Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 | by ergonusa
We chatted with Topeak–Ergon riders, Sonya Looney and Yuki Ikeda, briefly as they prepare for the 2013 Yak-Attack Stage Race in Nepal. The Yak-Attack is known as one of the hardest mtb stage races in the World and takes the riders from elevations of 4,000 ft up and over 17,000 ft over the nearly 10 days of racing.
Ergon: Why race the Yak-Attack and what is your main goal?
Sonya: I hunger for backcountry adventures, and the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalaya is one of the most beautifully dramatic places to take a bike. I like that the Yak Attack is an adventure mountain bike race. It not only tests how fast you can go, but how mentally strong you are, and how you endure carrying your bike on your back for hours. Nepal offers a rich and unique cultural experience. My main goal is to set a new record. I won the Yak Attack and set a record last year, but with some difficulty. I want to make my record harder to touch, and finish in as close to 30 hours as I can!
Yuki: Two of my team mates, Jeff and Sonya raced 2012 Yak Attack, and they told me how awesome it was. I have been obsessed with Yak Attack since then. My main goal is being the first international winner, but also I just want to enjoy the amazing event.
Ergon: What part of the Yak Attack are you the most excited for?
Sonya: Feeling so tiny and peaceful in shadows of the 22,000+’ Annapurna peaks and spending time with the Nepali and other international riders. It is so surreal and magical to be there. I’m excited simply to just be there and be deeply present in the moment.
Yuki: Everything! I am very looking forward to pushing my limits in the world famous mountains, meeting new people, eating Nepali food and having a life changing experience.
Ergon: What part of the Yak Attack scares you?
Sonya: Anything can happen. I watched sickness nearly kill my teammate, Jeff Kerkove from the same room last year. Equipment can break – I had first hand experience with it and had to walk a 9000′ descent. The race is extreme. You are out there – a car cannot just come pick you up. Where we go, there are no roads. There are no cars. My biggest fear last year was summiting almost 18,000′, but now I know I can. It’s hard as hell, especially with a bike on your back at 4 AM on the ice, snow, and sub zero temps. Fear of what I cannot control is in the back of my mind, but it’s not going to affect my attitude or stress me out.
Yuki: Weather, cold temperature and infection. Anything could happen at 17,000 feet. I heard some riders had some frost bite issues from previous years. I will thoroughly prepare what to bring to prepare for any situations. Also I plan to take some vaccines to prevent myself from infections.
Ergon: What bike set-up do you plan to run?
Sonya: I’m running my Canyon Grand Canyon Al 29er hardtail. I think a hardtail is key simply because you have to carry your bike so much. You want a lighter bike with easier hand and shoulder positions. I will also bring my Ergon BX3 back with me as it was perfect and effective last year. I will use a harness system I devised last year to carry my bike over the pass.
Yuki: I am going to ride the Canyon Grand canyon 29 and Continental’s X-King 2.2 Protection for sure, but I have not decided what other components I am going to use yet. Stay tuned!
Ergon: What Ergon products you plan on using in the race?
Sonya: GS2 grips(NEED bar ends!!), SM3 Pro saddle, BX3 backpack
Yuki: Grips: GS1 or GS2 carbon, Gloves: HX2, Saddle: SM3 carbon, Backpack: BX3
Ergon: What is an example of a Yak-Attack training day you are doing in Boulder and Japan?
Sonya: It’s cold and wintry in Boulder which is uncomfortable, but it’s good because I can make sure I am taking warm enough clothes to Nepal where it gets downright frigid on the Circuit. A good training ride will be about 40-50 miles and 6000-8000′ of elevation gain. I choose the steepest canyons and ride with a weighted pack. I also am doing some extra upper body and core work in the gym, and utilizing the Gauntlet machine with weights to assist with hiking. Hiking with my bike or hiking without my bike and a weighted pack is also on the menu. Hungry?
