UCI WorldTour: Mongolia’s star Sainbayar dreaming of the Olympics

From Ulaanbaatar to Burgos

The Volta a Catalunya, launched in 1911, was marked by a first at the end of March. While Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) maintained a Slovenian dominance on the Spanish stage race, a year after Primož Roglič’s success, fans witnessed the first participation of a Mongolian rider in a UCI WorldTour event. And Jambaljamts Sainbayar (Burgos-BH) did more than participate - he showed his National Champion stripes with a breakaway on the second day, a brutal mountain stage heading to Vallter 2000.

Sainbayar is no stranger to altitude, as his hometown Ulaanbaatar is perched at around 1,300m above sea level. But as spring graced the Pyrenean station, the overall settings were much different than in Mongolia’s heights. “Most days are cold, down to -20°C in the winter,” the rising talent describes. “And it’s very windy. In the last few years, I have almost not trained outside in Mongolia.”

In these conditions, “wrestling and boxing are the traditional sports,” Sainbayar explains before citing his Mongolian cycling references. Three decades ago, Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh was “the big name”. Also known as Oggi, he impressed at the 1992 Olympics (a top 10 was on the line before he got caught up in a crash) and almost signed for Gatorade. He passed away in 2019.

In the UCI ProSeries event Tour of Oman, Sainbayar rode alongside former UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) trainee Tegshbayar Batsaikhan (Roojai Insurance), who left his mark in Aigle (Switzerland) with a surprise gold medal in the points race of the 2016 UCI Junior Track World Championships. Talent can grow in the heights of Central Asia and Sainbayar is the most brilliant of them at the moment as he gears to conquer Spain and the Olympus.

From Ulaanbaatar to Burgos, via Minsk

“He’s very calm but he’s tough mentally,” says his Sport Director from Burgos-BH, Damien Garcia. “He never gives up. His personal journey to becoming a professional cyclist tells a lot about his capacity.” To reach Burgos, where he’s settled for the cycling season, Sainbayar had to overcome many obstacles and detours.

His first bike, a gift from his family at three years old, was too big for him. “I had to lean on a wall to stop and get down,” he smiles. The first seeds were planted and 12 years later he naturally joined the cycling team of the Mongolian national sports high school. “I was doing football but I loved cycling, I participated in a race and immediately got on the podium.”

He’s on his path to cycling success, but with some more detours ahead.

“As a Junior, I went to Korea for a UCI cycling course on the track and from there I participated in an uphill race and I won it,” Sainbayar recalls. “That’s when I started thinking cycling could be my career.” He left his mark on the UCI Asia Tour and signed with Ferei Pro Cycling Team in 2019… “And then everything shut down in China with Covid and I ended up spending six months living with my Sport Director Yahor Buben in Belarus,” he says.

After 18 months without racing, people still remembered the previous glimpses of Sainbayar’s talent. “Terengganu Cycling Team gave me a contract for half a season with a block of 1.2 races in Turkey. “I got four podiums in six races so the team gave me a new contract and I ended up staying three years.”

“We see with the UCI WorldTour that cycling is more and more international”

“I had noticed Jambal’s talent when I was in Asia with Interpro, three to four years ago,” his current Sport Director explains. “He was doing super well on the UCI Asia Tour and his coach Jeremy Hunt recommended him. We watched his data during the whole of 2023 and we decided to give him a chance at Burgos-BH.

“He’s a complete rider, strong at climbing, with a good sprint, and he rides strong on the flat,” Garcia continues. “He also knows how to position himself in the bunch. So, he needs to adapt a bit, but he’s already an interesting rider. We see with the UCI WorldTour that cycling is more and more international and it’s interesting for us to find new talents.”

Hooked on Alberto Contador and Chris Froome’s battles from the 2010s, Sainbayar wants to show his talent in the Grand Tours and at Paris 2024. “I dream of the Olympic Games,” he says after Mongolia managed to secure one entry for the road race and the time trial.

“With the Mongolian Cycling Federation, we really focused on getting that spot,” he says. “We are a small cycling country, it’s not like we have many riders to collect a lot of points. Participating in the UCI Worlds and the Olympics is a success and a pride for Mongolian cycling.”

There also, he will pursue the legacy of ‘Oggi’.