With the Tour de France underway, cycling is back in the media and people are glued to their televisions, marveling over the course’s steep ascents and the impressive crash footage. While the Tour de France is quite the challenge, does it take riders over 17,000 Himalayan passes or through the Australian Outback? Are participants required to carry all of their gear and make their own repairs on the course? These are some of the obstacles that riders face on some of the hardest mountain bike races in the world. Check out this list of the top six and see if you’re ready to register.
March 2-14, 2014
During this 8-stage race, participants ride from Kathmandu to the Annapurna region, passing through the Himalayan villages of Jomsom and Muktinath. Most of the race is through remote areas and across difficult terrain, including soft sand, snow, and narrow suspension bridges spanning glacial rivers. The elevation gain in Stage 4 is nearly 11,000 feet, but Stage 7 poses the biggest challenge: ascending to Thorong La Pass (17,700 feet). Nepal’s growing mountain bike community and the region’s spectacular vistas add to the allure of this brutal race. Interested riders should note that the event fills up quickly (registration for 2014 is already closed).
October 24-26, 2013
Based on a 20-year trek the Conquistadors made in the 1500s, La Ruta is a rugged 61-mile race that starts on the Pacific Ocean and ends at the Atlantic, spanning all of Costa Rica. Racers have 11.5 hours to complete each of the three stages on a course that winds through jungles, across mountain passes, and along active volcanoes. The cumulative elevation gain is 29,000 feet and the temperatures range from a blistering 105 F to hypothermia-inducing 40 F in the mountains.
Iditarod Trail Invitational
February 23, 2014
Participants in the Iditarod Trail Invitational race from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome…in February. If cycling 1000 miles across Alaska in the winter doesn’t sound grueling enough, consider the following rules: you must finish within 30 days, 23 hours, 50 minutes, and 50 seconds and you must do so on a single bike, carrying all of your essential items. To be eligible for the 1000-mile race, applicants must have previously completed the 350-mile race, which ends in McGrath. This is because racers who travel beyond McGrath are largely on their own; there is only one airdrop in the last 650 miles. Veteran racers get a week to apply before the pool opens to everyone.
There are several ways to race the Tour Divide, but only one philosophy: complete the route self-supported, solo, and as fast as possible. Racers can choose to depart with the group in mid-June or they can race it on their own (self-timed). The race follows an unmarked route that begins with an international border crossing (into Montana), followed by a lengthy stretch through grizzly country and across snowy peaks. The course ends in Antelope Wells, NM. While there is no official cut-off, competitive racers must finish within 1.5x (times) the course record.
August 31, 2013
Now in its 21st season, Norway’s Birkebeinerrittet is the largest mountain bike race in the world, drawing a field of nearly 17,000 cyclists. Like its American skiing counterpart (the American Birkerbeiner), this race honors a daring trip made by the Birkebeiner loyalists in 1206 to save the infant heir to Norway’s throne. Although the course is only 58 miles, every rider must wear a backpack weighing at least 3.5 kg (7.7 lbs), a requirement that pays homage to the weight of the baby heir and adds to the difficulty of the race.
October 19-27, 2013
This 9-stage race up Australia’s eastern coast takes participants through the dry, dusty Outback on a route that changes every year. Riders sleep in tents each night. Note that there are actual crocodiles in this region of Australia, as well as a variety of venomous snakes, including the death adder and the Eastern brown snake. Since the race’s inception in 1995, only one American has ever won (female racer Carrie Edwards).