Canadian endurance mountain biker Cory Wallace has successfully completed a solo, unsupported sub-24 hour ride on Nepal’s famous Annapurna Circuit.
The Jasper, Alta. rider didn’t just beat his 24-hour goal. He smashed it. Wallace finished the 220 km ride in 21 hours 26 minutes 45 seconds. Along the way, he gained a staggering 6,000 m of elevation, all at altitude, topping out at the 5,416 M Throng La Pass.
Wallace wasn’t just riding for himself, though. The challenge, now in its second year, is part of Wallace’s efforts to raise funds to support the Nepal Cyclists Training centre. After his 2017 Annapurna attempt, where Wallace fought through altitude sickness to beat his goal by a narrow, three minute margin, the centre had enough to open and operate for a full year. This year, Wallace was riding to help the centre, which supports Nepalese riders and coaches, keep its doors open.
I caught up with Cory Wallace via e-mail from Nepal after his successful attempt to set a new record time on the Annapurna Circuit. The Kona rider tells Canadian Cycling Magazine about preparing for the ride, the reason he rides, and what happened during those 21 hours in Nepal.
Canadian Cycling Magazine: Annapurna Circuit isn’t just long, there’s an incredible amount of elevation gain at altitude. How did you prepare for this ride?
Cory Wallace: Preparation was three fold. First off I road/hiked the 180 km Manaslu trek with three friends before the Yak Attack. It took seven days and took us over a 5,100 M pass. Next up was racing the six day Yak Attack which took us 220 km around the Annapurna Circuit and over the 5,416 M Throng La Pass, pretty much the exact route used for the Annapurna 24 fundraiser. Lastly, after the Yak Attack, my Nepali buddy Roan and I did a six day acclimatization ride from the Mustang valley, over the 5,350 M Eastern Pass to Tilicho Lake. From there we rested a few days in the village of Manang (3,500 M) then I dropped down to Besisahar to start the Annapurna 24-hour attempt.
CCM: Aside from training, what goes into planning a ride like the Annapurna Challenge?
CW: The logistics are a big part as food is a key factor and also the change of climates during the ride is quiet drastic. This year I stashed food (clifbars, clifblocks, protein powders) along the Annapurna Circuit during the Yak Attack and also left shoes in two spots so I could change out of wet ones and into a warmer hiking pair for the pass. The other challenge is to get acclimatized, yet still stay rested before the event. After getting sick last year from the altitude, I leaned heavily on getting acclimatized properly this year and didn’t drop down from elevation to the start of the ride until just 12 hours before it. This wasn’t ideal for rest, but it kept the body primed for the high and rapid change of elevations during the ride.
CCM: You set the record last year at 23h 57m. What made you want to go back and try beat that time?
CW: Last year I was blown away with the amount of money the fundraiser raised in just 2 days and just how far that money went in regards to opening a training centre here in Nepal for the riders. We are hoping to find a way to make the training centre self sufficient, but this year it needed another hit of money to stay open and it seemed this fundraiser would be the easiest way of doing it. Last year the ride was a bit of a last minute plan and the Annapurna Circuit kicked my ass. I wanted to come back better prepared and to have a better ride this year.
CCM: Having done this two years in a row, are there plans to go back again in 2019? How much faster do you think it’s possible to ride Annapurna Circuit?
CW: This ride has turned into a great fundraiser so it would be nice to keep it going in the years to come. Being better acclimatized this year, the portion of the ride from 4,000-5,416 Meters was still painfully slow, almost half of race pace during the Yak Attack. It would be nice to come back and try again to improve the ride time of this portion of the ride as it’s still the Achilles heel. Packing all the gear yourself, I think 18 hours is doable, sub-20 might be a good goal for the next round.
CCM: You rode to raise funds for the Nepal Cyclists Training centre. Can you tell us more about the Centre, and what it’s like to go back and see it in action after it was founded last year?
CW: The Nepal Cyclists Training centre is situated in Kathmandu and gives the riders a hub to base their training out of. There are six stationary trainers and one turbo trainer (with watts) for the riders to test themselves on. The centre also has gym equipment and exercise balls on the training side, and on the other side of the centre is a small kitchen where the riders can prepare food and drinks before and after there rides. The centre is stocked with coffee and tea to caffeine the riders up before the rides and whey protein for recovery afterwards. The other thing goal of the centre is to train up one of the Nepali’s, five-time National champion, Ajay, to be able to coach the other riders. He already has alot of race experience and he has already started to take coaching courses which was paid for by last years fundraiser.[The GoFundMe campaign for Wallace’s 2018 ride is still open. You can donate here]
CCM: You cover a huge amount of distance in a spectacular part of the world. Are there any standout moments from the ride?
CW: The ride starts out in the tropics and slowly climbs up a gnarly valley with dramatic mountain cliffs on either side. Entering into the Mustang valley at 3,100 M is pretty rad as the valley opens up and the first great views of the Annapurna massif come into sight. Leaving the village of Manang (3,500 M) on a trail up to Throng la Pass (5,416 M) is a great part of the ride but also the most difficult due to the altitude. The best part is the 35-45 minute descent off the pass on some rad single track all the way down to Muktinath village (3,700 M) in the Mustang. From here the ride is under the shadows of the 7th highest mountain in the world, Dhaulagiri (8,167 M) as it heads into a big head wind down the Mustang valley. At Kalopani the hanging valley drops off and its a rough but mostly descending finish to Beni, 45 km later. It’s one of the most beautiful single days rides I’ve ever experienced.
CCM: What’s next on your schedule? Any big plans for 2019?
CW: The off season is going to be spent trekking around high up in the Nepali Himalayas. Towards mid December I’ll start to put a bit of focus on building a base for next year and then come January it will be back on the bike. Going for the three peat at the 24-Hour Solo World Champs in Brazil in July will be a season focus. BC Bike Race, Breck Epic, Mongolia Bike Challenge, and some of the local Canadian classics are also on the radar. In the coming months the schedule will be more finalized as I’m always looking to fit in some new adventures in different parts of the world.
You can see 141km of Wallace’s Annapurna ride on Strava here.