Thursday, December 14, 2017

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Yak?

The Yak Attack - the worlds highest mountain bike race - has something of a fearsome reputation; I'm about to shatter a few myths... well, kind of.
It seems that a lot of people are discouraged from entering because they think it is too hard for them. I'm going to tell you that it's not.
If you are reading this then you are probably considering entering so you've come to the right place. If you are a mountain biker and you're not considering it then maybe you should, it is one of those great, but ultimately achievable, life goals that will change the way you think about yourself and the world forever. Plus you will become one of only a tiny group of people that can say that they have, and you'll walk away with some lifelong memories (and friends) and a bunch of pictures that will make everyone you know green with envy.
Like this one for example: 

Wouldn't it be nice to have this hanging on the wall at home?

So what is Yak Attack?
It is a multi-day mountain bike race organised by Mountain Biking Worldwide which is centred around The Annapurna Trekking Circuit in Nepal.
Depending on the year you enter it is anything from five to ten stages, 200-500km long with about 7500-15000m of climbing and a high point of 5416m above sea-level.
The trail conditions vary considerably from Jeep roads to some genuinely great singletrack.
It is quite rightly regarded as one of the toughest stage races in the world but that doesn't mean that it's impossible, if I can complete it then so can you. I like pizza and beer. I'm 47 years old and I have now taken part six times.

Yak Attack regularly attracts a particular type of person, often they are well travelled or very adventurous, or both. It does help but it isn't essential; many riders have completed Yak Attack as their first stage race (I did), and often it is also their first foray into a developing country.
As long as you have reasonable bike handling skills and can ride for 4+ hours you will be fine - that is probably most mountain bikers who have been riding regularly for a couple of years or more. The more experience you have the easier it will be (that's a pretty obvious statement really).
Believe it or not, for most of the year, I usually only manage to average one decent ride every couple of weeks, often less than that.
The vast majority of people who take on the race are ordinary, by that I mean everyday people with a normal life and a normal job - recreational riders just like you and me. They come for the challenge and the adventure. Most come just to race against themselves.
During the history of the race it has seen riders from 18 to well over 60 years of age complete the course.

Andre Deplechin - 61 years old - multiple veteran.
There are a few things worth knowing in advance:

1. Don't think of it as a 10 day race or you will have a mental meltdown on day one and convince yourself that you can't finish. Take it one day at a time and think of it as a daily bike ride each day for ten days (because that's what it really is).

2. Don't obsess over The Pass (Thorong La) because it is a pointless waste of mental energy. It is a miserable fucking day for everyone including the elite riders, and me. It is simply a 5km hike and only lasts a few hours at most, you will get over it - thousands of people in worse shape than you hike over it every year.
You, however, get the reward of riding your bike from the top, all the way down one of the coolest singletrack descents in the world. The fat trekkers have to walk down it as well as up.
That's about 21kms of whooping and a-hollering, dropping 2600m in the process.
Yes, you read that correctly: 21kms/2600m down hill in one go - Yee-Haw.
Just to help you out here is a blog I wrote about hiking the pass with a bike.

It's only 5kms.

Six times I have summited that fucking pass now, and I'm still smiling.

A general rule of thumb that I figured out some years ago is to consider every kilometre in Nepal the equivalent of a mile anywhere else in the world, so that's roughly 60% harder than your local trails. If a stage profile says 40km then expect it to feel like 40 miles/65km, that's probably fair. Most people probably ride 20-40 miles recreationally and that is all Yak Attack is on most days.
For the 2017 edition I rode the entire course with zero training. I was off the bike for three months prior to the race because of a shoulder operation. Grit is the most important characteristic required for finishing.


Q. What bike should I ride?
A. Whatever you've got. We've had everything from 20 year old bikes with rim brakes, rigid singlespeeds, and fat bikes, through to the very latest high-end carbon dream machines.
Here is an article I wrote covering the whole topic: Which bike.

Q. How should I train for the race?
A. Ride your bike :D
The following advice is for normal people who wish to complete the race in a reasonable manner.

If I'm training specifically then I will try to ride 3 times per week for about 3 months prior to the race. 
I do a long, slow, endurance ride at the weekends, gradually increasing the amount of time that I'm on the bike - aim for 4-6 hours of riding (not including cake/coffee stops) - focus on time rather than distance, try to include lots of climbing. 
The second session is usually about an hour or so in duration which will include a steady 10 minute warm up, then a 40-50 min push at a high tempo, followed by a 10 minute steady warm down. This is best done on a relatively flat course.
Finally I will do a high intensity hill session. Again do a 10-15 minute warm up. Then find a nice hill with a consistent gradient and hammer up it, as far you can, at not quite full speed, cruise back down and recover for a minute or two at the most and then repeat this. Aim to get up to 12 repeats or about 30 mins. Do it once a week at the most and take the following day as a recovery day.

Ride a singlespeed as often as possible.
Do some trail running.

Q. What if  I get get sick during the race?
A. Inevitably some people will get sick. Sometimes that will be caused by an intolerance or exposure to bacteria that they are simply unaccustomed to. Sometimes it is the international riders who bring along a little friend with them. With 30 or more riders arriving in the country by aeroplane something will get passed around; aeroplanes are a remarkably effective test tube for infection - that can happen wherever you travel.
There is no point worrying about it, you can't control it; chances are you won't get sick. If you do then it usually only last for about 24 hours anyway so it just means one difficult day on the bike, you can get through one bad day.
On a good year we might get only one or two riders that fail to finish, on a bad year that can be as high as five - about 5-12%. That is a better statistic than most stage races - consider Ironbike, for example, which has an annual attrition rate of around 70%.

Q. What is Nepal like?
A. Amazing. Nowhere on Earth has mountains like Nepal. It is a fun, vibrant, and colourful country full of kind and welcoming people.
As a developing country it does of course have some social and environmental issues but if you have an adventurous spirit then you will take these in your stride. The occasional squat toilet makes for a good travel story in the pub when you get home.


In a nutshell, it is hard but perfectly within the capabilities of any reasonably fit recreational rider. If you are more than that then you will have few problems completing the race.
It is a challenge and an adventure, and anyone can do it. Even you and I. Desire, determination, and grit, will get you to the finish line. You do not need to be an athlete. Savouring the whole experience and having fun is far more important than any arbitrary finishing position. It is a race though, and not a tour, so come to race.
If you want a holiday you can do the whole thing at a more leisurely pace with 5-times winner Ajay Pandit Chhetri as your guide - Yak Attack Adventures

If you want to win it... well that's another story.

Sign up and get ready to have some fun.

You can follow MTB-Worldwide (Yak Attack etc) here:

Yak Attack Adventures

You can also follow Chase The Rainbow here:

Thank you for looking, see you soon.

Please don't forget to Like, Share, and Comment, if you enjoyed it :)

Consume less, live more. Plant more trees.



Sharing a cup of tea at 5416m with John Da Costa.

Ooh, Beer! At the finish line with Paul Cooper (left) and Eric Coomer (right), both have finished on several occasions.

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