• Nepal’s Queen of the Mountain

    by  • April 23, 2015 • interviews, mtb, rider, womyn on weels

    Authors Note:  

    Women who dream to be a professional bike racer or even amateur racing with teams require a lot of support from their families, sponsors and friends. It’s common that women who are professional cyclists still work and have families so balancing life, training and racing is challenging everyday.  

    In Nepal, there is only a handful of women bike racers and one passionate cyclist who has that dream. In my travel to Nepal, I didn’t expect to come across another “sister” cyclist in such an exotic country nor was I expecting to do an interview for NCCN.   It is by chance that an acquaintance, a friend of a friend,  turned out to be three time national champion mountain biker in Nepal and I just had to do the interview.  It was an honor and the interview really moved me.

    The difference between the women I know back home compared to being a woman cyclist in Nepal is that they have a lot of support and available resources they can tap into to help their career or just everyday cycling. There are scheduled group rides, bike clinics, women specific bikes, clothing, gears and coaching services. There is nothing like that in Nepal.  I’ve experienced the difference myself going into a bike shop in Kathmandu, which is the capital of Nepal, looking for women specific bike gears for my use.

    I am humbled by my interview with Laxmi. Laxmi is an excellent mountain biker. She is still young and like many professional cyclists, she has sponsorship and other challenges in front of her.  Through her I am re-experiencing women’s cycling in it’s earliest rawest form. It’s like going back in time…

    Kathmandu is a rugged and chaotic city.  The streets are filled with jeeps, buses and cars swirling around to find their way around traffic.  Potholes, narrow streets and a never ending flow of people rushing through a dust storm.  A couple of hundred miles away and a full day’s travel on a local bus is the start of the Annapurna Circuit.  The Annapurna Circuit (AC) draws hundreds of tourists every year in the peak trekking seasons. The best time to be in the mountains is between the months of April-May, or from October-November.  Every year, extreme adventure mountain bikers challenge themselves riding on the AC and completing it in less than 10-12 days.  The AC offers a mixed of rough dirt road and single track terrains every mountain biker dream about but that’s not all.  High altitude adventure-mountain biking is growing in Nepal and it’s getting a lot of attention from mountain bikers around the globe.

    Recognized as the toughest mountain bike race in the world, Yak Attack have gained international attention from mountain bike racers who want to test serious endurance at high altitude and all the rough elements offered by the Himalayas in Nepal.  Starting at 1300 ft (400 m) then ascending over Thorung Pass at 17,872 ft (5416 m).  The 8 days stage racing has a total gain of 39,600 ft (12,000 m)!

    Yak Attack Race

    Yak attack 2013 (Photo Courtesy: Snow Monkey)

    My friend Laxmi Magar was born to race the high mountains.  She is a three time women’s mountain bike National Champion in Nepal.  Her  story of life as a professional mountain bike in Nepal has inspired me to keep on riding.

    Laxmi:  “Yak Attack is the race that made me more serious about mountain bike racing.”

    Laxmi started mountain biking in 2008 because her mountain bike friend at that time insisted that she ride more and participate in a race.  Her Sherpa friend introduced her to her first ever mountain bike race therefore exposing her to the mountain biking industry.

    Photo Courtesy: Sandeep Aryal

    Laxmi:  “There was only one other woman mountain biker when I first started and I was excited to be able to ride with her.  It’s good exercise and I enjoy riding outside in nature.

    Laxmi is 27 years old and is currently studying Fine Arts focusing on painting in a University in Kathmandu.  She took a couple of years off from school to pursue a career as a professional mountain biker but have struggled lately especially finding sponsors to fund race entries.  In the meantime, she had completed her certification to be a mountain bike guide which will help her get a job in the tourism industry to support her cost of living and schooling.

    Laxmi:  “Girls in Nepal look up to me and I hope to continue inspiring them.”

