It is only a few weeks to go until the Atlas Mountain Race kicks off. To say I am getting butterflies in my stomach would be an understatement! To calm my nerves I decided to have a word with Shona and Rich, the good people at Keep Pedalling who just happen to be Morocco veterans. With so much experience, it is no wonder that the pair are returning to Morocco later this month to race the inaugural Atlas Mountain Race.
ADVNTR: Having already ticked it off the list, what do you like so much about Morocco that draws you back?
KP: We just love the place! Amazing roads and trails, great things to see, friendly people, good food and in winter it’s warmer than here with some extra hours of daylight. Really, what’s not to like?!
ADVNTR: Is there anything you’re apprehensive about?
KP: Not really. I always find the biggest thing that stresses me is my bike arriving safely. There’s nothing worse than being the last person in the luggage reclaim area and your stuff hasn’t turned up!
ADVNTR: Any clothing tips?
KP: It’ll be colder than you think at night and once the sun dips behind the mountains, warm gloves are a must. It can also get pretty dusty, so a buff or bandana to wear over your mouth and nostrils can stop you getting wheezy.
ADVNTR: What bike will you take and why?
KP: Our trusty Salsa Cutthroats. They’re the perfect bikes for the race, fatter tyres for soaking up the off road stuff, light enough to let us get a move on on the road sections. The ‘Cutty is super comfy for long hours in the saddle (the Class V vibration technology really does work) plus they have great capacity for carrying stuff. They did us proud on the Silk Road Mountain Race and were faultless. So, they really are the obvious choice for tackling the Atlas Mountain Race.
ADVNTR: What are your “must have” items of kit for the Atlas Mountain Race and why?
KP: I always carry a couple of Voile straps. They are so useful for strapping things on the bike if something breaks, carrying an extra 1.5 litre bottle of coke strapped to a fork leg, or even attaching a tandem to the roof of a taxi! (See our review of Voile Straps)
Oh, a Backcountry Research Super 8 Strap. I always have one on the top tube for rapid access to my gloves or Mr Toms bars! Wolf Tooth Pack Pliers are a great tool to take and fit perfectly in a tool keg. And finally, an emergency bag of Skittles… Though I normally have to hide these so Rich doesn’t eat them!
ADVNTR: So, any top tips for a first timer?
KP: First and foremost, enjoy it! Then take it a day at a time. If you aren’t knocking out the big KM’s you thought you’d do, that doesn’t matter, what’s important is just to keep going. Don’t get disheartened if you feel your progress is slow- chances are everyone is feeling the same. On the first edition of the SRMR we were all about 3 days slower than we thought we’d be, including the winner Jay Petervary.
As this will be the first time the Atlas Mountain race has been run, we can only guess how quick we may be, or want to be, but who knows…
ADVNTR: How was your experience interacting with the locals, their food and culture, any standout events?
KP: The locals are really friendly and often just want a quick chat to know what you’re up to and if you like their country. They’re normally on a donkey going faster than you are while trying to cycle up a stupidly steep hill!
Food can occasionally be… interesting. As a vegetarian it means food takes longer to arrive. Often the tagines lined up and on the go are meat only and as it is cooked fresh, expect a wait. Having said that, it’s always been good and we’ve had some great stuff ‘rustled’ up for us. Berber eggs was a favourite – or scrambled eggs in a tagine!
We’ve also found some amazing hole in the wall shops with patisserie cream cakes and frozen yoghurt – it’s often worth asking a local if you roll into a village and it’s not obvious. Quite often, it’ll be someone’s house!
The local children can sometimes be a little over enthusiastic but they’re just kids and very curious. And some of the local dogs can also be a little zealous in barking and chasing you. I’ve found that talking to them nicely and telling them how lovely they are confuses the hell out of them. Rather that than lobbing a stone at them!
ADVNTR: Do you have a race strategy or will you just take things as they come?
KP: Hmm… The latter!
ADVNTR: Now for the dreaded question, What tyres for…
KP: Terravail Sparwoods or Maxxis Ikons. Fast rolling XC tyres with decent puncture protection and you won’t go wrong.
Rock the Casbah
Reassured by Shona’s experiences and advice, my butterflies have calmed a little. As I’ll be riding a Salsa Cutthroat as well, I realise now I can’t blame the bike. Time to find a new excuse!
The Atlas Mountain Race Grand Depart will be on Saturday 15th February at 09.00 (GMT+1).
If you want to follow the race, there will be official updates on progress via Instagram, Facebook, the AMR website blog page, and Youtube. Look for the hashtag #AMR2020 and individual riders will be known by their “cap numbers”.
ADVNTR’s very own Nigel Leech will be #AMR2020cap105 and Keep Pedalling’s Shona & Rich are racing as pairs as #AMR2020cap218
Last modified: 2nd February 2020