by Marcus Leach
They say that the Tour de France is the toughest bike race in the world, but that could be about to change with the launch of a new mountain bike race in South Africa that promises to push participants to new levels.
The Munga, which is the brain child of endurance athlete and explorer Alex Harris, is a gruelling unassisted 1000km (620-mile) ride across South Africa's semi-arid Karoo desert region at the height of summer, and is billed as 'the toughest race on earth'.
It might not be as long as the Tour de France, but it will certainly require just as much mental and physical toughness to complete. And what's more there is a huge financial incentive for the winning duo, a cool $1 million to be exact.
“The Munga offers more than just a race, it’s a test against the toughest of external elements and against the human body, but most importantly, it’s a game changer," says Harris, renowned explorer, athlete, founder of Xplore Authentic Experiences and Race Director of The Munga.
"With The Munga’s prize money significantly more that of current event prizes, it is a massive leap for the sport and one that we hope will bring greater recognition to the sport and to the racer in all of us."
The intense 1000km route for the inaugural race will start in Bloemfontein, leading riders through vast distances across the Karoo, and conclude at the finish line at the Waterford Wine Estate, in the heart of Stellenbosch.
The route has been designed to combine endurance, experience and strategy to satisfy those riding enthusiasts looking for a compelling story. It is set to take riders through some of South Africa’s lesser travelled paths - a trail that showcases South Africa’s remoteness – while testing the strongest of wills.
“The world is not short of tough things to do. It’s short of tough people willing to tackle tough things. And this is set to be one of the toughest races on earth," Harris added.
"I've observed in me and guys around me digging deep in extreme races and they were doing that for nothing more than intrinsic motivation and war stories.
"I am convinced the money and format will make people dig deeper than ever before, hence the 'toughest race on earth'.
"Two things will happen as the race gets to the business end: one, there is the psychological stress that eats away at you and, secondly, your body starts to break down," Harris said.
"You start to get 'sleep monsters' and they come on at any time, night or day. This force pulls down on your eyelids and you just want to roll up in a ball and fall into a deep sleep.
"If that happens when you're on a bike, you're in trouble."