Nine days into the PEdALED Silk Road Mountain Race, the top 5 has revealed itself. It took winner Jakub Sliacan an astonishing 7 days, 6 hours and 46 minutes to complete the 1708 km of decrepit Soviet roads, river crossings, and alpine passes. He was followed by Lael Wilcox, Jay Petervary, James Mark Hayden and Jeff Kerkove.
The 2nd edition of the SRMR reads like a classic Hollywood story. While misfortune and hardship – and some dark comedy – challenged the protagonists to their limits, they came out the other end as true victors. Each a character in their own right. First-time ultra-racer Jakub, seemingly untouchable the whole way through. The always positive Lael Wilcox, the first woman to finish – but that is completely irrelevant looking at her extraordinary performance overall. Last year’s winner Jay Petervary surviving on his usual jars of peanut butter and smoked fish. And James Mark Hayden who showed his strength and tenacity after running into bad luck near CP3.
Luck. It’s a tricky thing in an event like this. In the course of 8 to 9 days, small problems can be overcome relatively easily, evening out the chances for victory. But uncontrollable variables can also determine a race. No matter how prepared you might start a race like this, it can throw you a curve at all times. You cannot prevent unexpected events from happening. You can, however, choose how to react to them.
When James Mark Hayden encountered two drunk horsemen on his way from CP3, things escalated fast into an attempted robbery. Recognizing the dangerous situation, James descended the climb and returned to the checkpoint. A rare incident in a famously generous and friendly country. Apart from the obvious mental impact, the involuntary stop also took a toll on his body: ‘By stopping for this long, the body starts to shut down and the pain comes out’. But even this unfortunate turn of events did not bog him down. After a 24h rest at CP3, James continued to become the 4th rider to finish.
Athletes train hard to become better. But they also need to be able to cope with unforeseen obstacles and tribulations. Even relish it up to a point. As Jay Petervary said: “Being able to roll with things, not get frustrated, be patient, be resourceful, trick myself, fix myself and my equipment and stay in the game has really become part of the art of sport for me.”
Let’s be honest: we love the self-appointed hardship the contenders put themselves through, exactly for the heroic tales they bring about. It’s what keeps us glued to our dotwatching screens: one-crank-armed Guy Jennings battling on like a soldier in the trenches. Karl ‘catch up’ Speed (what’s in a name) who backtracked along the course twice to fix a broken derailleur and still managed to make the Checkpoint time cuts so far. ‘Little Koala’ Trevor Gardner, who temporarily lost the use of his left arm due to who knows what, but kept on going in good spirits, as ‘you don’t need two arms for cycling anyway’. Jeff Kerkove, who came in as fifth with legs so swollen, he used his arm warmers on his legs to add compression. And all the remaining yet unsung heroes wading through rivers, snowstorms and mudslide descents to make it over the finish line in time for the party.
With only a few more days to go to the official cut off, seventy-one contenders are still in the race while fifty-nine scratched.
All that the remaining riders can do is embrace luck. Be it the good or bad version of it. While it’s by no means a characteristic that is only found in the top of the field, the top 5 that came in so far might be just a tiny bit better at that.
Part of finishers quotes and details courtesy of Rugile Kaladyte.