The Mongol Derby has unleashed its first day and lived up to its reputation for being one of the toughest horse races in the world.
Using a network of 25 horse stations set 40km apart, it’s a 1000km recreation of the ancient horse messenger system used by the Khans to relay messages across their empire. The horses are semi-wild and changed at every station.
After the first full day of racing the leading pack of 15 riders had covered 120km to reach horse station 3. The chasing pack of 16 were 40kms back at horse station 2, and Sonja Timani had decided to camp out on the steppe on her own between the two.
That left two from the original 34 that began the race. Sadly they were already in hospital.
Paul de Rivaz, a 63 year old British rider taking part with his son Ben, was thrown from his horse. The first few kilometres of the race were flat but peppered with marmot holes and despite the horse’s familiarity with the terrain, it tripped in one and threw him off. His collarbone was broken and his race over after 10km and an hour of riding. Paul summed up his feelings with this post from Ulaanbaatar:
“Horse stumbled over a marmot hole and I broke collarbone. Horse ran off leaving me with 30km walk to next horse station. Medics picked me up and now back in UB: sad to be out of race so early but at least horse is ok!”
Paul’s horse carried on without him and was picked up and checked at horse station 2 and thankfully unharmed by the incident. He plans to meet his son Ben at the finish line.
Linda Sandvick, a 26 year old Norwegian web developer, was spotted by the Mongol Derby film crew, leading her horse and clutching her ribs. Like Paul she sent a help message, which is a request for outside assistance rather than an emergency call out. Within 40 minutes the Prometheus medic Andy was on the scene and reported that Linda had taken a heavy fall and suffered a suspected punctured lung, or in Linda’s own words: “medic thinks I’ve popped a lung :(“
She had to go to Ulaanbaatar for a check up at hospital and unfortunately it may not be possible for Linda to rejoin the race if the injury is deemed too severe. Thankfully her horse was also didn’t sustain any injuries and was unharmed.
Maggie Pattinson, one of the UK’s leading endurance coaches and the Mongol Derby pre-race trainer and course manager, said she was “hugely impressed by the riders on the first day”.
She reported that New Zealand rider Sam Wyborn led the way on day 1 and was the first to arrive at horse station 3. He still had more than an hour of riding time left and could have forged ahead to maintain the lead he’d built up. Instead decided to stop and camp up, effectively forfeiting his advantage when another 14 riders joined him at the same point. The race team suggested that it may have had something to do with some enthusiastic partying and Mongolian vodka during the launch ceremony the previous night.
Ronald van der Velden, 51 year old Dutchman who took part in 2011 and has come back for another crack, fell off his horse and broke part of his saddle. Luckily he was close to a local ger and the family helped him fix the saddle so he could carry on. He and his horse were OK and he successfully carried on to horse station 2. He also had a pretty heavy fall during pre-race training so he may have a growing collection of bruises.
Others riders reported to be impressing on the semi-wild horses are Barry Armitage and Joe Dawson, perhaps related to their experience riding in the 2011 race. They’ve come and are aiming to win this time round.
Barry and Joe were also among the first to arrive at horse station after Sam Wyborn claimed the unofficial yellow jersey, and they were closely followed by Charlotte Treleven and the two professional jockeys, Richard Killoran and Dony Fahy. While it won’t make any technical difference what order they arrived because they can all leave at the same time in the morning, it’s a strong indication of who the faster riders were out of the blocks.
Fast riding conditions
A combination of very high quality horses, that looked very fit and in excellent condition and the weather made the first stage to horse station 1 a particularly fast-paced introduction to racing on semi wild Mongolian horses for the riders.
Katy Willings, Race Chief said: “The weather has been great for the horses 12-15 degrees celsius, drizzly and at times quite wet but that keeps the horses cool and running, so that means it’s been tough on the riders but great for the horses. It’s all contributed to some fast riding today, though the race is still wide open.
“There are two clusters and the race is still anyone’s to be had, nobody has fallen behind or gained any clear lead. It’s such a strong field this year including a lot of very competitive, very determined riders, it could be very close between multiple riders all the way to the finish line, which would make for a cracking race.”
The race positions after Day 1
Horse station 3 | 120 kms covered
Campbell Costello, 24, Australia
Joe Dawson, 35, South Africa
Barry Armitage, 45, South Africa
Michaela Gradinger, 39, Austria
Wendy Chambers, 45, Australia
Nicole Walter, 41, Germany
Sam Wyborn, 25, New Zealand
Julie Youngblood, 24, USA
Christoffer Adriansson, 26, Sweden
Mathias Gardlund, 42, Sweden
Will Grant, 31, USA
Ben de Rivaz, 28, UK
Charlotte Treleaven, 24, UK
Dony Fahy, 25, Ireland
Richard Killoran, 25, Ireland
Camping on her own between horse stations 2 & 3
Horse station 2:
Erik Cooper, 27, USA
Erin Shanson, 27, USA
Jess Pelaez, 29, USA
Heather Mostert, 30(ish), South Africa
Jess Russell, 24, UK
Lucy Yorke, 25, UK
Ronald van der Velder, 51, Netherlands
Ivo Marlo, Germany
Anne Schutman, 29, Germany
George Azarius, 26, Australia
Craig Springbait, 51, South Africa
Eveline Gawne, 46, UK
Katherine Friedland, 46, Canada
Alya Obaid, UAE
*Race rules only allow riding in set daylight hours with heavy penalties for any GPS movement outside those hours.