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Prologue: The North Face Yak Attack 2013

Prologue: The North Face Yak Attack 2013
The 2013 North Face Yak Attack


“The Showdown in The Annapurna’s”

Yak attack is considered to be one of the toughest endurance races on the calendar and is the highest altitude mountain bike stage-race on Earth.

11 stages, 400kms, and 12000m of ascent over some of the most brutal terrain on the planet. Peaking at 5416m on The Thorong La, Yak Attack is racing at its most primeval; it’s The Himalaya, mighty, unforgiving, and unpredictable.

2013 looks set to cement The Yak Attack firmly into the conciousness of the endurance athlete community. With global manufacturer The North Face coming on-board as principal sponsor and the UK’s Channel 5 filming it, with Richard Parks, for part of a documentary series, Yak Attack finally seems to be coming of age.

The brainchild of race director Phil Evans, from Shropshire, England; it was devised to test the mettle of the hardiest racers around, and to showcase the deserving talents of Nepal’s growing, but hopelessly underfunded, mountain bike riders.
Originally conceived as a race between Trail Runners and Mountain Bikers, after Phil’s own attempt on The Everest Marathon, to see who was the fastest over this unique terrain.
It soon evolved into and out-and-out mountain bike race and is garnering a reputation as a must-do event for the palmares of any aspiring stage racer.
Up to now it has never been won by an international rider, although the 2012 race saw an Australian, Peter Butt, on the podium for the first time, in 3rd position; and Jeff Kerkove from The US was pushing hard until illness forced his retirement. It has been dominated for the last 3 years by Nepal’s No1 rider, the diminutive, astonishing, Ajay Pandit Chhetri, a mountain bike mechanic & tour guide, for Dawn til Dusk, based in Kathmandu.
What makes it more astonishing is the fact that not one of the Nepali riders are full time professionals with the kind of access to training & facilities afforded to some of the international contestants, or any kind of financial support.

Many of the Nepali riders can only enter the event due to the generosity of Phil Evans and his organisation – Extreme World Challenges – who waive entry fee’s and seek private sponsorship for the qualifiers. It is run on a none-profit basis for the benefit of the riders and their local communities. International entries are usually limited to 25, and their fee’s contribute to the Nepali rider’s fund, leaving a minimum 15 guaranteed places for local entrants. The race cannot realistically cater for more than 40 riders due to the logistics of the remote terrain and the limited availability of accommodation at the higher altitudes.

Race Director, Phil Evans – UK

So what can we expect from 2013?

With a massive increase in publicity in 2012, largely thanks to media partner Nepal Sutra, magazine editor Henri Lesewitz, and the prolific social networking of the (US) Team Topeak-Ergon riders Sonya Looney and Jeff Kerkove, this years event has attracted yet another wide spectrum of quality riders from the four corners of the globe.
Sonya herself is returning to defend her Women’s Crown which she won last year, along with a very creditable 14th overall, and is being joined by Topeak-Ergon team-mate Yuki Ikeda (Japan). Yuki’s recent credentials extend to victories in The Rocky Mountain Endurance Series, The Brek Epic 3-Day, and most recently The SDA Otaki Spring 100km (Pro Men Marathon). On paper, at least, Yuki appears to be a potentially serious contender for the overall win.

Sonya Loony – USA

Race favourite will no doubt be Nepal’s current No1, defending champion and 3-times winner of The Yak Attack in 2010, 2011, & 2012, Torq Fitness rider Ajay Pandit Chhetri.

Although recently recovering from injury and doing enough, with a 3rd placed finish, in The Trans-Nepal to qualify for for this event I suspect Ajay will still be the man to beat. His experience in the race, and the terrain, should put him in the driving seat. He is also unbelievably fast!

Reigning Champion Ajay Pandit Chhetri

Nepal’s current No2 Narayan Gopal, 2nd overall in 2012, was the victor in the inaugural Trans-Nepal Stage-Race recently and looks to be a strong challenger with the potential to take his first win. He will undoubtedly push Ajay all the way to the line.

We also have the very likeable Aayman Tamang, a veritable pocket-rocket. Aayman works as a mountain bike guide, for Himalayan Singletrack, and is an up-and-coming challenger to the throne, if he can put it all together, and stay on the bike, who knows what he might achieve?

With many other superb local riders in the mix it has the makings for an exciting race.

When you throw in the unpredictability of the wild weather, huge temperature fluctuations (+25c to -30c), changing surfaces, dust storms, mud, snow, ice, illness, and the crippling effects of high altitude it really is anyone’s race.

There is also the unknown quantity of many of the other international entries (apart from me, I have decided not to challenge the front runners and will once again be bringing up the rear, I’m hoping that they might award a Lantern Rouge this year! :D).

Robert Burnett – USA – has formed a cycling team with the specific intention of taking on The Yak Attack (The Nepali Tea Traders Cycling Team) and is an elite amateur rider at home in Denver, CO. Along with fellow American Thor Loechell he is sponsoring Aayman and 19 year old Nepali Rajan Bhandari. You can bet these guys will be pulling together to put a member on the podium.

Former Welsh International Rugby player turned global adventurer Richard Parks brings along some very welcome publicity for the event. He is to be featured in a documentary series on Channel 5 in the UK. Yak Attack is the first of 3 gruelling races he is taking part in as preparation for an, as yet, undisclosed adventure called Project X.
Is he a contender? I don’t know. But as an international athlete and a man familiar with high altitude and mountainous terrain he can’t be easily dismissed. Although I suspect that his recent exertions in Antarctica may have a bearing on his ability to challenge the front runners.
Perhaps like many of the contestants he may just be in it for the personal challenge of completing one the worlds great adventure races. 

