Thumbs Up to the TransHajar MTB Race

Words and Photos: Darryl MacDonald |

Mountain Biking

In only the third year since its launch, the TransHajar MTB Race, held in Oman, continues to grow in popularity and is becoming recognised as a truly international affair. From just 23 riders in 2011, this number more than doubled in size to a total of 53 riders in 2012, and this year it attracted a total of 81 cyclists representing 15 countries, making for an incredibly exciting and eclectic mix. I had the privilege of being one of those cyclists competing in this year's race and what an absolutely fabulous experience it was.

Thumbs Up to the TransHajar MTB Race

Humble beginnings
It all started in 2006, when Lake Araparkis competed in his first multi-day mountain bike race, the Cape Epic; the gruelling eight day, 800 km race through the Western Cape. Lake loved the experience so much that he decided to do it again the following year and again the year after that. He also participated in the Trans Rockies, another race of epic proportions through the Canadian Rockies, which covers 350 km and nearly 12,000 m of elevation gain. In the years that followed, Lake competed in 12 more races spread over three continents. Then in 2011, while training for the Cape Epic, he thought it might be interesting to invite other riders to participate in his training and explore some of the surrounding areas of Oman; his training base. So, he put together a little website and invited the local cycling club to join him. He only expected to receive a small response from the local riders and was pleasantly surprised when a large group of cyclists from the UAE also showed up and were eager to ride. And so from humble beginnings, Lake's 'social' training event transformed into the TransHajar MTB Race.


This event is the only multi-stage mountain biking event in the region and has a very 'grass-roots' sort of feel to it, which makes it a much more intimate experience than some of the larger races I've attended. The group is small enough that all of the faces become recognisable quite quickly and the racers have room to spread out on the course, thus avoiding some of the congestion I've seen elsewhere.


Although Lake works with a very small group of organisers and an almost non-existent budget, he still manages to put on a world-class event. And this year's four-day event was no different. Taking place from 30January to 2February 2013, it offered the 81 competitors a challenging and tough 310 km course that passed through some of the most stunning examples of the Oman landscape; the majestic Hajar Mountains around Muscat, in the areas of Yiti and Quriyat. The first day was marked for the time trial competition, while the remaining three days saw riders toiling on the treacherous tracks of Wadi Lahloo and the Arqi loop along the Quriyat Highway.


Amongst the riders were some big names, such as the former World Triathlon Champion and winner of the Cape Epic, Hannele Steyn, and legendary Olympian Rob Barel, whose list of accomplishments, which include numerous triathlon medals in the international and European circuits, is so long that it wouldn’t fit in this article. Also on the rider list were members of the local cycling club, including three Omanis, as well as competitors from Italy, Spain, UK and Canada to name just a few. The female category had a stronger presence this year with seven women battling it out for silverware, including Race Director for the Cape Epic, Kati Cask, and one of the top riders from the UK National Series, Julie Elder.


Of the many highlights, one of the things I enjoyed most about this event was seeing such a broad range of participants from across the globe in action. The professional athletes at the front were always amazing and inspirational to watch, and even though I know they worked extremely hard, they somehow managed to make it all look so easy. Hannele Steyn was a great example, as she had this huge grin on her face every time she passed me, and that was also on some monster climbs that had brought many a rider to their knees. Another highlight for me was the riders at the back of the pack; they were truly inspirational as they were the ones that ended up riding up to four times longer than the leaders and many had cuts, scrapes, bruises and blisters in the worst places to show for their efforts. They were also the ones who used every last ounce of energy to cross the finish line, with their broken bikes and battered egos in tow. One of the riders I spoke to on day three, the longest day at 129km, said, "I'm done, I can't do any more and I won't ride tomorrow." Several other riders and I tried to coax and encourage him to come back, but to no avail. However, the following morning I was both surprised and happy to see him show up for the final day, but it was the look of pain that crossed his face when he got on his bike that was inspirational.


Over the ensuing four days, the riders never stopped giving their all on a course that demanded nothing less than 100%, and then some more. In the Open Men's category, the last three stages saw Rob Barel and Thomas Kammermann (Switzerland) battling it out, but in the end it was Rob who clinched the top podium position, with Thomas in second and Chris Reijmer (Holland) in third. In the Open Ladies category, it was Hannele Steyn (South Africa) in first, Kati Csak (South Africa) in second and Julie Elder (UK) in third.


Everyone I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed themselves, complimenting the organsiers on a very well organised event. I also caught up with Lake after the race to find out what kind of changes the participants can look forward to next year and he told me that he has some big plans in the works. What started as a three-day event in 2011 and then moved to a four-day event in 2012 will now become a five-day event in 2014. The organisers are also looking at changing the venue to one that has significantly more single track, which will make the course more technical.


Registration for 2014 will start shortly, so for those of you looking for your next big challenge, get out there and start training!



To find out more about this event and enter, visit


Issue 24 Apr'13