Vietnam Victory Challenge

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 day26312 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 10515299_10152624236476193_5419671315692467780_ohad 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.10688267_10152639225446193_5950030767985113099_o

 

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 10343660_10152624234581193_2307485628357148034_ngood 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!IMG_3174

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!Screen-Shot-2015-03-24-at-2.30.27-PM-1024x572

Over and out, off to catch a boat to Lombok for another big training week on the bike!

 

Vietnam

stock-footage-vietnam-flag-loop

The Vietnam adventure kickstarted when I heard about a new 3 day race called the Vietnam Victory Challenge.  Emailing the organizers to find out more about it I quickly received a nice offer from Bob the race director to help get me to the startline.   I knew I couldn’t pass on the chance to head to Vietnam but it was hard pulling away from a great winter in Victoria.  The weather had been amazing and training was going great with Mr.Plaxton and  Dan Prouxl and his National Team crew.    I was in a great routine, days were melting into weeks, and life was cushy.  A little to cushy for my liking as I was starting to lose that bit of excitement necessary to keep the edge and decided it was time to shake things up and leave base camp for a little adventure on the other side of the globe.

10343660_10152624234581193_2307485628357148034_nVietnam is a developing country and has had a rough history with most recently the Vietnam war from 1954-1975.  The country has rebounded nicely from the catastrophe and it’s 91 million citizens now enjoy a high literacy rate near 94%, and have one of the Worlds quickest growing economies.  They are the world leaders in Cashew and Pepper exportation, and 2nd up in Coffee and Rice which is impressive for one nation!  It has always been a country which has intrigued me as there seems to be a good balance of food, geography and cultural aspectes to it and a nice climate to boot.

 

Landing in the hill station of Da Lat high up on a 1500 M plateau in southern Vietnam was just the shake up I needed.  After a jet lagged first day exploring the city I headed back to to hotel to build up my bike.  It was a bummer when found out I was missing a ziploc bag full of my CO’2s and my rear thru axel.  Apparantly somewhere along the line an ai26312rport security staff must have removed the bag.    This was a real problem as my bike was useless without the thru axel to hold the rear wheel in place.  I started looking for one in Vietnam but the specific part was like trying to find an ice cube in the gobi desert.  I contacted race director Bob and he started looking but there wasn’t one to be found in Vietnam so he leant me his bike for the first couple days. A day later out of the blue he stumbled upon a thru axel at the Specialized frame factory in which they had one to test there bike moulds!  Arrangments were made and I had a loaner thru axel until my friend Sarah arrived from the USA a few days before the race with one.

Dodging a bullet, I was now back on my beloved Kona King Kahuna riding the race course under 30 degree heat with the Vietnam MTB team!  They had invited me to join them on the pre-ride.  We made it to the start of the course bIMG_3174ut then started getting lost at every turn.  Luckily I had downloaded the course map on my Garmin and went from guest rider, to lead rider as we followed my GPS around the cool little 45 km course.  Later that night we had a team dinner, Vietnamese style with 5 courses all served via a hot pot in the middle of the table.  The veggie, rice and meat based meal was delicious, although watching them eat eggs with half an embryo inside was revolting!

Still having a week till race day I strapped a rack on my bike and set out on a 4 day, 500 km bike tour to check out the countryside.  Day 1 I tried following an unknown route north of Da Lat into a national park and then heading due west back to civilization.  50 km into the 120 km ride I came to a million forks in the road, all of them leading down off the 1500 M plateau into the forest below.  Forseeing an adventure ahead I opted to get some lunch but none of the 4 restaurants in the small village I was in would serve me (the loan white guy) anything.  At the 4th restaurant one man grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me hard into a chair saying something in his foreign tongue.  Another guy stepped in and cooled his buddy off and then his table of 8 guys invited me for a beer and smoke.  It wasn’t a situation I wanted to be art of so I opted to continue on my journey.  After a few10515299_10152624236476193_5419671315692467780_o wrong turns and having no way to communicate with the locals it became apparent my mission on the day was turing sideways.  I could’ve started picking random roads to descend down but there was about a 5% chance of me not getting very lost, so I opted to save my bullets for another day and headed back to Da Lat for the night.

