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The inaugural Atlas Mountain Race sets off this Saturday. As Stefano heads to Morocco to tell the story of the race, via Podcast, we chatted with him to discover more about the journey behind the scenes - what it takes to experience and document a bikepacking race like the Silk Road Mountain Race; Atlas Mountain Race's sibling...

As r̶a̶c̶e̶r̶s̶ riders, Dave and I met Stefano (and Control Car Two) five times on our Silk Road Mountain Race. I remember each time vividly. From halfway-up Kegety Pass on day one (by the side of a road, in a blizzard at about 3000m), to an early-hours rendezvous at the Baetov Hotel (which what-felt-like half the race were staying at) … to that final time when they blanked us on the grassy plains at the foot of Shamsi Pass. Although Dave and I were riding as a pair, this human interaction and vehicle contact amongst such vast, unforgiving landscapes forged moments of relief; moments of calm. They couldn’t help us. They couldn’t give us food. They couldn’t fix our broken spokes. But, they could talk to us. Laugh with us. Take photos. Interview us. Add some ordinary to what is an extraordinary couple of weeks on the road, for everyone. As the race rode on, it became more apparent how much of a relentless task documenting these bikepacking races is…

So, first in our series of ‘Behind The Scenes’ Journals is Stefano’s Silk Road Mountain Race (SRMR), from Control Car Two: three particular moments he has highlighted, photos, and a short Q&A. Be sure to check out his Podcasts from SRMR 2019, and the Atlas Mountain Race (AMR), over the next couple of weeks >> Broom Wagon Podcast

I’m sure people will say “it must be pretty straight-forward following an event like the Silk Road Mountain Race as Media. The only thing you do is sit in the car all day, sunbathing on the side of the road, making jokes on cue”. Now, that’s all true, but I swear – I double swear – that the life in the Control/Media Cars is not as easy as it looks. As you are aware, these Race locations are sparse and remote. Everywhere is a long drive away, let alone ride away, so we were often self-sufficient, relying on our own wild-camping setups and at the mercy of the Kyrgyz weather, too, just like the riders. Let’s start with three episodes:

The Road to Registration

Solid night of sleep. No jet-lag, nothing, only excitement for our first full-day in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan and race start location. The mission is only one, today: travel down to the south of the city before the majority of racers arrive for the registration. We have stories to find, photos to take, people to meet. Breakfast in the kitchen talking about food culture in Bari together with James Hayden, is cut short because we need to move. The easiest way to get to the registration place is taking a taxi. Nadia and Antonio, race photographers, plus myself will call one using YandexTaxi – the Uber of Central Asia. It all looks easy, but there is a huge variable that can mess up with everything: the language. The start of two weeks of language barriers and hand-gestures. The taxi doesn’t arrive, and we are late when Antonio receives a call: “Hallo? Taxi. Taxi.”
“Yeah, got it, we are here waiting for you.”
“What’s happening, Antonio” – I ask.
“He hung up, he was only repeating Taxi Taxi Taxi. Dunno where he is.”
“If he calls back, keep him there, I’m gonna call Yura.” Yura is the owner of the guest house, he doesn’t speak English, but he is a great communicator. Yura opens the door and we find our driver. He is there parked in the middle of a tiny gravel road, on a side-street, out of the car shouting. We jump into the car, and I take the front seat, on the left-side – most cars in Kyrgyzstan come secondhand from Japan, so they drive like in Kyoto, but faster, messier and louder. Loud, that’s how I would define the taxi guy. Loud and really keen for conversation.
*Thumbs Up* “Kyrgyzstan?” He asks.
*Nod* “Italy and Portugal” I answer.
“Italy! Juventus, Milan, Roma, Napoli. Portugal! Cristiano Ronaldo.”
“Yeah, exactly. And… oooooo, straight-through a red light.”
“Niet niet. Benfica, Manchester, Real Madrid.”
“Oh gosh, we are not in a rush man, go slow.”
“Come on Stefano, relax” Nadia says.
“But have you seen it? It was red. Again.”
“Musica?” as the taxi driver pushes up the volume.
The car becomes kind of a Kyrgyz bazar, and the four of us are shouting, singing and dancing while I try to record the audio that will be the introduction theme of my podcast. When at a certain point the flow slows down when the track changes.
*Taxi driver cries*
“Noooo, but why?”
*Taxi driver holds heart, letting go of the wheel*
“OMG. Don’t do that. It happens, buddy. BUT GO SLOOOOWWWW.”
“I’m gonna take a pic of him crying, keep on talking Stefano”
“Oh come on Nadia”
The car freezes and we reach the registration point without any word. We pay and “keep strong buddy, bye” I shout.
“I was scared and embarrassed at the same time” Antonio says.
“I was only scared, damn. Never on the front-seat anymore. Never” I say.
“I have his tears on film” says Nadia, laughing.


