Having been locked up like a caged animal for months in the insane wet and cold Irish Winter weather, it was off to Race across Oman 1050km in the Middle East’s desert landscape. This was a totally unsupported race where us competitors had to carry our own supplies of water, food, navigate, charge lights, phone, garmin, gps – it’s up to you and only you and Oman what a job Bikingman.com did in delivering an incredible race. Littered with the greatest adventure athletes on the planet, each deadly assassin with a killer like attitude for success yet off the bike the most inviting warm collective community of achieved explorers.
The Omani playground was set – 1050kms, 100 athletes from 22 countries exploring & enduring the elements of the South-East Arabian Peninsula: the Hajar Mountains, the spectacular Jebel Shams Pass, the Ash Sharqiyah Desert and Arabian Seaside Roads, finishing back in the stunning backdrop of the city of Muscat.
So at 3am on the 28th February in the tranquil resort of Al Nahda under the Redbull kite the International and inaugural Bikingman race was set on fire with a blistering pace from the gun. Adrenaline pumped heart-rates and blinking bike lights shot off in all directions. You see what made this race unique, diverse and challenging was that there were four checkpoints over the 1050km route “two unmanned & two manned” and you could arrive at each checkpoint by which ever route you chose, making navigation critical followed by pace, hydration and nutrition to ride hard and go super long, which became my race strategy…. sounds simple right…
Lets jump right in.
At full gas for 10 hours in 30 degrees celsius on good surfaced roads the lead riders arrived to the foot of Jebel Shams climb with 320kms on the clock – this 22km climb ramping up to 18/20 percent in gradient was going to be a game changer for most. The mountain summit stood at 2,818mtrs and marked the first manned checkpoint. The climb was savage – no other word could do this justice , it just never stopped ascending higher and higher changing surfaces from tarred road to off road gravel, calling on all your skill level to simply stay upright. I arrived in in 3rd position behind established race leader but soon to be disgraced & later disqualified for drafting..
After a short refuelling of pasta, noodles or simply any good quality carbohydrate I could get my hands on it was off like a pack of animals, some short coursing across off road trails removing major mileage and fast tracking time… It was now that you could really see strengths and weakness as the skilled down hillers were completely at home, notably the English downhiller- Neil Copeland and Rodney Soncco- the Peruvian. Completely beyond my skill limit and trying to hold tight was bordering suicidal but a necessary evil.
Pushing on I was on the back foot, as the lead riders short coursed & rightly took advantage of the short mileage and having the bike set up to do so. I had to make a decision to ride through the night in an effort to make back the hours lost on the long way round. The most magical battle was just about to start as Inca trail winner and one of the world’s leading adventure unsupported athletes Rodney Soncco and and myself went toe to toe for the next 14hrs, not giving each other a single inch, the passion to win was palatable yet the respect for each others profession was humbling. Judging stops at small shops in the middle of nowhere, stocking up on water and anything food like that could help propel this human body forward at super sonic speed was required to get ahead as catch up became the game of chess with both athletes desperately looking for that checkmate move.
Getting approx 15min lead heading into checkpoint three at Bidyah not without experiencing my first puncture of many to come, which would prove to be my race down fall. Informed that now I was in second place over night, that the decision to push on paid off giving me great hope and confidence, however mind boggling that the leader was still 3hrs ahead, unreal as I’d rode at 25kph avg overnight … head wrecking stuff it was like we were chasing a ghost.
Rodney shortly followed in and by now both of us had zero sleep in 26hrs, decision time sleep or push on, sleep or push on … the deep hot long roads of the Arabian were up next.. By now both riders had the utmost respect for each others efforts and a unified decision to take an hour out to sleep was agreed and so was the case, one slept the other with a belly full of Adrenaline didn’t , guess who yip…lol. Anyways battle gear on, fuelled and with a deeply routed respectful handshake knowing that the next phase of the race was critical, we hit the road highly motivated & super competitive.
Racing through the small rural towns & villages where people cheered us on tooting of car horns acknowledged our race presence, the Omani people were so friendly and helpful reinstalling your faith in humanities goodness. It was at this critical point of the race when things were really intense and about the 650km point that I suffered a second puncture followed 100kms on by a double third and fourth puncture both together colliding with an exposed pothole in the road and with each puncture chasing Rodney Soncco down to keep my race alive was taking its effects. Entering the desert on route to Sur at 750km the temperatures mid day were surging 36.5 deg on the garmin and with no food stops or hydration points the thermostat was firmly in the red. Chasing behind very strong was Paul Alback the German rider who caught both myself and Rodney at high pace, and with my legs not yet recovered both riders set sail into the horizon. My initial thoughts was not to panic and I’d ride myself back as we still had 300kms to go… plenty of time or so i thought.
