Rigs of the 2023 Ascend Armenia + Event Backstory

Ascend Armenia is a new self-supported ultra-distance bikepacking race following a 1,100-kilometer route across a challenging mix of terrain through a fascinating country. The inaugural event took off yesterday morning from the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and organizer Stephen Fitzgerald of Rodeo Labs put together a detailed backstory on the event with brilliant photos, which we’ve paired with rider and rig details for around 20 of the 28 starters. Dig into everything here…

In 2021, Stephen Fitzgerald and the Rodeo Labs crew were invited to ride bikes in Armenia. Inspired by the diverse climates, landscapes, and people who live there, the idea to create a bikepacking event was born. Ascend Armenia is a new self-supported ultra-endurance bikepacking race following a route based on their trip and supported by several Armenian locals who are excited to show off their country. The event has government support, is owned and insured locally in Armenia, and profits from the race are intended to support the growth of outdoor-related and tourism jobs in the country.

Evan Christenson, Bikepacking Armenia
  • Evan Christenson, Bikepacking Armenia
  • Evan Christenson, Bikepacking Armenia

The 1,100-kilometre (688-mile) route features a wide variety of surface types and conditions. From dry heat in the lowlands to high-elevation mountain passes with the chance for sudden and severe weather changes, riders will need to be prepared for a challenging ride. As a special introduction to the inaugural event, which kicked off yesterday, race director and Rodeo Labs Founder Stephen Fitzgerald put together some thoughts leading up to the big day. Continue reading to learn the backstory behind the event, what it took to bring the first ultra-endurance bike race to Armenia, and how they helped get an Aman, an Armenian local, equipped to participate in his first bikepacking event. Below that, you’ll find our usual “Rigs of” roundup, including rider, bike, and bag details for around 20 of this year’s participants. After you’re done, head over to the event page to follow the riders’ progress live.

Ascend Armenia: 24 Hours to Race Day

Words by Stephen Fitzgerald, photos by Stephen Fitzgerald, Evan Christenson, and Nick Gilroy

As I sit down to write this, there are exactly 25 hours to go until the start of Ascend Armenia tomorrow. Ascend Armenia? Yeah, I know, another bikepacking race. Have you looked lately at the calendar? I have. It’s crowded. Not many years back, you really had to look for events, and the majors were really what made up the calendar. Now there are probably ultra races in some hemisphere more weekends than not throughout the year.

And yet, here I am, here we are, about to kick off another first year event in a far-off land that, if you’re like me, you couldn’t quickly locate on the map without the help of Google. I did find Armenia, or more accurately Armenia found me, and so I find myself here, again.

We’ve been working on this race for two years. The idea for it started with my dad, who lives here with my mom. He’s watched me ride and race bikes for my entire life, and after watching me at Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco in 2020, he started thinking that Armenia, a country covered 85% by mountains would be a great place to host a race as well. He invited me repeatedly.

“You have to come. You have to ride it and see it.”

2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia

In 2021, with enough prodding, I eventually did show up in Yerevan with a bike and my friend Nick Gilroy. We were finally taking my dad up on his invitation. But even months before, that I had asked Evan Christenson if he would like to go there “on assignment” for Rodeo Labs. His first trip was so eye opening. Images of sweeping mountains with dirt tracks cutting across them. Heavy fog. Friendly, welcoming shepherds and farmers. They captured my imagination, as did his dispatches. When I arrived months later, ready to ride, I drew up a route that was utterly ridiculous and far too ambitious. Armenia humbled me, in a good way. This place doesn’t want to be rushed; it wants to be appreciated. Life rushes us though, because responsibilities pull us back with their irresistible tractor beam.

I had to go back, and I did so again in 2022, this time accompanied by Jay Petervary. Our purpose this time was to scout a potential course track that my dad had been working on non-stop for the previous year. Once again, we were dazzled by steep mountains and subtle experiences. Again, I was humbled by the course. The lines I drew on a map held many surprises: hike-a-bikes, scree fields, choked and overgrown canyons, and the like. But, on that second trip, I became more convinced that I wanted to host a race here just like my dad had suggested, because I wanted more people to discover and be amazed by this place just like I had been.