CP2, just around the corner from Kel Suu – sited on an amazing, wild flat land at 3000m altitude. The air there was weird; soft. Not easy to get in, and not only because of the breathtaking landscape but also because there it was cold, vast, and full of horse-sh*t. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen in life, I swear. Control Car Two – aka Ondreji the driver, Antonio the photographer, Divan the car master, and myself the intolerable talker, arrive at CP2 around Day Five, after a long drive across grassy double-track, and a great snack stop with handmade bread and fermented horse milk, Kumis.

We arrive at the Yurt Camp and we find Nelson, together with his media crew, volunteers, yurt owners and a bunch of cyclists. Time to get some interviews on record. I hear the story of Stefano (great name buddy) who destroyed his brakes and decided to scratch. Stef (another crazy good name) who explains on mic his transition from leisure bikepacking to this type of competitive bikepacking racing. Oh, and Erik who rode non-stop from CP1 to CP2 – 353km in 28 hours – without sleeping, and eating only two times. Crazy.

All this, while Divan goes out for a horse ride to the Alpine lake, together with Danil and Evgeni.
“Come on Antonio, come with us!” Danil says.
“No thanks, I almost died on a horse at Son Kul.” Antonio sounded pretty firm.
“And you Stefano? No horses?” Divan.
“Nah, I rather count my toes than ride at this time of the night”
“Cool. We go. We still have some hours of light,” says Divan cantering off to Kel Suu.
I dropped my bags into the semi-permanent clay building where we spent the night, then I jumped back over to the checkpoint to play some toilet jokes with Brandon. It’s 12.00pm when the guys come back from the horse ride. They have purple lips and pale faces as they duck through the yurt doorway –  welcomed into the yurt with laughs, jokes and a bowl of cold soup. We all go to bed, and when I close my eyes I have 19 hours of wide-awakeness to sleep off. But there isn’t time. An hour later Nelson enters the room informing us of what happened to James Hayden.

Waiting Atop Tong Pass

The dusky light was dropping as we arrived at the foot of Tong Pass, just in time to jump out of the car and see the light of James Hayden rocking downhill and heading fast to the finish line. He had only just rolled back into the race following his misadventure after CP3, going on to pick up fourth position. We stop, we camp, we eat, we sleep. We finish a not so productive day planning for the day after: “let’s hike to the peak of Tong Pass to wait and interview loads of riders coming up from CP3” Divan suggests. He looks confident like he was some hours ago when in his kind Russian, he rejected the offer of a glass of vodka at a local yurt … at 08.00 in the morning.

We wake up pretty early the morning after. I didn’t work long, so I almost slept seven hours that night, despite the strong wind and the icy-cold rain of the outdoors. We get some breakfast, and we reach the foot of the trail with the 4×4. The morning is sunny and warm, so we put on shorts, load our bags and start hiking up to 4000meters. After a few river crossings (there’s no bikepacking races without river crossings), rough gravel hopping and marmot spotting we arrive almost at the peak when we see a rider coming down, singing. It is Stuart. “Finally you are here guys, it has been ages I’ve not been seeing anybody”.
And here we are Stu. I hang the mic on his face, and we start talking about the Tong pass and how icy and dangerous is up there, then some toilet talks and a soundbite about food. “Don’t stop so much Stu” – Antonio says – “keep on going, so I will take some more photos of you in the downhill. Get out of here.”
“But first I want to take a pic of you guys – who knows when I will see somebody else to talk with” says Stu.
We sat there happy, thinking a lot of other riders are going to come pass by today. We sit longer, and we play the patience game. A couple of hours of reading, three hours of politics talks – my day job is in women’s health and reproductive age is always a great political start of any conversation – then some snacks and some stone games. ‘Whoever throws this stone the farthest’ was a favourite. Then the same but throwing the stone backwards. Then trying to knock other rocks, in the distance it in front of us.” Each of us wins. OK, enough.
Again reading and seating and I start complaining:
“Come on, really? Nobody?”
“40 more minutes then we roll” – Antonio says.
“It has been eight hours. Eight.”
“Come on Stefano, look around. Usually, people have these mountains on their phone and computer screen backgrounds, and we are here now.” Divan is right, there’s nothing to complain about. After nine hours we finally decided to move down, taking shortcuts to avoid the freezing river. That night we decided to spoil ourselves with a bath on the hottest hot spring on the planet. From that night nothing was calm anymore, especially my guts. I must have swallowed some…


1. Paint the picture for us. Who was your team at SRMR, and who was in your 4×4 for the two weeks? Was everything stringently planned out?
Ha, so in Control Car Two was myself, Ondrej (our Russian/Kyrgyz driver guy with weird tastes in music), Antonio (one of the photographers – a Portuguese guy from Madeira and tireless joke teller) and Divan (The Car Director – a South African living in Bishkek and all-round great person, who hikes in flip flops). The 4x4s are not only media cars, but mainly control cars. So we were there to serve the event itself – for racer safety and backup, too. Obviously we had a plan but I would be a liar if I said we had the smallest possibility of following it. Freestyle; this was the main word. But, hey, it came out pretty good. The best moments are the unexpected or the adverse ones. You can’t plan them. The microphone needs to be rolling at all times in as many locations as possible, really…

2. How important is covering events and races like the SRMR? Why a Podcast, and what is your aim with it in Kyrgyszstan, and in Morocco next week?
Well, we need to get people into events and races like these ones, especially by following people that have immersed themselves into it to explore a new part of themselves or live their big adventure dreams. I’m sure a lot of folk think that the riders in these bikepacking races are superheroes or those that do it as their main job. Well, it is not like this at all – they are almost all normal people with mostly normal jobs, with different and cool stories to tell, and that’s why I feel like talking to everybody. And we don’t need to forget the locals, and the place we go to visit while following the races. Places and people in these locations are just fantastic and talking with locals will only help us debunking some false myths around them. That’s why is important to cover these events – to promote people, diversity, inclusivity and our beloved cycling.

