Mongol Derby Day 5 Race Report: Could time penalties shake up the leaderboard?

The fight for the lead

South African riders Barry Armitage and Joe Dawson are in the lead at the end of day 5 but there’s a spicy landmark ahead: the penalty stop at Horse Station 19. This is where all riders will serve any time penalties issued since passing Horse Station 9.

Michaela Gradinger, Christoffer Adriansson and Matthias Gardlund take to the water after Horse Station 12 ©Richard Dunwoody

Michaela Gradinger, Christoffer Adriansson and Matthias Gardlund take to the water after Horse Station 12 ©Richard Dunwoody

It looks like these time penalties could give the leaderboard a massive shake up and Barry and Joe’s gradually growing lead may be wiped out.

Last night Barry Armitage and Joe Dawson made it to Horse Station 14, but the four chasers missed the bridge to cross the rather large river and ended literally on the wrong side of the swollen watery track. They were incredibly close to the same horse station but faced a massive 30 kilometre back-track this morning to cross the river. That would have allowed Barry and Joe a chance to gain a significant lead. One that may have been been unassailable given their performance so far. 

But an audacious approach to the problem has surprised the Derby officials out on the course. Charlotte Treleaven, Julie Youngblood, Richard Killoran and Dony Fahy decided that they don’t go backwards when they’re racing. 

Showing seriously impressive horsemanship and no shortage of balls, they swam their horses across a deep and tricky section of the river, safely for all riders and horses involved. Despite getting very wet their bold tactics have kept them in contention. 

Michaela Gradinger,  Mattias Gardlund and Christoffer Adriansson get help from a local herder to cross the river after Horse Station 13 ©Richard Dunwoody

Michaela Gradinger,  Mattias Gardlund and Christoffer Adriansson get help from a local herder to cross the river after Horse Station 13 ©Richard Dunwoody

In the meantime, Barry and Joe were delayed setting off from Horse Station 14 and left 45 minutes later than the usual start time of 7am. 

The chasing river-swimming quartet arrived just 4 minutes later and were through the horse station and on the leaders' heels again in quick time, narrowing the gap to just 40 minutes. If they hadn't decided to swim across the river and opted for tracking back to the bridge they would have been at least half a day behind. 

So now the time penalties may come into play. Unless Barry and Joe can build their lead up again over the next four horse stations (160km), they could be overtaken by all four chasers.  

They both potentially have veterinary penalties to serve - Joe for the treatment required to his horse when it arrived into horse station 10 with the thumps (explained in the Day 4 report) and Barry for a girth gall (blister on the skin) possibly caused by sand and grit. They are likely to serve a two hour penalty for these incidents. Plus they arrived into horse station 14 quite late and will likely receive a further 90 minute penalty for riding outside permitted hours. So they could be stopped for up to three and a half hours.  

In the chasing pack of four, the two Irish jockeys Richard and Dony are carrying just 30 minutes of penalty time, Charlotte is penalty free and Julie was issued with a veterinary penalty of two hours due to a lame horse (which was later declared fit and healthy following treatment and recovery time). 

Could they leapfrog the South African pair that have so far dominated the leaderboard? Could we see the first female winner of the Mongol Derby since it began in 2009? 

News from the field - river crossings and excellent riding reported

Mattias Gardlund & Christoffer Adriansson, riding as Team Sweden, have teamed up with Austrian rider Michaela Gradinger and enjoyed a very strong couple of days. They have made up ground on the leading pack and the vets have commented on their riding skill and the particularly excellent condition of the horses after each leg. 

am Wyborn prepares for a 7am start from Horse Station 12 ©Richard Dunwoody

am Wyborn prepares for a 7am start from Horse Station 12 ©Richard Dunwoody

They have done so well that given the potential penalty shake-up looming, they could even be up in the chasing pack and putting pressure on the leaders in the next 24 hours or so. Ones to watch. 

Wendy Chambers and Nicole Walter were said to be riding well together today. They also missed the bridge to cross the river but decided to track back rather than swim after a fairly long period contemplating different spots they could cross. They ended up staying with a local family for the evening and will tackle the river crossing, hopefully via the bridge, tomorrow. 

Ben de Rivaz and Campbell Costello also took their time sussing out a good spot to cross the river after missing the bridge (race HQ in Ulaanbaatar reports that all riders were given detailed information on how to find the bridge but lots seem to be missing it and ending up with a daunting river to cross, or a long old u-turn).  

One of the vets Jess happened to be passing the riders and reported Ben and Campbell picked their spot carefully and also went for the swim, crossing well in deep water.  

Another pair of riders, Sam Wyborn and Will Grant took the plunge after missing the bridge, with Will Grant reportedly taking a swim beside his horse, getting himself and all his kit thoroughly drenched. 

In other news, a direct result of a water themed day was fish on the menu - all riders enjoyed some fresh fish as they passed horse station 12 next to the lake - a welcome break from the traditional mutton based dishes in the Mongolian countryside. There was also a brief thunderstorm and downpour during the afternoon, just to keep everyone on their toes. 

And sadly Jess Peleaz from the US has decided to withdraw from the race, so the original field of 34 is now 29 after 5 days of riding.

Leaderboard - positions at the end of day 5

Camping 20km between horse stations 16 & 17:

Barry Armitage, 45, South Africa

Joe Dawson, 35, South Africa

Horse station 16:

Dony Fahy, 25, Ireland

Richard Killoran, 25, Ireland

Julie Youngblood, 24, USA

Charlotte Treleaven, 24, UK

25 km away from horse station 16:

Michaela Gradinger, 39, Austria 

Christoffer Adriansson, 26, Sweden

Mathias Gardlund, 42, Sweden

Horse station 15:

Sam Wyborn, 25, New Zealand

Between horse station 14 & 15:

Will Grant, 31, USA

Horse station 14:

Ben de Rivaz, 28, UK

Campbell Costello, 24, Australia

Simon Pearce, 51, South Africa

Heather Mostert, 30(ish), South Africa

Craig Springbait, 51, South Africa

Camping between horse stations 13 & 14:

Nicole Walter, 41, Germany

Wendy Chambers, 45, Australia

Horse station 13:

Sonja Timani, 39, Austria

7km from from horse station 13:

Lucy Yorke, 25, UK

Jess Russell, 24, UK

Horse station 12:

Erik Cooper, 27, USA

George Azarius, 26, Australia

Aimee Costello, 29, UK

Ronald van der Velder, 51, Netherlands

Anne Schutman, 29, Germany

Katherine Friedland, 46, Canada

Ivo Marlo, Germany

Eveline Gawne, 46, UK 

Retired from the race: 

Paul de Rivaz

Linda Sandvik 

Alya Obaid

Erin Shanson 

Jess Pelaez