Monthly Archives: April 2018

BikingMan Corsica – The UAE Riders

Tomorrow morning, 99 riders will take to the start line of the BikingMan Corsica ultra race. This race will see the cyclists cover 700km and over 13,000m of climbing in a single stage. What does it mean in a single stage? Well quite simply there are no stopping points, once the flag is dropped it is the first rider to get to the end of the 700km. So it is up to the riders to decide how to balance riding, eating and sleeping to maximum effect.

Dubai will be well represented, with 7 of the 99 riders coming from the emirate. As with BikingMan Oman there will be a live tracking website where you will be able to follow the riders as they make their way around the beautiful island of Corsica. In this article I want to introduce you to four of those riders so you can feel a sense of engagement and understanding as you watch that little blue dot move around the map. Who will you be cheering on? Who will be your favourite?

Lets start with the returning athletes from BikingMan Oman.

First up, Nora Ismagilova. Nora’s route into cycling, like many, came through Triathlon. As a runner she began competing in Triathlons as a team and through this started doing it all herself. It’s fair to say that cycling didn’t come easy to her. Some of the key skills can take a long time to develop like drinking from a bottle, cornering and especially descending. However Nora is nothing if not tenacious. She entered Oman out of a desire to go cycling there and no-one would go on a trip with her, so she signed up to do it in one go, solo, as part of a difficult ultra endurance race.

After Oman Nora said she was a little frightened of what she discovered about herself and wasn’t too sure if she actually liked cycling. I asked her why she’d now entered another ultra race:

“It took me sometime to sign up for Corsica. In fact, I signed up on the last day when registration was closing. It took me few weeks to properly recover from BikingMan Oman, not only in my legs but also wrists. Meantime, we had all those videos, race reports, photographs coming our way – continuous reminder about those days. And I was missing the group and atmosphere. So, I decided to try to do Corsica as well. Objective is to meet up with many of the participants from Oman, get inspired by them and their stories, be part of this amazing event”

Nora is very aware of the challenges that Corsica will present. Oman was familiar but Corsica is a different climate, language and culture. The route is very different to Oman with much more climbing and hence much more descending. This won’t be on wide smooth roads but narrow country lanes with rough surfaces, often done at night. She has learned some key lessons from Oman. In her words:

* Plan, but don’t over plan
* Prepare, but don’t over think

“I was really worried about where I will sleep, how not to be cold, how to have enough nutrition with me and etc. Eventually, everything evolved on its own and most of the worries were pointless. When I was signing up for BikingMan Oman – it was such a big step for me. The race seemed so big and challenging. I don’t want to say it was easy, but it was great to overcome those fears and doubts“

For me, Nora has that vital quality needed for this kind of racing, an unwillingness to quit or to give into the fears and doubts even though they are there.

Next, onto Simon Noel.

Simon’s entry into the world of ultra endurance events is one I know well. A night out where a little too much hops and grape led to a decision to enter IronMan South Africa. He woke up with a different kind of hangover. This triggered a massive change in his life, quitting smoking, cutting down drinking, learning to swim and to ride a bike. He did his first triathlon and that was it, he was hooked. Cycling became his preferred sport of the three, it brings a peace, a way to clear the head. He sees it as a great way to explore new areas.

Recovering from Oman was tough for Simon and it took a while to get back into his training groove. His aim has been to get back to the 400-500km a week of volume that he was achieving before Oman. The biggest challenge in his mind will be the changeable weather. Living in the Middle East he is not fond of the cold weather or the rain so I think he’s hoping for a clear 5 days.

I’m interested in why people do this so I asked Simon what attracts him to ultra cycling and what went through the thought process after Oman that led to signing up to BikingMan Corsica:

“I love pushing my limits. I love getting to the point where you want to give up, your body is telling you to stop. But you keep going and 30 minutes or one hour later this difficulty is just a distant memory.

I signed up for Corsica before Oman. But as a matter of fact, while fighting the headwind during Oman’s first day (and realizing this whole ultra cycling thing wasn’t going to be easy), I had some serious second thoughts about Corsica… And now I’ve done it again and signed up for Taiwan before Corsica… :)”

See you again in Taiwan Simon!

Now onto Hasan Itani. Hasan is legendary in the Triathlon community in the UAE having been one of the founding members of Tri Dubai. He’s undertaken some of the most extreme Triathlons in the world in the Norseman and Celtman events and gained those coveted black and blue finishers jerseys, but what made him take that journey and then onto the BikingMan Corsica race?