The next morning I took off on a new highway, 140 km to the beach meca of Nha Trang.  The first 60 km of the ride was across the high pine tree filled plateau before hitting a jungle and dropping off the side of the mountain down a 30 km descent into a fertile valley below..  It was a great ride as the traffic was light and there were tourists enjoying themselves all over the place.  Once down at sea level I followed a meandering river down into a big flood plain which lead tDSC01070o Nha Trang.  Hitting a massive headwind I started drafting scooters which worked out great and just 4.5 hours after leaving Dalat I was getting close to my destination.  Feeling good and trying to get a solid training day in I took some nifty little backroads into Nha Trang, extending the trip into a 7 hour day and getting to see some real rural areas of the country.  The Vietnamese people around here seemed surprised to see me but were all very welcoming and seemed happy to have me ride by.  These locals even fed me in exchange for $ which was a nice relief!

Riding into Nha Trang was a bit of a gongshow as is nearly any city of this size (300 000+)  in a developing country.  DSC01054Riding around trying to figure the place out a large man on his scooter came up beside me as he’d seen my Canadian jersey and was interested what town I was from.  Being from Edmonton himself, just 3.5 hrs from my hometown, we hit it off and had a bowl of soup together.  He had lived in Nha trang for a couple years with his Vietnamese wife so he had all the info I could possibly need to map the town out and was an interesting character I got to know over the next couple days.

Having a day to explore Nha Trang I took the bike out for a couple hours in the morning to check out the northern coast and then spent the afternoon DSC01081hitting the beach and cruising around the touristy town.  I tried to get a normal massage to help recovery but found myself in a whore house.  I’m not very good at picking these places out and it can be a little frustrating  when the masseus starts asking if you want a “yim yim boom boom”. WTF is a yim yim boom boom?  Yes sir, you know..  100 dollars sir.  Huh, No “No thanks,’  just a leg massage. ..  This went on for 10 minutes before she got pissed and told me the massage was done.  Only getting 25 mins of a 60 min massage I was pissed so refused to pay the full amount and soon had 4 mad Vietnamese woman in my face.  What a gongshow,  all I wanted was a massage to help the legs recover so I could get back up to Da Lat, all these girls wanted wass to pull on dongs and when denied, still expect you to pay for the massage that only half happened!?  What a disgrace, if they want some action that bad they should be paying for it..  It was a relief to get out of there and head down to the ocean for a sunset swim.DSC01095

The next morning I was back on the bike at 6:30 to head down to see the squid fisherman come in from a night of fishing.  After some nice pictures, it was off back towards Da Lat for the race.  Having a solid 140 km ride back into the mountains ahead I was happy to leave under the cool morning skys and to try to get back up the 30 km climb into the cool air before the sun got to hot.  I still got baked have way up the climb so put the 7 hour ride on hold for 15 minutes to soak under a waterfall and cool the engine off.  This was the refreshing blast I needed to finish of the big day on the bike and settle into Da Lat for the race.  Normally I would rest the days heading into a stage race but this one I’m treating as a big training block to prepare for a big race year ahead.  Spending 3 hours today checking out the courses and riding some singeltrack was a great way to see more of the countryside around here.  The countryside is similar to the interior of BC around Kamloops.DSC01107

Da lat is a busy town  of 200 000 people built on the side of a hill with snaky streets heading all over the place.  It was one of the few places left virtually untouched by the Vietnam war.  Apparantly officials from both the North and South sides would meet up here for a break from the fighting.  Nowadays the town is a nice balance  of locals and tourists highlighted with a  large night market which comes alive every evening with locals selling all kinds of goods, loads of fresh fruit and veg from the surrounding fields and some off the best street food I have ever eaten.  The tapioca tortillas coated with eggs, onions, chills and then cooked over hot coals is a favourite.  The “pho” soups made with rice noodles, onion and some sort of meat are pretty awesome too as they serve plates of green veggies with them to mix in which makes a healthy meal anytime of the day.IMG_3191

It’s already been a fulfilling trip and the race has yet to start.  Life is full of opportunities to take advantage of, sometimes its tough to leave the comforts of home but once you get out there it seems to never disappoint!

The race starts on Friday over here (Thursday in Canada) and results should be found at  http://www.webscorer.com/race?raceid=39007

Here is a link to some pre-race media at http://vietnammtb.com

10537963_10152620945911193_2424719495460295136_o

2015 Race Schedule Part 1

vietnam-tourism-logo-design

 

 

 

167872_8-LG-SD

Rest of year to be determined…