At 16, Nepal’s ace downhill biker Chris Keeling is already going places. The young athlete recounts his experience racing in a series of competitions in Europe over the last few months.
I have been riding bikes for as long as I can remember. Since I was two years of age, my Dad has always bought me a new bike as I outgrew the previous one. So I naturally got interested in mountain biking around my home in the Kathmandu Valley and then in bike racing with downhill mountain biking now being my main interest. I’ve done all the races on offer in Nepal since 2012 and in 2013 took part in my first international race winning the Megakids Megavalanche race in France. So, I was really excited this year as I turned 16, which allowed me to compete in international adult races for the first time. I booked up for six races in France and the UK during my summer holidays.
My Dad (aka manager-cum-slave) and I left home in Kathmandu on 1st July. After an overnight stay in what turned out to be Geneva’s red light district we set off towards the first of the races.
Weighed down with our two bikes, camping gear and the rest of our luggage, it was quite a challenge to lug our stuff around. Bemused looks greeted us as we hauled all of our gear between trains and buses to our destinations. But the weight paled before the excitement I felt for the coming races. We reached our first campsite, pitched our tent and took a good night’s rest for the coming day.
Race 1: MB Enduro Race, Combloux France; 4–5 July 2015
My first race was at Combloux in the French Alps. Combloux is a ski resort that lies near the famous mountaineering town of Chamonix and the slopes of Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc. The race comprised six downhill time trials one after another. We were transported up between the stages on ski lifts. Many parts of the race were down steep and technical forest trails similar to ones I ride around the Kathmandu Valley. I was very happy to finish third in the under-18s junior category in my first ever multi-stage enduro race.
Race 2: The Megavalanche, Alpe D’Huez, 12 July 2015
This was my third year at the Megavalanche. I was going great in about twelfth place in my qualifying race. But then disaster struck as I crashed, flying over the handlebars into the gravel and rocks. But I managed to shake myself off, rejoined the race in about 50th position, and fought back to 34th position to just qualify for the top-most final race. I felt happy to have qualified for the top race after my Dad took me to the hospital to get the gash in my knee stitched up!
As one of the slowest qualifiers for the final top race I was on the back row at the start up on the Sarenne glacier. In spite of this I overtook half the field over the 30 km and 2,000 metres of gnarly descent to finish 159th of all 1,002 riders. Sixty minutes of arm-pumping downhill! I felt a bit disappointed at the end for not doing better. Dad reassured me that I’d done really well to finish so high up in one of the longest downhill races in the world.
Race 3: The Mountain of Hell; Les Deux Alpes, 18–19 July 2015
The next race, the Mountain of Hell was steeper and more technical than the Mega with a height loss of 2500m over 25 km! The very dry conditions meant that I could hardly see where I was going in the qualifying race and just had to follow the dust cloud of the riders in front awaiting the opportunity to overtake.
The final of this race also started up on a glacier. We first travelled up by cable car and then took a train under the glacier to the start. At the start, we sang along to the AC/DC hit Highway to Hell blasting out from the speakers: “Hey mumma, Look at me, I’m on the way to the promised land, I’m on the highway to hell!”
I had my best race ever after hurtling down the many steep and technical parts of the course to finishing 29th of the 510 finishers and second junior as one of the youngest in the category. It was forty minutes of full-on adrenaline downhill biking.
Race 4: Mountain Bike Madness, Lee Quarry, 23 July 2015
After the Mountain of Hell we moved to the UK for the second part of our tour. Race 4 was the Midweek Mountain Bike Madness cross-country race at Lee Quarry north of Manchester. It was a tough outing against lycra-clad cross-country riders on hardtail bikes. I finished fifth youth on my full suspension all-mountain bike, and felt at quite a disadvantage to the local riders who were on hardtail cross-country bikes. We had an epic journey back to my grandmas with a one hour ride back up over the Pennines to catch the train back into Manchester. I fell into my bed at midnight.
Race 5: Antur Stiniog Downhill Fest, 26 July 2015
A couple of days later we were in North Wales for a pure downhill race at the fantastic trail centre in the old slate quarries at Antur Ffestiniog. I finished strongly edging into third position in the youth race; but was pushed back into fourth position as a later rider recorded a faster time. I was getting the idea that the standard of cycling in the UK is one of the highest in the world across all cycling disciplines. There are so many good riders there.
Race 6: UK Gravity Enduro series, Round 3, Hamsterley, England, 1–2 August 2015
The final race was Round 3 of the UK Gravity Enduro Series in the north of England. It had six downhill stages with transitions in between that had to be ridden to the start of the next stage within fixed times. There were tough rooty and rocky sections and it was pretty slippery. The standard was very high and I finished 14th out of the 30 junior riders. The race was won by Elliot Heap who recently finished 11th at the junior Downhill World Cup.
A Great Summer’s Racing
After almost a month of racing in Europe, we’re back home now riding the trails around the Kathmandu Valley. I know that the trip took a lot of organizing and I must thank my Dad for arranging it all, keeping me on my toes and for cooking at the campsites.
I learned a lot competing against many strong and skilled riders and realize the very high standard of the best riders. It has inspired me to train harder and achieve more. And my Commencal Meta AM V4 bike did fantastically well to stand up to all the punishment; it did not let me down once in all six races. It is a fast and agile racing machine.
I am already looking forward to next year’s trip to France where I’ll be a year stronger and still in the junior category. In the meanwhile my focus is on racing in Nepal. I won my first race back at the Kathmandu Mountain Bike Festival in November.
Chris Keeling is one of the top mountain bike riders in Nepal and a co-factory rider for Commencal with support from Kali Protectives, Funn MTB components and Epic Mountain Bikes. He took part in his first international race in 2013 winning the Megavalanche Megakids race. He has since won the Nepal Downhill Championship 2014, the Junior National Cross-Country Championship 2014, and the Palpa Urban Downhill race and finished third youth in the 2014 Megavalanche. He loves enduro and long distance downhill races and dreams of competing in the Enduro World Series. He has a British father and Nepali mother and hopes for changes in Nepal’s citizenship laws that will allow him to compete for Nepal.