American Cyclist (Marathoner) Finishes The World’s ‘Toughest Mountain Bike Race’ With 15 Days of Training
Whether or not Bhutan’s 166-mile high-altitude, all-terrain, ultra-endurance mountain bike challenge, known as the Tour of the Dragon, is in fact the ‘toughest single-day bike race’ in the world is still up for debate. But the reality is that only a few American’s have ever completed the Tour of the Dragon course, which boasts over 23,000 vertical feet of climbing (Mt Everest is 29,000 feet from sea level) and an average riding elevation of over 8,000 feet, successfully in a single day of riding
According to the Bhutan Olympic Committee, which has produced this invitation-only ultra-endurance biking challenge since 2010, American competitor Ian OSullivan was the last place finisher of the 2015 Tour of the Dragon, and was technically disqualified for missing a minimum cut-off time. But his finish is impressive nonetheless - especially considering his minimal preparation.
Although technically disqualified from the official standings for having missed a minimum cut-off time, OSullivan still remains one of the few people in the world who can claim to have conquered this legendary course, which boasts over 23,000 vertical feet of climbing (Mt. Everest is 29,000 feet from sea level) and an average riding elevation of over 8,000 feet.
“With only 15 day of training prior to the race I never really intended to finish the course," O'Sullivan said.
Additionally, a massive construction project left many sections of the 2015 course unpaved and muddy. And post-monsoon weather conditions and race day showers made the route, which features three Himalayan mountain passes to summit over 10,000 feet, extra challenging.
“It’s really not just the distance, but the altitude, the weather and the road conditions that makes this race so unpredictably challenging.” said rider Pelden Dorji, who finished needing stitches after his headlamp failure in the race's predawn hours caused a high-speed crash.
Endurance racing at high altitudes can easily impair your judgment – and this could be fatal on the temptingly fast and windy downhill segments,” said local rider Sonam, winner of the 2010 Tour of The Dragon and head coach of the SMBA Bhutan Youth Cycling Club.
Compared to the hardest stage of the 2011 Tour de France, the Tour of the Dragon proves 40 miles longer, with significantly more vertical climbing - all done in high-altitude, thin air conditions over 5,000 feet – and on mountain bikes.
As a former Ironman triathlon finisher in 2013, OSullivan didn’t come into the Tour of the Dragon completely unprepared –although nothing could have prepared him for adventure that was about unfold.
“I was actually participating in the race as an event co-sponsor, representing my travel company Alternative Escapes, which organizes private group adventures to Bhutan," he said. "My intention was to just try and make it to the first major town on the course Trongsa, just 80 Kilometers from the start. But once the sun came up, the natural beauty of Bhutan and excitement of riding mountain bike through the Himalayas, inspired me so much I kept riding just to see what was around the next corner – and 20 hours later I arrived at the finish line.
"It was an unexpected and surreal surprise," he cnotimnued. "I never imagined a race this long would be so much fun and such an epic adventure.”
O’Sullivan’s travel company Alternative Escapes will be organizing a once-in-a-lifetime private adventure – exclusively for members of the Sister Marathons International Running Community - to compete in the 2017 Bhutan International Marathon, March 4, 2017.
This one-of-a-kind travel experience will be limited to 100 marathon runners, plus their family, friends and fans, who will be invited to private events, guided adventures, and outdoor running clinics organized by the Bhutan Olympic Committee.