3. For those interested, what was your Podcast Recording setup? Life is simple on the bike. Without a dynamo hub, how were you keeping everything ‘alive’ and charged? And, in a place with little-no signal or internet, how were you coping with uploading Podcasts and Content for people to see?
I have one recorder – a Zoom H4N Pro, a fluffy windscreen, a set of headphones – Sennheiser Momentum, a laptop – Macbook Air, a huge pack of AA batteries, my notebook, and a pen. In the car we always had an inverter/charger so we could always recharge our phones, laptops, battery packs, and lights. One of the plusses. The internet was a bit painful. Hardly anywhere we had network, but I planned my content every 2.5 days – that way I knew I had time to record, curate and find internet at some point over that time period. It didn’t always work – episode 7 went live a bit later than after 2.5 days, so it went simultaneously to episode 8. That’s the freestyle we like. People understand. I hope.

4. Any particular Audio Kit that worked well / didn’t work?

The fluffy windscreen worked amazingly for my recorder. Wind outdoor is incredible and can waste completely any audio coming from the microphone. So I got a fluffy, hairy windscreen, very very similar to my beard, that I placed on top of my microphones, and it worked amazingly even in extreme conditions like at the top of some of the passes, where the wind was blowing heavily. The hack I’ve done with battery packs and cables for helping the recorder didn’t work at all. The recorder I have works usually with 2 x AA batteries, this means it’s not really a waste-free and environmentally sustainable solution. But, looking online I found a hack: using a battery pack and link it to my Zoom with a cable. Well, finding that USB to DV5 of the right size was not that easy. No Swiss shop had one and online, well, online was hell: I ordered 4 of them but none was fitting (even if they claimed it was tailor-made for my tool). One week before leaving to Kyrgyzstan I gave up, and I didn’t find a solution, yet. I will still be working on this…

5. We met you a few times along the route. The funniest was probably in the Baetov hotel, when you guys arrived as late in the day (morning) as we did – like 02-03.00am. Is following the race as hard as riding it?
A lot of camping in cold weather, eating dehydrated food and Snickers bars, squatty toilets, no showers, stomach bugs, all this. Plus sleepless nights working, driving in the dark, endless waits. But, no, I won’t say it is as hard as for the riders. They are doing the hardest things, we are just flies on the wall. Or flies in the valley. There are no walls. Nothing.

6. How does audio and Podcast-making differ from visual film and photo? Do you think audio brings a new edge to covering trips and races? Were racers generally happy to talk to you, and be interviewed?
Shooting a photo means to find a place where it looks cool, the landscape looks epic. You don’t really need to interact with the rider. For podcasts, you need an interview. You need to know where and when to approach people and how to do it. When to ask questions, when just wait and listen. What to record what not to record. Interviewing people means knowing the adventure they are taking part in and bring the human side of it into a listenable story. That’s why I like podcasting, because you can really get the perfect human sense of the experience. What do you mean? Everybody loves talking to me! I mean everybody was pretty kind with us, even in the worst conditions. It is about my sensibility as well to understand when and how to talk with people, and I think we got it right. We knew when to leave people alone. A photo tells a thousand words, in these cases. So I left it to the photographers at those points…

7. Most memorable time during the SRMR?
Day One. The beginning, atop Kegety pass. At the start, in Bishkek, it was 37 Degrees, but after two hours, we found snow and freezing weather. It was the beginning of a great adventure…

8. Hardest time during the SRMR?
Oh Boy. My stomach bug was horrible. Real bad. I pooped into my pants twice in the last days.

9. Has following these races ever made you want to race them yourself?
Are you crazy? I cannot do it. Not because of the riding, but because of the planning. I cannot really plan all these details like you guys do.

10. Three things you couldn’t have done without in Kyrgyzstan?
Warm socks. Two beanies. Jokes and memorable times with Control Car Two.

11. Do you think Morocco will be an interesting place to document a race? What are you expecting from Atlas Mountain Race? Three Predictions for AMR?
Of course. I aspect great landscapes, amazing routes, awesome people and a lot of friends, and people I’ve really got to know in this bikepacking world, taking part in the race. I can’t really wait for it. I already my SRMR cap on now, to start getting into the mood. Predictions, you mean winners? Dunno man, I don’t usually know who wins these races, I usually stay in the middle of the pack. I can predict a stomach bug, for sure…


Stefano Nucera / Broom Wagon Podcast 

Antonio Abreu
Danil Usmanov



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