Showdown in Xiwuqi

Bigger in quantity and bigger in quality: the Genghis Khan MTB Adventure has reached a new level in its development this year. Close to 300 bikers are expected to start the 3-day stage race from Xiwuqi’s Nadamu Arena tomorrow afternoon, including plenty of Asia’s finest. In fact, picking a favourite is not an easy task with so many big names on the list!

The Genghis Khan MTB Adventure has therefore become the most international non-professional MTB race in China. As such, it is a great opportunity for local and Chinese riders to test themselves against foreigners.

If we need to list potential race winners, we should of course begin with last year’s champion Altansukh Altanzul. The now 21-year-old rider from Ulanbaatar is the youngest ever winner of the race, and later in 2012 he showed that his victory was not a coincidence. Altanzul seems to have everything a young talent requires to make it up to the top level of international cycling. He obviously has the legs, but he also has heart and uses his brain to boot. His Mongolia CCN team is expected to ride in his support. Now returning to Xiwuqi, Altanzul can also count on the experience of last year to deal with some of his main challengers for the overall title this weekend.

Interestingly, one of Altanzul’s leading rivals will be his Mongolian compatriot Tugulduur Tuulkhanghai, who will be riding for a different team: Team Chiru-WTB! “Tugu” dominated stages 2 and 3 in Xiwuqi a year ago, but saw his chances for overall success destroyed by a mechancial during the classic 1st stage. Tuulkhangai, a superbly built athlete and a few years older than Altanzul, has an account open. The question is: will his old Mongolia CCN team allow him to ride away solo this weekend?

At least Tuulkhangai does not have to be afraid of the quality of  his Chiru-WTB team. A six-man-squad, filled with solid riders and hardcore MTB enthusiasts. France’s Pierre-Arnaud Le Magnan finished sixth overall last year and will prove to be a great tactical help for Tuulkhangai, Ed Cluer, Aaron Aakesson, Antoine Berte and Fraser Young. Four riders who will surely ride in the limelight during the weekend. With velodrome track specialist Aakesson they could even play the sprinter’s card…

In total there will be 18 riders from Ulanbaatar in the race. A second team consisting of 8 riders has registered late, and they have ambition. Part of Team Attila is Enkhjargal Tuvshinjargal, the 2013 Asian champion time trial (TT)! It remains to be seen how strong Tuvshingjargal is on a mountainbike, but on paper she looks like the one to beat in the women’s race this year.

The Chinese will be cheering for the 19-year young Hu Hao from Nanjing and Heilongjiang’s Sun Chengyi (5th overall in 2012) after the sudden and surprising withdrawal of Team Triace last week. The Shanghai team built around Wang Lei and Feng Kuanjie has decided at the last minute not to take up the GKF challenge this year. The wonderboy from Nanjing, however, is very hot to continue his remarkable progress in cycling with a podium place – at least – this weekend. Hu Hao already has credentials: he was second and first amateur at last April’s Huang Shan MTB, before the Triace guys and other Chinese top riders. Will we again have a ‘youngest winner ever’ at GK MTB this year? Hu Hao is definitely in the mix. Let’s find out whether his engine is already powerful enough for a three-day stage race that is more physical than technical.

There is a very dark horse on the start list, too: Liu Shuming from Taiwan. Liu Shuming rides on his own for Team Enervit this weekend and is the vice road bike champion of Taiwan last year! Again, road bike is no MTB, but Liu Shuming definitely has the stamina to make life difficult for all of the abovementioned contenders. If there is any rivalry between the big teams, he can profit as an individual rider to boot.

Finally, there is Team WTB with New Zealand’s Daniel Carruthers at the helm. After a nasty crash with dislocated shoulder at Huang Shan last April, Carruthers has shown great form in winning a stage in the Tour of Salimu Lake last month and battling it out with the very best throughout the stage race there. Carruthers has stamina and he is a very strong sprinter. If he goes for the Cannondale Cannonball intermediate sprints, he could create very interesting situations for the subsequent development of the races. Carruthers will be supported by Italian granfondo star Stefano Dall’Aglio, who flew in from London just to do the event, Finlan’s Jari Kolehmainen and Guangzhou’s Arnold Zhang and Liang Xia.

This being an amateur event, there are bound to be other strong participants on the start list we don’t know much or anything about. Franz Jammernegg (10th in 2012) and Mark Thirlwall (11th in 2012) come to mind here.

Following the traditional Opening Ceremony, the 7th Genghis Khan MTB Adventure will get under way at 14:00 sharp from Nadamu Arena. The weather forecast is brilliant and everything’s set for a fantastic Classic Stage!

No longer teammates : Altanzul (left) and Tuulkhangai (right)