'Himachal's off-road tracks perfect for MTB'

Garhagussain (Himachal Pradesh), Oct 1 (IANS): The off-road cycling track here is inhospitable and one of the world's toughest making it ideal for holding mountain biking (MTB) events, says Canadian national biking champion Cory Wallace about the conditions here for the Hero MTB Himalaya rally.

Wallace is among the 69 foreign and Indian intrepid riders in the Hero MTB Himalaya, the 10th in the series, that began from Shimla Sep 27. It will conclude at the starting point Oct 3 after traversing 500 km.

Participating in the MTB for the first time in India, Wallace, who is leading the race from Day 1, said the rally was more professionally managed.

"I have travelled more than 40 countries for MTB. Here the organisers are more professional. Moreover, the terrain is perfect for high-altitude training," the three-time champion of the Mongolia Bike Challenge told IANS in the village here, located in the interiors of Kullu district.

Event organisers said Wallace, 30, who is ranked 18th in the world, was leading by 39 minutes in three legs. Ten riders are out of the race.

"The mountains here are really steep and the track has 100 percent dirt and is full of natural obstacles -- ideal for MTB," 23-year-old German rider Andreas Hartman said, adding that the event organisers should promote single, inner tracks.

He said Himachal Pradesh has lots of mountain tracks compared to European countries.

For Portugal rider Sonia Lopes, coming to India was well within the budget.

"It's quite expensive while cycling in Europe," Sonia, the first woman cyclist to conquer the non-stop 500 km Portugal Bike Race, said.

She has been pedalling professionally for six years. The mother of a four-year-old boy is leading the race in the women's category where five riders are still vying for the title.

K. Dattatreya of Cycling Federation of India (CFI) said: "In Uttarakhand and Kerala, the MTB is being organised but both are just one-day events. Here it spreads over at least six days.

"It's more adventurous here owing to steep mountains," said Dattatreya, who has come here from Hyderabad to monitor the event as a referee.

He said the CFI, which is affiliated to the UCI (International Cycling Union), is regularly holding track, road and MTB events. The MTB Himalaya organisers have invited the CFI for the first time.

Another rider Datt Patil, who has been biking barefoot and participating in the MTB Himalaya since 2004, said his passion for cycling in the mighty mountains is bringing him back every year.

"I will keep on conquering the Himalayas till my last breath," said Patil, who is from Maharashtra.

Mohit Sood, president of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), the Shimla-based MTB organising club, said this year's route is through the lesser explored interiors of the lower Himalayas.

It crossed the Jalori Pass (3,135m) in Kullu district, the highest point of the rally.

Sood says earlier the MTB Himalaya was attracting only a few Indians "but now the figures have swollen".


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