Yuki: I spend more time in the gym and hiking because there will be a lot of hike a bike sections. I have been doing a 3-5day hard training block following 2day rest. My main focus is on improving my threshold power on long climb because the course will have lots of long uphill from looking the course profiles.
Ergon: You can only take so much gear/equipment to Nepal. What is the one comfort item you can’t leave home without? iPod? Lucky item? Other?
Sonya: Hmmm, good question. I do love my ipod, it’s a great accessory item. However, in this case, my down jacket and pants cannot stay home. They are not necessarily a “comfort” item because you need it, but off the bike – it’s my most essential item. I carry them with me in the race(in my backpack) because it takes the sherpas with your gear several hours to reach the villages. I put on my down immediately after I finish. It’s very cold and uncomfortable to sit in sweaty, dirty bike clothes for hours after finishing. I’m sure I’ll bring along a few lucky items as well. Last year, a couple of my friends gave me small parting gifts like a little purple amethyst necklace and a homemade heart paper charm that I strapped to my backpack saying “I Venga! I believe.” I have thoughtful friends. Those will be coming back with me.
Yuki: “Ume-boshi” pickled plum which is Japanese traditional food. It always gives me lots of energy and reminds me where I am from!
Ergon: The race has a high point over 17,000 ft. How will you prepare for this?
Sonya: Fortunately, I live at 5200′ and have access up to 11,000′ this winter. That definitely helps, but there’s no way to really prepare unless I have access to an altitude tent…which I do not. The race goes up gradually so everyone can properly acclimate. I was very afraid of getting altitude sickness last year, but I am going in with a lot more confidence this year. I feel that I was prepared last year with the training I did. Now, it’s a matter of simply making a few tweaks to be faster! Braaahppp!
Yuki: I live in Tokyo where is at sea level, so racing at that high will be very challenging for me. Fortunately and thankfully Hypoxico became one of my sponsors for Yak Attack. The altitude tent they make can simulate up to 6000 meter. Sleeping in the altitude tent before the event will help me to adapt to the high altitude environment quicker. I will increase my iron and water intake after I arrive in Nepal
Ergon: Sonya you competed and won in 2012. What is one thing you learned and will implement into your 2013 race strategy?
Sonya: Last year, I was not expecting to be actually carrying my bike on my back (aside from Stage 9 over the Pass) I thought I would be doing more pushing than carrying. I quickly saw that it’s a lot of long stair step style hiking (with oncoming donkey hurt trains) with the bike on the back. Shouldering the bike is not the best way to do it either because the wheel hits the rocks and it is clumsy. I will make sure I’m stronger and more prepared to carry it for long periods of time. I’m doing this by doing more hiking, and some very specific gym work. I’m also rethinking my cycling shoe choice for the last 6 stages. I was using an XC Northwave shoe. Personally, they were sketchy and slower for me trying to hoof it over slick rocks and steep inclines. I’m looking at a more hiking/walking based shoe, but it is very difficult to find one that is both stiff for riding AND good for hiking.
Ergon: Finally, what are your overall thoughts and comments going into the highest stage race in the World?
Sonya: I feel EXTREMELY grateful that I am able to go back. So far, it has been the most amazing thing I have ever done or seen in my life and now I get to go back? Hell yes! Unbelievable! The pungent squat toilets, lack of showering, and freezing my butt off seems like nothing in comparison to the amazing experience and truly epic views. The word epic is overused, but this race is the definition of it! I hope that luck is on my side. I’m excited to bring back more stories and pictures. Last year, I was the first woman to ever finish. For 2013, I’m very excited that I’ll be the first North American(male or female) to ever finish it twice. When I was doing presentations this past year on the race, it felt like I dreamt it. And now I get to go live my dream again! Bring it on baby!
Yuki: I already enjoy the preparation and process for the race not only training, but what to bring, how to prepare for the high altitude etc. The race already began when I register. I know it will be extremely challenging, but that is why I made a decision to race. It will be my life-changing experience!
Ergon: Good luck to you both!!! We look forward to the results and the storys that will come out of the week long event.