  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
2023 ascend Armenia

But, why have a race at all? Why not just put up another touring route and call it good? That second question doesn’t need to be challenged. By all means, come here and tour, and do it slowly! That experience will be so rich and rewarding. But to the former question, I would say: Races have a unique ability to put a lens on a place and bring people’s attention to something that they wouldn’t otherwise pause to appreciate or even care about. Races are spectacles. They are challenging, they are dramatic, they are packed with amazing human stories. Racing brings a community to a place and lets it collectively experience the place and share those experiences during and after. Many, most people in the world just aren’t that familiar with Armenia, and hosting a race here is a small way to help change that, for the better I think.

But is it enough to have a race, a two-week spectacle, and move on directly after? Maybe, but as my dad and I talked about this project, I knew that we wanted to have a different sort of impact. We wanted to interact with the local cycling community here in the process, and we wanted to try to also bring lasting economic benefits to this place with our efforts. Those ideas are a bit idealistic, a bit high-minded, but at the end of the 2022 scouting trip with Jay, we hosted a small 25-mile mountain bike race on the shores of Lake Sevan. Word went out through the small but tight-knit local cycling community. This new Ascend Armenia thing was putting on a race and a party, and everyone was invited. Would anyone come? Thirty-five riders and racers showed up, and what a group of racers it was! I spotted a full enduro bike and a rider with a full-face helmet. I spotted a fixie rider with skinny tires and no brakes(!). I saw commuter bikes and race steeds. I met some amazing women who borrowed bikes from friends, had no riding experience at all, and who had decided to give this sport a go, totally last minute.

2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia

We had a German rider, a Swiss rider, Russian riders, and many Armenians, of course, all living in this place for a mix of reasons, all gathering and giving our little event a shot. It was a powerful day for me. When we said “go,” riders stretched out over the entire course. There was intense competition at the front, but there were smiling, slower people in the back encouraging people to finish. People got lost, but they didn’t give up. Despite various small catastrophes, everyone finished. I could see a lot of pride and many smiles at the finish. One rider was on a borrowed bike because his bike had just been stolen, and in an amazing twist, he won a brand new bike in the bike raffle that we had at the afterparty. That party went late into the night over many rounds of pizza, wine, beer, and smiles by the lake. We couldn’t even speak all of each other’s languages, but we all had something in common through our love of riding bikes through this place.

  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia

Whatever we were doing in Armenia, this felt like “it.” Was it about the big race, or was it about the small one? Was it about bringing foreigners? Was it about locals? Yes to all of the above.

After that visit in late August, war broke out on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. I encourage you to learn more about it. There are some wonderful pieces written on this very website about the conflict and people who were riding through it when it hit. When it happened, my heart was absolutely broken. Everything looked to be descending into chaos. Towns and cities that I had passed through were being shelled. People died. There could never be a bikepacking race in circumstances like this. There was a major tragedy in play. Ascend Armenia went dark. I felt lost. Many other people felt far worse.

People in the country kept talking though. People asked about the event. Was it going to happen? What was the latest news? One rider from the MTB race, Anan, kept in touch with Tom and Tatev, our amazing Armenian collaborator/organizer on this project. Anan had loved the MTB race on Lake Sevan. He loves cycling, and he wanted more. In a small country that isn’t overly easy to be a cyclist in, Anan had found his passion, and he is good at it. On the road, he trains like an animal, and he wins many of the road races he enters. He dreams of going abroad and racing elsewhere, but how?

  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
2023 ascend Armenia

The war calmed down. It never really goes away completely. Everyone here in Armenia lives in a constant state of uncertainty. Uncertainty becomes a part of the background of everyday life, and life goes on. We picked back up the work of the race. Route development continued, countless days were spent exploring tracks and checking roads that showed on the map but half the time didn’t exist. We had meeting after meeting with local and national government representatives, explaining this race concept, explaining that yes, people want to do this sort of thing for fun.

