Irishman excels in Mongolian epic despite mid-race stitching for crash wound

Posted on: September 2nd, 2015

Ryan Sherlock sprints to his Mongolian stage victory

Ryan Sherlock sprints to victory ahead of Italian Nicholas Pettina on stage five of the Mongolian Mountain Bike Challenge. The Monaghan man battled extreme conditions and some serious climbing to finish second overall.


By Brian Canty

Irish road and MTB rider Ryan Sherlock has finished second overall in a race regarded as one of the most testing off-road events in the world, the Mongolian Mountain Bike Challenge.

The Monaghan man had to contend with eight stages over 840 kilometres, with 12,500 metres of climbing, along with stifling heat, tough competition and a very nasty crash.

Sherlock’s fall threatened to halt his race as he came down in a freak accident on stage three and slammed his knee into a rock.

The resulting gash, pictured, required five stitches to close.

But despite sustaining the injury and undergoing the stitching ordeal with some very tough racing remaining, he battled on.

He managed to win the near 170km stage 5 last Wednesday, August 26th, that put him right in contention for outright victory.

But he couldn’t reel in flying Italian Nicholas Pettina who blitzed the opposition to claim the 2015 title.

“I’d heard about the race for years and always wanted to go there,” explained Sherlock of his trek to Mongolia.

“It’s a country with so much history and I’d know of some the racers who’d done it in the past.

“I’d seen the photos and it just looked so unique and it was something I wanted to experience,” he added.

However, his trip almost turned to disaster when his bike only arrived at the last minute after getting temporarily lost in transit.

But he was on the start-line with 78 others when the flag was dropped last Saturday week, August 22nd

“I hadn’t done much training going into it so I was a bit nervous,” said Sherlock, one of Ireland’s top road riders on the domestic scene in recent years.

“I knew the guy who won was a former national (MTB) champion in Italy and had finished top 20 in a few cross-country World Cups.

“There were a few ex-road pros as well. But the others; you just don’t really know.”

The first stage saw the aforementioned Pettina disappear up the road and put 15 minutes into the rest of the field on what was a leg-breaking 113-kilometre stage that featured 2,500 metres of climbing and some 30% gradients.


Sherlock’s knee, which was stictched up “on the side of a mountain”.


Despite that stage 1 time loss, Sherlock found his legs and worked his way back into the race over the course of the week.

“The basic run of the stages was the Mongolians would all take off as fast as they could,” he said.

“Some of them were going shockingly well but didn’t have the same MTB skills that some of the other guys would have had.

“Inevitably, they’d puncture or have a mechanicals; every day one of them punctured towards the end.

“The front group would whittle down to 12 or so, we’d cruise for three or four hours and then the attacking would start all over again.”

Sherlock was climbing well, moving up on overall and taking his stage 5 win when he beat eventual winner Pettina on the 168-kilometre leg from Kherlen River to Gun Galuut.

“That was the longest race I’ve ever done time-wise and by far the most kilojoules I’ve spent on the course,” he said.

“It wasn’t helped by being taken eight kilometres off course by the organisers.”

Though Sherlock won the day, Pettina continued to dominate overall and it came down to a battle for second.

Miguel Silvestre from Spain was Sherlock’s closest challenger but the Irishman held firm and secured the silver medal.

He said it was an amazing experience to witness such a remote country, a place where “every photo is a panoramic shot”.

“The capital city Ulaanbaatar is like any big Asian city, an incredible mix between extreme wealth and grinding poverty; you’ve $200,000 G-class Mercedes jeeps parked beside banged-up cars.

“The people were warm though and the food was fantastic – I don’t think anyone got sick.

“The remoteness takes some getting used to though. We were three days straight without mobile coverage.

“It was incredible, we only past one small town in the whole race and when I crashed and needed attention I was 100 kilometres from it so I needed to be sewn up on the side of the mountain.

“Along the course we probably only raced on tarmac for two kilometres, the rest was all gravel tracks.”