He first started riding an MTB back in Beirut in the mid-90’s but it wasn’t until he moved to Dubai in 2004 and bought a road bike that he started riding seriously. In 2005 he took up Triathlon and initially cycling was his weakest discipline. It wasn’t until 2010 when he got a properly fitting TT bike and did his first Ironman that he realised how much he actually enjoyed cycling and this soon became his strongest discipline. I asked him what inspires him to ride and this was his answer:

“I appreciate the honesty and purity of riding solo and knowing it’s your own effort and pain that’s moving you forward, plus it puts you in that meditative state where it’s only you, the bike, the wind and the road; the simplicity and peace of it all puts things in perspective. If you have a problem at work or life that you can’t manage to think of a way to positively sort it out after a 6-hour ride, then you know you have a big problem.”

The journey into ultra distance racing started with a chance entry into the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, a 6 day event including 120km sea kayaking, 150km desert running, 130km mountain biking in addition to scaling Jebel Hafeet by rope on the 6th day. This was a life changing experience and it was not long before he started doing full Ironman races. After 8 official Ironman Races it was time to take on a new challenge and that’s when he took on the Norseman then Celtman events.

He heard about BikingMan Oman from friends and the idea really appealed to him. Sadly he couldn’t make Oman due to personal reasons but he’s been training hard for Corsica. When I asked him about what a successful race looks like for him this was his response:

“I think the best formula for a successful race is preparedness and a positive attitude, even if that means the confidence of feeling prepared. I pray whatever song or thought that gets stuck in my head to be a positive one. I have no stress of time and I cannot really say how much it will take me to finish the race. It’s a long distance, on hilly terrain, on narrow winding country roads and anything can happen, so the best one can do is to prepare for it physically, be as well equipped as possible yet as light as possible due to the extreme climbing requirements. “

I think it’s fair to say that not only will Hasan bring a positive attitude and a preparedness, but also a big smile and the support of the whole of Dubai’s Triathlon community.

Fatma Bazargan. Fatma is gong to be the first Emirati lady to take part in an ultra endurance cycling event. Fatma is relatively new to cycling. She caught the bug through Marcus Smith at InnerFight, but only took up cycling 16 months ago so to take on BikingMan Corsica has been an incredible challenge.

Fatma is a person driven by a goal, having the goal of such an achievement is what has given her the motivation for all those early starts and trips to Jebel Hafeet, Jebel Jais and the hills of Showka to train for the mountains of Corsica. She likes nothing more than long hours in the saddle, but what really appeals is the beauty of Corsica and the chance to take on a geography and a climate far removed from what we find in Dubai.

I asked Fatma about the challenges of Corsica and the things she is most looking forward to. Her response shows much about her strength of character and love of the challenge:

“The only thing that I’m nervous about is the mechanical issue in my bike. Although I have prepared somewhat to address it but I’m just worried that a mechanical problem in my bike might stop me from finishing the race. Other than that I believe if I set my mind to finish the race that would not be an issue. I’m totally looking forward to enjoy this journey most people call it a race but for me it is an exploration journey of how capable I am to endure this 700km with 13,000 elevation and finish it! I love challenges and I want to embrace this one. “

As the first Emirati lady to take on such a challenge I believe she is lighting the way for others to show what can be done and to encourage participation in such tough challenges:

“The only thing that I’m nervous about is the mechanical issue in my bike. Although I have prepared somewhat to address it but I’m just worried that a mechanical problem in my bike might stop me from finishing the race. Other than that I believe if I set my mind to finish the race that would not be an issue. I’m totally looking forward to enjoy this journey most people call it a race but for me it is an exploration journey of how capable I am to endure this 700km with 13,000 elevation and finish it! I love challenges and I want to embrace this one. “

The remaining 2 riders are Abid and Amjad. I will be talking to them this week to understand more about what inspires them to ride and what drives them to do this kind of crazy race.

In the meantime, got to we start at 06:30 tomorrow morning when those little blue dots will start their slow journey across the map.

BikingMan Corsica – The Contenders

In less than a week, 92 riders will gather at the Arinella beach in Bastia ready to start the inaugural BikingMan Corsica ultra cycling race. This is the second in a four race series that takes riders all over the world from Oman to Corsica, onto Peru then finishing in Taiwan. At the of the series we will see the crowning of the BikingMan series champions in Male, Female and Team category.

BikingMan Corsica is run over a 700km course with 13,000m of climbing. Riders will have up to 120 hours to make it to the finish line and get that coveted finishers T-Shirt. For many of use the goal is to finish, for us that is winning.  However this is a race, and there will be winners. Whilst the time allowed is 120 hours some of these men and women will be finishing in under 2 days. So let’s look at those people who are likely to be contenders for the win, those dots to watch as the flag is dropped.