    Women mountain racers have grown from 1 to 10 in the last few years and Laxmi has plans to form a women’s mountain biking club because she would like to ride with other women to share the fun experience riding on the trails.

    Laxmi:  “Four women are from the army and there are six good riders that challenge me on the rides.”

    All the women, including Laxmi have their own normal lives such as going to school and working to support themselves.  These women race each other but there is still a need for more competition in the women’s field in Nepal.  A great way to bring in more talents is to put together a developing team or club and will require some good resources to make that happen.

    Laxmi’s race schedule is not formal and most of her races are in Nepal.  In 2012, she got more serious into racing so she put together a training plan by researching on the internet.  There is no mountain biking or cycling coach in Nepal.  She doesn’t train with a GPS tracker such as Garmin, however she thinks it would really help in her training. She’s intrigued by Strava.  She’s learned how to train better through internet research and uses some  mountain bike training plans she’s found on several coaching websites.

    Photo Courtesy: Ganesh Magar

    Laxmi:  “I train outside of Kathmandu.I go to Nargakot and climb the steep road.  Sometimes, I train on the mountain trails in Pokhara.  I train long endurance riding, even when it’s getting late at night or when it’s raining.”

    Laxmi’s diet consists of just normal dhal baht (rice, lentil soup and vegetables) and other Nepalese meals, nothing special.  Embarrassed and blushing, she mentioned that her mountain bike racer friend who also raced Yak Attack ,and is also a national champion of Nepal, shared some of his sponsored sports drink so she drinks them only when she races.

    There’s a lot of enthusiasm from Laxmi as she explained how she would love to race or even ride with stronger women riders. Bigger races, and better riders,  would help build her skill and racing capability. She would like to be able to compete with deeper fields which is hard since there are limited opportunities to race internationally.

    Laxmi:  “I’ve raced with international women in Sri Lanka against Canadians, Americans and Europeans.  They all have very good mountain biking technical skills.  I want to improve, be better and they all inspired me to train harder.”

    Her advice for women in Nepal who want to get into mountain biking is to keep on riding and just ride for fun.  She also encourages aspiring riders to eat a lot of good healthy food and stay away from junk food.

    There are two big races Laxmi wants to participate this year. One is Yak Attack in November and the other big race is the Manali to Khardung La Cycling Championships in Ladakh, India in July.  Both are extreme high altitude stage races, which is Laxmi’s specialty.

    She is currently looking for sponsors to cover race entries as well as travel expenses to the Manali to Khardung La Cycling Championships.  Laxmi mostly relies on donations from other international women mountain bike racers she met at the races for smaller sized cycling jersey and shorts.

    There were a few European opportunities that opened up for Laxmi last year such as the possibility of her racing for a women’s road cycling team in Europe but that fell through. Nepal’s cycling association never replied to the request from the European team.

    Laxmi is riding a Trek 8500 hard tail from last year’s sponsor, KTM Bike Station.  Women specific sizing for bikes are non-existent in Nepal and with Laxmi’s petite frame, her bike had to be custom ordered.  She was recently offered a 50% off for a carbon fiber racing bike sponsor deal from a well known American bike company but it really still comes out to really big money in Nepal and she won’t be able to afford it.

    NCCN in Nepal!

    Photo Courtesy: NorCal CyclingNews

    Laxmi: ” The biggest challenges for me is to find sponsorships to cover race entries and also physical injuries that would require some time to heal.”

    We thank Laxmi for inspiring others to keep on riding and continue the passion.

    Stay tuned for more articles on Manali to Khardung La Cycling Championships.   Flandria will cover the most epic adventure mountain bike race in the world.  There is no other race like it.

    “The Manali-Khardungla route is highly inspirational for the global cycling community. MKCC will be something that every participant will be extremely proud to be part of and compete in, for all of their lives. And a word of advice for all riders: the route is not so much about physical capability, it is more of a mind game to be won!” – Race Director Anil Uchil

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