Video: Bikepacking Racing Across Morocco's Atlas Mountains in 'Into The Rift'

May 21, 2020
by Canyon  

To simply finish the Atlas Mountain Race means navigating 1,200 kilometres of the most rugged and remote roads in Morocco, riding forgotten gravel paths from Marrakech to the Atlantic coast whilst climbing a staggering 25,000 meters of elevation along the way. Riders would find themselves riding past snow-capped peaks, through scorched deserts and into palm-filled oases, all within the eight-day time limit.

To win requires riding almost non-stop, night and day, for days on end. It is a combination of strength and sleep deprivation that only a few riders in the world can manage. Riding alone, unsupported and loaded down with supplies, each competitor must constantly battle mechanicals, heat exhaustion and saddle sores to get to the finish. There is no prize, no money, simply the satisfaction that comes from pushing oneself to the limit while exploring the backroads of a beautiful country.

With support from PEdALED, Canyon, Fizik and the race crew led by organiser and route creator Nelson Trees, filmmaker Brady Lawrence followed the race documenting everything from a brutal 80-kilometre walk through the high desert with a broken bike, to one racer’s simple joy at realising they’ll soon eat their first warm meal in days. Featuring the sport’s biggest names and first-time, ultra-distance racers alike, the film gets up close to the kind of people crazy enough to take on this epic challenge. Capturing the human drama set against an otherworldly landscape, Into the Rift is an in-depth look at a true cycling adventure.

Following the premiere there will be a Zoom Q&A hosted by Atlas Mountain Race with the top riders, race director and filmmaker. Head over to the Canyon Instagram channel and follow the link in the stories to get involved.

James Mark Hayden takes on the inaugural Atlas Mountain Race.

Winner of 2 Trans-Continental races, Canyon athlete James Mark Hayden turned his attention from road cycling to mountain bikes, and it's safe to say that they've taken a tight hold of James, as with all of us in the MTB community. He first got a taste of chunky wheels when he embarked on the Italy Divide race in April 2019 and from then he was hooked, going on to to the Highland Trail the following month and then straight into the infamous Silk Road Mountain Race in August of that year, so when the Atlas mountain Race was announced, he knew this was to be his next challenge.

James Mark Hayden and his Canyon Exceed SLX 9.0 Race


bigquotesIt is 8:50 am, the race starts at 9 am and I’m faffing. Calmly, I empty my tool chest (the bottom zip on my frame bag) to find my gorilla tape so I can stick two tubes to the frame. No sooner are they secure than its 9 am and we’re off. Of all the things to forget, it was innertubes; Thanks to Stu Taylor for once again bringing me stuff out to a race. As it turns out, I wouldn’t need them… just. We’re rolling out of town neutralised, it’s fast with a police escort at 30 kph, just like they would for a World Tour pro race, not understanding we are a bunch of hairy bike-packers.James Mark Hayden

"I get air! I'm having the time of my life!"

bigquotesI round a corner and I am blown away as the skyline opens in front of my and the gradient relaxes. Before I know it, I’m flying. I see the media crew up ahead, so I do what any self-respecting idiot would; I let it rip. I love to ride fast and I do just that. My bike is loaded up with bike-packing bags, but I descend without caution. I abused this bike in Kyrgyzstan and I know it can take more than I can throw at it. I round a corner; the edge and sheer drop are close. I see Nils the photographer and there’s a small lip, so ever the risk-taker I gather all the speed I can and fly off the lip – I get air! I am having the time of my life, there’s nothing I do better and I feel at home.James Mark Hayden


bigquotesAs dawn nears, I enter the final phase of the race. Obviously, the finish will not be a blast down some tarmac, instead, we meander along farming lanes and sandy trails. I’m close to the ocean now and the morning brings dense mist, I can barely see 5 metres in front of me. In my weird state I feel as if I am riding into the apocalypse. I pass fellow cyclists, farmers on single speeds, trundling to the fields for another days work. The experiences I have had over the past four days have been by choice. At this moment I am really aware of the privilege I have, being able to do this.James Mark Hayden


bigquotesI watch the clock ticking by. I know I cannot catch Sofiane in 1st place now, but I can finish in under four days, a small target to aim for and a victory to be had. The clock ticks on as I pedal through the sand, blind in the mist. Finally, and only meters before the finish, I’m off the sand and can speed through the town to the finish. The clock ticks over 9:09 am as I bring my bike to a halt.James Mark Hayden

James finished in 2nd place after completing the race in a mere 4 days, 0 hours and 9 minutes and is now looking forward to sitting down with a fresh beer and enjoying the premiere of Into The Rift before planning his next big adventure.


Photos by: Nils Laengner & Jonny Hines


16 Comments

  • 6 0
 Having been to Morocco I can't imagine bikepacking across. Though I'm glad somebody is! This was a nice video in a time when we can't travel.
  • 3 0
 For all those that commented on the enve fork article wondering what it was for... I love these videos of ultra endurance bikepacking races. Pure aspirational stuff
  • 3 0
 Inspiring. I would love to do this.
  • 3 0
 Feels like spiritual journey/ bit abrasive but polishing.
  • 2 0
 Wonderful video and outstanding effort from everyone.
  • 1 0
 That looks really amazing! Quick question though: Why Lycra?
  • 1 0
 More aero energy efficient, cooler body temp, maybe more freedom of movement.
  • 9 0
 YOU DO NOT LIKE LYCRA. SO YOU SAY.
TRY IT! TRY IT! AND YOU MAY.
TRY IT AND YOU MAY, I SAY.

SAM! IF YOU LET ME BE,
I WILL TRY LYCRA. YOU WILL SEE.

(... and he tries lycra...)

SAY! I LIKE LYCRA!
I DO! I LIKE IT, SAM-I-AM!
AND I WILL WEAR IT IN A BOAT.
AND I WILL WEAR IT WITH A GOAT...
AND I WILL WEAR IT IN THE RAIN.
AND IN THE DARK. AND ON A TRAIN.
AND IN A CAR. AND IN A TREE.
IT IS SO GOOD, SO GOOD, YOU SEE!
SO I WILL WEAR IT IN A BOX.
AND I WILL WEAR IT WITH A FOX.
AND I WILL WEAR IT IN A HOUSE.
AND I WILL WEAR IT WITH A MOUSE.
AND I WILL WEAR IT HERE AND THERE.
SAY! I WILL WEAR IT ANYWHERE!
I DO SO LIKE LYCRA!
THANK YOU! THANK YOU, SAM I AM.
  • 1 0
 @taprider: Well played.
  • 1 0
 @taprider: okay, I’ll try it!
  • 1 0
 @taprider: Looks like Sam stole the show here.
  • 1 0
 It's nice to wear on long pedally days tbh
  • 2 0
 Yeah Brady!
  • 2 0
 Thanks Tommy!
  • 2 0
 This is awesome. Thanks.
  • 1 0
 Thanks for watching!

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