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21-10-2022 | Debby Frenken

Roc du Maroc: the mummy returns

I came across Roc du Maroc on Instagram. I liked it, a tough stage race for the MTB, right through the Moroccan desert. Actually the event was already full, but through the reserve list I was still able to participate.


Photos: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

Race and challenge

Roc du Maroc works with two categories. The 'Race' is for duos has a competitive character; the 'Challenge' is the casual version. Because I signed up solo, I automatically participated in the Challenge. Although I'm quite competitive, I was fine with that in hindsight.

The vast majority of 270 participants was well-prepared. Most riders had opted for a fully, but there were also a few hard tails participating and even one gravel bike (who had a really tough time and kudos for him!).


Photos: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

Glamping in the desert

The concept of Roc du Maroc is unique. The whole entourage is flown in from the Benelux countries. It is a traveling circus. The first two days you sleep in a hotel, then in a large tented camp that is moved every day. The support consists of a huge team of sixty volunteers from the Benelux and thirty locally hired staff. The camp is basic but nice and everything is there. You sleep in pop-up tents, there are showers, European toilets, massages, a bike wash, mechanics, not to mention very good food and drinks. There were also rows of extension cords for charging cell phones and bike computers. The organization even provided a local sim card, so you had reasonable internet most of the time.

Everything was top-notch, it felt like a kind of a moving glamping but different. It's sleep, eat bikes and repeat.

For all this, you paid €2550 this year. That includes three hotel nights, flight, bike transport, transfers and food. For the 2023 edition it is €2750 and in my opinion it is well worth it.


Photographs: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

Canyons, stones and gravel

The course consisted of six stages and a prologue, which was actually a kind of test ride. In total it covered 666 km and 8500 meters of climbing. The stages all started between 7:00 and 8:30 in the morning. The rides were quite different from each other which I didn't expect. I had counted on a lot of sand, but it turned out better than expected.

On the way, for example, we passed through rugged canyons with lots of rocks, but also gravel roads with nice hairpin turns and some steep descents. I found the course very technical, you have to be able to steer and drive well over and around rocks. Of course you also encountered sand, but no long stretches of loose sand.


Photos: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

Because of the demanding course, the averages were low. Beforehand, someone had told me that the average speed over all six days might only be 14 km per hour. It varied per stage of course, also depending if you were in a group so you got sucked in and of course depending on the elevation.

The weather was as you might expect good: warm and dry. The temperature was around thirty degrees, but because the humidity is low you didn't suffer much from it. During the stages there are extensive supplies and a technical team also rides along. This was also necessary because there were punctures and/or other minor equipment problems.

Stages two and three I found to be the most enjoyable stages, mainly because of the versatility. We encountered everything: streams, single trails, canyons, as well as suddenly looming oases. But actually all rides were nice, because they were all really different. By the way, the route is pretty much the same every year with some slight modifications.


Photos: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

Not just desert

You're certainly not just driving through the desert. Along the way you also pass through small villages where there is nothing at all. Children encourage you and often beg for candy and pens. That felt a little uncomfortable at times, and makes you realize how privileged you are. And what a decadent trip this actually is in terms of set-up: two planes full of riders and gear and water to a pitch-dry desert. Actually, it's too bizarre for words.


Photographs: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

Stage six was by far the toughest. Go figure: 150 km through the desert with 650 meters of climbing. Both physically and mentally, this was a very tough ride. It was an extremely long day on the bike, where you have to plan well. Everyone tried to save and ride out of the wind. The sight of a group of camels at the end of the day was so beautiful, that made up for everything.


Photos: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

Drip

That day the finish line was at the location where the movie The Mummy was shot. A big party was thrown there. Some participants had also really underestimated this stage and were given a big welcome by the rest late at night in a dehydrated state after fourteen hours of riding. They were put on a drip right away.

The party was definitely one of the highlights. There was a sense of connection and total release. You lived together so intensely, that connection with other cyclists is really special. The elements also showed themselves that evening. It was storming, it was raining and there was fire. Everyone had a feeling of the mummy returns!


Photographs: © Jan Van Gelder - Alessio Corradini - Roc du Maroc

The next day we had to finish the final stage with a hangover in our legs, then it was nice to recover in a hotel before we flew back home.

I have never experienced anything like it. It was intense, awesome and very special. I met a lot of nice people with whom I will probably keep in touch for years to come. The homesickness in the group is huge. I've done some MTB events and stage races but this one will go in my list of best cycling memories. No doubts on that!

Follow Debby Frenken also on Instagram!

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