2019 is the year of new challenges, of trying new things, of seeing how I get on in unsupported ultra-cycling races, and of combining my cycling with seeing my family who are scattered all over the globe. First up is seeing my sister in Dubai and lining up for BikingMan Oman. I will do a proper blog about it all afterwards, but here is a short blog post just to share my excitement: Oman Oh (wo)man!
“Oh woman, what have you signed yourself up for ?” is one of the thoughts that goes through my head as I am packing up my bike and trying to reduce the amount of kit I will be carrying on my bike for my first ever unsupported race. Yet another voice in my head is shouting with excitement: Oman, bring it on!
What is BikingMan Oman ?
BikingManOman is a 1050-km long unsupported ultra-cycling race through Oman with 7,200 meters of elevation. The race starts in Barka (at a very nice resort), winds its way to the Hajar Mountains and up the challenging Jebel Shams climb, through the Ash Sharqiyah Desert, along sweeping Arabian seaside roads and finishes in Muscat (the capital of Oman).
What is it like?
I’ll tell you afterwards! Meanwhile here is a short trailer from last year’s inaugural race.
Apart from the distance there will be a number of challenges to overcome. One is the feared Jebel Shams climb: Oman’s highest mountain which will see us racers huffing and puffing up a 2121m ascent over 22km with ‘only’ a 5% average gradient , but sections exceeding over 20% and some gravel thrown in for fun too…
Another challenge is the wind, which can be brutal in this area. It is still a little while away, but judging by the handy Epic Ride Weather app, the wind should be manageable for most of the time and the heavy rains of late should have passed by.
Oman is one of the safest countries in the world. Although I got my rabies jabs just in case, I am told I really don’t have much to fear with the biggest obstacle likely a bunch of camels on the road, which can be fun, especially at night!
When is the race ?
I will be flying out to Dubai tomorrow night, but the race starts on Sunday 24th of February at 3am and racers need to have completed the race within a maximum of 120 hours (5 days). For reference, last year’s winner only needed 46 hours and 17 minutes (!); I expect it will take me a fair bit longer than that …
The race rules for such an unsupported race stipulate total autonomy, i.e: no drafting, no support cars, no support crew, no luggage transport, no food or accommodation that isn’t accessible to other racers too, no hotel bookings prior to the race start, no other forms of outside assistance. In this case there is also a mandatory race route to follow, which I like as it takes some of the stress out of the planning and preparation for the race.
How can I follow the race ?
You can see the route and follow the race here.
The link will be fully activated once the race has started, but you can already have a look around to get familiar with the various views and filters. It looks like there will be a total of 83 riders in the race, of which 12 are women and 71 are men. I expect to see last year’s winner Rodney Soncco (#17) and runner-up Josh Ibbett (#82) battling it out at the front of the race again, along with a few others who came back for more after getting hooked last year, such as Niels Copeland (#71) and Marcus Leach (#12). Keep an eye out for fellow-Dutchie Matthijs Ligt (29#) too.
The beauty of this type of racing is that there is no dedicated men’s and women’s race. There will be an overall race winner, but also recognition for fastest male, female and pair. Arguably a “sprint” distance such as BikingMan Oman might still be a bit too short (in ultra racing terms) to see a pronounced swing in the overall rankings, but – as demonstrated by Juliana Buhring’s fantastic 3rd place overall in the event last year – the playing field certainly gets a bit more level between men and women as the distance increases.
Among the women, there is last year’s overall series winner Perrine Fages (#2), Danish elite cyclist Helle Bachhofen von Echt (#72) – who recently bashed out a QOM up Jebel Shams only 7 minutes slower than the KOM, all the while being stuck in 1 gear ?! – and British elite cyclist Georgie Panchaud (#55), but sadly no opportunity to meet and race with the awesome Juliana Buhring. My race number is #33 and my friend Catriona Archer is #53.
What to pack ?
As I am writing this short blog, I am surrounded by kit and find myself going through multiple elimination rounds to arrive at the ‘ultimate’ kit.
With the temperature swinging from 30 degrees during the day to 10 degrees at night (or less in the mountains), clothing is tricky… So I am packing things which are great for racing in the heat – such as my Le Col Pro Air Jersey, some tights to make ice socks (applying lessons I learned from heat exhaustion during the World 24hr TT in 2016..), UV protection arm coolers and Precision Hydration SweatSalts and electrolytes – as well as layers to keep me warm and comfortable at night, including a down gilet, some toe warmers and my super reflective, warm and smiley Loffi gloves.
There will be plenty of opportunities to buy food and get drinking water along the side of the road in Oman, but I am also bringing some of my own supplies to keep me going when shops are closed and to make sure I have some tried and tested stuff with me that is dairy free, yeast free and contains no refined sugar. It is hard to be picky in these kind of races and deviating from this new diet won’t do me any real harm, but still I am bringing a reasonable supply of Rawvelo bars and gels, plus I will be testing out some of their new energy powder…). I also have some home-mixed sachets with instant oats, coconut milk powder, cinnamon, olive oil, seaweed and sea salt to which I just need to add some water on the road. Otherwise, it will be bananas, pitas, hummus, nuts and whatever else I can find.
I am very much looking forward to the joys of riding an amazing titanium bike with Di2, disc brakes, tubeless wheels and dynamo (more news on that front very soon !), but for this race my good old Scott Foil will have to do the trick.
Luckily Sigma Sports and BrpComposites managed to revive my old faithful when the crank and bottom bracket didn’t want to stay in the frame anymore (and were hanging off the end of my cycling shoe instead..) With a marvellous set up of 50/34 on the front and 11-34 on the back, the bike should get me around 99% of the race course without too much trouble. I packed some cleat covers in case I struggle on Jebel Shams and need to walk and some extra brake blocks just in case I squeeze the hell out of them on the descends. Fingers crossed my 28mm Conti GP5000 clincher tyres can withstand the gravel sections…
Now the question is whether all of this kit will somehow fit in these 3 little bags (saddle pack, small frame pack and top tube bag).
I also have these handy fuel cells, one of which was last put to great use by Emily Chappell during the Transcontinental Race in 2016. I am hoping that using it will magically see some of Emily’s awesomeness rub off on me.
What do I expect from this race ?
Although I have hopes of a relatively speedy race, I don’t really know what to expect or what is realistic to aim for. It is my first race of this type, so the number one goal will be completion. Remember the first 3 lessons of ultra-cycling racing: don’t start too fast, stay on the bike and keep a cool head… I’ve heard these words before, yet I have been a silly hare embroiled in my own and other people’s egos all too often…
Most of all, I am looking forward to the scenery, adventure and sense of independence and achievement ultra-distance cycling can bring. And some nice sunshine of course!
Even if I fail to complete the race, I will still get to meet a whole bunch of awesome ultra racers AND see my sister, my brother-in-law and my 1.5 year old niece (who is also called Jasmijn!) as well as friends who live and work in Muscat, so in this case any outcome is positive!