Seventy five riders gathered in Oman in late February for Edition 2 of the 1000km Bikingman Oman Race.
Well I say a race – indeed it is with Solo and Pair classification for male and female riders – but in truth there are only a handful of riders with eyes set on the podium and a top ten finish. I hope I am not belittling the majority of the rest who like me were happy to make it an adventure and experience the landscape and culture of Oman whilst still pushing hard for a good result.
That in essence is the beauty of the Bikingman concept with a series of challenging races across the world developed by Axel Carion and his team.
I arrived in Dubai a few days before the race and enjoyed the generosity and hospitality of Ed and his lovely family. We drove down to Oman in company with Derrick who was riding with Ed as a South African pair in the race but based in the UAE.
Ed and I had met at Bikingman Taiwan so had some notion of what ultra distance was going to be but this was Derricks first such ride – albeit he is an experienced road racer.
We drove to the race in Ed’s Ford pickup – a five hour journey with visa requirements at the Omani border. Rocky desert landscape prevailed along the route which was mostly a modern motorway carved through the desert.
Race village was the Barka Al Nahda Resort, some 45 minutes drive West of Muscat, where we shared a villa with one large double bed – Ed and Derrick sharing whilst I was happily on the floor!
Upon arrival it was good to meet the Bikingman team and renew old friendships made in Taiwan and Corsica. Registration was a disciplined affair with all riders having a thorough check of bike and essential kit plus confirmation of medical fitness and insurance.
We went for an easy spin to turn the legs and check the bikes followed by a few beers, some supper and an early night.
Pre-race day was a lazy affair. I went for a short ride with full kit and to check the Wahoo Element navigation was working. The race briefing took place at 2pm.
The main topic of conversation between riders was the Jebel Shams Climb which weighed heavily on peoples minds. Billed as one of the worlds toughest iconic climbs it starts about 300km into the first day and rises to 1990m over 25km but includes some brutal 20% ramps early on followed by 10km of gravel and a final surfaced 5 km to the top at Control Point 1 – Jebel Shams Resort. Jebel Shams – Mountain of Sun – is the highest in the Hajar range and the country.
There was an optional gravel route available to the base of the Jebel Shams climb. I had checked the details and although there was more climbing on steep rough gravel it saved a considerable distance. I had set my Mason Bokeh up with WTB Exposure 34 tyres so it made sense to go for the gravel option.
Briefing complete we prepared the bikes for the race and dropped our bags for delivery to the Muscat finish. Early to bed after a good supper.
Race Day 1
We were up at 0145 and grabbed a quick breakfast and arrived at the Red Bull starting arch at the resort entrance just after 0230. A nervous air prevailed and one unlucky rider got a puncture just before the start.
Countdown complete we set off at 0300 in a peleton under the control of the Omani Police escort and the roar of two Harley Dividson motorbike escorts. This ran at a steady pace for over 40km, longer than expected and at about 40km I eased off the back to ride my own pace – there was a long way to go.
I missed the first turn off the main road and was warned by the Wahoo bleeping and flashing red. A quick about turn and the smaller road meandered through a pretty village in the early morning light with the first stirring of local life. The road slowly climbed to nearly 1000m but progress was good and I reached the optional gravel turn at 190km by 1130hrs
About this time my front brake packed up. Hydraulic disc brake repair/bleeding are not my strength. I could not find any leak or loss of fluid but no matter what the lever hit the bar and nothing happened! So it became a single back brake ride for the remainder of the Race. Not too much of a problem other than big descents and if I needed a quick stop. I tried a couple of bike shops but none had experience of hydraulic brakes.
At almost the same time the dynamo stopped working! I took time to check the connections but all seemed good. Even found an auto electrical shop and the kind owner tightened the connections and re taped everything but to no avail. After 30 minutes he refused any payment – “welcome to Oman”. So I had lost my main lights – supernova front and rear and also my USB charging system for electronics. Luckily I had a head torch and small backup lights and a 10,000milliamp power pack.
The ride to the gravel section was on good sealed road and once on the gravel the Bokeh with 34mm tyres came into its own.
