Preparations for what’s arguably one of the world’s toughest off-road cycling event – the Hero MTB (mountain biking) Himalaya – a seven-day, 630-km journey through the hills of Himachal Pradesh are in full swing.
The 11th edition of this prestigious series will be flagged off from here on 27 September and will see six women bikers from abroad and one from India.
“This time we got six entries from international bikers and all of them are professional riders. This is the maximum participation of the international women riders in the rally so far,” Mohit Sood, president of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), the Shimla-based organiser, was quoted by IANS.
He said the increased international professional participation indicated the gaining popularity of the rally across the globe.
Forty international riders, representing 15 countries, are participating in the race. They are mainly from Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Germany, Holland, Nepal and Portugal.
British rider Catherine Williamson, winner of ABSA Cape Epic 2013, will be one of the celebrity participants in the race.
She has won ABSA Cape Epic and Sani2c, a multi-stage race, and has participated in the World and European Elite Championships in triathlon, duathlon, road racing and marathon MTB, Joberg2c, W2W, Cape Trek Pioneer, Garden Route 300 and Mongolian Bike Challenge, amongst others.
Williamson is racing at MTB Himalaya hoping to inspire other girls to ride and travel as much as possible.
Ilda Periera of Portugal is another rider who has never said no to a challenge and got hooked to biking by fluke.
She has participated in over 30 races since 2010. Seeded 13th in the World Marathon Series, she is a tough contender.
Heidi Buttiens of Belgium has been riding for the past 12 years and has participated in races across the world like the Transalp, JoBerg2C and Transgharb, amongst others.
Having recently completed Transalp, she is looking forward to winning the MTB Himalaya.
Another young rider is Shachi Somani, an amateur from Mumbai.
“I can be an inspiration to many women in the country to follow their dreams and aspirations,” she said.
Sarah Appelt, a rider from Germany, will be participating in MTB Himalaya for the first time.
Having participated in various triathlons and marathons, Sarah is ready to take on the Himalayan challenge.
Laxmi Magar, a professional rider from Nepal, is a seasoned rider and has participated in the Tour of the Dragon in Bhutan and has won the Manali-Khardungla Cycling Championship.
Siegrid Van Bever of Belgium has been to most of the popular races like Cape Epic, Duoro Bike Race, Transapl before she decided to pedal in the Himalayas.
“As women riders’ numbers swell, we are hopeful that their positive influence will see more participation of professional women bikers,” Sood added.
He said the participants would pass through forest trails, off-road, broken tarmac, gravel, rocks, mud, sand, loose rock and unmetalled rural roads.
On an average, each cyclist will pedal 90 km every day with a day’s rest in between and will have to ascend or descend 2,000-3,000 metres each day. The highest point of the rally is 3,150 metres.
In the last season, Portuguese rider Sonia Lopes, the first woman cyclist to conquer the non-stop 500 km Portugal Bike Race, was the winner of the MTB Himalaya in the women’s category.
She was at the time the lone international rider. Three other women bikers in the race were from India and they couldn’t finish.
Earlier, Nepalese woman biker Nirjala Tamrakar Wright bagged the women’s title for three consecutive years from 2009. In 2011, there were five women bikers, including Nirjala, and only two managed to finish.
Covering the most rugged and inhospitable terrain, MTB Himalaya has been billed as the third toughest mountain biking event in the world, next to the Trans-Alps Challenge (Europe) and Trans Rockies (Canada).