Shimla, Sep 29 (IANS) Ninety-two intrepid riders from 16 countries on Friday set out to capture the lesser Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh with Governor Acharya Devvrat flagging off the eight-day Hero MTB (mountain bike) Himalaya rally here spread largely over inhospitable tracks.
The top-ranking professional participants include Cory Wallace from Canada, Antonio Ortiz from Portugal and Thomas Engelsgjerd from Norway.
Teams from 16 countries comprising Portugal, Spain, the US and Australia are participating in the race’s 13th edition, besides Indian riders, comprising Indian defence forces, Mohit Sood, HASTPA President, told IANS.
Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association is the local club that organises the MTB Himalaya rally.
The eight-day race, touted as one of Asia’s oldest mountain biking event, will conclude in Dharamsala town, the abode of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, on October 7.
Speaking on the occasion, the Governor said: “Pollution is not just of the environment but also of thoughts. I request the Indian riders to promote our rich culture amongst the international riders.”
The bikers will touch boundaries of the Great Himalayan National Park, one of country’s biggest national parks in the Kullu region, and pass through Bir-Billing, known to be the world’s second highest point for paragliding.
This year’s race spans over eight stages with a total of 650 km and features an elevation gain of 16,000 metre, covering 60 to 90 km every day, Sood said.
“The rally route is scenic with the mighty Himalayas in its backdrop and we have added some new stretches this season,” he said.
Major towns near the race route are Gadagufar, Narkanda, Luri, Gadagushaini, Jhanjeli, Mandi, Barot and Dharamsala.
The race tracks will be tarmac, broken gravel, rocks, mud and sand. The highest point of the race is the Jalori Pass, at an altitude of 3,131 metre.
Canadian rider Wallace, 33, who is currently the WEMBO World Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike Champion, is participating in the Open Men Solo category.
He is sponsored by Kona Bikes and loves riding on Indian trails.
Cory, who axes trees in forests for two months and cycles on off-road cycling tracks across the globe the rest of the year, was crowned the ‘King of Himalayas’ title in 2014 in the MTB Himalaya.
Last year, he participated in the race but failed to defend his title from German Andi Seewald, who is the current ‘King of Himalayas’.
Seewald is not participating in the race this time.
Last season, the race saw a close contest between Cory, Seewald and seven-time world champion and Australian rider Jason English.
The current ‘Queen of Himalayas’ Catherine Williamson is participating this season again to defend her title.
She made a hat-trick last year by winning race in the Women Solo category.
Shimla-based Ankush Arya, who rides for Hero Action team, got an opportunity to compete with Catherine and Cory in the last season. This time he is participating too.