Jason Miles flew out to Sri Lanka to take part in the Rumble In The Jungle stage race. While out there, he sat down for a chat with Phil Evans, Rumble in the Jungle organiser. To read all about Jason’s adventures get yourself a copy of Issue 108.
Pictures courtesy of Yak Attack/Rumble In The Jungle
ST: Who is Phil Evans? Have you got a day job or are you a full-time Yak Attacker?
For the last 10 years I’ve been running the races in Nepal and Sri Lanka as more of a hobby than a business. As the company grows with maybe one or two more races on the calendar and the expansion of our Yak Attack Adventure Holidays (a new venture that provides guided, non-competitive riding in Nepal) the plan is to make it a full time occupation for at least one of us. Until that happens though we both have to hold down full time jobs to pay the bills and supplement the race business. Kate being a bar/restaurant manager and myself being a self-employed builder.
ST: How did all this begin? Straight into Yak Attack or do you have a long history in organising races?
No, straight into it! I’ve been involved with bikes for a long time, being a bike mechanic in a local bike shop from the age of 14 and manager of a cycle outlet on the island of Jersey for around 7 years. I’ve also had a long love affair with exotic travel ignited by an 18-month road trip around Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia back in the late 80’s. After competing in the Everest Marathon in 2003, I had the idea of putting on something similar for mountain bikes and 4 years later the first Yak Attack race became reality.
ST: How much of a challenge is it to organise events in countries thousands of miles away from the UK? What are the unique challenges? Or is it actually the same as organising a 60-minute race around the local park?
It’s definitely been a steep learning curve, but we are now lucky to have some of the biggest and most reputable local logistic organisers supporting our races. Even the most experienced racers can become overawed when visiting a new country with different cultures, climates and foods, so for us, it’s very reassuring to know that all their needs are being taken care of by tour organisers that are both experienced in handling international clients and know their country inside out.
A major part of our work is to go out to the country, pre-race to check everything is in place and that things haven’t changed dramatically from previous years. Both races take place in natural, testing and sometimes remote terrains where natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides can and do drastically affect the course. Rider safety is paramount for us and arming riders with as much possible information regarding the country, climate, customs and terrain is an important part of keeping everybody safe and well.
ST: Do the authorities in Sri Lanka welcome and embrace Rumble In The Jungle or is it merely tolerated?
Honestly, the authorities have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make Rumble In The Jungle the success it is. Sri Lankan Airlines have been ultra-supportive, flying me out for numerous recce trips in 2013, providing flights for many top riders and being more than generous with their title sponsorship. LSR have also pulled out all the stops to ensure the race optimises the best of Sri Lanka’s trails, gaining permission from the various tea plantations to use their trails and most importantly from the Wildlife Department in order for us to use the use the normally closed trails from the top of Horton plains through a very restricted area.
ST: What’s your favourite aspect of organising RITJ? (is it the food?)
The food is a big bonus! Being a vegetarian is no problem in Sri Lanka (if you like curry!!). There is such a variety in the vegetables and fruits used in cooking that I could be there for a year and never get bored of the food. My most favourite aspect however is working with the locals. Nothing ever fazes them and you are always welcomed with the biggest of smiles even in the most stressful of situations.
The school children walking to and from school also embrace the race as it passes by and it’s a joy to see them waving flags, cheering and even running alongside the riders on some of the tougher climbs. Sri Lanka’s version of the Tour De France.
ST: What of the future? Keeping things relatively low-key or are there ambitions to make it bigger and/or longer?
We’re always looking to improve our races and use feedback from the racers to make changes. For the next year or so, we will probably keep roughly the same itinerary but with a few course improvements- more off road, less traffic. In the future we’re looking at adding one or two more stages in a location north of Kandy and in the meantime we’re also considering a ‘Rumble Ultra’ where riders looking for the ultimate challenge can take on the 4 day race in 2 days, but not sure how many takers we’d get for that one!
Rumble in the Jungle takes place every year in June. If you fancy 4 days of quality mountain bike racing in a ‘more social than competitive’ environment while someone else takes care of everything else then this should be on your list. Go to theyakattack.com/rumbleinthejungle to get your name down.