I was no sooner back from New Zealand than I was off mountain bike racing last weekend in Kirirom, in South West Cambodia.
I had always been under the impression that Cambodia is flat. But apparently it has a few hills around the place, some of which are a 2 hour drive from the capital, Phnom Penh. And when friends told me about the mountain bike race, I had to go and see them for myself.
I’ve not raced a mountain bike since 2007. And the last time I had done some technical riding was back in February at an adventure race in Vietnam. But that didn’t stop my enthusiasm to enter the elite race and get 3 laps of mountain biking for my money.
150 riders turned up in the end for the race. And many of them looked very fit and serious. Some sported bikes worth a few thousand dollars, quite a number of them being brand new leftie Cannondales. Most of the riders were local Khymer, though there were guys from France, New Zealand, Vietnam, USA, and Japan riding. I however refused to be intimidated and decided to have fun on the race, even though I knew there was a serious likelihood of coming last.
In the end, I did come last. But then again I was in the longest race in the toughest age group. And despite my fitness, the technical riding was definitely too tough for me. There were 4 steep hills that during the pre-ride on Saturday I worked out I couldn’t cycle up, no matter how hard I tried. But it was great fun just getting out and doing some hard mountain biking in Cambodia, especially when I didn’t expect there to be any in this predominantly paddy field covered country.
It was also a great weekend out. We travelled up on the Saturday and pre-rode the course. Then we stayed at the Kirirom Resort at the bottom of the Kirirom National Park so to cut out the early morning drive from Phnom Penh.
And in the end, I didn’t really come last. What with the scarcity of girls who mountain bike, I actually took home the first lady trophy. I was the only woman riding in the elite category, so I got the top award (2 women rode in the B category, and then another 3 in the C). It would have been fun to ride against other female mountain bikers, but I think most were tired out from riding in Siem Reap the weekend before. But at least now I know that there is a sport involving hills that is vibrant here, so making Cambodia a much more attractive place to stay for a while.
More photos available here.