I arrived in Ourika, 25 km from Marrakech, three days before the start of the GravelMan Series so that I could acclimatise to the altitude and the complicated weather conditions. As soon as I arrived at my hostel, I got on my bike and went to go locate the first stage of the race to Oukaïmden.
I immediately find myself out of place, both because of the state of the roads, the animals everywhere, and the almost non-existent rules of the road.
The mountain rises up in front of me, but it is impossible to see the top because of the foggy conditions that have gone completely crazy. But I don't dwell on this and I finish the first reconnaissance trip and return home.
The days leading up to the race are usually dedicated to preparing the bicycle, the essential equipment checks and packaging the clothing I have to take with me.
On Friday 17th February at 6am the race starts and is I quickly find myself leading the race in some extra conditions, but not on the bike. We have to walk our bikes because the wind is so strong in the first valley, about 120km/h wind, I even lose my new Oakley goggles. I get a lot of broken debris in my eyes, and that's when I tell myself that it's a good thing that the race is beautiful and challenging.
With an hour of the race gone, I find myself in the pace I had set a few days before, I know it and I work hard to widen the gap on the others. I am at the 20km mark and already at an altitude of 1,200m, the snow is falling, it was bound to happen, but the problem is that there is still 1,500m of altitude left to climb.
After two hours of climbing here I am at the top. The temperature reads -9 degrees with some wind still blowing and big snowflakes falling, I’m a fan of this kind of condition, but I still wondered what I was doing there.
I descend as quickly as possible to reach the second valley and immediately find somewhat more pleasant weather. By the 80km mark, I had already swallowed up 2,700m of elevation gain, everything is going well, the legs are good and so is the mind. I head towards the biggest challenge of the route, the Tizi n’Test pass. I arrive at the foot of this pass at around 16:30. I take my first break of about three minutes, just enough time to recharge with drinks and eat two or three chocolate bars. Ahead of me lies 25 km of mountain terrain and 2,100m of altitude to climb.
Thankfully, there is nothing crazy about this climb, but it is long and I am starting to get tired. I get to the top around 6 p.m. and I say to myself:
“I can't really be in Morocco, can I?”
as the snow ploughs are out - a completely crazy sight.
I stay at the Auberge La Belle Etoile at almost 3,000m, my day of hardship is not over though. Once in my room I hope for a good hot shower to warm me up, but when I turn on the shower, there’s no hot water, it must be 10 degrees and I am completely frozen, my morale suffers.
I decide to eat in the downstairs room next to the fireplace, somehow trying to dry my things for the next day.
Once I’ve eaten quite a few tagine and omelets, I go to bed, it's 8 p.m. and the walls of the room are damp, I slip under my three duvets and don't move until 5 a.m. the next morning.
On the morning of Saturday 18 February, I dress like an astronaut with all the clothes I have, we are at 3,000m, it’s -12 degrees outside and I have a 35km descent to start the day.
After a breakfast of hot tea and a good omelette, I set off for a rather simple day on paper, 284 km towards Ouarzazate which is fairly flat.
I attack the 35km descent in the biting cold and still dark morning, as the sun rises and the first rays slowly warm me up. The day should be very simple, a straight 200km route. An external element, however, complicates my journey. The wind comes back and picks up quickly, and I am talking about a headwind of around 130 km/h. I find myself pedalling on the flat at 12km/h instead of 28km/h. This means that the day will be longer than expected. We cross a magnificent Delcourts with a plateau at an altitude of 2,500m with snow everywhere and in front of me is this famous straight as far as the eye can see. I move slowly but surely.
I spend the whole day on my bike without stopping, I see the sign ‘Ouarzazate 48km’, it will take me three hours to reach this town and I’m exhausted and mentally shattered by the wind.
It’s 6 p.m. and I decide to get a hotel, a wise choice because 30 minutes later I receive a message from the organisation informing us that the last passage to make the Ouarzazate-Marrakech connection is closed due to bad weather and snow.
The pass is closed for two days. I hope not to have to wait too long.
In the meantime, I recharge my batteries and I’m lucky to be in a luxury hotel this time with all the comforts unlike the day before.
I receive another message from the organization informing me that the pass has just been reopened, I don’t think twice and pack my things, ready to set off in the very early hours of the morning.
After a 20-minute hot shower that I almost fell asleep in and a great meal eaten, I go to bed and set the alarm clock around midnight
The alarm clock goes off, I’m as good as new and ready to finish the race. There are 196km and 2,500m of elevation gain to go, a formality compared to what I had faced up to that point.
I leave Ouarzazate at half past midnight, my legs are good, my morale has improved, I’m towards the end of the race, there is one last big pass to go and then I’m descending towards the finish line.
The foot of the pass and is about 40km from where I slept and after 1h30m I arrive at the bottom of the famous Tizi n’Tichka.
Bad news comes again though. Between the opening of the pass and my arrival, the snow has started to fall again and the local police have decided to close it again, I try to negotiate to be able to pass, I explain that I am doing a race, but they do not want to know. I am in the middle of nowhere, it is cold, -4 degrees at this hour, and I have no choice but to return to Ouarzazate.
Since I have a plane at 9pm on Sunday night and it’s already 5am, I decide to stop and return by taxi at 9am.
Unfortunately, the pass doesn’t reopen until 4 p.m., I wait in traffic, an accident blocks the road for another five hours. I end up arriving in Marrakech at midnight after about 12 hours in a taxi and 180 km without eating or drinking, the flight is cancelled.
The icing on the cake is that my hostel is 35 km from Marrakech, I cycle there completely exhausted.
The first edition of this race was made extremely difficult and dangerous by more than disastrous weather conditions, but my decision has already been made: I will be back at the start line of the second edition hoping that it will be a little warmer.
These are factors that are part of the adventure and to which you must be able to adapt. In those moments I had a bad time for three days but today I can say that I experienced something crazy and I returned home with a mind full of memories and with the knowledge that the important thing is to be there.
Photo credits: @versatile_production