Atlas Mountain Race | Inside perspectives

Before the start we got 4 of our R&D Division riders heading to Morocco to interview each other to see if they could gleam some juicy insights into how they would be approaching the race.

Josh Ibbett
Bryn Davies

Bryn: What’s your go-to snack while on the move in the long distance races, and is there anything you find yourself craving along the way?

Josh: Snacks en route… Mentos! At 10calories/ 3g of carbs per sweet they pack a good punch and are available in most village shops in Morroco. In fact I’ve found them across most of Europe and even in Kyrgyzstan. A few packets stashed in a pocket at every resupply can provide a nice drip feed of sugar when its needed most… and they taste great!

Bryn: With the temperature in the desert being pretty changeable, from chilly to cold, how do you plan to manage it and is there anything you’ve added to your kit list to try and combat this?

Josh: Temperate changes… lots of layers. It will be hot in the day so a thin jersey and shorts will help with the heat. A neck protector can keep the worst of the midday sun off and provide some shade. At the other end of the spectrum it can be close to freezing at night, so plenty of thinner layers work well to manage heat depending on the temperature and terrain.

Josh: The big questions that matters is of course tyres. I’m sure many people will be losing sleep at night (dunno why) about the pressing matter of what tyres, what width and what pressure?

Bryn: I will be running Goodyear Peak’s in a 2.4” width. I’ve gone for this due to its fast profile with pretty small tread. The 2.4” means I’m not sacrificing on comfort and will help with the bumpier terrain I’m hoping. Along with this I’m going to throw in a rear tyre insert and will (I think) be running 30psi ish, however I’ve never been to worried about tyre pressure, provided there is air inside.

Josh: The other concern of many riders racing the Atlas Mountain Race is that of water. So what is your strategy for water, how will you carry it and how much?

Bryn: Regarding water I’ll be running a couple of bottles on my frame and a bladder in my hydration pack. So around 2 litres of water. Using the hydration pack gives me some options with extra food storage and the option to buy extra fluid along the way and stow it in there. I also have a handy filter that screws onto my soft flask meaning I can tuck it away and if needs be have a way of getting water!

Quinda Verheul
Nathalie Baillon

Nathalie: If I’m correct, you participated in each of Nelson’s races, which one did you prefer and why? What did you like and dislike about each race?

Quinda: I enjoyed myself most during Hellenic. I had no performance goal, and simply enjoyed riding this beautiful landscape. Funny enough the rain during that race was a motivation, it made it mandatory to sleep inside a few times to properly dry my shoes and gear. For Silk Road Mountain Race I think my expectations didn’t match with reality, I was blown away by the landscape, yet the length in-between the sections have been way more a mental struggle, could be that the length just isn’t for me. I love Morocco, I keep coming back both in and off the bike and I’m curious how I will experience this course in relation to my very first race, if the experience I gained over the years is beneficial at all. In general I love to push myself out of my comfort, but also want to have fun and I think the rhythm and places Nelson’s race take you are incredible journeys and that’s why I love his races so much.

Nathalie: What tires (size, for which type of terrain…) would you recommend for the Atlas Mountain Race ?

Quinda: Opting for a swift combination with Schwalbe Racing Ray in the front, delivering grip, and a Thunder Burt at the rear for accelerated performance. The latter, in its newer iteration, seamlessly marries firm construction with an expedited profile.

Nathalie: What were the most challenging parts of the race? About the route but also about “logistics” (long nights maybe, resupply…)

Quinda Navigating through extended nights has never been my preferred scenario, yet it serves the purpose of avoiding the relentless sun during extensive tarmac stretches. In the inaugural edition, nutritional challenges arose as the food offerings lacked optimal quality, emphasizing empty calories over nourishing options. Caution is warranted regarding the “ultra cough” phenomenon, as the combination of dusty terrain and a cold climate heightens the susceptibility to illness. Notably, numerous riders withdrew last year due to afflicted lungs. Taking preventive measures, like adequate coverage, becomes imperative in such conditions.

Nathalie: What’s your hope for the race? What do you expect from attending it?

Quinda: The field is strong, my aim is to stay calm, keep my own pace, which can be challenging, and stick to my plan of sleeping. Most important to me is to enjoy the beautiful landscape, night sky and have room to say Hi and cheer on others, all the while pushing hard whenever I feel like it.

Nathalie: And last but not least, I would like to ask you the same question as you: What initially drew you to cycling and what motivates you to participate in challenging races like the Atlas Mountain Race?

Quinda: If you would ask me this question in a vulnerable moment, I might away towards discouragement. Yet there’s something magical about riding long days, back to back, the quiet, the simplicity of following the curves of the mountains, seeing the sun rise and set and all the in-between. I don’t get that thrill anywhere else, it’s probably called addiction.

Quinda: What initially drew you to cycling and what motivates you to participate in challenging races like the Atlas Mountain Race?

Nathalie: I was a very shy child and so I think I felt more confident being able to ride alone or with relatives knowing they won’t judge me. Then I improved quickly and gained confidence. I love to travel in new countries, discover beautiful landscapes and different cultures but also to push my boundaries and see what I’m capable of. So that’s why I love to participate in those kind of races that brings me adventure and challenge.

Quinda: Ultra races often present both exhilarating and challenging moments. Could you share some of the most exciting and difficult experiences you’ve encountered during these races and how you deal with highs and lows?

Nathalie: My best moments are probably when I make a wildlife encounter. For example, during the Silk Road Mountain Race, I took a nap on a hike-a-bike section and when I woke up there was a fox also napping a few meters away from me. It then followed me for a while. A beautiful landscape, a sunrise or a warm human encounter are also part of my best memories on a race.. The most miserable times are usually the ones when I have a pain that I know won’t go away (usually saddle sores) and that I still have 1000km to go. Or a combination of illness, mechanicals, bad weather… During the Memory Bike, there were a lot of storms and a passenger in the street got struck by lightning just a few meters from were I stopped. He was lying dead while firefighters were covering and picking him up. We had many more thunders during the race, in the mountains with no shelter so I was scared. At some point I found a refuge but the owner didn’t want to let me in, I was upset by her attitude.

Quinda: Every cyclist has their go-to item or ritual for races. What is your favorite item to bring on a race, and how does it contribute to your performance or comfort?

Nathalie: I love to bring a hazelnut and cashews spread for when it get tough and I need comfort but this time I couldn’t resist eating then all before the race

Quinda: Preparation is key in endurance cycling. Can you walk us through your preparations leading up to a demanding race like the Atlas Mountain Race?

Actually, preparation is my weakness, I’m always late and end up in a rush with no time to order what I lack. This time, I realized a few days before flying to Morocco that I needed an adapter to attach my AeroPack to my new bike. Thankfully someone could bring one to me there. But otherwise I try to study a bit the race, read some blogs or watch some YouTube videos of previous racers, look at the route, weather and terrain to decide what piece of equipment to bring. I put all the bags on the bike and do a ride to test if everything is fine or if it needs adjustments.

Quinda: After an intense ride or training, what’s your guilty pleasure or all-time favorite meal that brings you the most joy?

After a race I love to taste the local food but otherwise I would say burgers and something with a lot of chocolate for dessert!