By Gary Boulanger, BikeRadar
American mountain bike endurance racer Harlan Price won the nine-day second annual International Khachendzonga MTB Expedition in India on March 30, beating 47 international competitors, despite lacklustre lodgings, food and delayed prize money.
Dodging chickens, dogs, cars and other riders through the Himalaya foothills, Price managed to build a commanding lead throughout the 18 demanding stages.
According to Price, due to shoddy organisational management, the race ended up being more like a season of Survivor with food deficiencies, tent shortages and poor medical services for the first four days.
"Despite those problems the race ended up being a lot of fun," Price said. "There were two stages a day, one an uphill and the other a descent; each being anywhere between five- and 25-kilometres long."
According to a report in the Sikkim Express, racers initially saw their prize money cut in half, with many not even receiving trophies. Each participant paid US$500.
Price said the prize money was later paid. "We got our full prize money after the people and the media of the state of Sikkim stood up for us. It was a collective effort by a non-governmental tourist organization and the media that brought to light the treatment we were receiving. After two days of being in the newspaper and the TV, the tourism department made good on the prize money and promised to learn from the mistakes to make next year's race greatly improved."
"I was denied the trophy," British veteran racer Peter C. Smith told reporters after the event. "If at least I did not get the prize money I could have gone home happy with the trophy to show to my grandchildren.
"Even this was denied. I have organised at least 10 national mountain biking championships while based in Chennai over the last few years but this experience was totally bad."
Price, sponsored by Independent Fabrications and WTB and the US National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series correspondent for Cyclingnews, chose a 29er to race.
"As it turned out that was the perfect set up since half of the downhills were mixed pavement and gravel," he said. "Some of it was really rough jeep road but my equipment choices hooked up a lot better than I expected at speeds around 40 to 60 kilometers/hour. Plus it felt like butter on the climbs."
Price survived the lengthy stage race without a single flat or crash.
"It's the second long stage race in a row without a flat," Price said. La Ruta de los Conquistadores was the other race, where Price was the first-placed American in 10th overall.