After more than seven years of setting courses for RacingThePlanet, Pierre Beguin thought he had seen it all. But as he and event director Riitta Hanninen descended into Mysterious Rock Valley while plotting the 2013 Gobi March course, they knew they were about to set a new standard in the 4 Deserts series.
“It’s full of bizarre rock formations as far as the eye can see,” Riitta explains of the visual feast that awaits competitors in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Province, best known as the home of Mongol empire leader Genghis Khan.
The move to Bortala Mongol and Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefectures this year was inspired by the ten-year anniversary of the race. “We decided to find a different course to celebrate,” she says. The region, a secret of long-term local manager Medina who lives and works near there, was selected for its remoteness and untouched beauty.
Indeed, the mysterious valley is just one of the many highlights of the course this year. Starting at the foot of the Altai Mountains, the seven-day adventure weaves its way through the Tian Shan mountain region (literally "heavenly mountains”), with almost celestial views of Lake Sayram at 2070 metres elevation along the way.
While the Gobi March desert races have become known for offering a cultural experience amongst the Mongol, Uyghur and Kazakh minority groups that live there, the isolated location this year promises even more unique insight. Sharing an international border with Kazakhstan to the north and west, the region has become well known for the colorful culture of the remote villages. “People in this part of the province don't get to see visitors often, especially international visitors,” says Riitta.
Along the 250 kilometre / 155 mile journey, competitors can expect anything from grasslands, Gobi (a mixture of dusty and stony desert), farmlands, dirt tracks, riverbeds, rolling hills, mountain valleys, plains and plateaus. “With a landscape that is positively alpine and a climate to match, competitors are going to have a stunning experience,” she says.
With sensory and cultural overload promised along a fresh course, it seems the tenth year of the race will be bigger and better than ever before.
By Rachel Jacqueline