Siemans Action Asia Himalayan Mountain Bike Race Series 2001
Race 1 Raniban to Kakani
November 10, 2001
An A to B course that can be described as Intermediate in difficulty with a steady, though not steep, uphill climb. A 666-meter altitude gain over 22 kilometers, which is, on average, a 30-meter altitude gain each kilometer.
The race starts from the South gate of the Raniban Forest and follows the road to Kakani. From a starting altitude of approximatley 1400 meters, the road climbs steadily through one of the most picturesque routes in all of Kathmandu Valley. The route winds through Nepalese villages and a countless number of terrace fields and culminates at an altitude of 2066 meters with a stunning display of the Himalayas along the Valley's rim. The surface is mainly comprised of rough patches of broken road, minor water crossings and occasional muddy/sandy sections.
And this opportunity was not lost on the top class field that saw everyone take advantage of a vehicle-free route, blasting a passage to the top of Kakani. The fastest time being 60 minutes at an average speed of 23km/hour.
Race 1 saw a field of 158 riders from 11 countries competing in seven race categories. In the Open division, it was Nepali rider Ranjan Rajbhandari who skipped away from the start and the crowd to hold a narrow lead on colleague and training partner Suresh Dulal. Rajbhandari, over the next 2 kilometers, put his mark on the 1st place, but could hold it only to the halfway point. At this point, TB Gurung, who had earlier settled into 2nd place, using the strength of his massive legs as the road steepened, finally made a challenge on the lead to pull away.
The winding switchbacks at Kaulethana, at nearly 2000 meters, saw a line of six riders all within striking distance of the lead and finally, by the 14km mark, it was Tilak Bujal who moved up to within 10 meters of Gurung, although Dulal was lingering within sight of them both. Last year's series winner, Chandra Chhetri, had been pacing himself over the steady climb and was looking cool under the strain of increased gradient over the last 4.5 kilometers to the finish. Bujal had now moved to 2nd place leaving Gurung to chase him down in the closing minutes of Race 1 as the Ganesh Himal opened to welcome the riders into Kakani.
The win went to Chhetri in a stunning 56 minutes, 42 seconds, having averaged some 23.5km/hr. Gurung claimed 2nd place, and in a last minute grip of pain, Dulal slipped along side Bujal to take 3rd by just seconds.
The top finishing foreign rider was Richard Turgeon of Canada, who finished 5th in a time of 1 hour, 15 seconds. Although a reduced number of foreign riders competed in the series this year there is no doubt the standard of local mountain biking talent has hit new levels.
With consistent riding, it was Shambu Maharjan that held onto his lead throughout the race to take 1st place from Australian Ian Howchin in the Senior category and last year's Series winner, Dutch rider Nico Vreeken, took 3rd in the full distance 21.85km event.
A short course of 7kms for the Juniors saw some new faces filling the top spots although the lean and strong Himalayan Mountain Bike (HMB) rider Manoj Shrestha, a young rider in the sport, was sure to clench top place and she did, ahead of Anil Staphit and Sanjeev Thapa.
In the Women's category, there was a last-minute entry on race morning when Australian Mardi Beat joined in. Beat showed her smooth riding style over the 7km climb with a convincing win. Beat was trailed by two Nepali ladies, Nirjala Tamrakar and Kemeka Bhandari. A broken chain at the 2km mark had cost Tamrakar valuable minutes.
One of the biggest events of the day was the disabled wheelchair athletes of Nepal who entered this Himalayan Mountain Bike Event for the first time which also marked the first road race for these gutsy sportsmen. Marking a historic occasion, they tackled the 4.5km steepest portion of the course with all 10 participants getting a hero's welcome under the finish gate in a true show of determination and grit that tested both their equipment and muscles. Today marked the beginning of racing for these athletes
All eyes are now on Race 2, November 18 in Nagarkot, to see who will claim the 'downhill crown' from Nagarkot to Sankhu, which offers a different challenge than the Kakani climb.