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 http://www.bikingman.com/en/livetracking we start at 06:30 tomorrow morning when those little blue dots will start their slow journey across the map.

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