Permissions were secured. Registration was opened. Entries came in, slowly, very slowly. Let’s face it: Ascend Armenia is an unproven event run by unproven people in a country with a sometimes unsteady sense of calm. But entries did come in, from curious people, from extra brave people, and also from people who love first year events in particular. Jay had said something about that last year: “There is only ever one first time for an event, and that first year has a special feeling because of that.” Armenia is a country at a crossroads of many other cultures, and that has helped make our racers an especially diverse bunch. Even with only 28 first year ultra racers, we have people coming from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, USA, Hungary, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Austria, Germany, Israel, Georgia, Belgium, Italy, Belarus, Iran, and yes, we have a single Armenian joining us: Anan.

  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • Ascend Armenia

Anan stayed in touch, and we began to ask him: Was he interested in trying his hand at ultra-distance racing? He was. Did he have a bike and gear? Not at all. We kept talking. It felt right to us to have Armenia represented by a rider in a race across its soil. In all of our searching and hoping for that rider, Anan emerged as the most eager. I hatched a plan to build a bike for Anan by way of Rodeo Labs. I didn’t want to set him loose on his first, very tough ultra on a rigid bike, so we got to work trying to source a hardtail 29er frame to build up on short notice. We found a frame, but the purchase fell through. I posted a plea on social media looking to buy a bike and a number of people offered their steeds. People offered to support! One incredibly generous gentleman from Denver, Daren, offered up his Specialized Stumpjumper, an old race bike of his, free of charge. I snapped it up, and we got to work equipping it for the race. The frame was stripped and repainted with a fresh livery. I sent a note to Tailfin, and they stepped up with a full outfit of gorgeous bags and rack. A new drivetrain and componentry was fitted. The shock was freshly rebuilt. Within a week, the bike was nearly unrecognizable, and it sparkled with new potential. We finished it the day before my flight and packed it for the trip.

2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia

As soon as I touched down here in Yerevan on Thursday, I began about six hours of intense training, trying to cram everything I could think of about riding and racing and strategy into Anan’s very curious and enthusiastic mind. He’s so determined, so sharp, so strong, but he isn’t experienced yet. I keep telling him that this race isn’t about fast, it’s about staying humble and being consistent. Be determined, be careful, Anan! This race is nearly 1,200 kilometers, and it has an eye-watering 25,000 meters of climbing. There will be heat, there will be rain, there will be mud. There could be bears and even wolves (although extremely rare), and of course there will be sheep dogs.

  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
  • 2023 ascend Armenia
2023 ascend Armenia

Is it foolish to set a young man loose on a big race when he hasn’t experienced this before? Maybe. But Anan, in all of our conversations, is simply determined. He says his time in the Army also made him tough. That’s really what it will take to finish this race and all other races: toughness and determination. At some point, we’re all humbled out there. At some point, we all walk, push, suffer setbacks, and attempt to overcome them. I hope no matter the exact outcome of his first bikepacking race, Anan has some beautiful experiences out there, overcoming the challenges of the mountains of the country he calls home. Maybe this first race will open doors to other adventures in this country and far beyond.

As for me, an almost minted race director; and my dad; and Tatev; and everyone else who is helping organize, we’re all excited, nervous with expectation, stressed, and hopeful.

Nothing that means anything in this world comes easily. Good things are hard. I think this race is good, I think the coming week will be beautiful, and I know this has been a difficult two years. By the time you are reading this, dots will almost certainly be moving across the map, or maybe by the time you read this, the race will be over. A winner crowned, finishers finished, and even non-finishers already back at home, back to normal lives, but now richer with stories, experiences, and memories from a small, beautiful, mountainous country called Armenia.

About Stephen Fitzgerald

Stephen Fitzgerald is a lifelong cyclist who left a career in design, advertising, and entertainment in 2014 to pursue something new in the world of bikes. That new project became Rodeo Labs, which at its simplest is just another bike company, and at its best is a never-ending journey to be and stay creative as a community of people riding bikes. Find him on Instagram @stevetheintern.

