Over 1,800 km and 30,000 meters of altitude and just under 15 days to go: that’s the Silk Road Mountain Race 2021. Tobias and I are on it and it starts in 6 months.
That makes me as happy as it makes me respectful. Because the SRMR is known as the toughest Bikepacking race and demands man and material considerably.
I have not been to Kyrgyzstan yet. In 1998 I just passed by bike and – coming from Germany – cycled through Kazakhstan and further to China into the Himalayas and through Tibet. Here I was also able to gain sufficient experience with riding at an altitude of over 5,000 meters. Therefore, I am now of course all the more pleased to finally be able to visit this beautiful country, which I had to skip at the time due to visa timings. It is then country 52, which I travel by bicycle.
As with the Atlas Mountain Race, you can compete in the SRMR as a solo rider or pair. After our successful finishing in Morocco it was clear for Tobias and me: let’s master Kyrgyzstan together and apply as a pair.
And so we talked about a possible participation or application only a few hours after our finish at the Atlas Mountain Race. Still on the bus back to Marrakech we made plans and talked to SRMR veterans who had also participated in the race in Morocco.
Back in Germany we started our preparations. The first thing we had to do was to get some time off. The race itself lasts 15 days, starting on August 13 and the finisher party is on August 28. With a few days for acclimatization and a little buffer for the departure, it quickly adds up to 3-4 weeks that you have to take off
Fortunately, I work for a very understanding employer and can take extra vacation days for the SRMR.
“It will be tough, but scenic”
This sentence from the Komoot collection of SRMR routes describes the character of the route very fittingly: the big challenge will be the altitude of the Pamir Mountains and the weather, which holds everything you can imagine. Temperatures ranging from -15 to +40 degrees can definitely be expected, and snowstorms can suddenly hit and bring any plan to a halt
And then there are the tracks on which the riders will cross these mountains. 100 km here can take a very long time and be more than twice as strenuous.
Purely arithmetically we have to ride about 120 km a day. That sounds like a nice morning at first, but it is really hard work on the ground – and sometimes impossible to do. Besides the route itself, this is also due to the many passes that have to be crossed, some of which go up to 4,000m.
In addition, the checkpoints should not be forgotten: there are a total of three of these checkpoints, which are only open for a certain time and must be reached within this. Because only there are the coveted stamps for the race book and only with all stamps a rider then the SRMR also really finished.
But that also means: with 120km a day it is partly not done and like at the Atlas Mountain Race you should always stay in motion and ride as much as possible during the day. Also to have a buffer for possible forced breaks due to food intolerance, altitude, heat, cold or other illness.
The elaboration of the route and the basis of our tactical planning will again be done by “Salsalette South” Tobias. As in Morocco, we will divide the route into 200 km bites and thus always know what we are facing with what gradient, trail conditions and length.
But what is clear: almost every day at least one pass is waiting for us and the way to it is steep, stony, gravel. Former Soviet military roads and centuries-old nomadic paths are our track and make the Silk Road Mountain Race so challenging. Add to that the weather and climate.
And as a special bonus: This time there will be an evening start and the race will start at 10 pm on August 13. And then also right up to the Terek Pass, 50km and 2,100 meters of altitude. That means the first night we spend climbing. And it stays like this until the first checkpoint, because until then there are more than 11,000 meters of altitude on about 500km
Our approach to this kind of race remains: “Constant Pace wins the Race”.
In concrete terms, this means: we will then work through our plan in the usual structured way and hope that nothing will get in the way and that we will arrive safely and happily at our destination after 12-14 days.
If man and material remain whole, we should have a pretty good chance of a successful outcome.
Training is for the untalented…
… but sometimes talent alone does not help. Races like the Silk Road require training and solid physical and mental preparation. That’s why we prescribed ourselves a more or less structured training, focusing mainly on the 6 months before the Race, starting in March.
I’ve had a Smart-Trainer since last year, so I’ve already been able to train diligently and gain altitude meters in the last few weeks. But that alone is not enough, which is why I’m restructuring my training starting in March and adding regular intervals and long rides in addition to athletics units for core training. To do this, I will measure my FTP regularly and, if necessary, also use targeted Zwift FTP Builder training programs. However, the focus of my training will be outdoors. And in the renunciation: alcohol and sugar will be strongly reduced for the coming months, also to lose some more weight.
