“Do you fancy going out to Sri Lanka for The Rumble?” was a bolt out of the blue from my friend, the Race Director at Yak Attack, Phil Evans. “In fact we’re going out three weeks early to recce the trails if you fancy that too?” was his second question.
“Erm… not sure. I’d like to… err… stuff it, yeah” My initial hesitation was due to the fact that I had an impending shoulder operation (which I’ve been putting off for four years) and really I needed to get it done. However, the “stuff it” principle (or similar words) came into effect and bypassed any modicum of common sense.
The timing was also perfect, I was working away in London and we would be flying out exactly a week after my contract finished.
I fished my bike from the travel bag in the garage, it hadn’t actually been unpacked since returning from my previous trip, to Nepal, four months before, and some TLC was required. A thorough service, a new front rotor (thank you baggage handlers), and some fresh Alpkit stickers had it looking trail-worthy in no time. I managed to fall off on a short test ride and scuff my leg, which was ideal preparation, and then re-packed it ready for the ten hour flight to Colombo a few days later.
The Rumble in the Jungle is a four day stage race through the Sri Lankan highlands, I raced the inaugural event in 2014, and to be honest it’s a bit of a bruiser. My recollections of it, although occluded by the passing of time, were of the savage heat in the jungle stage, brutal climbs throughout, and a couple of truly great descents. Pound-for-pound it’s probably one of the hardest races out there. At just four days, even though it’s tough, it is still perfectly within the realms of any decent recreational rider.
Our mission, Phil, myself, and - Nepal National Champion – Ajay Pandit Chhetri, was to recon the existing routes and then see if we could find some new stuff to freshen it up a bit.
Technology is a wonderful thing and we spent a lot of time scouring Google Earth in the evenings, and Google Maps during our rides, to sniff out potential trails. We chased a few ghosts, found great sections that we couldn’t quite link up (partially due to a thousand foot drop), had a particularly interesting altercation with a Tamil village which concluded with twenty people and a priest getting arrested – I’ll tell the story sometime - and plotted an entirely new Stage Four which we couldn’t use in the end due to being refused permission from one tea plantation superintendent (the meany).
We did eventually manage to put it all together. A minor change to Stage One kept riders on dirt instead of black-top. Stages Two and Three had about 50% new trail each, which the racers loved. And Stage Four had to stay the same – hopefully next year the permissions will be in place and it will finish the race off really nicely.
My job during the race, over the 300 or so kilometres of riding and 8500m of climbing, was to act as race sweeper, present the stage briefings (Phil hates public speaking), and field front-line questions from the riders. Sweeping can usually mean a very long day and this time was no exception.
Continue onto stages 3 and 4.