Race Report from the Grey Ghost MTB Challenge 2021 which was held on 11th July in Keylong, Himachal Pradesh…
On a gorgeous overcast Sunday in Lahaul Valley, 120 boys and girls lined up to race up and down those rugged mountains.
As the clock struck 8, the Grey Ghost MTB Challenge sprung into action. The racers were blessed, it wasn’t too hot, clouds covered the valley and it didn’t even rain. Perfect weather conditions to go XC (Cross Country) racing…
Grey Ghost MTB Challenge: Gone Racing
Out of the 120 racers, 8 were girls, 6 were Masters, 23 were under-14 boys and the rest were the under-19, elite boys and joy riders.
Masters, under-19 and elite boys were racing Route A, while the rest were racing a truncated Route B. As such, Route A racers were flagged off 4 minutes before the latter.
As the flag drops, all talk stops!
Devender Thakur from the get go started pushing. His goal was to splinter the group in the first few kilometres itself, so that there wouldn’t be a bunch descending together on the first downhill.
As he took off like a rocket, David Kumar and Shiven followed hot on his heels. The trio worked together to pull away from the rest on the flattish first 6 km. On the first climb, Sonam Norboo (who podiumed in the Ultimate Ladakh Cycling Challenge in 2020) caught the leading trio and stayed with them. At the top of the first descent at Stingri Devender took back the lead, with four within spitting distance of each other!
The bottom of the hill was the start of the first major climb and Shiven attacked. He passed Devender for the lead as he struggled with stomach ailments. David and Sonam also came through on Devender and gapped him by a full minute at the top of the climb. The duo were in turn a minute behind Shiven.
Shiven lead from the front, with David and Sonam working together on the rolling terrain. A subsequent downhill allowed Devender to recover sufficiently to catch and pass the duo. He then piled on the pressure of the race leader through the village single track sections. And was just 15 seconds behind Shiven when they hit the highway at Tandi.
On the final climb from Tandi to Keylong, Shiven threw the kitchen sink at it. He had been patiently conserving for this stretch and increased his gap to Devender to a whopping 2.5 minutes at the finish line.
Shiven comfortably took the win, with Devender in second and David another 53 seconds further back to round off the podium.
The girls were racing the shorter Route B.
Sarah Appelt had no competition in the race. As she stamped her authority by finishing 7 minutes ahead of Palak Thakur in 2nd. Vageesha Sharma in 3rd was a further 18 minutes adrift. Palak and Vageesha were from the Under-19 category, so they have potential in the years ahead.
The Under-19 was a closely contested category. The boys were fast. Madhav Dutta finished first with a 17 second gap to 2nd placed Joy Kapoor. Sandeep Thapa in 3rd was just 47 seconds off the pace.
These fast young men, finished 8th, 9th and 11th in the overall standings. They can only get better from here on.
The masters category did not have fierce competition for the podium. Sunil Barongpa won comfortably with a 15 minute margin. Deepak Sammi and Kapil Chaudhary rounded off the podium.
The under-14 boys category saw 23 riders start the race. But only 12 finish, it was a tough route for these youngsters.
Kunal Kumar Chauhan took the win, with Angad Singh in 2nd just 11 seconds behind. Parvick Kukreja took the final spot on the podium.
Support from the Government & People
To pull off this big a race, we need infrastructure and support from the government. It was wonderful that the Grey Ghost MTB Challenge had full support and cooperation from the establishment.
The Himachal State Cabinet Minister and MLA from Lahaul, Dr. Ram Lal Markanda was the Chief Guest and he flagged off the race as well. The SP Police and District Deputy Commissioner handed out the prizes to the winners at the end of the race.
The local police had blocked the national highway for the race to take place. This road closure meant that travellers and locals alike got out of their cars to enjoy the two-wheeled spectacle. The men in uniform did a superb job of allowing the smooth flow of the race.
At the race venue itself there were plenty of people who had come to watch and cheer the racing junta.
The single tracks passing through the villages were also built by the locals. Because they wanted the race route to go through their villages. It is only with the backing of the community, that one can successfully organise a race on this scale.
Racers who were visiting from the plains loved the route. It was scenic and challenging. They couldn’t have asked for more and all have promised to return for the next iteration.
No Race without Gorgeous Pictures!
Why bother racing if there is nobody to click gorgeous pictures… Here are some stellar shots from the camera of our friend Mohit Raj Kapoor.
Photos: Mohit Raj Kapoor