Johan Lilja from Team Crescent in Sweden took part in the world's highest MTB race Yak Attack in Nepal

Yak Attack is the highest mountain bike race on earth, climbing to the dizzying heights of 5416m above sea level. 8 stages, 400km, 12000m of overall altitude gain and a temperature range of +30c to -15c, tests the most experienced of riders. For the first 3 days the race travels through the hot and dusty Himalayan foothills, before climbing from the lowest point, at just 300m, to the snow covered Thorong La pass (5416m), 4 days later. Breath taking landscapes, searing heat, sub zero temperatures, sand, mud, snow, altitude have captured the imagination of high-level mountain bikers and adventure athletes worldwide. Yak Attack is now internationally recognized as one of the toughest endurance races on the planet.

You can read full version of Johan Lilja´s adventures in Nepal (in Swedish) on his blog http://bikefaster.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/yak-attack-2014-racestory/


Here you can read Johan´s shorter but still really thrilling racereport with breath-taking photos:
 

Yak Attack 2014. When racing becomes adventure

Yak Attack in Nepal is considered to be one of the toughest MTB races in the world. A lot of races claim to be just that, toughest in the world. However Yak Attack has two ingredients that make it stick out, length and altitude!

The course is the notorious trekking route Annapurna Circuit that goes from Kathmandu over the Himalayan Mountains towards the border of China to Pokhara. The total distance is 400 km and you do some 12 000 positive meters of climb getting there. That’s something to chew on and the route takes usually 25 days to trek. To make it a bit tougher you need to climb the pass of Thorong La also with its impressive 5 416 meter of altitude. So – way not bike the route and do it on 8 days? 

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When I missed to apply for a place in Vasaloppet an early morning last fall I needed something else to occupy my taste for adventures (Vasaloppet might not be an adventure but I made it an adventure last year when I decided to doublepull the entire race and its 90 km). I have had my eyes on Yak Attack for some years and I applied. After going through the seeding process stating what other kinds of adventures and races I have done I got one out of 30 places!

 

It was time to start training like a pro. Not only was my intention to be really prepared for the race but I wanted to compete with the Nepalese guys for a podium place!  Never before have a non-Nepalese been on the podium.

I was training from a level of practitioner to elite. From June to Mars and I was getting stronger and faster by the week.

Swedish bikebrand Crescent became my new home during the build-up and I got a place in Team Crescent (http://teamcrescent.se/johan-lilja-team-crescent-medlem/). Also I became team captain for the multisport team, Team Crescent Adventure, (http://teamcrescentadventure.wordpress.com/

One morning in March I jumped on the plane in Stockholm and jumped off 20 hours later in Kathmandu. That’s a crazy town!

After a couple of days of gearfixing and resting in Kathmandu the race was started. Total number of racers was now 37 and many of the world’s best endurance bikers were there. Ohhh, this is going to be  hard I was thinking before the start went off and we rushed uphill towards 1990 meters altitude from the outskirts of Kathmandu (1 400 m).

 

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The first day I manage to hurt my back but was pushing to the finish. The last 5km was a devilish uphill and the heat was starting to get noticeable and I took me almost 5 hours to reach the finish.

Day number 2 was a monster stage off 80km and 3000 meters of climb. My back was killing me but I pushed as hard as I could. The climbing was tough but not the worse compared to some of the roads that could be really hard biking on. 

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The back was hurting a lot but I decided on the morning on day three to start the third stage which was supposed to be a bit friendlier surface to bike on. I pushed and was at position 12 which felt good since this was the first time I was in the race so to speak. Unfortunately the seatpost broke and I tried to bike and extra hour without it but then tried to fix it together with an entire village of friendly people. After some time I was however forced to throw in the towel and it was very frustrating to jump into the jeep the last bit!

I didn’t manage to fix the problems (it’s a bit of a story on its own) and I decided to try to make the last week on foot to reach the finish with or without the bike. Also I really wanted to do the Thoring La-Pass!    

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The fifth day I trekked for 9 hours and managed to reach the finish line before the last bikers! That explains how hard this race is to do on mountain bike more than how fast I was going.

The last three days before the pass we went from 2 700 meters to 4 530 meters including a restday at 3 800 meters altitude in Manang.  

Sleeping at 4 530 meters is a surreal thing. The ground under you is moving and your appetite is bad. You have a slight headache and you can find yourself lying in the sleeping bag and all of a sudden get  short of breath!

Early morning at 3:00 when it was still dark we  lined up for the start of stage 7, “the pass”. The first 5 km gives you approximately 1000 meters of climb so its pretty steep in the beginning! After a couple of hours we reached the top when the day was moving into a sunbathing day! Blue sky and no wind made the passage very easy and no one had any major issues from the altitude except some headaches and swollen hands.

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Amazing!

Since the ascent was quick and our last couple of days was a bit too fast up on high altitude we descended after we took the summit pictures nearly 1000 height meters in one go. The whole stage took us nearly 10 hours!

The last two days was just steady trekking down to the last town, Pokhara, where we spent two days and also had the price giving ceremony. I was called up on stage and was given a medal for completing the course. That was very nice of the organisation since I hadn’t biked all of it.

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Nepal is an amazing country and the people that is living there are just the friendliest I have meet out on adventures. The “Delhi Belly” on the other hand is something you should really be careful about if you decide to take a trip there! A lot of the racers were ill and that’s not a pleasant position to be in when you want to perform.

And have you not visited Nepal yet – you need to do that!

I have already booked my spot on the 2015 edition of Yak Attack that takes place in September!!

Next up for me and the team (Team Crescent Adventure) is races in Sweden in multisport, biking and running. Also I am going to Sri Lanka in November for a 4 day mountain bike stage race! Check out our website for news and dates!

Johan

 

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