As I am writing this post it should have been Day 4 of the Atlas Mountain Race 2021. If last years winner Sofiane Sehili was riding he would probably have completed the route, having finished in 3 days 21hrs and 50minutes. My best estimate that I can imagine for myself in the race is that I would have just about got to half way, maybe approaching the 2nd Checkpoint at Aguinane. That’s if everything has gone well, no accidents, mechanicals, or collapse with sheer exhaustion.
But no, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means that the race is postponed to a safer time. Instead, I am at home, safe and in good health with my family and indeed grateful for that blessing. The weather outside is quite different from Morocco and my bike is at the bike shop having the brakes looked at.
I have toyed with the idea of writing about something that in the light of the global news is actually quite trivial and inconsequential when there is some much more going on in the world. I have found that having this race on the horizon is providing me with something to look forward to, to challenge me and give a different point of focus and a welcome break.
The extra 6 months though is in my favour, I decided to enter the race in December and having around 8 weeks to prepare with Christmas in between was never going to be anywhere near enough time. It was however, a fairly safe bet that the race would be delayed from its original slot when the new variant and waves of the pandemic started making it ways across Europe in late 2020.
So I have started to use the time to prepare, research and get my kit together to tackle this 1100km off road ride across the mountains of the Atlas region. I have read and reread all of the reports and rider blogs that I can find on last years event and even got in touch with a few of last years riders to seek their pearls of wisdom, all in the hope of aiding my preparations. I have spend time looking at bike kit, sleeping systems, nutrition and riding strategies.
My first bits of extra kit have made their way into my online shopping cart during the January sales ready to test out as soon as lockdown allows.
The extra time has meant that the immediate pressure to prepare is somewhat diminished but chatting with my local bike shop has reminded me that sufficient forward planning is going to be required to deal with the supply chain issues that the bike industry is facing right now. Delays on components, parts and accessories means thinking ahead and ordering ahead expecting those longer lead times. I ordered a replacement cassette, chain and front chainring today anticipating this. I wouldn’t want to tackle the route on my current setup of 1×40 with 11-42 on the back, there would be a lot of pushing as I cannot churn that gearing on those climbs, plus I will be endeavouring to get a fair few miles in on the current hardware before replacing ahead of the race in October.
The extra time will also allow for some training routes and excursions. Perhaps naively I was hoping that European travel would be feasible in the not too distant future, and had penciled in an attempt at the Canary Islands Gran Guanche at the end of March, but this is not looking likely. So my thoughts have turned to the UK and potential good training challenges to test myself and my gear on a bikepacking escape.
The potential list looks promising as the UK has so much to offer.
- GB Divide , from Lands End to John o’grouts on routes less travelled (also the route for the GB Duro
- or the other Great British Divide that passes by my home town.
- The Trans-Cambrian Way in Wales, suggested to me by Tom at Woods Cyclery
- Highland 550 MTB route across the Highlands potentially not suited to a gravel bike
- NC500 Road version bike-packing route around the North Coast of Scotland
- King Alfreds Way 350km Winchester to Winchester 90% off road route that I rode in September 2020
- South Downs Way – The 100mile route from Winchester to Eastbourne
So I am looking forward to giving one or two of these a go in the coming months, as European trips look off the cards.
Any recommendations or advice please leave a comment or get in touch.