Rigs of the 2023 Ascend Armenia

Danni Coffman

Age 48 / Kalispell, Montana (USA)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be riding Ascend Armenia on a Salsa Cutthroat with carbon Jones Bars, a suspension fork, and mostly SRAM components. 30T front chainring since I am practically an actual granny. My wheels have as many spokes as possible, and my tires are Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge with endurance plus casings. I have a Sinewave Reactor dynamo hub setup. For the actual ride I will have half-flat/half-spd pedals.
BAGS: I’m running a borrowed fancy Tailfin rack with the corresponding bags, as well as Tailfin fork bags, a Rogue Panda frame bag, Rockgeist front sling with Salsa dry bag, and Oveja Negra snack bags and top tube bag. I am still culling kit so I may ditch some bags, but will likely still be a total bag lady with too much stuff.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: I’m bringing my OR Interstellar Bivy, Z-Packs 25 degree bag, a Therm-a-Rest inflatable mattress, and an inflatable pillow (it makes a big difference for me in how well I sleep). I’ll navigate with my Garmin Edge and Ride With GPS on my phone as backup.

Sergei Gamanenko

Age 48 / Zelenograd (Russia)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be riding Ascend Armenia 2023 on my custom full suspension bike built around an ICAN Chinese carbon frame. 1×12 Shimano XT mechanical drivetrain with 32T*51T rings and proven 29 x 2.35″ Schwalbe Racing Ray (front) and Racing Ralph (rear). Brakes are Shimano XT 8100. The comfort will be under the responsibility of SQlab 612 ERGOWAVE saddle, SQlab Innerbarends and Ergon grips.
BAGS: Front roll and saddlebag made by Ortlieb. Frame bag and top tube bag are custom made by Umba Gear (St. Petersburg, Russia). Feedbags by Nerpa Gear (Almaty, Kazakhstan).
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: Bivouac sack from an unknown Chinese manufacturer, short Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping mat, Aegismax +5 down sleeping bag, Klymit pillow. I will navigate with my Garmin Fenix 7X Solar watch. Lights are Garmin Varia UT800 and a Fenix rear blinky.

Ramsey Hanna

Age 34 / Silver Spring, Maryland (USA)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be racing a Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey 3.1 (TRAILCOW) equipped with 2.2” Continental Race king tires mounted to 650b Rodeo Labs carbon wheels. My bike has a SRAM AXS mullet drivetrain with a 36T front chainring and 10-52T cassette. A MRP Baxter fork and Cane Creek eeSilk suspension seatpost give some additional comfort for the long haul.
BAGS: I’ll be using a custom cow print Rogue Panda full frame bag and top tube bag and a custom cow print Downtube bag by Broadfork Bags (thanks Jackie!). My sleep kit and clothes will be in a Tailfin bag. I’ll also be using a USWE pack for water and cages on the fork for additional capacity.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: Definitely my two favorite pieces of gear are my MRP Baxter fork and my Broadforks bags Downtube bag which fits perfectly.

Jacob Hora

Age 18 / Victor, Idaho (USA)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: For this race, I will be racing on a Pivot Les with a Fox factory 32 100mm fork. For wheel,s I will be running Industry Nine Ultralite 240c carbon 24 paired with race king continental tires (2.2″). I am using a full Shimano XTR drivetrain with a 30T chainring, and for brakes I have XTR 2 piston.
BAGS: Super stoked on my bike bag set up for this race. I will be running a full custom FBJ creation frame bag and top tube bag. The frame bag has lots of pockets for organization, and the colors match the bike perfectly.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: I have been using the PEdALED hydration vest for a while now, and the fit and organization of the pack is incredible. I am excited to use it for a longer race.

