At least 71 cyclists on Saturday started their journey to capture the lofty mountains of Himachal Pradesh for the Hero MTB Himalaya 2014 that was flagged off from Shimla, organisers said.
The off-road race will cover a distance of about 500 km in the next six days through the Himalayan backcountry, travelling through over 100 villages en route, Mohit Sood, president of Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), told IANS.
The HASTPA is the club organising the event.
The race comprises 21 foreign bikers from Nepal, Holland, Bangladesh, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Canada, Belgium, Poland and Britain, he said.
The world-class cyclists include Portuguese Sonia Lopes, the first and only female cyclist to win the non-stop 500-km Portugal Bike Race, Canadian National Champion Cory Wallace, also the three-time champion of the Mongolia Bike Challenge, Austrian Wolf Gang Krenn, champion of Salzkammergut Trophy in 2011, and Canadian John Funk.
Teams from the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army will also be vying in the race with cyclists Devender Thakur and Gurman Reen.
Billed as the third toughest mountain biking event in the world after the Trans-Alps Challenge (Europe) and the Trans-Rockies (Canada), the participants, both men and women, will pass through forest trails and unmetalled rural roads, winding through Shimla and Kullu districts.
Sood said the route for the 10th edition of the race is the most difficult. "We have eliminated the treacherous hike and bike sections. On an average, a cyclist will pedal 80-90 km every day with one day of rest and have to ascend 2,000-2,500 metres each day."
The highest and toughest point of the rally will be the Jalori Pass (3,223 metres) in Kullu district.
Sood said about 85 percent of the total track of the rally passes through terrain riddled with obstacles such as trees and boulders.
The rally will pass through Shimla, Narkanda, Ani, Jibbi, Ghadagushaini, Chatri to Luhri, then back to Narkanda and finally culminate in Shimla Oct 3.