The 1st and 2nd overall finishers from BikingMan Oman, Rodney Soncco and Josh Ibbett are both continuing on from the Middle East and taking part in Corsica:

Rodney Soncco, 29, from Urubamba, Peru. Rodney was in full on beast mode in Oman. He rode strong from start to finish and ran an excellent race. The steep, hard climbs seamed to be his forte as I can testify having seen him disappear up the road on Jebel Shams. Anyone who watched the video of him riding the last 40km on a flat tyre to seal the win will understand his drive and focus. Rodney has not been sat idle since Oman. I spoke to him about his preparation and he’s done a lot of specific hill work but also looked at the positives and negatives from his last race and is looking to improve. One of his big positives from Oman was learning how to go without sleep and he’s ready for that in Corsica but also he knows there has to be a focus on eating properly if he’s to do well on such a demanding course. The relentless nature of that course will suit him well in my view and it will be good to see how he responds with greater depth in the field.

Josh Ibbett, 30, from Brighton, UK. Josh’s palmares speak for themselves when it comes to self-supported ultra racing. 1st TCR 2015, 2nd TCR 2014, 1st Italy Divide 2016, Josh knows how to race hard over multiple days on a self supported race. In Oman I think the pace at the start and the ferocity of Jebel Shams caught him off guard but he stuck to his plan, took sleep when he needed it and rode strong through to a second place finish. I think he will learn and adapt from Oman and come to Corsica with a good race strategy for such a short race. He’s been doing a lot of shorter road racing in the period between the two events so I think we’ll see a faster start from Josh this time and then his multi-day endurance will kick in to keep him going strong at the front.

In the ladies, we have Perrine Fages, 37 from Doha, Qatar. this time taking part in the solo category after competing in the pairs last time. Perrine is a hard as nails multi-sport athlete who’s successfully completed a number of Ironman races including the Norseman, regarded as one of the most extreme events out there, winning that rare black finishers t-shirt. Her current focus is on the Arch to Arc so cycling is taking a back seat to swimming as she prepares for swimming the channel. However, Oman seems to have triggered something in her for ultra cycle racing. I spoke to her just after Oman and talked about the race. She said that the last night racing straight through was the best night of her life, overcoming fear and challenge and arriving at an almost spiritual place as she rode through the night. This intensity of focus will almost certainly be there in Corsica. I just hope she’s done enough on the bike recently and can show us what she is capable of.

Let’s move onto the Italians. At this point I can’t help but shout ‘The Italians are coming, the Italians are coming’. Let’s hope they don’t stick a pump in my spokes.

Omar Di Felici, 36 from Rome, Italy is one of the worlds finest ultra endurance athletes. He has done some spectacular rides, set world records and won countless big races. 1st Le Raid Provence Extreme (supported) 2014, 1st Le Raid Provence Extreme (self-supported) 2015, 1st Race Across Italy 2015, 1st Ultracyling Dolomitica, the list goes on. Omar has just finished his latest epic ride travelling the length of Italy racking up over 50,000m of climbing, 2,400km of distance in less than 100 hours. Omar has both the horsepower and the endurance to take a firm grip on this race and not let it go. In my eyes he enters BikingMan Corsica as the strong favourite. The question mark will be on his recovery from this epic ride across Italy.

Michelangelo Pacifico, 34 from Milano, Italy. Michelangelo’s ultra cycling career has been building steadily since he started back in 2013. He completed Paris Brest Paris in 2015 then built his distances and challenges including the Ultracycling Dolomitica, with 600km and 16,000m of climbing it bears comparison with the route in Corsica. Then came Michelangelo’s best achievement to date, 11th place in last years Trans America Bike Race. Self supported across this states covering 7000km and 55,000m of climbing. In his words ‘it was a crazy experience, from which I never truly came back. It did not change me but did help me understand who I am”. Michelangelo is using Corsica as part of his training programme for his ultimate goal this year – the Inca Divide.

Roberto Di Osti 33 from Follina, Italy.  Roberto’s journey starts ten years ago, working as a commercial agent covering 60,000km a year by car he readily admits his hobby was smoking. That was before he took up cycling, initially on mountain bikes but progressing to road and then in 2014 he discovered ultra cycling, taking part in, what seems like a right of passage for Italian ultra-cyclists, the Ultracycling Dolomitica. In 2015 having competed in a number of Italian supported ultra distance races he was crowned Italian champion in his category. Corsica is a key stepping stone on his path towards this years Race Across France. However Roberto is backing himself to do well, he’s already booked is ferry home on the 1st and has to be back at work on the 2nd. He said his second biggest challenge of the race is then staying awake and being functional at work on the 2nd.

