The season for multi-day mountain bike stage races is upon us already, if it every really stops. The first few have already snuck in under the radar and, to mix a few more metaphors, the rest are waiting in the wings. A few years ago, if you wanted a week of dusty, craggy, sweaty mountain bike racing it was the Trans Rockies or Trans Alp or nuffin’. Now these week long fat-tyre indulgences have mushroomed across all continents and all terrain.
So if riding off road 6 hours a day, camping with strangers in a foreign field and talking mountain biking 24/7 is your thing, then read on. We bring you the ultimate guide to the world’s best.
But where to start? We got in touch with Matt Page, the UK’s premier professional endurance mountain biker, to ask him for his top ten multi-day staged mountain bike races. This isn’t the definitive list of ‘trans’ events, and if you fancy a holiday to Algeria you’ll probably find a multi-day race there if you Google for long enough, but this is Matt’s ‘top drawer’ list; the ones on his bucket list or those he’s gone back to year after year for yet another beasting. (Before you sign up, bear in mind that Matt’s list of 24 hour solo wins stretches back half a decade and he counts a 6th place in the 2011 World 24hour champs and a UK and European 24hr solo win amongst his accolades. Matt likes them tough!)
The Ultimate mountain bike stage races on the planet
The Top 10
20th – 28th July. Starting in Limone Piemonte
Matt votes this the toughest of the lot and suspect the website speaks the truth when it gently suggests that “the physical demands of Ironbike should not be underestimated”. The race comprises untimed linking stages and timed ‘special stages’. Expect seriously long days of up to 12 hours, high altitude camps and a long time to recover. Entry costs 400-600 Euros depending on what package you get and whether you sneak into the early bird registration, but check the website to see what this includes.
30th June – 7th July. Starting in San Sebastian and finishing in Roses.
TRANSPYR is technically non-competitive (although there will be numbers, so expect racing). The aim is to reach the Atlantic from the Mediterranean in 8 consecutive days. Open to teams of two or three, the event covers approximately 825 km with around 20,000 m of climbing, representing a daily average of over 100 km and about 2,500 m of climbing. Two other shorter events are open if that seems like too much hard work. You can ride the first 4 stages (Roses> Ainsa), or the last 4 stages (Ainsa> San Sebastian). Registration doesn’t open until 1st November.
March 3rd – 12th. from Shivapuri to Khaniya Ghat.
The Yak Attack is a “no frills” kind of race and things don’t always run to plan. Service can sometimes be infuriatingly slow, hot showers aren’t always available and communication with the outside world can be non existent for days. But it’s the highest mountain bike race on earth, and one of the toughest mountain bike stage races on the world calendar. It comprises 8 stages, covering 400km and with a total altitude gain of over 12000m. The race throws every obstacle under the sun at the adventurous riders daring to take it on, including altitude: The course peaks at 5416m, where oxygen levels are only 50% of those at sea level. Then there’s the weather – up to 30c over the first 4 days and then rapidly decreasing to a frostbite inducing -15c (before wind chill) as the race crosses the Thorong La pass. Then there’s the terrain, bike-wreckingly rough descents, soft sand climbs, streams, suspension bridges, mud, landslides and invariably, snow. Each day has a ‘percentage rideable’ stat in the route book! Cost is £2295 per person.
9th-27th October 2013. From Cairns to Cooktown.
In a first for the “Croc”, the now 9-day race will kick off with two public race stages hosted by the Cairns MTB Club as part of the “Crocodile Trophy Festival”. The stage race itself is 850km long and blisteringly hot by day but dropping to -10 at night. The race is for teams of 3 only and costs £1780 per person (but check the rather impenetrable website for team rates as these may be different).
23rd – 30th March 2014. Across the Western Cape.
This 800km race attracts 1200 riders – in teams of two – and is one of the original greats. The race is held over 8 days and includes a time-trial prologue. The route changes every year, and leads aspiring amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world. Expect some big names! There is approximately 15 000m of climbing over some of the most magnificent passes in South Africa. The entry fee, in South African Rand is 900 per team but there are early bird rates, although these sell out in seconds. Most people go for the lottery route.
4th -12th May 2013. Crossing Portugal in 9 days , north to south, this race finishes in Sagres, the southern west point of Europe.
The race comprises 1 150 km of off-road racing across forest tracks, gravel roads and steep single tracks on clifftops. The average day is 125km and there is a total of 24500m vertical climbing during the race. You race from hotel door to hotel door, and your overnight stays are in the best hotels in the region. This race is unique in that there are no signs, ribbons or arrows to indicate the way. You must follow their ‘flawless GPS guiding’. This means you can access truly wild, peaceful places but also there is an element of self sufficiency required, with no aid stations. All external support is forbidden. Races compete only as individuals. Entry is from 950 – 2365 euros per person depending on what it included.
August 30th – September 7th
This is a long and challenging race, open both to professionals racers and high level amateurs, which takes place entirely across the lonely steppes of Mongolia. It was here in the 13th century that local herdsmen, led by Gengis Khan, invaded Europe, China and the Middle east. Expect a lot of references to Ghengis Kahn. The race takes 7 days including a time trial day. Teams of 3 get a discount (in an unusual system in that only the top two team members’ times count). 1790 euros per person.
October 24th – 26th 2013
La Ruta traverses Costa Rica from the west coast on the Pacific to the east coast on the Caribbean. This race is only short, covering 161 miles / 259 km in three days, but is famously epic. Total elevation gain is 20,000+ feet / 6,300+ meters. The route covers jungle, active volcanoes, farms, coffee fields, forests and small villages. You can expect a hot, humid, tropical climate as well as very cold, high-mountain temperatures, and a famous disregard for health and safety. The route starts at the Pacific Coast beach town of Jacó and finishes in Playa Bonita. US$1650 per person.
July 27th – August 2nd, 2013
The original North American stage race, the TR now offers 3, 4 or 7 day stage races. The main race offers 7 days of racing for teams of two, and new for 2013 there is a solo rider category. Generally starting in Fernie, the TransRockies draws an international field from over 20 nations every year and there will be big names racing. Since the first TransRockies in 2002, the route has been largely transformed to eliminate road and unrideable sections. There are 12,000 m of climbing. The race costs CAN$1499 per person (but check the website for earlybird rate and extras, like the final ‘banquet’dinner).
13th – 20th July
This is one of the original spectacular MTB stage races set in beautiful mountain-panoramas, over awesome passes, through famous cities and attracting 1200 participants from around 40 countries every year. The route is over 600 kilometers long and will climb about 18000 vertical meters. The race starts in Mittenwald and ends at Lake Garda. Teams of two race together and there are often up to 30,000 spectators on the course in various locations! The race is only 650 euros each, but food, luggage transfer and accommodation are extra.
June 29th – July 6th
This is the famous singletrack race. Can you imagine riding singletrack for 7 days? It apparently has the most singletrack of all the multi-day stages races in the world, including a lot of hand-built British Columbia trails. Your entry fee includes four ferry crossings, daily transfers of luggage and bus trips to the start when required. The race costs $1999 (Canadian dollars) per person. Early bird rates are available but sell out in seconds.