Nepalese mountain bike champion eyes BC Bike Race experience to develop sport at home
A mountain bike phenom from Nepal is looking to grow the sport in his country by competing in the BC Bike Race in Squamish this year.
Affectionately known among fans as ‘Queen of the Mountains’, Laxmi Magar is Nepal’s seven-time women’s national mountain bike champion.
Speaking to Global News from Kathmandu, Magar said she hopes to use her competition experience in British Columbia to inspire young women to return to sport at home.
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“I have a lot of friends who are (starting) the sports of mountain biking, now they can enjoy and participate, but they came to see me and shared with me that they loved doing it like me. It’s inspiring, that actually inspires me!” says Magar.
“I was so interested in doing men’s sports from the beginning because I only saw men riding mountain bikes in Nepal. I dreamed of riding like the boys, so I started riding bikes.
Magar entered the sport in 2008, starting with local races, before deciding to pursue it more seriously – going to the South Asian and Asian Games and winning the Yak Attack Adventure stage race on the Annapurna circuit.
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Among her many awards, she is most recently the gold medalist in MTB Cross Country Olympic at the 2019 South Asian Games.
The 33-year-old has also cycled the Annapurna Circuit several times, a grueling roughly 18-day trek through the mountain ranges of central Nepal, stretching 160 to 230 kilometers.
Squamish’s BC Bike Race, by comparison, is a seven-day stage race, where riders typically cover 50 kilometers a day.
Despite her success, Magar says there are still very few resources available for elite athletes in Nepal, let alone for female athletes.
“In the races, there was only a male category or a male category. At most local races, we used to ask them about the women’s categories. We started doing it for many years. It’s better now,” she said.
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“Recently we have big numbers. Even if it’s small for Canada, it’s good.
At first, Magar recalls being one of five elite runners in the country of 29.1 million people.
That number has since risen to 20 and she wants the upward trend to continue.
“I had no basis for cycling. I had no bikes, gear or cycling shoes. I never had one. It’s very difficult. I used to borrow bikes from the boys,” she explained.
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“When I was able to (get gear) from halfway around the world, I would share with my friends to get them interested in cycling. It was a bit of a help. The problems of entering the bicycle industry can become easier.
When she’s not conquering the peaks, Magar and several friends work at the Nepal Cycling School to mentor new cyclists. The group created the school for the children at the start of the pandemic.
Determined to continue to develop the sport back home, Magar teamed up with Squamish resident Marlene Ford, who is involved in the BC Bike Race, to travel to Canada to compete.
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The two met during a race in Nepal in 2016, where they quickly became friends and began to hatch a plan.
“I discovered that it was a dream of his to participate in the BC Bike Race. She had heard about it in Nepal. It’s a world apart but she had heard of it. It’s pretty cool if you can make someone’s dream come true like that,” Ford explained.
“She kills it and she loves what she does. She likes it. She has huge obstacles, so many roadblocks, but she is still there.
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Ford has spoken with other race organizers, who have offered to sponsor Magar’s entry fees if and when she is able to travel to British Columbia.
“To give her the chance to come here and run, to ride trails in another country, I think she will bring it all back with her. I think it will make her even more enthusiastic about the sport, bringing in those kids. She works a lot with girls and really wants the girls to be there,” she added.
The two speak to each other regularly via video call and eagerly plan fundraising events to help defray the costs.
After the BC Bike Race, Magar aims to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
“We have a family in the cycling world, it’s good to be a family,” said Magar. “It’s a happier ride.”
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