The body was revved up after the tour down to the coast and I knew I had to keep the engine lit or else it would settle into recovery mode and make the 1st day of the Vietnam Victory Challenge a real challenge. Heading down to the “Valley of Love” to pre-ride the courses, I was warned by the race director Bob that the security guards may try to stop us riders from entering the tourist haven on our bikes but that we should just keep riding.
As I entered the gates to the Valley, two guards got up to wave me down, trying to get me to leave my bike and walk in. Remembering what Bob had said I pinned it, splitting the two guards and getting a good gap before one had a chance to hop on a scooter to take chase. I blitzed him as I made a couple sweet passes on the decent into the valley and was soon on the road to freedom. All of a sudden another scooter came out of left field in front of me, I blew past him, he pulled a U turn and then my luck ran out as I hit a large climb and couldn’t out pace the angry guard. Cutting in front of me, we came to a stand still, each talking in our foreign tongues. It was rather ridiculous and we both cracked a smile as I pulled out my phone to call the race organizers to figure the situation out. Even though Bob had organized us to be allowed to ride our bikes in the Love haven, the guards were on a power trip and escorted me out of the zone. I proceeded to ride 1 km down the road and then back into the haven through the woods in which I finally got my pre-ride of the course in.
The courses for stage 1 and 2 were each 42 km long point to point races, doing them in opposite directions. These were rather short races, but the courses were solid with a mixture of double track, some road and a sweet 10-15 km section in the back on single-track in which we wound up and down some tight ravines through the pine forest. The riding was fast with some punchy climbs which took its toll over the course of the 2 hour races. Having had a great winter of training in the bank I was excited to test the legs out on stage 1 against a field of 85 riders including about 50 Vietnamese and 35 international. The legs came alive like they were already in mid season form. The gap too 2nd was nearly 15 minutes by the finish line so it appeared I just needed to play it safe the next few days and stay out of trouble. Riding the same distance on stage 2, but backwards, my goal was to beat the time from stage 1, which I managed by just over 2 minutes which was a good omen that the legs were in good form and my King Kahuna was still ticking after a very heavy workload in 2014 with over 50 racing days on it!
Stage 3 was a 11 km circuit race around the Valley of Love which we would do 5 times. It was a fast course predominantly on double track, with a few sections of smooth single-track mixed in. The surrounding forests created a nice setback to race in. The volunteers out on course had been great all weekend but they kept yelling at us to slow down on the downhills? This I couldn’t figure out as usually you want to speed up on the descents. For the first two laps they yelled, but by the 3rd lap they finally gave in and let us do our thing. It felt good to pin it again as these were the first race efforts of the year and the body seemed to be loving it. It will certainly hurt alot more in the coming races when there are tight battles going on but I did my best to crank every hill to get a solid hurt into the legs and lungs even though the competiton was a good chunk behind.
Once the dust settled the gap to 2nd was nearly 50 minutes over the course of 3 days. It was a good confidence booster for an early season race, but it is also important not to get to big of an ego out of this sort of thing as there will be a lot of faster races to come with the top European pros. I’ll soon be facing these guys but am confident that I will have the legs to respond as I strive towards hitting a Top 10 at Marathon Worlds in Italy at the end of June. Let the journey continue!
Coming to a first year race in Vietnam I was expecting a bit of a gongshow, but I left a bit dissapointed as it was dialed in. Very impressive for a first year race, as these guys have the support and local enthusiasm to make this into a very solid event in the years to come. Bob use to race pro on the road and was a USA Cycling team coach so he knows what it takes to put on a great event and he did exactly that. His right hand man, Cuong from Vietnam, is also great and between there combined knowledge and expertise I’m excited where this race will head into the the future. Given the chance I would certainly return!
This was a good eye opener for the local Vietnamese riders and has given them the chance to experience a international race in the own backyard for the first time. It is just what these guys need to have a goal like this to focus on for next year and it will be fun to see there progression in the years to come as alot of them are very fit and they have alot of enthusiasm.
With the first race under the built for the season I’m now off to Indonesia for one last 9 day training block on the islands of Lombok and Bali before settling into a more specific routine to build up for the European campaign to come!
Over and out, off to catch a boat to Lombok for another big training week on the bike!