Genghis Khan MTB looking for a new champ

The 8th Genghis Khan Festival in Inner Mongolia’s Xiwuqi opens this Friday afternoon with the traditional 63km long first stage of the 3-day mountainbike adventure race. No fewer than 1200 participants will either bike or run through some of the most breathtaking grassland scenery in China this year – a new record for the organisation.

The growth of the Genghis Khan Festival, which began with its sixth edition in 2012, continues exponentially and is now stretching the host town’s accommodation availability to its limits. Xiwuqi is a town of roughly 50,000 inhabitants – mainly ethnic Mongolians – two hours north of Xilinhot, a city-with-an-airstrip that features as the gateway to the event. A cap of 1200 participants was set by the organisers, but that number was already reached towards the end of April.

The MTB Adventure will see 400 bikers at the starting line for a three-day stage race over a total distance of just over 200 kilometres (or 85 kilometres for beginners). Day 1 takes participants on a loop passed the statue of Genghis Khan’s horses, Siriguleng and Halagatu, and is followed by a shorter 43km stage and a big finale of 100km on the last day. After Mongolian riders dominated the last two editions, the race looks more open this season with Chinese best young prospect Hu Hao from Nanjing as a top favourite along Ulanbaatar’s Myagmarsuren Baasankhuu. 2012 and 2013 champion Altansukh Altanzul cannot defend his title in Xiwuqi as he is pursuing a professional cycling career.

Team Specialized’s Hu Hao made an impressive grassland debut for a 19-year-old twelve months ago, resulting in a stage podium finish (3rd on day 2) and a fourth place overall. He proved to have matured since then with great rides in the MBC and Huang Shan, and should be in a position to challenge Baasankhuu, who finished one place ahead of him in the overall ranking in 2013. In any case, the races are expected to look very different with more tactics at play rather than the suffocating pace-setting from the get-go as we saw from the Mongolian armada.

The list of outsiders for stage and overall victory is large. Team Chiru’s leader Piere-Arnaud Le Magnan is physically better prepared than ever, having just finished a bunch of tough races in Italy and France, and using his vast racing intelligence he could cause an upset – especially should the weather turn tricky. Le Magnan will also be backed up by Canada’s Fraser Young, who was reportedly disappointed by his own “below par” performance last year and keen to show the best of himself this year. Team WTB is banking on Daniel Carruthers, the Hangzhou-based New Zealander, who has also shown great form in recent road races. If Carruthers manages to hang on to the leading group they will find him hard to beat in the final sprint. Team Chain Reaction Cycles is entering two strong Russian riders in the mix for top results, Alexey Chaklov and Ivan Brinko, and South Africa’s Alistair Haigh-Smith is another one to watch for Team Enervit. As always with an international amateur event, one never really knows how fast everybody on the start list really is,  so we will have to wait and see.

What will shed a bit of light on some of the rider’s current ability is the 5.8km long prologue or individual time trial on Friday morning. A new addition to the MTB programme of the Genghis Khan Festival, which will see a number of fast local bikers up against the star riders mentioned above.

The Genghis Khan MTB Adventure also sees more and more women at the starting line. Among the favourites for this year’s race are China’s Wang Xueli and Belgium’s Veerle Buytaert.

Mountainbiking in the grasslands around Xiwuqi is generally not very technical and therefore accessible to people of all levels. The registrations for the 2015 event will open soon after this year’s event and as the maximum cap will remain at 1200 participants it is recommended to register early.

Altansukh Altanzul (1) is turning pro so Genghis Khan MTB is bound to have a brand new champion

Participants hope for another blue-skied sunny MTB Adventure this weekend