It’s not often the worlds of mountain bike racing and global politics collide, but competitors in the KMT Tour of the Himalayas in Pakistan were rushed back to the safety of a secure compound by an armed convoy in the middle of the night as tensions rise in the Middle East over an anti-Islamic film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed.
Today would have been the first day of racing, but late last night competitors were informed that due to continued unrest over the video, the Pakistani Government would be locking down all activities on Friday, meaning that the organisers decided to cancel the race in support of that decision and ensure that riders were taken to safety.
After the government declared that Friday would be a national “Day of Love” for the founder of Islam in response to the video, Reuters reported that tens of thousands of people joined protests in several cities including Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Multan and Muzaffarabad, with reports of violent clashes in some areas.
Some of the competitors, including our very own columnist Rab Wardell, Katy Winton, Anna Buick and Euan Adams were taking to Twitter to share news and photos, with a massive sense of disappointment being the general feeling, all reporting that they were safe and sound.
Anna Buick posted: “Change of plan. Armed convoy back to Islamabad at 2am as deemed unsafe for us to race. In safe compound now. Gutted, but #bettersafethansorry”
Rab would seem to be fairly laid back about it; posting “Kicking back in Islamabad. Guards outside. Just hit the breakfast buffet hard and getting some pool time in soon”
Euan has posted a blog with his report from the first four days of his trip – you can find that here – but was vocal in his appreciation for the professionalism of the organisers: “The overriding feeling from the riders was that of being absolutely gutted, not just for ourselves but for the organisers who have worked so hard over the last year to help make this the biggest international sporting event in Pakistan.”
The British riders are expecting to fly home on Sunday.
Held by the Kaghan Memorial Trust, a local non-profit trust to benefit survivors of the 2005 earthquake, the race has been held three times previously and attracts teams of riders from across the world. Riders take on a challenging route takes them across some stunning and harsh terrain at altitudes of up to 4,200m, competing in teams of five riders.
We wish all the competitors a safe return trip and hope that the situation can return to normal and allow the organisers a chance to run the event again in 2013…