From Atlas with Love

A short guide to survive Atlas Mountain Race as a pair riding gravel bikes

The Atlas Mountain race is a single stage, fixed route and unsupported adventure cycling race. 

The route develops in Morocco, crossing the Atlas and Anti atlas from Marrakech to the city of wind, Essaouira, for a total length of 1336 km and more than 23.000 meters of elevation gain.

Extreme temperatures (sometimes hot, sometimes very cold), the remoteness and the looseness of the track (unpaved and rocky for more than 80% of its length) are just some of the foreseeable difficulties that every year force more than a half of the riders to scratch.

In addition, the real challenge is to survive the unexpected and unpredictable: on such a long course, beside all the above-mentioned problems, you can be sure to fall victim to mechanicals, joint inflammation, intestinal problems and who knows what else.

In 2022 I rode the AMR with my wife Annalisa on our gravel bikes and after 780 km of total fun we encountered our unexpected problem during a desert crossing on the Anti Atlas section before the town of Tagmout.

Due to the harshness of the track, Annalisa suffered from Shermer’s Neck (a condition of fatigue of the deep muscle of the neck, causing impossibility to keep the head upright), which ended our race at the end of the day after an exhausting 20km walk on a dry riverbed.

And that is the point of riding in pairs. It’s not as easy as you think. The possibility of drafting is nothing compared to the necessity of sharing all the problems and the low moments that are part of ultracycling.

But the joy of facing such a big monster together was so great that, after 6 months and very little training, we decided to apply to the race again.

And lastly, on saturday morning, after 7 days, 11 hours and 40 minutes of riding, we took our revenge on the Atlas.

We don’t own mountain bikes (and we’re in love with our gravel bikes), so we had to ride our gravel bikes again.

As this may not be the wisest choice, and as many people want to ride the AMR with gravel as we did, here are some unsolicited suggestions to help you survive the race as a couple and with your beloved gravel bike.

1 – No jokes: The Atlas Mountain Race is a mountain bike race. If you want to ride it and survive it on a gravel bike (as we did!), forget doing it with skinny tyres and a light setup. Go for the widest 650b that fits your frame and really consider a damping stem (it saved us, although we still have numb fingers!)

2 – Take care of your bike and think carefully about your setup and what you want to take with you. The rule is that your bike can’t make you finish the race, but it can force you to scratch.

3 – Study the route and create your own roadbook. Morocco is beautiful but full of desert, so knowing the exact distance between official and unofficial resupply points is crucial!

4 – You will have very little time for romantic dinners. The AMR is a race (against your limits and against time) and if you want to finish, you will not have much time to lose.

5 – Your few romantic dinners will be based on omelettes (we ate 54 eggs in 7 days) and sometimes tajine. Moroccan cuisine is nice but not very varied.

6 -Forget champagne, the local drink for any occasion is mint tea.

7 – You will not have any romantic moments. You’ll be too tired and while you’re finding the strength, the saddle sores will stop you.

8 – Riding as a couple is difficult. If you really want to participate in this way, it is highly advisable to ride with someone you are married to.

Niccolo & Annie