What we learned from the first Hellenic Mountain Race

Taking place for the first time in 2023 the Hellenic Mountain Race is the newest member of the ‘Mountain Race’ series. Whilst it was aimed as an introductory/transition race to the two more established races in the series (Atlas and Silk Road) the inaugral running proved that it was most certainly as tough as the other two. Weather and the unknown quantity of the route had huge parts to play in determining the results. 

Like most fans of ultra races we were gripped by the action and definitely learnt a few things about the riders, kit choices and what can make or break an event or a racer. Here are our observations. 

Carrying the bike through the snow at the Hellenic Mountain Race
Muddy legs and shoes at the Hellenic Mountain Race
A racer eating pasta at the Hellenic Mountain Race
Broken chainset at the Hellenic Mountain Race

Adrien Liechti is undoubtedly one of the toughest riders on the scene

Adrien Liechti put in a massive effort to reach the finish line in a time of 4 days 12 hours and 6 minutes. Besides dealing with the horrendous conditions, he also struggled with excruciating knee pain after CP2. This forced him to walk a lot of the steep sections. He was caught at CP3 because of his knee but with some rest and a single ibuprofen he was able to ride again and took the win. Wow!

His most important tactic (besides being able to push through the pain barrier) was to concentrate on riding his own race and not look at what anyone else was doing.

Quinda Verheul likes the hardest races

After riding R&D Division rider James Hayden’s L’Esperit de’ Girona event last year with its notorious parcours Quinda looked to go one harder and ride the Hellenic. Incredibly she became the first female to reach Nafpaktos, completing the 920km course and 29,000m of climbing in 7 days 0 hours and 10 minutes.

She rode consistently throughout, maintaining a steady gap to the second place rider who kept up a constant pressure not so far behind. Not an easy task at all and she was pushed to sleep less and run the risk of exhaustion towards the finish. Her resilience saw her to the end of this one and we even saw a smile or two when we would have expected a grimace.

Quinda Verheul wading through a river with her bike at the Hellenic Mountain Race
Using a phone to navigate the route of the Hellenic Mountain Race
Pushing bike past snow on the Hellenic Mountain Race

Expect the unexpected

We can’t have been the only ones that assumed that a race in Greece would be all sun, gentle breezes and stunning vistas right? The Hellenic had at least one of those but the weather gods (of which Greece is famous for) had their own ideas and turned everything on its head. Heavy rain, snow and basically completely miserable conditions turned the HMR into a war of attrition and quite frankly a battle of mind over matter.

Short doesn’t equal easy

At ‘just’ 938 kilometres in length a lot of riders thought that the Hellenic would be a breeze compared to the Atlas (1300km) or the epic Silk Road Mountain Race’s 1880 kilometre route. And yes, theoretically it should be quicker but there’s just the little matter of the 29,000 metres of climbing. That’s nearly 9,000m more than Atlas and only 8,000m shy of Silk Road’s total amount of climbing… According to some of the riders it felt like a never ending climb. Note to prospective ultra racers – look at all the data before you sign up; you never know what you’re going to get.

Nelson Trees can put on a great race

Nelson is the man behind the Mountain Race series and if there’s one thing he’s learnt over the years it’s how to put on a show for everyone involved and especially for the rest of us living vicariously through the dots. The Hellenic Mountain Race was no exception, with so many plot twists and a route that was certainly created to present an incredibly rewarding challenge. It’s just a shame that the weather had such an impact on the outcome. 

Hats off to Nelson and his team for keeping rider safety at the forefront of the event and the tireless hours put in to make things run as smoothly as they could. It’s not every organiser that would hand cut a trail through a snow bank to make things easier.

Pain is temporary, glory is forever

For all the finishers and the scratchers the Hellenic was a painful affair in so many ways. Mental toughness most certainly played a huge part in each rider’s experience but even so, to even make the start was an incredible achievement. It’s not everyday you get to participate in the birth of a new icon of the ultra calendar.

What was the right bike?

Take one look at the Bikepacking.com ‘Bikes of the Hellenic’ and also at the first finishers and it was pretty obvious to see that the outright bike of choice was a hardtail mountain bike. Yes, there were plenty of interpretations on this; some with drops, some with rigid forks (so I suppose not really a hardtail…) and some clearly adapted gravel bikes. One thing was certainly in order and that was big tyres.

Just to reinforce the point the men’s winner Adrien Liechti was riding a Bombtrack Cale hardtail. Quinda Verheul, the female winner, was riding her Sour Pasta Party hardtail.

Never give up

Finally, as a lesson for all of us who have just wanted to quit after something going wrong I want you to think of Marin de Saint-Exupéry. On the first day he suffered a major problem with his tyre which needed replacing. Being the weekend he was forced to wait 36hrs until a bikeshop opened and he could get a new tyre. At that point he was dead last by some way. Most rider’s heads would have dropped and all motivation would have been lost but not Marin. Over the proceeding days he clawed back into contention with a super consistent pace and ended up finishing in an incredible 4th place. So next time you have an issue, think of Marin.

What can we expect next?

The good news is that it’s only ten weeks until Silk Road Mountain Race. Let’s see what excitement Kyrgystan brings us. We can’t wait!

Blog Post Signup Form
Riding Style