Gravel

Riding the Atlas Mountain Race

By March 2, 2020 March 3rd, 2020 No Comments

The Atlas Mountain Race is an unsupported bikepacking race which starts in Marrakesh and heads over the Atlas mountains, through the Anti-Atlas & on to finish on the coast in Agadir. The 1,200 km course follows single track, gravel roads & old colonial pistes. There is plenty of hike a bike & not alot of tarmac. It’s an event riders spend months planning. As well as training to stand a chance of completing the route, kit selection, bike set up, logistics & nutrition planning all come together to play a key part. 

Just a week before the roll out from Marrakesh Eat Sleep Cycle staff member Daan Van Meuween got a last minute opportunity to enter the race. Taking on such a huge challenge with so little time to prepare was ambitious to say the least. But he calmly made his qucik preparations & got to the startline. Back in the office in Girona, we watched Daan’s steady progress across Morocco. Against the odds Daan completed the event in 6.5 days. Here’s his account of his Moroccan epic. 

“Prepared to keep going”

It was at the registration, or it might even have been at the start line when I came up with a tactic for the Atlas Mountain Race; “just keep going”. Looking back, I think it was the single most important piece of preparation. You can get yourself a custom-built bike, test your equipment over a hundred times or get a specific one-year coaching plan, but in the end, the only thing you are going to have to do is move your legs up and down.

Coming to the realisation that this “unsupported ultra-endurance event through remote mountain areas” was just going to be a few days of moving my legs up and down, gave me some peace of mind and made me feel a bit more comfortable starting this event. I didn’t expect it to be easy, I knew it was going to be hard, but I also knew it was going to be simple. I didn’t have any race-tactic, team strategy or personal goals, the only thing that I would have to do was move my legs up and down till I arrived at the finish.

Riding my bike is something I have done since forever and there haven’t been many times where I didn’t enjoy riding my bike. There might have been occasions, where I didn’t like the things that came with it, but simply riding my bike is something I always enjoyed and am pretty alright at. I don’t need a big trophy or a goal to work for to get on my bike. Discovering new places and amazing views are definitely something I can appreciate, but they aren’t the only reason I ride my bike. Having true freedom and completely emptying my mind, is something I only experience when riding my bike.

Figuring this all out in the days leading up to the Atlas Mountain Race made me feel pretty confident when I lined up for the start on Saturday. I had a good night of sleep the night before and I was feeling relaxed. Somehow I was starting a really tough and not completely non-dangerous event, in which I had zero experience and with very little preparation. I felt a bit ignorant and stupid, standing there between riders with way more experience and preparation. The next few days were gonna show me if I was indeed ignorant and stupid or I could move my legs up and down for almost 1200 km through challenging terrain.

When everybody took off on that Saturday morning, I knew I was alone. I might have been riding the same route together with 180 people and from time to time, I would ride next to somebody else and talk a bit with them, but it didn’t matter. It was just me, riding my bike from the moment I got up, till the moment I went to bed. The race turned out to be completely different, a lot harder, more technical and packed with more struggles and obstacles than I originally expected. For example, 96 km with only 2L of water turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. The same goes for riding 40 mm tyres on a dried-out river bed.

Although it was hard, challenging and a tiny bit unpleasant at times, it was never complicated. The only thing I had to do was move my legs up and down, (or push my bike up a hike-a-bike section). For six and a half-days that was the only thing I did. Ride till I got tired, get some sleep and start riding again. My phone didn’t come out of my pocket for much more than checking the route, partly because I rarely had any signal, but mainly because I didn’t think about anything else, other than riding my bike. For six and a half-days my mind was completely empty, I rarely thought about anything else other than riding my bike.

The Atlas Mountain Race was truly unique and left me with forever lasting memories. Riding through completely empty deserts, going over high-mountain passes, sleeping under a sky full of stars and riding on trails where most people wouldn’t even walk, will leave you with stunning images (even more if I had actually taken the time to take some more pictures). However, the thing that impressed me most and will stay with me forever, is the pleasure I got out of simply riding my bike and doing nothing else for six and a half days.












The Bike: Reilly Gradient GRX

  • Shimano GRX 1×11 Groupset
  • DT Swiss CR1600 Wheelset
  • WTB Nano 40 Tubeless Tyres
  • Pro cockpit and seatpost with Fabric Saddle
  • Ortlieb saddle-, frame- and bar bag

Packing List

  • Sleeping System
    • Sea To Summit UltraLight ASC Mat
    • Nomad Pegasus Sleeping Bag
    • MSR e-Bivy
  • Clothing (way too much as it turned out)
    • synthetic puffer jacket
    • Clean pants, socks and T-shirt for sleeping
    • 1 pair of bibs and jersey
    • Merino baselayer and extra warm baselayer
    • Merino buff and legwarmers
    • Warm jacket and rain jacket
    • 2 pair of gloves
  • Spare parts and repair kits
    • Fabric multitool with chain breaker
    • Opinel knife and Titanium Spork
    • Silicone folding cup
    • 3x inner tubes + tyre and tube patches
    • Tubeless plug + spare fluid
    • Spare chain links and quick links
    • Tape and glue
    • 2 powerbanks + 1 USB charger
    • Cateye front + rear lights
    • As much food as I could carry

Cycling in Morocco

If you’re inspired to get off the beaten track and discover the beautiful landscape of Morocco, check out our Atlas Mountain Tour for a safer, fully supported way to discover this incredible country by bike. Give us a call now on +34 972 754 301 or contact us online!

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