Dogs, mountains and the hardest race in the world?

Usman bin Omar, the man behind Tri-Pakistan, is on a mission to inspire the next-generation of Pakistani triathletes. But not only that, Usman loves adventure with bikes and we wanted to find out more.

Taking on the the infamously difficult Silk Road Mountain Race is not for the faint hearted and last summer Usman decided to take on this 1000 mile bike-packing race through the heart of Kyrgyzstan.

It was incredible, but anything but silky.

Enjoy this quick fire q&a with Usman.

For those who aren’t familiar, what is bike-packing?

According to a definition on Urban Dictionary - bike-packing is to ride with the intention of riding long distances (touring) and being self-sufficient.

To me, bike-packing is finding adventure on my bike, from weekend rides with a bag carrying the bare minimum, food, clothes, and shelter.

It is finding that sense of freedom away from the constant pursuit of increasing power or speed.

Furthermore, it is pretty much about trusting your ability in being able to adapt to ever-changing situations; weather, people, & terrain. It is in those moments that I truly feel alive.

Tell us a little bit about taking on the Silk Road Mountain Race

The Silk Road Mountain Race is an unsupported ultra-endurance bike race across the Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan. The 1708 km route for the 2019 Edition took 150 participants from the capital in Bishkek to the finish line in Cholpon Ata.

With a time limit of 14 days and strict cut off times on three checkpoints along the route - some say it is pretty much the hardest race in the world.

What drew you to this particular race?

The spectacular mountains, fear of the unknown, and the potential to meet and learn from other experienced riders. This was an attempt to see how I would react to a an uncomfortable situation and overcome it. Personally, It felt the right time to take on a challenge like too.

Give us a sense of the terrain and geography.

Mountains, mountains, mountains. The majority of the route is through a number of high mountain passes, so a mixture of terrain; gravel, singletrack, double track, washboards, roads & hike-a-bike sections.

How did you prepare for a race like this?

Not having the experience of shorter distance races, this was something of a challenge, moving from relaxed cycle touring experiences to full-on mountain bikepacking in a country completely new to me.

Training for the race specifically started out with shorter punchier weekend rides, progressing onto longer endurance rides across South England, Wales, the Peak District, South East England, and a couple of mountain climbs in the UAE.

Putting in the miles is not hard to do, but finding the elevation gain that can replicate the route in Kyrgyzstan was nigh on impossible when you factor in the average elevation at which you're cycling. I took full advantage of the bank holidays and took time out from work to fit in multi-day rides with my gear to simulate to a certain extent how it would feel with all the gear on my bike.

More than the physical preparation, training myself mentally was equally important. A combination of training rides that felt rather uncomfortable to visualising what it would be like to be out in Kyrgyzstan helped.

Did you have any specific goals or objectives?

Just finishing!

How did the race go? Talk us through a typical day?

I only managed to do three days of cycling before being chased by dogs.

In that moment of trying to escape one got really close to my feet I hit a rock going downhill and went over my handlebars and landed on my left hip - I couldn't walk properly nor put any pressure for the next week, which meant my race came to a premature end.

A typical day previously looked like waking up early in the morning, having a quick breakfast, cycling, finding a shop to find some food and set out again until sunset and camp for the night. I ended up camping two nights and by the afternoon on the third day I had my accident.

Although the race came to a premature end it must have been an incredible experience. What were some of the highlights for you?

Definitely climbing Kegeti Pass while it was snowing.

The valley leading up to the pass at 3780m was scenic and lush. The weather turned as soon as I was roughly 7/8kms from the pass, the clouds rolled in and the drizzle became rain, a bit further up and it became snow. The gravel road leading up was whitewashed and I just remember enjoying the moment, taking in the breathtaking scenery and feeling so present and alive.

And what about the most challenging parts?

The training leading to the start line was the most challenging part. It's a commitment to a very serious goal and being disciplined about practice sessions, all the endless days in the saddle over the days, weekends, months are the most challenging, yet looking back at it, they are all worth it.

What’s the most important bit of kit you had (apart from the bike)?

Perhaps the sleeping bag; it kept me rather warm and snug overnight, resulting in a good night's sleep.

Would you recommend it to others?

Definitely, I shout about it on any given opportunity.

If any of our readers are considering taking on the Silk Road Mountain Race this year what’s your top tip?

Do not underestimate the climbs.

And finally, what next for Usman?

  • Perhaps some cycling in Portugal

  • Cycling in Scotland in May

  • And going back to Kyrgyzstan in August.

The next edition of the race starts in August 2020.


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