The Mongol Derby doesn't do things by half. It's known as the toughest horse race on our fine planet for very good reasons. Victory, or indeed abject hardship could be within reach for any of the riders.
Before we detail those to watch, let's have a little report of yesterday's goings on from our team on the ground. Over to adventure Chief Miss Katy:
"The riders have finally got their feet on the steppe and enjoyed the steep learning curve of the first test ride. New saddles and bridles, huge new horizons and a whole new species to contend with - the mighty Mongolian horse. Yesterday (Sunday) riders were briefed on essential protocols such as using their satellite trackers, and the all-important urtuu changeovers - procedures and etiquette. All weighed out successfully at 85kgs dressed or less, and most even got to enjoy a cupcake before they tackled the scales. A few of the bigger guys have lost several kilos to do this and should be congratulated. The next few kilos will come off much more easily in the coming weeks.
Riders have seen the whites of each other's eyes; some asked detailed and clearly competitive questions of the referee teams, keen to understand every possible lever and advantage available to them during the race. Others had questions about safety, what happens when it all goes tits up and what the food is like. Needless to say, the food will be...different to what they might usually feast upon. Others were eerily quiet and are therefore hard to categorise. We have another two days pre-launch to see who is in it to win it and who are already praying to the gods to get them home safely
Folks are (as usual) bricking it about the navigation. Our course briefing and beautifully rendered maps, created by Daren Parr, seemed to settle most down. At every urtuu there will be a stack of maps for the next leg, with a simple key of terrain, ascent/descent, and key obstacles. All laughed nervously at the prospect of the railway crossing at Bayan around half way - get a Mongolian horse through a railway underpass? Really? Yes, really. Also most laughed when he said, "you're going to cross two roads". In 1020kms.
We discussed how good horses are at swimming - though the course is relatively dry so this is most unlikely in 2017 - and how to use a well without falling down it. Some key skills these riders will need to adopt in the next 2 days.
Next up - was the navigation ride this morning. That will either make them very, very scared or settle their nerves quite a lot. Feelings will no doubt shift a lot in the next 24 hours. It's all very well weighing out and being able to ride....but can you find the next urtuu?
Sunday evening we took them out for a slap up dinner, opening up the opportunity for fraternisation, spiking each other's drinks, and discerning who to team up with vs. who to ride away from at high speed. It was, as ever, a fascinating anthropological exercise. From our seasoned observations, here is who has stuck out so far....
Barry Armitage, BA.
He has an injury, he has the experience, he has questions about exact, to the minute, time-keeping. He has a glint in his eye. He wants to win.
Will Comiskey, WC.
Returning champ. Planning to ride the whole thing in a traditional Mongolian deel - he's going local. They will love him even more for it.
Greg Chant, GC.
Lovely laid back guy and clearly a highly experienced horseman and endurance rider. Asked intelligent questions, weighed out in excellent kit. Contender.
Rebecca Pumphrey, RP.
All her luggage got detained in Frankfurt. She has taken this incredibly well and will be riding the Derby in a compendium of borrowed stuff. Including my riding boots, a helmet left in HQ, jodhpurs from another rider, half chaps from someone else, and even Charles van Wyk's fabled "lucky pants" - he rode the 2009 Derby in them and won. He then lent them to Sophie de Selliers in 2010 (finisher) and Julie Youngblood in 2012 (finisher). They are the 3000km pants. We felt she needed a lucky break.
Rebecca has been admirably calm and sanguine about it all. She's endeared herself to everyone and has the sympathy vote. Could all simply be brilliant strategy of course...
James Lester, JL and Lucy Taylor, LT.
Good fun, laid back, take it as it comes, we think the attitude will really stand them in good stead. They are both really decent riders.
Mark Bauwens, MB.
Had a lot of navigation questions and seemed to want to say he knew more about maps than the mapping guy Daren. He's keen to navigate 'in his own style' and wanted to know if he could 'cut the corner' vs. using the racing line we have sketched on the riders GPS and maps - he can, within the rules, but there are good reasons to use the tracks we have loaded. Will be very interesting to see how far he experiments, and how that works for him.
Rachel Land, RL and Margaret Clare Summers, CS.
Absolutely lovely. Well organised, no nonsense, listened attentively, asked smart questions, have clearly absorbed all the info we have sent them along the way. Model students.
Sally Toye, ST.
Hyper-prepared and highly competitive, again she squeezed every ounce of info from the day yesterday and has made good use of trainer Maggie in the run-up. She’s one of the UK's best endurance riders and incredibly fit. we'd say she's in with a great chance of winning.
You can see the full list of riders in the 2017 Mongol Derby HERE