Round 2 of the Cambodia Mountain Biking Series brought us to the coastal town of Kep. What with the course being a 3 hour drive from Phnom Penh, it provided the ideal chance for a fun weekend away by the sea.
I knew the course would be fast and furious. There are precious few technical trails around Kep, just the wide dirt road that circles up and around the miniature hill that is Kep National Park. And it was the dirt road that we took: one lap, first of tarmac, then a steady dirt climb to the hill’s col, before a series of gravel bends lead us back to the starting mark. This circular path clocked up a quick 8 kilometres.
Word was out too that there were a pack of women racing.
The last time I entered a mountain bike race in Cambodia, I flew as solo female. This time, more than 10 other girls were lining up for a battle, some with nice nifty lefty Cannondale bikes that gave them a shiny advantage. The only downer was that the women were relegated to the easy course, covering only 2 laps of the course with the technical bits chopped out (all the other fast men got to do three laps as well as a mini-jump on a hill).
A crash at the start of the race put a nasty feel to our event. Later I was relieved to hear that everyone got back on their bikes and raced no problem, one of the casualties coming in third overall.
I pushed from the start, wanting to see how hard and fast I could go. I’m not getting any younger and I wanted to see how much pain I could tolerate in the creaking muscles and joints. The first kilometre I saw a slip of local girl riding on my shoulder. But then the climb started, the tarmac was left behind, and she fell away from my peripheral sight.
I caught some of the male riders who had started off before us. At the sight of me, a girl, they got re-invigorated and decided to make chase, slipping into my stream. But whilst I shook them off on the uphills, there was no escaping them on the down. They tailed me as I hit hard on my brakes and tried to slide my bike around the tight corners without sliding out over into the jungle below clinging to the steep slopes below.
Even though we started just after 8am, there was precious little shade left from the sun as we hit our second lap. I finished my bottle, though I had been out for less than an hour. It was hot. And dusty. And sweaty. I wanted to get finished, sit on the beach and, hang out with my bike in the cool sea breeze. So I pushed.
I came over the finish in 47 minutes and cycled straight to the seashore. The next girl came over the line five minutes later, a local Cambodian chick. It’s only a matter of time though before these local girls catch on to mountain biking and work out how to beat me. Most of them are brand new in the saddle, so they’re keen and eager to learn. But for the moment, I’ll take home the trophy, and I’ll keep fit for the next race that takes place in Phnom Penh in July.
All photos are thanks to Phanith Hak.