Over 50 participants, including 11 women, from around Afghanistan competed in the first ever two-day mountain bike event in Afghanistan. The 3rd Hindukush MTB Challenge was made possible by the financial support of Women of Oz, a mountain bike club for the women of Northwest Arkansas, and generous individual contributions.
As the announcer shouts "Ready? 3, 2, 2, 2, 1... Go!", and the suspenseful riders launch in an explosive sprint, a kid shouts from the sideline: "Zinda bad Afghanistan! (long live Afghanistan!)" We couldn't agree more.
The Hindukush MTB Challenge, which we launched in 2018--now in its third year, is more than a bike race. It is a venue for giving a touch of reality to unfulfilled dreams and aspirations of many Afghan youth who live in a challenging environment with scarce opportunities to excel. We are very glad and excited that we could provide at least one such avenue for the Afghan youth, men and women, to come together and get closer to realizing their potential.
This year, we made the Hindukush MTB Challenge a two-day event following the UCI Cross Country (XC) World Cup format in an effort to get aspiring Afghan mountain bikers used to international standards with the hope that when the opportunity presented itself to them for racing abroad, they will have some experience under their belt. In Thursday's Short Track, around 10-kilometers, racers competed for a lead start position for the next-day longer 25-kilometers XC race.
The race took place in Dara-e Azhdar in Bamyan Province, not too far from the world-famous Bande Amir Lakes. Insecurity and conflicts along the way make traveling to Bamyan difficult. But we were glad for and commend the racers who travelled from Kabul, and Ghazni, adding hype to the peloton. Overall, there were 50 racers, including 11 in the women's race. The field could be much bigger had it not been for a new rule the Afghan Cycling Federation has passed which bars athletes who have raced in other cycling disciplines such as road and BMX from participating in mountain bike events. We feel, in Afghanistan's growing but still small cycling scene, this rule only impedes progress, and hope that the federation will repeal the rule and encourage everyone to participate. As organizers, it was difficult for us to see many people watching from the sidelines who would otherwise participate. We can never have a 'big enough' field, and must encourage everyone to participate instead of throwing obstacles their way.
Congratulations to Zainab Haidari, Nasrin and Shikeba for placing 1, 2, 3 in the women's race, and Mustafa Rasooli, Layeq and Farzad in the men's race. From all of us at Mountain Bike Afghanistan, we hope you will continue to grow and shine, and bring more of your friends to next year's Hindukush MTB Challenge.
We would like to thank the Afghan Cycling Federation for their valued partnership in organizing this year's Hindukush MTB Challenge, and look forward to future collaboration with them. Thank you also to all the media who came out to document the event and spread our message of peace, youth empowerment, gender equality and portraying Afghanistan's beautiful outdoors with the world. And lastly, to all the racers, thank you for making the 3rd Hindukush MTB Challenge vibrant and full of energy.
Until next year,
Ride fast, ride safe, explore new places and come back stronger! Together, we will transform to a mountain biking nation.