HINDUKUSH MTB CHALLENGE
On Friday, Sep 28, Mountain Bike Afghanistan in collaboration with the Afghan National Cycling Federation (ANCF) organized the Hindukush MTB Challenge, a cross-country mountain bike race in Dragon Valley near Bamiyan City in Central Afghanistan. For many people, it was the first time they had witnessed a mountain bike race in their lives. In the past few years as cycling has become more popular, there have been a few scattered mountain bike events across the country, with most of them taking place on paved roads. But this is the first time an entirely off-road bike race in the style of an XCO (Cross Country Olympic) event happened in Afghanistan. Our goal behind promoting the sport is to make it very popular among the youth with the long-term hopes of discovering and supporting Olympic-level athletes from Afghanistan.
Unlike most inaugural events where mishaps, pushbacks and lack of interest are common, the Hindukush MTB Challenge proved to be a lively event packed with 50 racers, twenty of whom were women. It was also full of spectators thrilled to see their town transformed to a fun venue for the day. Everywhere, there were people watching; from the start line to the top of mountain ridges. The success of the event and the show of support by the locals exemplify a progressive young Afghan population with a deep desire to unburden their country from narratives of war, and for this niche crowd, to work their way into international bike racing.
The event was also among the first to host both men and women races. Until very recently, women’s cycling was frowned upon in the Afghan society. It still is in much of the rest of the country. Only in Bamiyan, women can ride more freely and without facing threats of physical harm. This has led to the formation of several female-led cycling clubs. Tahira Shayagan, winner of the women’s race applauds the organizers for including a women’s race. She said, “many people think mountain biking is very hard, so women shouldn’t do it. This event proved them wrong, and it encourages more women to ride.” Tahira’s mother urges other parents to let their daughters ride. She said, "I hope more girls and their parents will draw interest from my daughter's performance."
Though the race is nowhere close to the level of experience and glory in European and North American events, it is a beginning for Afghanistan. And it is an exciting one too! The enormous attendance of racers and the enthusiasm of the local community proves that mountain biking has a future in Afghanistan. Who knows, before long, Afghanistan will become a prominent contestant in international mountain bike racing as well as a destination.
Mountain Bike Afghanistan is a non-profit aiming to promote the sport in Afghanistan and build the necessary infrastructure for its growth. Our mission is to empower Afghan youth with the joy of riding and competing on mountain bikes, as well as to connect people across borders and cultures through their shared love of the outdoors and the sport of biking.