George Huxford

Age 36 / Tring (UK)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: A Carbonda FM936 nudged up to 110mm of rear travel with a 120mm Manitou R7 Pro fork. Silent spinning Onyx hubs with a Vittoira Terreno and Mezcal tire combo keep things rolling quiet enough that my mid-ride karaoke remains undisturbed. Hope covers all the remaining spinning parts, including a pair of cranks looking to outlast their third frame. Special mention to my Perry Titanium custom bars combined with some 3D printed blip holders, after many years I think my alt-bar search is finally over, they were even kindly hand delivered by Chris.
BAGS: Apidura Backcountry saddle, frame, downtube and bar packs featuring a new bespoke PFC-free fabric replacing the standard VX-21.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: A lucky Leatherman that’s really tested their lifetime warranty policy over the past 17 years. Attached to me will be a Apidura Racing Hydration Vest for water and snack needs. Some rolled up running soft flasks may make an appearance for bonus water carry if needed. A powerbank with a large collection of amusingly short usb cables that became somewhat of a low-key obsession over the past few months. Finally, a shout out to anyone else in the tarp-not-bivvy club, free yourselves from the soggy sack, people!

Emily Lamson

Age 42 / Whitefish, Montana (USA)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be pedaling a 2023 Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey 4. 1X Sram Eagle, Force drivetrain and brakes. Praxis crankset with a 34T Wolf Tooth chainring. Garbaruk 10-52T 12-speed cassette. Astral Outback rims, laced up to a White Industries/Approach hub in the rear and a SON Dynamo in the front. Rolling on some brand new Victoria Mezcal lll, G2.0, 29 X 2.1″. Soaking up some of the bumps with a Cane Creek eeSilk stem and bars. Utilizing a Sinwave Cycles Beacon Light and Charger for electronic charging needs.
BAGS: On the back I’m going with a Tailfin Carbon Aero Pack. On the front end I’ll have an Apidura Handlebar Pack and Accessory Pouch. On the forks I’m using Tailfin Cargo Racks and Cage Packs. Can’t forget my Oveja Negra Snack Pack and Chuckbucket.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: Just trying to keep it light. Except for the MSR Pocket Rocket. Needed to brew up some of Montana’s finest coffee from Black Coffee Roasting Company every morning. And oh ya, some SUPACAZ Super Sticky Kush Star Fade Tape to match my bike.

Adrien Liechti

Age 38 / Geneva (Switzerland)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be racing Ascend Armenia on my Bombtrack Cale AL, with a tuned FOX 34, DT Swiss 1200 XMC wheels, Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge Endurance tires, and a SLX/XT 11-speed groupset.
BAGS: Full Apidura setup (I will remove the fork bags for the race. This is my touring setup).
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: I will wear white shoes because everything is rideable according to the organizer.

Ivan Nezhdanov

Age 28 / Zelenograd (Russia)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be racing on my tried and true Rocky Mountain Element, which already has almost 20k kms on its record. Manitou fork tuned for suppleness, Chinese carbon wheels with new 29×2.35 Barzos, shabby GX eagle transmission with 32T front ring and XTR brakes with 180 mm rotors. No ergo grips or aerobars, just ESI chunkys and SQlab innerbarends.
BAGS: Light and small Ortlieb seat-pack with my sleep kit, Ortlieb handlebar roll with clothing, self-made frame and top tube bags, old food pouches by Nerpa gear. I will be carrying two 0.6 L water bottles in an Osprey hip bag and one on the top tube.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: I won’t be carrying a rain shelter of any kind, just a non-waterproof bivy and a 0°C down sleeping bag with short Neoair to sleep under the stars. I hope I wouldn’t need to use the space blanket. For navigation, I’ll use an eTrex 20. Gloworm X2 front light will illuminate my way. I made a 9v QC adapter cable to feed it directly from a power bank.

Peter Olah

Age 38 / Zsambek (Hungary)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be riding the Ascend Armenia on a Merida Big Nine 8000 carbon hardtail MTB equipped with a 1×12 Sram X01 groupset and a 100mm Rockshox SID Ultimate suspension. I have a 32T chainring and 10-50T cassette. Going to roll on 29′ size Reynolds/ DT SWISS wheels with a SON dynamo hub and 2.2″ Continental CrossKing tires. I’m using a Specialized Power saddle. The cockpit is complete with SQ Lab inner bar ends.
BAGS: The bags are eclectic as I use a Mokush Outdoor roll-top design full frame bag and feed bags, a large Restrap Look reflective Top tube bag, an Acepac Bar Roll, and an Ortlieb saddlebag.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: My sleeping system is based on a Therm-a-Rest Neo Air mattress and a KHIBU Quilt with a bivy from Decathlon. I will use a Klite Bikepacker 1 light and two 5,000 mAh TNTOR mini power banks to charge my Garmin Edge 530. I will carry a spare Garmin etrex30 and a Suunto 9 watch plus a Nitecore HC65 headlight. I also got a cowbell-style Granite Cricket Bell.

