By Bjorn Haake in Africa
With the proliferation of gruelling mountain bike marathons world-wide, it's hard to say which is the toughest, but one race worthy of consideration is the Kiliman Mountain Bike race.
It's a two-day, 246-kilometre affair with a route that leads around Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa at 5,895 metres. After an initial easy start on paved roads, the counter-clockwise route becomes more gruelling, with a lack of pavement and other signs of civilization. The big loop around the highest free-standing mountain in the World starts and ends in Tanzania, with parts of the route almost touching the Kenyan border.
On the first day, racers will cover 112 kilometres with an altitude gain of over 1,700 metres. The second day will go longer (136 kilometres), but will have less of an elevation gain (1,000 metres). The race is very tough, mostly on rough roads with good-sized potholes to make things more difficult. However, the ever-changing views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru (4,500 metres high) reward racers for their efforts.
If the mountain bike race isn't enough of a challenge, the full Kiliman will offer two more disciplines. The first event is simply to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro, to Uhuru Peak. This part of the "triathlon" is not timed, but anybody wishing to become a Kiliman must have reached the vanishing ice fields atop the mountain in the six days that the organizers have earmarked for the participants.
The Kiliman marathon is the final of three events although just doing the marathon alone may be sufficient challenge. Held in and around Moshi, it takes place at an altitude of 800 metres. And fresh off two previous events, runners will undoubtedly be extra tired.
The three events are held back to back, with the climb taking place from February 23 to 28, the mountain bike race February 29 and March 1 and the marathon on March 2. Christina Helbig of Chagga Tours is part of the organizing committee and told Cyclingnews that she is expecting "a great event again." She added that "there is support from the local police and we have support vehicles," so no one gets stranded in the desert.
The Kiliman, now in its third year, is restricted to 60 people, due to the limitations on the climb. However, both the mountain bike race and the marathon event can be done separately or even combined for a "duathlon". The event is definitely a unique experience in a unique place and for the 2008 race, some spots remain. For more information visit http://kilimanjaro-man.com.