The gravel climb rose to about 1200m and was pretty rough in parts. There was then a sharp descent to join the main road climb up to Jebel Shams. Without a front brake I had to walk down the steeper sections after a couple of scary rear brake lockups that could have been a bit disastrous. I reckon I had to walk for about 20/30 minutes in total.
Joining the main road climb to Jebel Shams I was surprised to meet Xavier who like most riders had taken the main road route via Ibri. That gave me a big lift because he was one of the quicker riders going for a top placing.
And so the climb to 1990m and Check Point 1 at the Jebel Shams Resort began. It was an epic climb. One of the hardest I have experienced. The early ramps rose one after the other often high teens and some 20%. A kind Omani stopped his car and handed me a bottle of water and a little further up on the gravel section another car driver was parked up and handed me a couple of bottles and some chocolate.
Such kindness lifts the spirits and was to become an abiding experience and memory of the next couple of days. I have never ridden a bike where people are so friendly – a toot on the horn and a wave was frequent. On several occasions during the race I was stopped and asked where I was going and invited to coffee!
A couple of the gravel section ramps were very loose and I had to walk the bike.
Dusk was beginning to fall as I neared to top of the climb and I rode on the last 5 km of sealed road to Check Point 1 in company with Ed who kindly lit the road ahead – my head torch was not too great (later realised the batteries were nearly done!).
I was checked in at 1902hrs after 292km and 3688m climbing. Road time was 14hrs 06mins at an average of 20.7. I had burnt over 9000 calories according to the bike computer and was really glad to book a shared room with Ed and then get to the restaurant and some great food and liquid.
There was no real option of riding down the mountain in the dark with no main lights and only a back brake.
Ed and Derrick arrived while I was eating – they had stuck to the main route and I think had ridden at least 30 km further than I had done over the gravel.
I had set the alarm for a dawn start down the mountain. I grabbed some breakfast and set off with great care on the sharp descents especially on the gravel where I walked down on several of the steeper sections.
It was a marvellous dawn over the great canyon where David and the team were taking photos.
Further down the mountain I found Luke and Mike who were climbing after a night stop at Al Hamra. We stopped for a chat and exchanged photos!
The rest of the day should have be memorable for the distance and speed achieved with a beautiful following wind blowing us along the Ash Sharqiyah Desert roads for our rendezvous on the Arabian Sea at Check point 2.
Strangely it is a bit of a blur. I stopped for an early second breakfast and I was keeping in touch with Ed and Derrick and we caught up and at one point and found a good spot for a late lunch together. I often find the second day of a multi day ride the toughest physically and mentally.
Progress was good and during the afternoon for an hour I was flying along at over 40k. Evening approached and I found a good restaurant in a busy town before booking into a small hotel for the night in Al Kamil recommended by Ed.
Day two was a hot day in the desert riding to the Arabian Sea – you don’t get to say that very often in a biking life! It was tough but resulted in 318 km with 1103m climbing at 27.6 km/h average.
Up and away before dawn there was 50km to Check point 2 followed by a turn north and then north-west along the coast and through the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve.
Approaching the sea there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere – one could smell the water. At the same time the wind started to pick up and this was to be the start of a long tough day.
I arrived at CP2 and checked in with the ever friendly Jacques and wolfed down some good food. Cat was also resting a while and we exchanged our experiences and were both concerned by a day of riding into a headwind up the beautiful but barren coastline.
And so the hard work began. It was pretty relentless with a full on headwind often creating a sand storm with the sand stinging my face and legs – sometimes quite painful.
At times on a flat road I was turning the pedals at 200 watts power and only making 11km/h whereas normally it would be double of treble that. But it had to be done so it was important not to let the adverse conditions get into your head. “It is what it is” so accept today just like I had enjoyed the tailwind the day before. Once into that positive frame of mind the day became a lot better.
I stopped for water and food at every opportunity and swapped places with Cat throughout the day. It was her first experience of an ultra distance race and she was clearly loving the challenge. I loved the way her mum back in Canada was watching her Dot on the tracking page – even phoned her when she missed a turning. Her guiding angel – special.
