History

Summaries from the 2015, 2014 and 2013 étapes can be read below the background section.

Background

I first came to Morocco in the early 1970s, and instantly fell in love with this enigmatic country. I loved the exotic mix of cultures and the geographic extremes of high mountains, Atlantic coastline, sand dunes and snow-covered vistas. Above all I loved the people, their history and the way their colourful culture welcomes the visitor. A short time later I started running adventure holidays to Morocco in an old Land Rover. Now, some thirty-odd years later, I am just as enamoured with Morocco as I ever was.

From this first involvement with Morocco, Discover Ltd was formed to run educational field study trips in France and Morocco. In 1990 Discover bought the ruined Kasbah du Toubkal, and in 1995 it opened its doors.

Being a keen cyclist, I’ve crossed the country on bike from the Mediterranean coast through the Rif Mountains, on to Marrakech and then up into the High Atlas Mountains. From a cyclist’s point of view the magnificent and varied terrain does not get much better.

Education For All founder, Mike McHugoWith cycling coming of age in Morocco, and with Marrakech to Oukaïmeden as a classic ascent to rank with any of the classic climbs in the Tour de France, I believe the time for a classic cyclo-sportive in Morocco has arrived. To put the idea into action, I teamed up with Saif Kovach, of Argan Extreme Sports, and the Marrakech Atlas Etape was born.

As one of the founders of the charity Education For All, I have been involved in raising funds to help educate young girls in the Atlas Mountains since 2007. While the Marrakech Atlas Etape is a challenging ride in one of the most beautiful regions of North Africa, the intention is that it will also generate income to help less fortunate members of the community—and what better charity to support than Education For All?

I hope you can join us for the Marrakech Atlas Etape.

Below are the summaries for the last two events.

Mike McHugo,

Kasbah du Toubkal

2015 summary

Read Keith Gilks’ excellent article in Sportive.com, “Africa’s best sportive? Riding the Marrakech Atlas Etape”

As you wiz down the scarifying descent from Oukaïmeden on your return to Ourika, the glorious views are almost enough reward for the effort you have expended in conquering the ‘Ouka Monster,’ at 2624 metres one of the highest climbs of any etape worldwide. In this year’s Marrakech Atlas Etape ninety-two riders from over two-hundred starters had the exhilaration of having their numbers marked off as they checked into the ski station, with the last of the winter’s snow still sparkling on the mountaintop.

Described by The Telegraph as one of the six best cyclo-sportives of 2015, the third year of the MAE provided some spectacular results with five riders coming in at under three hours, two in an incredible two hours forty minutes, for the gruelling 70 km ride from Marrakech to the ski resort of Oukaïmeden.

And word is spreading; not only were there teams from Casablanca and Rabat, the numbers for Moroccan riders in general were up–including the participation of riders from the national team. Flights from the UK carried more British riders than ever, and there was even a Dutch contingent. Father and son pairs, long-distance and Sunday riders, teenagers and retirees, all taking part to support Education For All, a Moroccan-based charity that provides accommodation for 180 girls from the poorest families in the remotest villages of the High Atlas Mountains, to allow them to continue their education beyond primary level.

Mike McHugo and Gareth Westacott, who originated the MAE with Saif Kovach of Argan Xtreme Sports, are quietly pleased with the way the ride is developing: “One felt there was a bit of a buzz about the whole thing,” says Gareth. “More and more locals wanted to ride it, which was highlighted by the talented riders at the top end and the very good times they made. We’ve also seen more interest from cycling clubs, with a team from Casablanca Cycling Club and quite a big entry from the Marrakech Cycling Club, and riders who did the sixty-kilometre ride going on to do the longer sections.” And not forgetting Mohamed Zine, a fourteen-year-old who is both deaf and mute, who shared the exhilaration of the ride with a big grin on his freckled face.

James Wix, of Riad Farnachi in Marrakech, completed the sixty-kilometre round trip for the first MAE in 2013, but decided to put in a bit more effort for the last two and tackle the full route. How do they compare?

“The 60 was a fun day, and I think that that’s what the 60’s all about, a lot of people going out having a bit of fun, not challenging themselves too much but having a great day. The atmosphere’s amazing doing the 140 with a complete mixed bunch…there was everybody and anybody doing the 140, from young Moroccans to ex-Moroccan nationals to current Moroccan nationals. It’s a really hard slog, but I would say that anybody who applied themselves with a certain level of fitness could do it.”

A bone-wearying bike ride might not be everyone’s idea of the perfect birthday present, but Andy McCoren, a tall, fit-looking man in his sixties was amused with the idea of an intense ride in the beauty of the High Atlas when his son, Richard, presented him with the gift of entry to the MAE, although he wasn’t so sure about it as he stopped to take an energy gel nearing the sixty-four kilometre marker.

“It’s tough going. It’s a constant grind because there’s no downhill to rest your legs a bit. I’ve done other etapes and you get a bit of respite in the climb, but not with this one. But you only have to look around you and see just how beautiful the landscape is, even if your head is down most of the time. I’m sure it’s going to be a fabulous ride back.“ “And by the way,” he adds, “These gels are disgusting, no matter what flavour they say they are.”

Andy and Richard exemplify the spirit of the Marrakech Atlas Etape, because as father bent to the wheel to finish the arduous climb, son came steaming round a bend on his downward flight, stopped, turned his bike around and rode side-by-side with dad back up the grinding climb, adding around twelve kilometres to his own day.

James Tuffs has become a legend in the brief life of the etape mainly because of his insistence on riding a three-geared, around-town Brompton up the staggering slope to Oukaïmeden for the first two events. But this year his status gained brownie points because of his sheer dogmatic approach to getting back in the saddle after an accident put him on crutches.

As he enigmatically puts it on his blog about the Etape, Tuffcall, “on my return to London [after the MAE] I got hit by a taxi–honestly, how often can you get a taxi on a Friday night in London–and broke my pelvis in three places. On the bright side the Brompton was unscathed.” Three months on crutches and another three months having to learn to walk again should have been enough deterrent, but by January he was back on wheels again, building for the next trip to Marrakech, but they weren’t the Brompton’s wheels–they were stolen the day he dug them out of storage to begin his training regime. This time he went for something with a few gears, although it was still a folding bike, as was the tandem he bought for his first jaunt on the etape in 2013 with his partner, Justine, but he had to resort to the Brompton when she had to cancel at the last minute. “It might just get an airing next year, though,” said James, eyeing the duo who reached the top and posed for a photograph with their bike held high and the mountain as a backdrop.

2014 summary Read

2013 summary Read