Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cambodian Mountain Bike Series

This is the start of this post

I returned to Phnom Baset on Sunday for the final round of the Cambodian Mountain Bike Series for 2011. I was hoping to make amends for my showing in the previous round where, for the first time in my life, I failed to finish the race. Then, I was sporting number 13 (which I chose). So, despite not believing in fate or numerology or ghosts, this time I chose number 12. It didn't help. I was sitting about mid-field and feeling as OK as can be in these sorts of situations (read totally exhausted) when on lap three of four my chain snapped. So, for the second time in my life, I failed to finish a race.

12 is no luckier than 13 it turns out
The offender

But enough about me. The A/B course itself is worth a description. It offers a variety that belies its short, 3.5km length. It has some really technical rocky descents (one of which had me flying over the bars and into some nice soft bushes after I failed to successfully negotiate it on lap two), some beautiful flowing single track, and a relatively long flat section strewn with sand. But what really defines this track is its difficulty on the climbs; there are two that struck fear into my heart. They are long, steep, and covered with loose rocks. They're the type of climbs that you really have to attack if you want to maintain your direction. A couple of times I found myself riding off into the bushes. It may seem funny to those that don't ride, but the slower you travel, the harder it is to maintain direction. This difficulty was amplified by the presence of large, loose rocks that threw your front wheel off in directions other than the one you wanted to go in. As a result mainly of these climbs, laps took about 15 minutes.

So far, so good

A surprising feature of the race was the huge turnout. Over 100 cyclists took part, mostly Khmers. Included in this number were many kids from the Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC) organisation. These kids, or their organisation rather, paid $1 each to enter the race and a little more to hire bikes. Unsurprisingly, they weren't all overly prepared for the race or that knowledgeable about cycling in general; I saw at least two riding in heels. But it didn't matter. While I had to ensure I had my energy gels, heart rate monitor, chain oil, gloves, cycling kit, CO2 canister, spare tube, tools, pump, glasses and various other shit, these kids were just happy being there riding in whatever they'd normally wear (I'd say; I don't know what they normally wear).

There was also a good presence from the locals. I don't know where they actually came from, as there weren't any villages around that I could see, but there they were with their eskies of Coca-Cola and Red Bull, cooked snails and noodles. There also seemed to be an abundance of wats in the area which on race day were hosting a festival that one local told me was a celebration of some vegetable.

Hub polishers doing the job on this old girl
Lunch at 10am. That's what happens when you get up at 5.
On the way home, we witnessed some of the flooding (I guess we witnessed it on the way there too but I was half asleep and not in the mood for witnessing). It's amazing how rural it is out there despite being only about 40km from Phnom Penh. As we passed by relatively streetwise chickens, cows and dogs I was struck by...no, I wasn't really struck by anything. I just thought it must be annoying to have to deal with all that water. And yet no one looked that annoyed.

Making the most of the floods

Back in Phnom Penh, there was a (free) dinner to celebrate the end of the series. Everyone cheered and beered (from the verb "to beer" which means to drink beer) and celebrated riding. It was a really fun event that included footage and photography from the races and plenty of prizes (although only to those that managed to complete a race).

Celebrations back in PP

Winner, winner...

Thanks to Pierre and the rest of the Flying Bikes crew for putting on a great event and being so welcoming. I'm looking forward to the 2012 series and a chance, hopefully, to do something I've never done before; finish a race in Cambodia.

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