Variety

Pakistan hosts ‘world’s toughest cycle race’

PTI Khunjerab (Pakistan) | Updated on July 12, 2019 Published on July 12, 2019

Finishing nearly 5,000 metres above sea level after hundreds of kilometres winding past blackened glaciers and snow-capped peaks: a new Pakistani race presents a world-class challenge for cyclists -- climbing towards the “Roof of the World’.

The Tour de Khunjerab –its name a homage to its more famous French counterpart, which began on Saturday– is still many years away from being another Big Loop, but with a solid claim to being the highest cycling race in the world, it has a lot to offer a certain type of athlete.

In the last week of June, around 88 cyclists, including two teams from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka as well as solo participants from Spain and Switzerland, took part in its second edition.

Less than half completed it within the allotted time.

The four stages -- three ranging from 68 to 94 kilometres plus a shorter time trial -- are much shorter than many other cycling events.

But there is one fundamental difference: the Pakistani Tour starts at 1,500 metres above sea level, and never stops climbing.

The final day of this year’s event sums up the challenge.

Starting at 2,800 metres, higher than the Iseran Pass, the summit of the Tour de France, it ends at 4,700 metres, just over 100 metres short of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain.

The Khunjerab Tour must become “an attraction for the most daring and adventurous cyclists in the world”, said Usman Ahmed, the top official for the northern Gilgit region, home to some of the planet’s tallest peaks and where the race was held.

The cyclists’ tyres swallow up the asphalt of the Karakoram Highway, one of the highest paved roads in the world.

“There is no place in the world that offers all these things,” said Ahmed.

“No doubt it is the toughest cycle race in the world. We are aiming to make it our trademark,” said Haroon General, president of the Pakistan Cycling Federation.

“The most difficult part of the race is the final stage where cyclists face shortage of oxygen and there is risk of heart issues. At such an altitude a person falls down (faints) after running for 200 metres, but our cyclists travelled for almost 59 kilometres,” he said.

Five ambulances were on standby in case of emergencies in the final stage, he said, adding: “A majority of the cyclists made it but the support staff needed ambulances.”

The winner of the event, Najeeb Ullah a Pakistani from province of Balochistan who won three of the four stages, told AFP that breathing was a “problem” for him in the final climb.

“I had to face a lot of difficulties while reaching the finishing line,” located at the Khunjerab Pass, the border between Pakistan and China, he said.

Organisers said in some sections the competitors faced a gradient of 20 per cent, an angle rarely seen in such competitions in around the world.

At each stage organisers wearing construction helmets scrutinised the surrounding mountains, peering closely for any sign of the rockfalls that periodically smash on to the road -- a potential peril to the cyclists below.

Published on July 12, 2019
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.