Vlad Podofedov

Age 28 / Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’m riding Ascend Armenia on a Vitus Rapide CRS stock (carbon frame, RS Sid fork, WTB wheels, SLX transmission). One modification is a Jones Bar replica. This is my first race on a bike with a suspension fork, and it pairs pretty well with the Jones Bar.
BAGS: I’m using Rockbros bags as well as two custom bags from my friend from Bishkek. I will ride lightweight and with an unloaded handlebar.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: Outdoor Research bivy, Aegismax Nano sleeping bag, Therm-a-Rest Xlite mat, Garmin Edge 830.

Tom Quirk

Age 47 / Zurich (Switzerland)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: Solace OM-2P going strong after lots of this stuff, built with Pinion/Gates, Lauf TR Boost fork, I9 BC360 wheels, Magura MT7 Pro brakes, Maxxis Rekon 2.6″ tires, Ritchey Kyote bars, Xpedo Spry flat pedals.
BAGS: Ortlieb, Restrap, and Camelback.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: VJ Sport Maxx trail running shoes for the HAB, 27l mAh powerbank for bitcoin mining, LightInTheBox bar extension for lights and devices.

Jeroen De Reu

Age 38 / Ghent (Belgium)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I’ll be riding Ascend Armenia on a full-suspension 2023 Kona Hei Hei CR/DL (I want to tackle the descents as comfortably as possible). The bike features a new pair of 2.2” René Herse Fleecer Ridge endurance tires, a SRAM 1×12 AXS drivetrain and a hand-build DT Swiss XM481 front wheel with a SON Dynamo hub.
BAGS: The centerpiece of my bag setup is a custom Restrap frame bag. I am combining it with a Restrap 2L race top tube bag, a dropper seat post compatible Ortlieb 11L quick release seat pack and a 15L Ortlieb handlebar bag. I am using a 3L camelbag M.U.L.E for my water supply.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: A Sinewave Revolution is connected to the SON dynamo hub to be able to charge all my devices on the go. An Outdoor Research bivy bag will be used as shelter along with an Exped Ultra sleeping bag and mat. Most of my cycling clothing is from the Belgian brand Peleton de Paris.

Sebastian Sarx

Age 35 / Innsbruck (Austria)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: Frankenstein’s monster, grown over the years. The basis is a Salsa Cutthroat. Now with 100mm suspension fork and a mix of almost all SRAM parts. With a Ratio kit, mechanical shifting with drop bar and MTB cassette.
BAGS: Race Kit by Apidura.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: To complement the Frankenstein monster, I finally managed to build an aerobar bridge out of an old carbon fork.

Tim Schaefer

Age 47 / Berlin (Germany)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: I ride a Wheeldan Basilisk Titanium Bike with Pinion P1.18. Encapsulated 18-speed gearstick from the Porsche engineers in Stuttgart. Gates Carbondrive belt drive! Internally routed shift and brake cables. Integrated power supply from SON. Supernova lighting. Carbon fork with integrated cable routing and adjustable fork pre-bend. The bike is equipped with quiet extra-light lugged tyres by Rene Herse 650x55mm for rough terrain. Frame size ST 560/TT 580. Finish: anodised. Weight 12.5kg. In addition, a Velotor Sport E2 Base charge controller is connected to the SON for charging my equipment, such as the Hammerhead Karoo2, iPhone and the InReach Mini 2 Tracker.
BAGS: I choose the Tailfin AeroPack Carbon as my main luggage solution. The upper main bag holds most of my sleeping setup, first aid and other stuff. I also use a handmade frame bag from GRAMM Tourpacking for technology, tools and snacks. 2 x 750ml bottles for water.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: The handmade titanium bike from Wheeldan and the GRAMM framebag are my favs. Both Made in Berlin. Also my Leica D-Lux camera for some impressions during the race.

