collapse for three more hours.
Departing at dawn, I am penalised for the previous day’s pleasure with a headwind. I am reduced to 12kph. A staff member drives alongside, checks all’s OK, then parts with a wave: “The wind’ll change…”
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It does. It strengthens, and I am down to 8kph. Sand snakes across the tarmac, whipping up into a sandstorm, lashing me in the face and pinging dissonantly on my spokes. It gets everywhere, and even manages to split my lip. It occurs to me that other riders will have finished. Turns out the favourite, Peruvian Rodney Soncco, won the race in just 38 hours 17 minutes. Eleven made it within 48. Jasmijn Muller, first woman, took 45 hours 37. Where others stopped for an hour or so, she did not sleep at all.
My mind starts to free-associate as I ride by the town of Sur. Thinking “Big Sur”, I conclude I am in California. Latin American names populate my brain. The wind abates and we run along the coast for five hours. I feel I am constantly, if gradually, climbing, but at every turn the sea is resolutely there, just 60m below…
Stefano is in sight ahead. It’s hard not to be caught up in the competition – to target another rider and try to pass them – but it’s probably not a good strategy. You have no idea if they are fresh – they might just have taken on food and had a nap. You might push yourself over the edge trying to catch them. Success is running your own race. Later I talk to Niel Copeland, a cycling coach living in Dubai, who finished eighth in 45hrs 35mins.
“The leading racers don’t necessarily cycle significantly faster than the rest, but their whole strategy centres around jable shams, 2 part,
maximising riding time. Food and sleep are meticulously planned from beginning to end. There’s also a mindset, the ability to retreat into a bubble where the only thing that matters is turning the pedals.”
I described bikepacking races as “excruciatingly long” (though at 1,040km, BikingMan Oman is, for bikepacking races, considered a “sprint”) and, going into the third night, my hands, feet and backside are cramped and battered. But there are 100km to go. The course turns inland, climbing every hill. Now the hallucinations appear: shape and shadow take life at the roadside, monsters lurk behind bushes.
At 4am comes my dilemma. I sleep, sitting, and wake when I roll sideways and strike the ground. But the power nap has reset my brain. Two hours on, floating above a pretty cove, flashing past royal palaces, battling morning traffic, I make it into Muscat and the finish line… where it is oddly quiet. No milling crowds or high-fiving support crews. It’s a feature of these races that the end is low-key. A couple of members of staff congratulate me, as does Stefano. Then 15 minutes later Julie, an Australian, arrives. It’s a personal journey for us all and, despite feeling dead behind the eyes, I sense that an addiction has begun.