Vietnam is a long and skinny country in Southeast Asia with a dense poluation of 94-95 million inhabitants. It’s best known for its beaches, the Vietnam War, bustling cities and its culture. Soccer is the most popular sport but thanks to the Vietnam Victory Challenge, mountain biking is quickly gaining popularity!
The 3 day race takes place in the tourist meca of Dalat, surrounded in the pine forests in the Central highlands at 1500 M. It’s a great area to race out of with its cooler climate, abundance of trails in the surrounding countryside and laid back atmosphere. The street food is some of the best in the World and is a cheap and filling way to refuel the body every night 🙂
Last year was the first year for the race as the organizers Robert and Taunya Lofgran fought through Vietnamese red tape to put on the event which attracted 80 riders. This year they took it to the next level attracting over 175 riders to a very well run event which attracted riders from across Asia, the Oceania and North America.
The stages were fairly short for my standards at 45-50 km each stage but the courses were challenging and entertaining to ride as you were either pushing your body to its limits going up a steep climb or else hanging on through a fast descent which required proper line picking as the ground was rough and often on small trails. Passing through small meadows and through creeks kept it interesting on the country style courses. There was an abundance of cows, wild horses and random people doing there things out on course which made it nice having a lead Moto to clear the way! Even with that a guy had to be alert to stay out of trouble on the race courses which were alive with action.
As far as a pre-season training camp goes it was perfect as we could ride our bikes to and from all the stages and spend the post race recovery time getting cheap massages, resting in our hotels, and eating endless amounts of cheap food. The options of street food were limitless but we tried to stick to a few staples such as Pho soups and BBQ’d rice paper pizzas to avoid any stomach eruptions. The vegetarian restaurants were pretty sketchy with there rubber imitation meats. The street meat was also sketchy as it was often unidentifiable, I’ve never seen green hot dogs in my life until now but I’m sure whatever is in them isn’t good for the gastro system.
With twice the riders as last year I was expecting some tougher competition as I defended my title. Unfortunately for the other guys my body finally came back to life after the 24 HR World Solo Champs and was on fire. I’m not suire what it is but I’ve had some of the best races of my life 2 weeks after 24 hour races, this time it took 3 weeks for those legs to come around but they were on autopilot once they did.
The local southeast Asian riders are defiantly improving quickly as they closed the gap from last year. Lots of them are very strong coming from road racing backgrounds but mountain biking is still pretty new over here so they are working on there technical skills.
Having a race like the Vietnam Victory Challenge for the riders to train for is one of the best things that could happen for a country to develop its riders. It gives them a goal to strive for and also a chance to test there skills against other riders from around the World. A few people during the race were asking why I didn’t take it easy and ride with the other racers for a while, but for me I wanted to set the bar high for these guys to show them what is possible. I’m sure in a few years they will be setting the bar themselves if they keep improving like they are so I better enjoy the time at the top over here while it lasts!
It will be interesting to see where this race heads in the future as it has potential to be a classic if the organizers are able to get through all the Vietnamese government problems and continue to grow it. Right not they have it dialled and it seems like the race is getting a good name across the board.
The day after the race finished my buddy Simon Trembley and I hopped a flight to Northern Vietnam to start a bike tour from the mountain town of Sapa near the Chinese boarder. Our plan is to ride across northern Laos and eventually end up in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It was a solid 24 hour journey just to get up to Sapa.
The highlight was a 8 hour pit stop in Vietnams capitol of Hanoi where we toured around with local expert David Lloyd. He knew the city like the back of his hand and lead us to some solid street food, introduced us to some locals and toured us around old town Hanoi. After an overnight train ride north we finally made it to the fresh air of Sapa. The mind and bodies are now enjoying the cool mountain climate as we finish off our recovery from the VVC and prepare for the next adventure!