So that the whole thing is not just based on my gut feeling, I will also be guided by the training plan “Touring with a Sense of Urgency” by Sarah Hammond and Jesse Carlsson. In addition, I will also be inspired by Tobias, who got the Ultra MTB training plan for 8 days + events from Kurt Refsnider and will train accordingly.
In total, that means between 10 and 20 hours of training per week. That sounds doable at first, but it’s not easy in the daily family and work routine.
In addition to individual long distance rides, I will also use the Orbit360 routes this year for preparation. And maybe Tobias and I will manage to meet for a training camp, for example to ride the Rhön Divide.
Bicycle: Everything as proven
Of course – and this is one of the most beautiful parts of the preparation – my bike and the equipment still need one or the other update.
With the bicycle it remains in principle with the equipment successfully tested in the last months: I will ride with a SRAM Rival with Garbaruk-Tuned shifting. In front comes a 30 Absolute Black oval blade on it, rear a Garbarauk 10-50 cassette. Thus I have sufficient gearing for the mountains. Speed on the flat is not so relevant here, but rather sufficient capacity for bad slopes and steep long climbs. James Mark Hayden would even ride in front with 28er blade. I’ll give that some more thought. Until then, it remains at 30/10-50.
As for the wheels, I have not regretted the forced rebuild on DT-Swiss with HX491 rims (on DT-Swiss 240 hub and SON 28 dynamo) so far. With their 150 kg load capacity, they then also have the necessary capacity for such demanding things, like the Silk Road.
Also with the tires there are no changes: I trust as well as in Morocco on the Vittoria Mezcal. However, I will vary in width and either combine front 2.35″ with rear 2.25″, or ride front and rear 2.35″.
But I have a new light and bought me a Klite Bikepacker Ultra V2 set including USB charger. I am very impressed with this so far and the light performance and illumination.
New is my handlebar: I’m switching from the Bombtrack Beyond Flare Drop Bar to the Salsa Cowchipper, from 46cm wide to 48cm, but less flare. I want to find out if I then ride more in the lower bar. Of course, the Profile Design Sonic 35a Aero bar comes on here again.
Even with the saddle I’m still thinking: currently I ride the Brooks Cambium C15 carved on a test bike and am quite taken by this on longer rides. Therefore, I look at times the C15/17 carved closer, or stay with the SQ Lab 611.
For the temperatures and requirements of the Pamir I have now also bought a new sleeping bag: for this I have customized a Cumulus X-Lite 400, which weighs only 600g and has a comfort range of -1 to -7 degrees.
At the Atlas Mountain Race we raced with a bivy sack, but to Kyrgyzstan a tent comes along. I have a Vango Helium F10 UL 1 tent, which does not stand alone. This is quite sufficient for tours in this country, but for the mountains of the Pamir I do not want to do without a stand-alone tent. Therefore, I have struck in the Christmas business at Globetrotter and bought a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 1 Bikepack. This tent is specially designed for Bikepacking and therefore has, for example, a shorter-folded poles. This fits better in the handlebar roll or frame bag.
In addition, the Copper Spur is slightly higher than the Vango and has steeper walls, which ensures that you have more space and the sleeping bag is not wet on the walls by condensation. The setup is very easy and quickly done. And the tent does not take up much space and weighs only a little more than a kilogram.
What is packed where and how, I still have to plan. Tobias and I are riding as a couple, but we are equipped so that each of us can ride alone. A particularly good resource is the post by Stefano and Dave of Pannier, who also rode the Silk Road as a pair and report here in great detail about their ride, experiences and gear. https://www.pannier.cc/journal/extraordinary-worlds-the-silk-road-mountain-race-srmr-2019/
As soon as the packing list is up, I’ll share it with you, of course.
…is the best joy and therefore I am highly motivated to dedicate the next six months of my life to the preparation for the Silk Road Mountain Race.
The flights are booked and the accommodation is reserved. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that despite the Covid situation we will still be able to make the race.
And if you want to get an idea of the Silk Road Mountain Race, I recommend this video of the first race: