There is no other mountain bike competition quite like Sri Lanka’s “Rumble in the Jungle”. The marathon takes you over 276km and 7300 meters of ascent in 4 Stages. The tough climbs and gnarly descents lead through dense and humid jungle, vast tea plantations and over the island’s highest plateau. Always nearby: Sri Lanka’s native inhabitants, elephants, leopards and all kinds of snakes.

nearly forgotten off road Trails and vast team plantains are one of the Rumble in the Jungle's characteristics
Nearly forgotten off-road trails and vast tea plantains are some of the Rumble in the Jungle’s signature characteristics.

Day 1: Kuda Oya to Haputale – 80km, 2200m ascent

38 riders from 14 different countries lined up on the start line for the 80km stage with an air of excitement and anticipation as the route had never before been ridden by all but the race organisers and so was totally unknown territory to those taking it on.
The riders had been briefed to expect high temperatures during stage 1, starting at close to sea level and so most were relieved that the start was under cloud cover and light rain.
The pack stuck together during the first 20km of mainly flat terrain but soon split apart after the first river crossing, where the trail turned much more technical and demanding.
A sting in the tail awaited the riders as after 52km with very little elevation gain, the trail kicked up, with a 13km ascent, a big percentage being on very rough rocky trails which, due to the steady rain, had the added bonus of being ultra greasy.
First across the finish line in Haputale was Spain’s Ismael Ventura in a time of 3:45:13, leading many locals joking that he must have a hidden engine on his bike!!

The general consensus was that the course was super fun but super tough with some riders exclaiming it was the hardest 80km that they had ever ridden.

A race against the elements: riders have to fight torratial rains and highest temperatures
A race against the elements: riders have to fight torrential rains and high temperatures

Day 2: Haputale to Haputale – 62km, 1880m ascent

The route on day 2 was 62km with close to 1900m of elevation gain over some very demanding terrain.
Starting with a 15km climb the field soon split, with yesterdays leaders of Ismael Ventura, Yuki Ikeda, Ajay Pandit Chhetri and Cory Wallace soon pulling away from the rest of the field.
After a final 1km out and back summit of Liptons seat, what is undoubtedly the races most arduous descent saw riders dropping 8km over some seriously rough terrain. On finishing, Cory Walace declared “That’s probably the toughest descent I’ve ever done!”/p>

Ajay Pandit Chhetri from Nepal
Ajay Pandit Chhetri from Nepal

The steep climbs and rough descents obviously took their toll on all the riders as the average speeds were much lower than yesterdays, even though the course was shorter with less elevation gain.
Never the less, Ismael Ventura (Spain) showed he is in the race, meaning business, coming over the finish line in 3 hours and 14 minutes, once again professing that the course was very demanding and that he was still feeling the effects of yesterdays stage.
In the female category Sonya Looney (USA) stamped her dominance on the race with a top 5 overall finish and a 35 minute gap between herself and 2nd placed female, Kerstin Koegler (Germany).

Stage 3 – Kalapuhana to Nuwara Eliya – 78km, 2400m ascent.

There was a certain amount of intimidation about the third stage, especially in the light of the fact that it starts with a 16km, 1400m climb.

After a group ride of 8km, the race was flagged off from Kalupahana. And within a few kilometres of climbing the riders were able to get some impressive views of Sri Lankas’s highest waterfall.

Once the climb deteriorated from sealed to sandy and then to rocky, the usual suspects broke away and today would see the biggest gap between first and last places. When the climbing was out of the way, the route took riders across Sri Lanka’s famous Horton Plains, the highest plateau on the island, a conservation area and home to one of the world’s rarest mammals, the Slender Loris.

Unfortunately for many riders this was the point the heavens opened with a torrential downpour that continued for most of the remaining day.
From the plateau the riders were privileged to be able to take a track that has been closed to the public for many years and which, for many, proved to be the ultimate section of trail of the entire race.

At the front a tactical battle panned out between Cory Wallace and Ismael Ventura, with Cory attacking over the last 2km and finishing around a minute ahead of Ismael.

As the downpour of monsoon proportions continued its deluge the remaining field continued to steadily cross the finish line in Nuwara Eliya, the highest town in Sri Lanka. All were soaked to the skin, but most were still ecstatic to have ridden such amazing trails.

Humidity and a torrential downpour on day 3
Humidity and a torrential downpour on day 3

Stage 4 – Nuwara Eliya to Kandy – 52km, 890m ascent

Undoubtedly the easiest stage of the “Rumble” but by no means a walk in the park.
As the riders left the hotel for the 22km group ride to the start line, the rain once again started, ensuring the riders wouldn’t be too hot on the final stage!

The race was flagged off from Bluefield tea plantation and in true Rumble style started with a 7km climb.

Ismael Ventura’s top position was virtually secured as he had a 40 minute lead on the rest of the field but only 17 minutes separated Cory Wallace, Ajay Pandit Chhetri and Yuki Ikeda.

For many riders, the stages turn out to be the hardest kilometers they've ever ridden
For many riders, the stages turn out to be the hardest kilometers they’ve ever ridden

Sonya Looney was also home and dry barring any major incidents and Myriam Saugy was also virtually guaranteed 2nd place in the female category, so for many of the riders today, the pressure was off and a party atmosphere was already developing before the final stage had even commenced!
Unfortunately this may have accounted for the number of crashes that occurred during the relatively short stage.

Fittingly Ismael Ventura was first over the line, securing his place as first male Rumble in the Jungle competition.

With the pressure off, Sonya Ewonus Looney took the opportunity to ride with her husband, Matt and crossed the finish line at Kandy University, first female back and overall winner of the female category.
If it was fitting the Ismael crossed the line first, it was also fitting that the events oldest competitor, Andre Deplechin brought in the tail. Having spent over twice as long in the saddle as the winner, he may not have won any prizes for speed, but was definitely admired by all for his grit and determination to finish.

First Female Rumble in the Jungle Champion Sonya Looney
First Female Rumble in the Jungle Champion Sonya Looney

Photos: Oliver Grenaa

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