With a combination of mechanical stops & well rested riders on the attack the race was once again closing for 3rd and fourth positions. Making a routine food stop at the final checkpoint I dropped to fourth place as Josh libbit passed and with now only the hilly coast road on route to Muscat separating us from the finish line, the hammer was down by all leading athletes. I could see Josh’s flashing lights 3/4km ahead and my legs were feeling great powering at over 30kph when the unthinkable happened again – yet another puncture number five yes five , can you imagine! By now not a single tube had I left so it was back to basics and the puncture repair patch and glue kit was out, with time ticking in both directions in fear now of being caught from behind.. I was frantic.
Going again my only hope was to short cut and scrambling on the garmin to see if I could find any comeback move – there it was , involving an aggressive mountain climb but with strong legs and a heart still filled with passion I went for it… here goes this is it its my only chance to jump ahead. It was hard but with each peddle stroke I kept reminding myself it’s worth it it’s worth it it’s so bloody worth it!!!!.. Go on wishing and willing. Cresting the summit in the middle of nowhere in complete darkness only the lights of the reconnecting dual carriageway in the distance, my desperately laughable bad luck struck for the sixth time yes six six six I shouted… another F….king puncture. My heart sank as I knew that my chances of a podium were gone. Using the bike front light in my mouth, patches and glue kit out it was repair time again. A slice the length of my thumb nail and three patches later and reassembled I frantically pumped air with my micro hand pump when my aggression snapped the nib of the valve….. now to say I used a few choice words is a complete understatement…. I was in big trouble!
For those of you who have walked in cycling shoes they don’t make for good forward traction , especially as now according to my garmin gps I’d somewhere between 3/5km to walk. It’s 12.30am and on this mountain road there wasn’t even a goat not least a car. This final puncture cost me seven hrs – seven hrs holy moley, I kept thinking I must have been bad in a previous life ,I had to have been kept rushing through my sleep deprived fragile mind, by now I was so tired even the white lines were moving, dancing in fact.. no joking by now I was in another world…
A petrol station along side the race route dual carriageway became my base as I awaited any sign of human life which arrived in the form of two fellow riders. A coffee shop operator without an ounce of English and not great at sign language either.. between the Jigs and the reels I got fixed up and back on the road… now I’m tubeless, patch and glue-less in fact I’d about as much faith in reaching Muscat as getting an opportunity to go to the moon…. but on I pushed, 3rd 4th 5th & 6th places had all passed as I lay motionless stuck and it was so infuriating. 100k to go 50k to go and there it was the finish line and was I so delighted to see it… 50 hours later. With news filtering through that Rodney had won and I was delighted, remembering our incredible battle over night …he truly deserved it and for me a hotel room, warm shower and a warm bed with an emotional phone call with my wife..
In reflection – what a race with wonderful people filled with the competitive spirit to be the best they can be. The passion & willingness to urge others on was simply done with an encouraging comment or a smile or a warming handshake to urge you to follow your own dreams and aspirations. You see what I’ve stumbled into is a world of explorers seeking out unlimited physical and mental challenges in life with a yard stick that seems to just go on forever. As a life long cyclist and adventure athlete the merge of these two sports has possibly made me rethink my direction that I’ve survived this world at times unsupported … and maybe just maybe this is just another way forward of unlocking & creating a way to explore endure but more importantly empower others through my actions to fearlessly follow. You see Life really is an expedition, sometimes a battle of the unexpected. Sometimes we focus on the destination and forget about the journey. But when you fall like I did, like we all do exploration allows you to get up stronger it allows you to trust in your own understanding, it allows you to dream bigger believe in yourself and find your real purpose.
I wish to take this opportunity to sincerely thank my fellow competitors from around the world for their kindness, honesty and friendship, to the race organisers and helpers that allows us to do battle on the most outrageous playgrounds on the planet. To the followers of my adventure that choose to come and explore with me your kind words & positive vibes carry me like you wouldn’t believe, at times and in situations you just couldn’t believe..
To my supporting sponsors for believing in my passion for life.
Renault Ireland and Highland Motors
KN Group Global Utilities
Velo Revolution Clothing
UB-COOL Global Adventure
Parkinn & Radisson Hotel Group, Muscat Oman