Damir Sharafiev

Age 32 / Tbilisi (Georgia)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: It’s the Open One+ frame with а Rockshox SID 120mm fork and 29” Vittoria Mezcal tires.
BAGS: Fuel tank, frame bag, seat bag, and little front bag are all from Revelate Designs. Fanny pack by Nerpa Gear that I always carry with me no matter what.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: My sleeping bag, base layer, fleece and waterproof clothing are all by Sivera. Sea to Summit sleeping pad and Ferrino bivi. I’ll use Wahoo Bolt v2 for navigation, Fenix HM65R on my helmet for the headlight, and I’ll power it all from a pair of Nitecore NB20000.

Alexander Stolyarov

Age 43 / Margahovit (Armenia)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: The only bike I have now. I built it in 2011 around a steel Salsa Fargo frame. It has 3×9 transmission with Microshift R9 brifters paired with XT derailleurs. The brakes are mechanical TRP Spyre. The tyres are 2.25” Schwalbe Rocket Ron front and 2.35” Maxxis Icon rear. There’s a SON 28 dynamo hub paired with SON Edelux II front light. This race is mostly about going up and down over the technical terrain, very limited flat portions. Therefore, I decided to replace the rigid fork with Rock Shoxx Judy Gold. I’ll also remove the aerobars.
BAGS: Tailfin carbon rack and rack bag is intended to take a little weight off compared to what I previously used (a steel tubus rack). All the other bags are custom made.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: For the sleep system, I have a weird combination of heavy waterproof bivy (OR Alpine) and tiny 180g down Montbell anorak. No sleeping bag or quilt, no pad. I have an advantage because I’ve lived in Armenia for more than a year. Over the last month, we had heavy rain/thunderstorms almost every day over the area where 2/3 of the race route goes. But it’s relatively warm, never going below 5°C (41°F) in the mountains. Did some experiments to see if I can sleep with that gear. I’ll be navigating with a Garmin 66s + eTrex 30 as a backup.

German Tsvetkov

Age 30 / Saint-Petersburg (Russia)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: Gt Grade Elite 2021.
BAGS: Saddle bag by Rockbros, framebag by local brand TimSport, feedbags and top tube bag by PolarFox. On the fork and bar just some cheap no-name dry bags and rack.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: I will use a tent by SPLAV Jaguar 1 v.2, Aegismax LETO sleeping bag and Naturehike air mat. My navigation will be on an eTrex x30, old, but reliable. I’m eating sublime food for breakfast and dinner.

Max Valoshyn

Age 31 / Khatezhino Village, Minsk Region (Belarus)

2023 Ascend Armenia Rigs

BIKE: My bike is a Specialized Hardrock Disc 29. An old bike that doesn’t even fit me that well. I changed the suspension fork to a rigid one and swapped the saddle to Brooks. I completely repainted the bike by myself.
BAGS: My bags are a hodgepodge. Ortlieb saddle bag, handlebar bag from Rockbros (as well as one of the framebags). Two feed bags and a yellow frame bag created by the Belarusian brand MaseyBikepacking.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: I use a tent and sleeping mat from Naturehike. Sleeping bag from Pinguin. Nothing special.

Ashley Wedelich

Age 40 / Dolores, Colorado (USA)

2023 ascend Armenia

BIKE: I’ll be riding my Rodeo Adventure Labs Prototype Show Pony with a 12-speed 10-52T SRAM E-tap drivetrain and a 34T chainring up front. I’ve got a Wren inverted fork up front, Ergon GA3 grips and Ergon SR Pro Woman’s saddle. The wheels are Nex-Gen Sports V3 Enduro with American Classic Cumbre tires.
BAGS: I’m running a Tailfin AeroPack on the rear. A Tailfin 1.1L flip top and a Tailfin 0.8L packs on the top tube. On the downtube I’m running a Tailfin 1.7L pack.
GEAR HIGHLIGHTS: I’ve packed my favorite down booties to keep my feet warm during those nightly naps.

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