Ivy Furlan, 32 from Valla, Italy. Another Italian with a lot of experience in mountainous gran fondo and ultra endurance races. Ivy came first in the pairs category in last years Ultracycling Dolomitica in a time that saw the pair finish just a handful of seconds behind the supported solo winner. Given the profile of the course in Corsica I expect Ivy’s experience in the mountains to shine through and for her to be a strong challenger to the rest of the field.

The rest of the Europeans

Loic Leonardi, 25 and Anthony Durani, 28 from Corsica, France. Local knowledge can count for a lot and whilst the route for BikingMan Corsica is a mandatory one with no options for short cuts I’m sure that Loic and Anthony’s knowledge of the island will prove a vital advantage. Not knowing where the next food or water stop is can be a big source of stress. Both are experienced ultra trail runners with Loic having clocked up 5 appearances in the Marathon Des Sables. That kind of experience will really help the pairing ride strong. Training together both on foot and on the bike will bring understanding of each others strengths and weaknesses but riding as a pairing can bring it’s own challenges. In Oman it was the singles who made all the front running. Could Loic and Anthony be the ones to change that and be setting the pace at the front?

Monica Aguilera, 44 from Barcelona, Spain. Monica has an astonishing record across multiple disciplines of adventure and ultra trail racing. The 2010 Marathon Des Sables winner clearly knows a thing or two about pushing the boundaries of ultra sport. Combine this with a number of orienteering based events where she has placed highly if not won then the navigation part should present no problems. I don’t think a lack of self supported road racing experience will hold Monica back and I expect a strong showing that will challenge the best in the field.

Michael Knudsen, 30 from Copenhagen, Denmark. Michael came into ultra cycling through Ironman. Having raced numerous Ironman races around the world he decided a few years ago to take Ultra cycling seriously. Boy, did he dive in at the deep end. Michael took part in the Trans Siberian Express race last year and whilst he didn’t complete the 9000km 15 stage race, this was a valuable learning curve in his development as an ultra racer.  Originally down to do BikingMan Oman, illness forced Michael to pull out to focus on recovery. I spoke to him recently and he’s now back on track with his fitness and preparation for another go at the Trans Siberian Express later on this year. BikingMan Corsica is a stepping stone on the journey to TSE and will be a good marker of his progress. He’s not training specifically for this as an A race but I fully expect him to be competitive and to be fast from the gun.

Mikael Flockhart, 37 from Stockholm, Sweden. The dark horse of the race, this ex XCM Elite athlete has competed in the European Champs 3 times and the World champs twice (UCI Mountainbike Marathon World Champs) before injuries got in the way and kept him off the bike for a few years. He’s new to ultra cycling and is actually using himself as a part of a research study initiated at the Swedish School of Sports & Health Sciences where he is currently doing his PhD. Let’s see if this kind of racing will wake up the competitive racer within him….

Finally we have one more athlete coming from the Southern Hemisphere;

Alexandra Velasco, 39 from Quito, Ecuador. Alexa comes to BikingMan Corsica from an Adventure racing background, 3-4 day multi-discipline events where mental strength is as important as physical strength. It’s this mental toughness that Alexa feels will be key going into Corsica. I spoke with Alexa a week ago and she talked about the battle to overcome the prejudice in Ecuador against solo female’s undertaking this kind of challenge but if you can have the inner strength to do that then this gives you the self believe to be strong in Corsica. Whilst this will be her first ultra cycling event, Alexa has been training hard, building the miles. With most of that training happening between 2500 and 3000m she could be really strong when she arrives at sea level. Most definitely, Alexa is one to watch out for and for me really embodies the spirit of adventure that BikingMan is looking to capture.

And what about my race?

Niel Copeland, 43 from Dubai, UAE. I’m totally new to the Ultra racing game having taken part in my first ultra race in Oman. However I fell in love with this format of bike racing. I had no expectations going into Oman other than as a cycling coach I get a lot of miles in so thought that I’d cope physically but wanted to see how I matched up agains the others and how I coped with the fatigue. To come away with 5th place having taken 2 hotel stops and 7 hours of sleep showed me how I can ride more competitively. As you can see from the people listed above, the field is really strong. This is a continuation of my learning experience in ultra racing as I build towards Inca Divide and BikingMan Taiwan. I’ve been working hard on a very specific training programme since Oman, and I’ve worked at the operational side of the racing so I’m excited to put that into practice and see how I do.

Having said all this and run through who I think will be operating at the sharp end for the first 2 days in Corsica, what the BikingMan organisation have done is create an event that makes Ultra Cycling really accessible. That means we have many people taking part who’ve never done this before. So who will do well who has not been mentioned here. Look out for 4-5 new faces to be challenging for those top 5 positions and making their mark on the series. The training has been done, the miles logged, it’s now down to who has the strength, the discipline the pace and the hunger to go and win BikingMan Corsica.