The BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy Central Asia 2018 sprung into vibrant life today as the competitors charged south from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on the first of eight days that will see them circle around southern Monglia, including a foray into the Gobi Desert, in all a journey of over 1,550 miles (2,500km). This year there are 18 teams from 21 nations competing including two new teams, plus a second International Female Team, all of whom are extremely keen to join the GS Trophy brother and sisterhood. Australia and India are both first-time entrants and their finalists are naturally very excited by what lies ahead. All the teams will ride identically prepared BMW R1200GS Rallye motorcycles.
After rains yesterday and high winds overnight the day started cool, barely 50°F (10°C) for the 7:00 am start. So it was on with rain jackets and set the heated grips to ‘2’ for the GS riders. But by the end of the first 60 miles (100km), on the highway, the temperature had risen past 70 (20°C), on its way to a high of 79 (26°C).
The GS riders were at this point subjected to something of a baptism of fire as they took to the trails for the first time. These proved highly technical as the gravel trails frequently, and often suddenly, degraded to deep, loose sand. For some competitors this was a first experience of sand riding – which demands a committed riding technique. Consequently there were many ‘offs’ as the competitors came to terms with the terrain.
While the trail was demanding – portent of a tough week ahead – the scenery was truly breathtaking, ‘like the surface of the moon’ was a common observation, as the barren nature of this vast arid landscape made itself felt. For much of the day there was no sign of civilization save for the odd goat herder. In fact the fauna was surprisingly plentiful, eagles were common, probably feeding on the abundance of mice that run riot of the semi-desert floor, as well the riders encountered camels (the two-hump ‘dromedaries’), wild horses, goats and the odd antelope.
Along the way – as if the trail wasn’t test enough – the teams faced two special tests today. SP1, the Trial Challenge saw the competitors tested on their machine handling skills as they rode a tough loop through a rocky outcrop while being hampered by deep sand. The object for each rider being to complete the course as quick as possible with fewest mistakes, time penalties accruing for putting feet down and crashing or running outside the course. Near the end of the day SP2, ‘Magic Cliffs’, was a navigation exercise, completed on foot, where using a GPS device the teams needed to navigate to four waypoints. At each point, if successfully found, the teams would collect letters to make a complete word for bonus points. Sounds straightforward, only the cliffs were 300 feet (100m) tall and the whole exercise had a time limit of just 20 minutes.
The finish at Camp Tsagaan Survaga came 11 hours after the start, and consequently was much welcomed. Albeit this being the GS Trophy the competitors, exhausted or not, still had to erect their tents, check their bikes and make preparations for Day 2. Without question it had been a tough day – yet this was, in the words of the course director, merely a warm up.
The day’s winners: Due to problems with the scoring system the day’s results have been delayed and will now be announced tomorrow morning before the start of the second day’s competition.
Michael Hansel, Team Germany: “Coming into today we were very apprehensive. We were right to be, after the first hour we were plunged into the sand, a new experience for me, and for the next hour it was very tough until I had gained an understanding and a feel for it. As well there was a lot of dust, if you ride too close you can’t see what’s coming. But the country is amazing. You crest one sand hill and you see many more in all directions. It’s not desert as there is gravel, sand and short grass – and animals, these small mice that run about, plus the horses and goats. It was a very nice ride.”
Jocelin Snow, Team Ausamerica: “What a morning! After the highway we turned on to the trail, crested a rise and it was sand and gravel hills for as far as the eye could see – suddenly it all got very real! It was my and Bettina (Nedel)’s first ride in sand. We fell a few times, but we look at this way: when we’re done on day eight we’ll have this sand riding figured out, kinda the way when you get to 78 you have life figured…!”