This Collection is the result of a trip to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco made between Christmas and New Year by four friends.
The idea was to explore some sections of the Atlas Mountain Race route for 2020, and to stitch them together into something that was achievable for mere mortals — as a holiday — bearing in mind the conditions in December regarding daylight and temperatures.
I arrived a little earlier, so there is a nice warm-up ride in and around Marrakesh, followed by the main bulk of the route. We had planned to ride for nine days but only rode eight days of the planned route — after two rear mech breaks, we were forced to take a bus at the end of day seven and to opt for a flat ride to the finish in Sidi Rabat on day eight.
The route is based on the Atlas Mountain Race 2020 (komoot.com/collection/911143/atlas-mountain-race-2020), but cuts out some of its most easterly sections. We also took some cool but accessible alternative routes and shortcuts to the official AMR route. This made it easier for us to find accommodation and made the distances manageable in the shorter winter days and without night riding.
There are some very challenging gravel sections in the Collection, so it should not be undertaken without preparation, but in saying that, there are some good "rescue" points with public transport links, should you need to bail.
You'll note that I have left out the planned route(s) from Issafen through to Sidi Rabat, these are public and available on komoot via my profile called:
8.1 Issafn to Tafraoute (Long) komoot.com/tour/103253128
8.2 Issafn to Tafraoute (Medium) komoot.com/tour/103253177
8.3 Issafn to Tafraoute (Short) komoot.com/tour/96295969
9 Tafraoute to Sidi Rabat (Short) Road komoot.com/tour/103253420
I've also included the singlespeed mayhem of the bail-out ride from Taroudant to Sidi Rabat on the flat, featuring tortoise exploits..
The acclimatisation and cycle tourist day. I arrived ahead of the rest of the group and rode in and around Marrakesh for a couple of days. I really enjoyed the gravel and the views of the mountains on this ride, it was a real contrast to riding through the Medina and the alleyways of the old city, playing with the traffic and being a city cycle tourist.
Escape the city! A road alternative to the full first section of the AMR2020 route to Telouet. The route out of Marrakesh is on quiet roads with good cycle paths, all the way to the first offroad sections as you get into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, looming ever closer. There are some varying sections of gravel which are a good warm up for what arrives later. We opted for the road version of the high traverse of the Atlas on Col Tichka, in the main due to the lack of daylight in December. If you opt for this route, I recommend descending at dusk from the Tichka to get to Telouet, an experience never to be forgotten.
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The classy gravel and Berber tea day. Continuing on the AMR2020 route for the first 55 km, superb route of many and varied conditions, from tight goat trail through villages, high plateau traverses, to tough gravel constantly up and down. The area feels quite isolated, thanks to the routing, and it really gives you that you-are-a bit-out-there feeling. Don't miss the highlights of the decaying mud brick fort, the first views of the Ouarzazate solar power plant glinting in the sun in the distance and the first long gravel drag of the collection!
The easy day. Here in the Collection is where we started to deviate from the AMR route. We took a recovery day rolling along the quiet main road to Ouarzazate, until getting onto the mud and gravel for the highlight of the day — the road into and stay in Oasis Fint.
The dust cloud day. Here we continue to bypass some of the AMR2020 route, it's close by if you want more gravel and a longer day, we rejoin the AMR route briefly before Tasnakht. After this larger town with good facilities, we took the opportunity to ride the Tagdalt reservoir road with its magnificent view of the bluffs that hide the AMR route from view. Highlight is the reservoir itself snuggled in below the bluffs, with its attendant forest and wetland.
The jaw-drop day. An amazing ride from start to finish, nearly all on gravel and 100% the AMR2020 route. The latter half after the small road section just gets progressively better, beautiful, remote and a constantly changing, geological backdrop. There were challenging surfaces with tough climbs and spicy descents. A do-not-miss is the final 6 km of the section to Auberge Paradis in Aguinane, (AMR2020 CP) descending into the hanging valley for the spectacularly exposed gravel descent — it's what riding dreams are made of!
The glorious canyon sunrise day. What a way to begin 2020, a sumptuous sunrise in an astounding sandstone gorge, with the narrow strip of tarmac running like a ribbon in the valley floor — if you want to feel small ride this! The gravel in the second part of the day is isolated and equally impressive, and continuously changing and improving as the day unfolds. Watch out for the Alluvial stream bed with its long sections of large round stones to ride over.
The colonial piste day. Virtually the entire ride is spent on a French Colonial era engineered piste, with a gradual gradient, but in places terrible surfaces. There's some hike-a-bike and fun to be had for all! The highlight is basically the entire piste section, up and down. Amazing geology, exposed roads, but don't get carried away and miss the turn to finish the piste before Issafn.
The bail out day. Quickly planned recovery day after having a second bike which needed to be 'single-speeded'. It's flat, the roads are straight and there is lots of sand towards the end when it rejoins the AMR2020 route to the finish in Sidi Rabat. The highlight is reaching the sea, and the beach, do try to catch the sunset.