Sonya Looney Rides the Mongolia Bike Challenge: Part 1 – The Adventure Begins

Race Coverage Travel

Stage 1

The start was very fast and I tried to hang on as long as I could. I though to myself, “You don’t want to blow yourself up in the first 20 minutes of this whole race!” After 10 minutes, I dialed down the throttle and set into a pace I’d ride the rest of the day. Day 1 was one of the hardest courses. There wasn’t a lot of sustained climbing, but the climbs were punchy and long enough to hurt. The descents were on the tundra with hidden rocks sneakily hiding in the grass. There were sections where there was no road or trail. You’d just have to look ahead for the arrow in the lumpy grass and rock and make your way forward.

I was comfortable in 2nd place and although I rode hard, I was enjoying myself. That was probably one of the only days I was able to smile and look around in the race. I rode the majority of the day by myself, but I didn’t mind. I am one of those people who enjoys riding alone. I like the peaceful solitude, going my own pace, and thinking or not thinking without distraction. It did not take long for my attitude about riding alone to change during the race!

It was pretty warm out. I was enjoying the heat because I know that in Mongolia, the weather changes faster than it does in Colorado. Later stages had quite a different climate!

About 15 km from the finish, my back tire felt squishy. I was hoping it was my imagination because I tend to imagine that more than I should admit. This time, the reality was right in front of my eyes. My rear sidewall was slit and Stan’s was spewing out. My heart sank, but I took action and flipped the bike horizontal and shook it and spun the wheel. No dice. I had one precious CO2 that made it through the flights and decided to use it. I again was shaking the wheel and trying to stay calm. It seemed to hold. I got back on and kept going. “Just give me 15km,” I said to my tire. It was losing air. I had to stop to fill it with a pump, but made it count and pumped it rock hard and I babied the downhills. I opted to walk a few sections uphill and flip the bike horizontal so the slit would have more time to seal.

Video: Interview of the top 3 ladies for Stage 1. Video courtesy of Mongolia Bike Challenge.

My eyes were straining for that giant horse statue. I was relieved when I finally saw it. I wouldn’t have to put a tube in. I crossed the line in 2nd with Erin Greene coming in just minutes behind me in 3rd for the day. We start and finished in the same place for Stage 1.

We enjoyed another meal and our very modern Ger setups in our last hours of luxury. I went to bed early and got ready for Stage 2. Stage 2 would bring us to a different finish line.

Continue reading for Stage 2 and full photo gallery.

About the author: Sonya Looney

It’s energy and attitude that have propelled World Champion Sonya Looney on a mountain bike across the rugged Himalayas, through sweltering sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the clammy jungles of Sri Lanka. Sonya Looney is an adventure traveler on a bike seeking out the hardest races in the most remote, beautiful, and interesting places in the world. She believes in pushing limits because that’s when you realize you are far more capable than ever imagined. Sonya is also a professional speaker, keynoting at large conferences and has spoken at TEDx. Don't let her accolades fool you though, she loves craft beer and joking around. Follow her on social media!

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