Wylie vs. The Mongol Derby, Presented by SmartPak, Day 7: We Have Winners!

Ed Fernon and Barry Armitage cross the finish line together. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates from Leslie as she prepares to embark upon the ride of a lifetime! Click here to read previous stories in the series.

Did you miss past updates? Catch up on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5 and Day 6.

After trading the lead several times not only in the past few days, but the past few hours, Barry Armitage of South Africa and Ed Fernon of Australia crossed the line as co-winners of the 2017 Mongol Derby, with Jakkie Mellet of South Africa just behind them.

The three riders pushed each other hard and fast throughout the event to separate them significantly from the rest of the field, and the three southern hemisphere riders were the only riders to finish today. Another ten or so riders are in range to potentially finish tomorrow.

Our own Leslie Wylie appears to have had a fast and efficient day on the steppe, making it to Urtuu 21 this evening with just six checkpoints to go before the finish line.

Barry Armitage is off and running from the final checkpoint. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Day Seven Recap:

A distance of 220 kilometers separated the leaders from the rear pack this morning; the weather quickly turned hot and sunny leading to some challenging conditions (especially when compared to the cold, blowing rain riders faced on Day 2).

Jakkie Mellet, who had maintained a steady lead for much of the Derby, ran into trouble just beyond Urtuu 25. His horse returned without him with its saddle under its belly and Jakkie followed soon after on foot; a nearby car had spooked the horse which had dumped Jakkie. In the chaos, a stirrup leather snapped, and in a nod to our dear Leslie…

Jakkie wound up making his own stirrup leather out of rope and continuing on, but not before Ed Fernon took over the lead. Jakkie, Ed and Barry Armitage battled for the lead over the next few legs with about 20 minutes of traveling time separating them — as race organizers described over a thousand-kilometer race, that’s essentially photo finish material.

Further drama ensued due to the hot weather when Jakkie picked up a vet penalty at Urtuu 27, meaning that Ed and Barry could continue on while he served two hours. Ed and Barry continued on together through the final leg, ultimately crossing the finish line together to share the win. Jakkie earned a well-fought third place, finishing roughly an hour and a half later. All three riders’ horses passed the final vet check, and all three riders (plus their horses) cooled down in the lake together!

Ed Fernon and Barry Armitage enjoy a well-earned dip with their horses at the finish line. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Leslie appears to be safely checked in to Urtuu 21 for the night; without any of her gear to help her comfortably handle a night camping in the open on the steppe this was likely the best decision despite having some riding time still available at the end of the day. As noted by race organizers, self-care along the Derby trail is important.

Which is why we’re glad Leslie appears to have gotten a good breakfast this morning:

No further details are available on the above-mentioned “fending off wolves” incident, but we’re definitely craving more news on that. We’ll report what we learn.

Leslie and the riders with whom she’s traveling are projected to finish two days from now, and we’ll be there every step of the way, cheering our girl home!

Injury and Accident Assessment

Emma Manthrope had to cope with a horse that pulled up very lame about 13 kilometers out from Urtuu 20. The vet from U20 headed out immediately to treat the horse, who reportedly responded well to painkillers and is doing fine in the care of a local family; Emma took a lift to U20 where riders were awaiting their vet check. Mongol Derby organizers noted that injuries and incidents in the field with the health of the horses always took precedence over vet duties at checkpoints — we salute the horsemanship of the entire Mongol Derby team and the obvious care they take with the horses!

Most of the other incidents of the day involved Derby vehicles tragically bogging down or running out of fuel — the hazards of such a remote expedition with a fast-moving field!

At the close of Day 7 of racing, our heartiest congratulations to the top three finishers Barry Armitage, Ed Fernon and Jakkie Mellet. We’re cheering all of the Mongol Derby competitors home with a safe trip!

We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

Jakkie Mellet brings his last horse in across the finish line. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Lorraine Jackson contributed to this report.