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Yak Attack 2011

The Yak Attack in the Himalaya of Nepal has just finished once again. This is an event that is very close to my heart as I personally had an amazing experience competing in the Yak Attack a few years back. This year the event was won by TORQ-sponsored rider Ajay Pandit. Here’s an extract from event organizer Phil Evans providing a review of the race and details of the final stage from Tatopani to Khaniya Ghat (32km)…

“There was plenty of time for reflection as the riders embarked on the final stage of the Genesis Yak Attack 2011, a group ride from Tatopani to Khaniya Ghat, and the end of the dirt after over 400km. During the 11 stages the competitors had endured temperatures (if the computer readings were to be believed) from a sweltering 44c on stage 2 and cases of heat exhaustion, to a finger freezing -15c on stage 9 with a few incidents of mild frost bite. There had been mud during stage 7, so sticky and deep it had led Aussie rider Greg McGoldrick to vow never to race again (a statement he later retracted after the 67km downhill section!). Snow and ice bought on some extremely scary moments both ascending and descending during stage 9, with both John McGillivray and Mangal Lama losing their footing on the treacherous section just past High Camp and sliding down the 45 degree snow covered slope.

South African John Ferguson, went for the record most number of falls on the icy descent to Muktinath, managing one final tumble on the last remaining meter of ice, before clear trails and safety, to take his tally well into double figures for the day! Thefirst 4 days of lower altitude riding also took their toll and kept the medic, Keith Green busy, with Rajeev Rai, Dhanjit Rai, John McGillivray, Steve Rysdale and Kumar Gurung amongst other all taking injury inducing falls on the numerous rough and ready 6km+ descents. Mike McCabe and Andre Deplechin both suffered from stomach complaints, weakening them through hunger and making progress painfully slow at times, but both persevered through to valiantly and uncomplainingly complete the race. On top of this there were the tough carry sections, hauling bike onto shoulder to tackle the steep rocky climbs to Taal and beyond, donkey trains to negotiate, river crossings and of course the altitude.

Whilst each and every rider endured their own personal battle against differing race elements and most questioned their sanity at some point during the 11 days, (nearly all admitting it was the toughest event they had ever taken on), on crossing the finish line at Khaniya Ghat with over 400km and 11000m of ascent under their belts the underlying consensus was that Yak Attack had been the most memorable and enjoyable experience of a lifetime. Dorking veterinary, Trans Rocky and Cape Epic rider John McGillivray surmised "After reading all the blurb about this event, I came out with no aspirations of enjoying it, just to merely complete it, but in actual fact, its been bloody great!!"

It wasn't only the terrain and the incredible scenery that had made the race so memorable. It was the interaction with the local Nepali riders that was the topping on the cake. A friendlier and more helpful set of riders you couldn’t wish to meet. Although ultra competitive and desperately wanting the Yak Attack crown and prize money, each and everyone of the 12 strong Nepali field were always willing to assist any rider in need. Ajay Chhetri (TORQ/Genesis), going for his 3rd stage win in a row, only minutes from the start, took the time to assist Paul Bolla who's seat rail had broken, Dhanjit "Santosh" Rai (HimalayanSingleTrack) after completing each stage himself would lend his hand as a mechanic in the evenings for the ubiquitous running repairs, and the youngest rider to date, Aayman Tamang at 17, took it on himself to ride amongst the field, taking photos and checking all were happy.

There were as always also few surprises to be had. Paul Bolla, a laid back Aussie, working as a volunteer in a hospital in Baktapur and riding a $700 hardtail, donning training shoes, with v brakes modified with old inner tubes, showed it’s not all in the equipment, being first international rider back in all 4 of the higher altitude stages. Fellow Australian Mark Waller, struggling during the initial lower, hotter stages on his fully rigid singlespeed, found "wings" at altitude and chased Paul all the way, finishing second in the international placings on 3 high altitude stages. It was the consistency of John McGillivray however that earned him the top international spot, finishing in 9th place overall in a very credible 34 hours.

