Cyclists set out to conquer the Himalayas

Shimla, Sep 28 (IANS) Eighty intrepid cyclists set out from the Himachal Pradesh capital Saturday to conquer the incredible Himalayan ranges on wheels in one of the world's toughest mountain biking rallies, event organisers said.

The ninth edition of 'MTB Himalaya-2013' was flagged off by state Chief Secretary Sudripta Roy.

The participants would cover around 500 km in six days, Mohit Sood, president of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), the club organising the event, told IANS.

Portuguese bikers Luis Leao Pinto, who is Titan desert MTB Marathon champion and stands ninth in world rankings and Ricardo Rodrigues Martins ranked 16th in the world, will be among 16 foreign participants from nine countries.

Both the cyclists were marking their debut in an Asian biking event, Sood said.

"I have peddled through the hills across Europe but the lofty Himalayan ranges were always alluring me. I captured ranges from 2,000 to 2,300 metres but these mighty hills will be quite a challenge for me," Pinto told IANS.

The highest point of the rally would be the 3,400-metre Hatu peak, overlooking the tourist destination of Narkanda, 65 km from Shimla. On an average, a cyclist would pedal about 70 km daily, Sood said.

This time, the length of the route has been increased to 500 km from last year's 438 km. The route was also tough and challenging, in accordance with Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) standards, he said.

The rally would pass through Shimla, Mashobra, Kufri, Matiana, Narkanda, Hatu, Baghi, Khadrala, Tikkar and then again back to Narkanda and would finally culminate in the state capital Oct 3, Sood added.

The HASTPA president said another addition to the rally this time is that instead of two to three small competitive stretches of 15 to 20 km every day, the event will have one long competitive section of 60-70 km.

Pinto is riding on a 9-kg carbon fibre mountain bike of the Torpedo brand manufactured in Italy. The 20-gear machine cost him over $7,000.

Zoe Beeseley from Britain is another prominent rider.

Jaskeerat Bedi from Delhi is participating in the event for a cause, to spread awareness about breast cancer. She is representing the Forum for Breast Cancer Protection.