The 9th Genghis Khan Festival in the Xiwuqi grasslands begins tomorrow with the individual time trial for mountainbikers around Nadamu Arena. Continuing the trend of the past years, it is another record-breaking edition with 1800 registered participants spread over the MTB and running competitions.
The time trial (ITT) acts as a stand-alone warm-up for the 3-day stage race that begins in the afternoon following the official opening ceremony. It is a short, but rather intense effort of 5.8 km around Nadamu Arena. Last year’s fastest rider came from Ulanbaatar, Baterdene Narankhuu, who completed the lap in 10:39. Interestingly, he was 39 seconds quicker than the later winner of the stage race, Myagmarsuren Baasankhuu, proving that the time trial is food for explosive specialists. In any case, the ITT will already shed some light on who is hot and who is not. And on paper, this year there’s a lot of hot riders in the participant list!
Let’s highlight the women’s race first. A competition that all too often has lacked spark due to the dominance of one rider. This year, though, we have three of the past four women’s champions at the start, plus a young German talent and last year’s number 2 from Belgium. The best women’s field ever and it will be exciting to see who comes out on top: Bitbit Baby Marites Sotto (2011 champion), Solongo Tserenlham (2012), Wang Xueli (2014), Chiara Eberle or Veerle Buytaert. This being a race for non-professionals, it cannot be excluded someone unknown rises up the occasion as well. An attempt to attract 2013 champion Enkhjargal Tuvshinjargal was in vain as she will be competing this weekend in the World Police Games in the US instead.
In the men’s competition, Ulanbaatar’s Myagmarsuren Baasankhuu will not have an easy time defending his title neither. The challenge will not just come from his own compatriots, but also from a number of international riders with strong pedigrees and of course China’s Hu Hao, who is ready to make that final leap from stage winner to overall winner.
Nanjing’s Hu Hao, still only 20, will be able to count on the support of two teammates at Team Specialized, which can be important in the early parts of the stages. The Mongolian riders are renowned for ripping the field apart with a blistering pace from the gun, leaving many opponents gasping for air. One rider in particular has almost made that his trademark here at the Genghis Khan Festival. Tugulduur Tuulkhangai grabbed four stage wins in 2012 and 2013 – a record – and is back this year to claim what has eluded him so far: the overall title! In both aforementioned editions, Tugu suffered on day 1 with a broken chain (2012) and a broken handlebar (2013) putting him out of contention. Third time lucky for Tuulkhangai? To note is his affiliation with Team Chiru-Magura from Hong Kong, which may imply that his fellow Mongolians from Team Attila and Team Aldar will be keen not to let him ride away too far.
Chiru-Magura has another iron in the fire in the person of Fraser Young. The Canadian returns to Xiwuqi for the third consecutive year and had a great ride last year to finish fourth. The Young-Tuulkhangai tandem could introduce a good game of tactics to the race, especially on the second and shortest stage on Saturday, which tends to keep protagonists together for a sprint finish at Yurt City. Chiru-Magura also features Charlie Epperson, world traveler Leigh Timmis and team captain Pierre-Arnaud le Magnan.
There is more horse power coming from Hong Kong. Team APA is aiming for top honours by way of Thailand’s Jantaraboon Kiangchaipaiphana and Australia’s Piers Touzel. Both have gathered a reputation all over South East Asia and Touzel is a former winner of the Huang Shan MTB Festival a few years back. Alhough a favourite for the MTB title, Touzel is aiming for the King of the Grasslands crown first and foremost. This implies he will be in the third starting block (as all other KOG participants) and also that he may focus on stage wins and helping his Thai teammate to score the overall championship.
In the mix will be a team from Russia as well. Alexey Chaklov was sixth last year and has been going strong in local races in the eastern Siberian region this year. His teammate from Team Chain Reaction Cycles, Evgenii Vitmanovskii, could be the dark horse in the grasslands this long weekend. Vitmanovskii is hailed as one of Russia’s best mountainbikers, so it will be interesting to find out how well he copes with the fast action in the grasslands.
Rain and wind could play in the hands of technically skilled riders like Vitmanovskii and the weather in Xiwuqi has been unstable this week. The forecast for tomorrow is positive, however.
The Genghis Khan MTB Adventure totals just over 200 km over three stages. The classic first stage, going past the statue of Genghis Khan’s horses, is virtually unaltered since the first edition in 2007 and has seen tremendous racing over the past few years. Interestingly, the winner of the stage has also won the overall championship title in nearly every year. The stage measures 64 km. The second stage is just 44.5 km but has some steep and tricky sections, and the final stage on Sunday is a proper endurance challenge over 100 km.
If Baasankhuu wins, he will be the fourth rider to win back-to-back titles after Martin Breuvart (2007, 2008), Wang Lei (2009, 2010) and Altansukh Altanzul (2012, 2013). Only Lv Taotao (2008, 2009) has won the women’s race twice.
China’s fastest biker in the past two years, Hu Hao. Can he step up from stage winner to overall winner this weekend?
Myagmarsuren Baasankhuu returns to Xiwuqi to defend his 2014 title
2014 winner Wang Xueli is one of three former champions in this year’s women’s race