For the 5th year running the real battle was between the Nepali boys with yet again no international rider able to compete with their ascending or descending skills. Before the start there appeared to be no clear-cut favourite, with all 6 top Nepali riders taking part, but by Manang, with Ajay Pandit Chheri (TORQ/Genesis) having taken all 7 stage victories and over an hour ahead of his closest rival it looked like being a whitewash. However it was testament to Rajeev Rai's (sponsored by Brelades Vets, but also coached by TORQ) fight and determination that he was able to cut Ajays lead to just 18 minutes over 2 short stages and set up an exciting finale on the final 67km descent to Tatopani.

In the end it was all in vain though as Ajay showed tremendous strength of character (having crashed during this stage in 2009 and 2010) to cross the finish line over 10 minutes ahead of Rajeev who later admitted had give it his all but had run out of steam in the latter part of the stage.And so all that was left for the tired and battered Yak Attackers to do for another year was to soak in the hot springs at Tatopani, nursing sore legs, cuts and scrapes, blisters and aches and plan the strategy for next year’s attempt at the "Worlds Highest Mountain Bike Race".

At the awards ceremony in the lakeside city of Pokhara everybody involved in the race, including the hard working porters received race medals, t-shirts and certificates. whilst the winners took possession of their trophies and prize money. Overall winner Ajay Pandit Chhetri (TORQ/Genesis) collecting his first prize of a Genesis Core MTB generously betrothed it to his best friend and fifth place finisher Narayan Gopal Maharajan, who’s bike has definitely seen better days.

After celebrating the birthdays of the 2 oldest competitors, Greg McGoldrick and Andre Deplechin with the presentation of a delicious birthday cake each, the ceremony closed with thanks going to all the sponsors and supporters without whom such an event would not be possible. Genesis Bikes UK (Title Sponsor), Nepal Tourist Board, ACAP, Dawn Till Dusk MTB, TORQ, Himalayan SingleTrack, Himal,de, Nova Raiders Cycle Club, Sandra Gwynne, Brelades Vets, Ed Menzies, Mukhiya "Snowmonkey" Gurung (timekeeper and race logistics), Rataman Gurung  (porterage and drink stations), Prokash Gurung (rider safety and photographer), Keith "Yak Doctor" Green(medic), Buddha Lama (way marking), Kate Hobson (race numbers) and all others far too many to mention but equally appreciated and needed.”

Final Results for the Genesis 2011 Yak Attack

1. Ajay Pandit Chhetri (Nepal) (TORQ/Genesis)                        26:11:00
2. Rajeev Rai (Nepal) (Brelades Vets)                                      26:39:13
3. Padam Sabenhang (Nepal)                                                  27:02:49
4. Mangal Krishna Lama (Nepal)                                              27:32:31
5. Narayan Gopal Maharjan (Nepal) (Ed Menzies)                   28:45:49
6. Dawa Sherpa (Nepal)                                                          33:22:57
7. Dhanjit Rai  (Nepal) (HimalayanSingleTrack)                        33:24:53
8. Chandra Chhetri (Nepal) (Himal.de)                                    34:03:59
9. John McGillivray (UK)                                                            34:12:07
10. Raj Kumar Shrestha (Nepal) (HimalayanSingletrack)         36:21:57
11. Paul Bolla (Aus)                                                                 36:55:37
12. Stephen Rysdale (UK)                                                       38:02:43
13. Greg McGoldrick (Aus)                                                       39:20:48
14.  Mark Waller (AUS)                                                            40:16:59
15. John Ferguson (South Africa)                                            41:35:01
16. Aayaman Tamang (Nepal) (Justone.org)                           42:37:56
17. Sunil Shrestha (Nepal)                                                      44:23:24
18. Kumar Gurung Tamang (Nepal)                                        48:53:50
19. Andre Deplechin (France)                                                 50:42:53
20. Mike McCabe (UK)                                                            51:17:08