The best mountain bike races

In the past couple of decades one has seen more and more mountain biking around the world. It started life as something of a novelty, but has developed, changed and matured into a proper sport. Nowadays, there are competitive mountain biking events all over the world. And here is a short (and completely incomplete) list of some of the best!

Trans Portugal. In late May cyclists from the world over descend on Portugal to criss-cross the entire country on their mountain bike saddles. The 1150km-long race takes about nine days and the route cuts through villages and towns, woodlands, along steep cliffs, over gravel roads and through the wilderness of Portugal. In addition to needing to be in top shape, athletes also have to deal with the almost total lack of signs and no markers, so cyclists also need to be an expert at GPS navigation in order to finish this one.

The Cape Epic. A week-long race in South Africa that is approximately 800km long The Cape Epic traverses the Western Cape. The 1200 riders that come to South Africa every March are in for a challenge. If you’re considering joining, you’ll want to be in your best possible shape because it’s not just amateurs who test their mettle on this taxing journey. Each year there are a handful of professionals who join as well. Be prepared to climb a total of some 15000m over the eight days.

The Yak Attack. Any sort of mountain list without mention of the Himalaya isn’t complete. The Yak Attack annually in Nepal in early March, a time when the winter snows has yet to melt, making it weather-wise one of the most challenging. This daunting race also ascends to higher than 5000m, an altitude at which some people get High Altitude Sickness. Besides the weather and altitude the mountainous terrain makes this race a challenge. The hosts of the event even have listings of how many of the days’ events cancelled. Certainly not for the casual cycler!

The Iron Bike. This is quite possibly the toughest mountain bike race the world over. It’s held every July in the Alps and lasts just over a week. While not the longest of races, it is without question one of the most challenging races with up to 12-hour days. Even breathing is something of a challenge  at the race’s several high-altitude camps. Any race of this magnitude it’s crucial not to underestimate the taxing physical challenges and risks one faces.

La Ruta. A three-day race that covers 259 kilometres, this journey is a bit less ominous than some of the others on this list. Riding through the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica—if you can stand the heat and humidity—this is a race you’ll always remember. Not only are there jungles and beaches but one sees local life well with small villages, farms. Surely the highlight however isa couple of active volcanoes. But with 6300m of cumulative elevation gain over 259 kilometres this isn’t for the casual rider.

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