Tyler McMahon an American ex-pat, and Kathmandu resident, rides regularly with many of the local stars and has been putting in some serious training with plenty of high altitude riding. Tyler put in a fine performance in 2012 finishing in 12th position, and I fully expect a similarly strong showing from him this year.

Likewise, Yak Attack medic, Keith Green is another returnee who will push the middle order all the way and could well improve on his 10th place finish in 2012. Whatever happens he will certainly keep us entertained! 

Tyler McMahon – USA/Nepal
Keith Green – UK

With international riders competing from the UK, USA, New Zealand, Hungary, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, Sweden, and Poland it’s anybody’s guess as to who will place where and who might push for honours. No doubt the Southern-Hemisphere riders from New Zealand and Australia will put on a good show coming, as it does, at the end of their Summer season.
One thing is for sure it is going to be a fantastic event and one that may well change the course of Yak Attack history forever.

I recently received this years race details and noticed that there are some changes to the earlier stages of the route, and had it confirmed by Phil. The tough hike-a-bike sections on Stages 5 and 6 have been superseded by the extension of the Jeep Trails up to Chame, now making both days 100% rideable. From a personal, purely selfish, perspective I was a little disappointed. I really enjoyed the challenge of the hiking sections and it gave a back-marker like myself a chance to make up some time on the leading pack. I lost a lot of ground over the first four days last year due to contracting a serious virus in Kathmandu and had little energy to push hard. By Day Five I was starting to feel much better and the fact that I was hiking-fit from three weeks of hard trekking gave me a real boost. 
That said, the Jeep trails aren’t exactly sealed roads. They provide rural, rough-cut, barely passable, access to the higher villages. I’m not sure if the Nepali Government plans to continue further with this development and take the roads ever higher but it will certainly change the feel of the race considerably and, most probably, make it more attractive to international competitors currently discouraged by the tough push-carry reputation of the race. On paper, at least, it looks like being a faster race with the leaner XC riders having the advantage during the lower stages. It is a mountain bike race, and people want to ride as much as possible, but I do like the fact that it is mixed ground; it is an added attraction to the challenge for me. Perhaps I’m just masochistic?

Mind you given that the road to Chame is currently under two feet of snow those hike-a-bike paths might yet get reinstated? Did I say it was an unpredictable event? Not even the Lord Buddha himself could hazard a guess at what might face this years riders!

And finally; The Ball-Buster!

Altitude affects every rider to one degree or another including the Nepali riders (most of whom live at the lower elevations in and around Kathmandu).

The Thorong La – 5416m

The crux of the whole race and the one day that can see huge changes in the overall standings; it’s the make-or-break stage. This can often decide the outcome of the race with the faster ascenders peaking in around 2.5 hours and the struggler’s taking as long as 5 hours. Anyone with aspirations of a high overall standing has to perform on “Pass day”.
It’s hard!
With only 50% of the oxygen enjoyed at sea-level it is punishing just placing one foot in front of the other. And with something like 14 false summits before the top it can be hugely demoralising. Then comes the wind.
Absolutely the coldest I have ever been. I removed an outer glove in order to put on my down jacket last year and my fingers were frozen inside the liner before I could zip up.
Not to mention that my big toes also froze and the toe nails went black; then fell off a few days later. And that was just my story. Everyone showed symptoms of Altitude Sickness, others suffered potentially serious frostbite, and most came close to hypothermia.
I’d say that on a bad day it’s possibly the worst place in the world! 😀
It’s fantastic! And the feeling of achievement (and maybe relief) is unsurpassed.
Everyone dreads it. Everyone hates it. And then everyone absolutely loves it!
I can’t wait.

Paul Bolla, Neil Cottam – UK, and Peter Butt at 5416m in 2012.

Good luck to everyone taking part. Enjoy yourselves. Don’t take it too seriously. And don’t expect any home comforts! It isn’t considered one of the toughest races on the planet for nothing.

2013 Registered Riders – In no particular order.

Richard Williams – UK
Sonya Looney – USA
Andrew Pellowe – NZ
Zoltan Keller – Hungary
Peter McUtchen – Australia
Stephen Edwards – USA
Mark Ross – NZ
Jeremy Soawyer – Australia
Brian  Sweat – USA
Thor Loechell – USA
Dr Jon Sturman – UK
Kerry Oxenham – NZ
Neil Cottam – UK
Robert Burnett – USA
Steve Hammer – Australia
Matthias Schneider – Germany
Uwe Schoenberger – Germany
Steve Edwards – UK
Yuki Ikeda – Japan
Tyler McMahon – USA
Andre Deplechin – France
Eric Secher – Sweden
Des Hendry – UK
Zbigniew  Mossoczy – Poland
Richard Parks – UK
Keith Green – UK
Ajay Pandit Chhetri – Nepal
Narayan Gopal Maharjan – Nepal
Rajan Bhandari – Nepal
Lelish Maharjan – Nepal
Aayman Tamang – Nepal
Roan Tamang – Nepal
Mangal Krishna Lama – Nepal
Santosh Rai – Nepal
Laxmi Magar – Nepal

Up & coming Nepali Female Laxmi Magar, sponsored through The Darren Holloway Young Athlete Fund via Chase The Rainbow & friends.

You can follow the progress of the race via The Yak Attack here:

Website: Yak Attack

Facebook: Yak Attack

Neil will be posting on the blog whenever possible plus here:

Updates and videos will also be available here:

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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