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The Tour of the Dragon MTB race is held in exotic Bhutan in the Himalayas
photo credit: modern traveler

Click here in case you missed my first post or second post on the Tour of the Dragon

Here I was on my way on my trusted bike, participating in the Tour of the Dragon in Bhutan, the small Himalayan kingdom that strives for "National Happiness".

We had dodged some ‘cows in the mist’ in the middle of the road, the Prince had cheered me on, and I had enjoyed the great views. That was all behind me now though, and almost forgotten. I was climbing the ultimate climb, was running behind the schedule I set myself, and the tank was getting empty, really empty. I was not contributing to Bhutan's national happiness anymore....

Before we get to that though, let me explain a little bit more about the route. There are only four mountain passes to get over, three of them are big ones, before dropping back down into Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, where the finish is. Only four 'climbs'...., that doesn't sound like a lot, no? But let me tell you that the three big climbs each take over three to four hours.... You will be climbing for 40 to 50 kilometres, with an elevation difference for example for the last climb of 1,800 metres. Those are staggering numbers, just have a look at the strava profile:

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OK, back to the road. I found myself walking up the climb, slowly. A few bikers passed me but they also didn't have much to say anymore and kept it to a short greeting. According to my calculations, I was behind schedule to make the time cut off for Dochula pass, the last pass we had to cross. "Surely they will change the cut off, considering the tough conditions of this year's race?" I was thinking.

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The leaders ploughing through the mud, photo:

Then a school boy started walking along side me. "Do your best", he said. All along the way schoolchildren had been cheering the bikers on; "do your best" was the common phrase shouted by all of them. They were really helping to lift spirits along the way.

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Some schoolchildren cheering the riders on, photo:

I exchanged a few sentences with the schoolboy, his English was excellent and then we said goodbye. "Do your best, am I doing my best?", I was thinking to myself. "No", was the answer and I managed to climb back on my bike, determined not to get off again until the finish.

Now it was completely dark and getting cold again; my light was still going though, which was a relief. Then a bus passed me, and stopped once it passed me. It turned out to be the sweeper bus, and I could see it was already full of bikers that had not made the time limit on the other passes. "No", I said, "I'm almost at the top, let me continue". I continued and didn't look back. When I finally made it to the top of Dochula pass, out of nowhere Sabrina emerged, the Olympic Judoka, together with another rider. We were all in high spirits, having done the last big climb, and decided to join forces on the treacherous road down to Thimphu.

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I believe we had one front light and half a back light still working between us, and it would definitely be safer when sticking together. The last descent in the dark and in the mist was exhilarating, but we survived. At the finish we were all so happy that we didn't care anymore about not having beaten the time limit, nor the fact that there was almost nobody left on the finish line. Our trusted tourist guides were still there, though, with some great food, and we couldn't be happier!

In the end, only 19 riders finished within the time limit, out of 47 that started. Cory Wallace finished the race in first place, as predicted.

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Cory winning the Tour, photo:

Below a little more information on the race:

The Tour of the dragon
The Tour of the Dragon is an annual MTB race (held around September) in the exotic country of Bhutan in the Himalaya region. The 268mkm race starts in Bumthang, central Bhutan (2610 m, 8560 ft), and takes you to Thimphu across 4 mountain passes. There are many numbers floating around in regard to the total elevation, but I think it is around 4,000 meters. Expect to do a lot of climbing on extremely long, gradual climbs, with amazing views, in a magic landscape.

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For more information:


photos are my own, unless specified otherwise