Occasionally along the road there were shelters – bus stops I guess – and most had water tanks available. I was amused to arrive at one for a rest to find a fellow rider already there only for him to be dialled into a business conference call. I waved and carried on!
About mid afternoon I was starting to get some sharp knee pains – not previously experienced. I pulled into a cafe for a break and some food. After a few minutes sat outside drinking my coffee a Jeep pulled up and out jumped the race Doctor! I had just been thinking about something to help the pain. Well she sorted me out with anti-inflammatories and off I went. It’s was soon eased and never returned! Strange but true!
The town of Sur was my target for having a break and getting some food. I wondered about stopping there for the night but felt I should push on and make the last day and run to Muscat a bit easier.
To my delight I found a brand new MacDonalds and dived off the road and tucked into a chicken Mac meal with some enthusiasm – not my normal choice of fast food but this one was heaven!
Sitting down next to me was a long distance cyclist (not part of the race) and we got chatting as you do. From Europe he had cycled through Iran – such a friendly country – and was tootling around Oman waiting for his visa to enter India! Real nice man and some rider.
Tiwi was the next town that looked promising for a bed so I pushed on for 50km and kept on the main road. Riding at night felt safe enough with street lighting most of the way and a good shoulder. I pulled off the road at the Sama Wadi Shab Resort and checked into a room that would take Ed and Derrick as well who were a short distance behind.
One of my toughest days on a bike was done. 206km in 10 hours of riding into a desert wind with only 825m of climbing at an average of 20.7km/h. I had quite a few hours of “coffee time” to keep me going.
Last day – run to the finish
After a short sleep I was awake and felt the need to go so quietly sorted my kit and crept out of the room trying not to wake the guys. I got going at 0330hrs with the route following the main road without much prospect of breakfast.
It was a long haul into the dawn and beyond before the first opportunity for food came in a small cafe at 78km.
Refreshed, I set off for the run into Muscat. There were a few surprises and it turned out to be a great finale to the race. Some sharp climbs and the gravel ride through the gorge leading to Wadi Jiba were special and challenging in parts.
The final approach to Muscat was through some sharp foothills with some great views of the coast and city.
It is always a bit special when one approaches the end of a multi day ride. One gets some extra energy to drive towards the line. Into Muscat there were numerous twists and turns but the route was clear on the Wahoo and I enjoyed the run to the finish.
I was greeted by the Bikingman team and it was great to see Cat and Chris who had finished just before me. We had crossed paths throughout the race and I think we were all very happy with the result.
I finished at 12.25hrs after 159km with 1225m climbing and 22.1km/h average over 7hrs riding. My final position was 43rd from the 75 starters in a time of 81h25m.
After the Race
A few photos later and we were given a lift to the race finish hotel – The Grand Hyatt Muscat. I managed to get a room for Ed and Derrick and myself – they were a little behind me having stayed at the Sham Wadi Shab Resort a bit longer.
I was soon at the pool bar and the first pint was very special!
The following evening we had a dinner and prize giving in grand style and the next morning with Ed and Derrick headed back to Dubai after a brilliant few days on the bike.
Axel and his team were excellent as usual. Friendships with race staff and riders were renewed and new ones made. Thanks to David for some great photographs along the way. It was always great to meet the media teams around the course – a source of encouragement but often a dilemma – do you smile and wave or look serious and racing!
Big thanks to Derrick and Ed for their company and friendship and especially Ed for collecting me from Dubai airport and delivering me back and everything in between! Chapeau Ed.
The Race had great support from sponsors Oman Air and other generous sponsors.
My Mason Bokeh with WTB 34 Exposure tyres was perfect for the ride. I just love that bike. The front brake failure was air in the system and the dynamo a simple connection problem. Both easily fixed and a good lesson for the future.
But the final word has to go to the people and country of Oman. Such friendliness and generosity is very special and much appreciated. The landscape is stunning and set a magic backcloth to a memorable few days in the mountains, desert and Arabian Sea coast.
Through cycling long distances in new places I can feel all the emotions and elements in their entirety. The sun, the wind, the rain, the loss, the pain, the joy – the wonder of it all.