Race Report: Morocco’s Titan Desert Stage Race

Screaming donkeys, joyful children and snowcapped peaks all part of the Moroccan adventure

Race Coverage Travel

Photos by Marc Gasch/Titan Desert

I’m sitting in Northern Africa in an air conditioned press office. Last night, I slept in a shelter called a Haima made of carpet like material, held up by sticks. Today was Stage 1 of the Titan Desert Stage Race, a six day, 710 kilometer mountain bike race through the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert. I have an inkling that it will be the hardest race I’ve ever done.

Today, we rode 77 miles. It was much harder than I was expecting, taking me 5 hours, 47 minutes second place among the women and 65th in the general classification of 423 riders. The start was fast in our pack with even a couple ex-Tour de France riders in the mix. My legs felt like they were blocks of concrete under water. I spent the last few days before the race in Barcelona, Spain getting used to the 9 hour time difference, but I admittedly spent too much time walking around (about 10 miles a day), but I couldn’t help myself.

Photo by Marc Gasch/Titan Desert

Instead of flogging myself into a useless oblivion, I decided to keep my nose out of the wind and ride with a group. I still have about 375 miles to conquer in the remaining five stages. I’ve heard people criticize the Titan Desert because of the pack riding. I’ve got news for you, if you leave North America to do a stage race, the vast majority of them consist of dirt road riding with little bits of singletrack. We don’t know how good we have it in North America! Don’t underestimate the dirt roads; I was very thankful to be on my new Canyon Lux full suspension. I’ve been racing a 29er hardtail the last couple of years and being punished on rough terrain. The roads are not beautiful IMBA singletrack, but loose, choppy, steep, and demand attention.

Photo by Marc Gasch/Titan Desert

I was amazed at the views of the unexpected views 14,000-foot mountain peaks. We rode across Jaffar Pass at 7,000-feet with bright yellow flowers, and looming snowcapped rocky peaks. I even got a small taste of technical riding up a narrow riverbed sandwiched in between 2 massive canyon walls reaching up thousands of feet. I admit that I was thankful for a few short pavement sections.

The grand views and landscape was just one element of today’s stage. What touched me the most were the Moroccan people. There were children lining the streets when we went through tiny villages screaming and wanting high fives. I looked around me to see scattered dilapidated shacks made of mud and straw. These people had nothing, but you’d never guess that if you saw the joyous children. It made me sad to think that they probably will not have the opportunity to even ride a bike. Along the route, there were many flocks of sheep and goats with shepherds. There were donkeys with bunches of big sticks attached to them. And then I heard this strange sound. It sounded like a human trying to make a funny scream. I looked and it was a donkey! I heard it multiple times and could not help laughing out loud.

Photo by Marc Gasch/Titan Desert

Tomorrow will have an interesting twist. It has a bikepacking element. We will be provided with a giant shelter for all 423 riders to share. There will be food provided, but we must be 100-percent self-sufficient in every other way. That means I’ll be schlepping my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, sports nutrition and kit for the next stage, down jacket, pants, etc. I have a giant saddle bag made by Revelate Designs from my CTR attempt I’ll be using. I admit I’m kind of excited, but I hope my legs feel a bit lighter. It’s supposed to be cold tomorrow night at 6,000-feet where we will be sleeping. I’m here for the adventure, and I’m definitely going to get it! I also changed my XX1 gearing. It’s complicated at stage races.

The later days in the race will change completely. I’ll trade bleating donkeys for camel grunts, the mountains will turn into sand dunes, and we’ll be riding in the Sahara Desert. I’ll let you know how the bikepacking stage goes; it’s 86 miles. Stage 3 is the queen stage clocking in at 92 miles. I’ll be reporting again after Stage 3. Morocco is going to beat me into shape!

Race Report: Morocco’s Titan Desert Stage Race Part 2 »
Race Report: Morocco’s Titan Desert Stage Race Part 3 »

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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  • Art says:

    Well done Sonya! I can’t wait to hear about the bikepacking stage, you’ll need a growler cage of course.

  • Win says:

    Sonya you’re my hero! Best of luck getting through the rest of the race

  • Ruben gonzalez says:

    hey , girl it’s me Dj spider sounds like you had a blast in north Africa , I never thought you would be traveling 450 miles !!!!!!!!!! on a mtb wow .What did you eat a piece of fish . oh yah I felt your spirit laughing at that donkey silly girl , love you hope to see you soon …….jah rastafari ever living ….

  • Sonya says:

    Thanks guys!! More reports coming soon!

  • Learux says:

    Good Luck. I admire what you are doing out there.

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