppes where Genghis Khan and his army once traveled. It is a race that is suitable for all types of riders, not just the elite group. It is an opportunity to experience some wide-open spaces in clean, crisp air. It is a welcome escape from many of the overcrowded and polluted cities of China. It is also a unique cultural experience where riders experience the Mongolian style of eating and sleeping in the traditional yurts on the lush green grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

I see sports tourism where people travel to participate in sports events such as this one—and also the bigger 10-day Mongolia Bike Challenge—becoming a way to see remote places without having to arrange the logistics yourself.  Sports tourism of this type is proliferating around the globe as people seek new experiences combined with cycling. 

Mountain biking in China

I read on your blog how your water bottle cost you to lose your position in the lead group. Were there other particularly unexpected moments that occurred during the three days for either you or the other cyclists?

Yes, that water bottle drop cost my position in that front group. The right decision would have been to ignore the bottle and continue. This would have allowed me to be in the lead group at much less energy cost. As it was, I ran back to get the bottle and by the time I got going on the bike again, all I could see was the cloud of dust from the leaders on the horizon. The frantic surge to try and catch them cost me far more energy than maintaining my excellent position would have.

The other unexpected moment was when I crossed the line on the final stage thinking that I had moved up to 8th overall on GC (general classification, a rider's total time over a number of stages) after riding alone for most of the 100 km (62 mi) stage. I found out that a group of six riders took the wrong turn and ended up at the finish line before me, and they 'claimed' that they were catching me just before the wrong turn so the organizer gave them the same time as me. Though I retained my 8th place for the stage finish, this meant that I finished 13th overall instead of 8th and it was a little frustrating after all that hard work. But at the end of the day, it was only a bike race with an emphasis on fun.

So what was the main highlight for you, out of all three days?

For me the highlight of the three days was being able to experience the wide-open green grasslands and the excellent hotpot restaurant in town. We pretty much ate there every night and while it probably was not the best race food, it was delicious! Mongolian hotpot is a highly recommended experience.  As for the racing, the most enjoyable day was actually the 100 km stage as I had recovered enough to have some sort of showing. I had a disastrous stage two, having 'bonked' (excessive fatigue caused by a lack of glycogen in the muscles) completely early on in the stage, struggling in delirious to the finish line in what seemed an eternity.

The other highlight was that I was racing on the CHIRU-WTB PULSE 29er mountain bike for the first time. It is quite an impressive bike that has already won a world title in adventure racing last year.  As the 29er phenomenon (a type of bike that is notable for its 29 in/74 cm wheels) continues to grow exponentially in Asia, the CHIRU bike came equipped with WTB, ROTOR and Magura components. It was a good feeling to be riding such a fast machine, compared to the previous year where I rented an old Nordic Ways low level mountain bike that did not have enough gears for me and weighed 20 kg (44 lb)!! The Genghis Khan MTB Adventure also signified the beginning of the CHIRU-WTB Asia-Pacific Mountain Bike team that I was also guest riding for.  Expect to see more from CHIRU-WTB at iconic mountain bike events in Asia.

Mountain biking in China

Out of the three days, what was the hardest part?

The hardest part of the race for me was stage two. I had worked hard to be near the front of the group in the first 10 minutes of the race, but I was not feeling 100% (I woke up feeling miserable and did not feel like eating much and was shaky). I was over the top of the first climb with the second group and barely hanging on. I was dropped on the descent, which is unusual for me and found myself alone in no-mans land, trying desperately to catch back onto the group of three riders I was in. I was soon caught by a large 15 rider group that I rode with for quite some time. I eventually even got dropped from this group, riders that I normally finish in front of. From this point on, it was a crawl to the finish line in the powerful winds and bumpy grasslands.

The terrain, although tough to bike on, must've been beautiful. Tell us more about the scenery.

Yes, the scenery was nice. But not as dramatic or remote feeling as the real Mongolian outback. Where we were had some nice, gentle brilliant green rolling hills with some villages scattered about and wandering cattle and sheep. It's a good place to experience "grasslands" as part of the Genghis Khan Mountain Bike Adventure that was sponsored by Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) and Chiru Bikes. It is a good 'soft-adventure' that is within contact of 'civilization.' Which is the complete opposite to the Mongolia Bike Challenge, which traverses through some extremely rugged 'real' wild Mongolian outback where the inhabitants have never used the Internet before.

Mongolia mountain biking

Personally, for me, there is not that much to see and do in the region of Inner Mongolia we were in. It would be a good stopover en route to other destinations within Inner Mongolia or on to Greater Mongolia. There is some horse riding to be had across the grasslands as well as yurts and traditional Mongolian fare such as the hotpot I mentioned. I am not familiar with Hohhot and the other destinations in Inner Mongolia. If you are a bike enthusiast or enjoy running, do consider entering in the 2013 edition—there is a Grasslands Marathon run also where many first timers came out to run on dirt tracks and grassy steppes.

How would you compare the Mongolia Bike Challenge, which is quite a feat, to the Genghis Khan MTB Adventure?

The Mongolia Bike Challenge is in a completely different category to the Genghis Khan MTB Adventure. You can't really compare the two. The Mongolia Bike Challenge is the Mother of Endurance when it comes to mountain bike races. In fact, it has been ranked as one of the toughest endurance events around the globe by many respected mountain bikers. To even finish the MBC is a worthy achievement especially when you are in the saddle for up eight hours each day for ten stages. Despite the brutal punishment the riders undergo, they see some amazing scenery in one of the most remote corners of the globe. The people there live their lives reminiscent of 500 years ago; it's virtually unchanged. Seeing is believing.

Do you plan to do the Genghis Khan Adventure next year? What would you do differently? Any tips for cyclists keen to take part in the event next year?

I would plan on doing the Genghis Khan MTB Adventure again in 2013, but it depends on what is happening at that time as it would be close to the time I would be leaving China to fly to Bulgaria to participate in the Deaflympics.   I would not be stopping for any dropped water bottles next time round. It was a lesson well learned! Other than that, there is nothing else I would do differently except race hard!

Thanks Dan! Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and good luck in your next race!

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