When people take up a sport, they don’t really expect to be thrown in at the deep end straight away. Maybe in scuba diving you do, but generally there’s a ‘getting to know you’ process involved. “Hello new sport, nice to meet you. Please don’t hurt me too badly.”
When your new sport is mountain biking, it can sound more dangerous than it is; mountains + bikes = ? It’s a mental hurdle that can take time, but overcome it you can. Ten men did exactly this when I asked them to compete in a local mountain bike race recently. With the support of The Bike Shop in District 2, they came, they saw, drank carbonated energy drinks, and they all survived the carnage.
When it was over I asked Andrew Whitmarsh to file a report on the ride. Here’s how it went.
“Hot rubber tires. Thick cold mud. Muscled thighs shrink-wrapped in spandex. A narrow serpentine trail laid out before us bearing long roots — long and slippery as a stripper’s pole, and gnarled slopes at angles that God himself would not climb. This is mountain bike racing and on the morning of Aug. 9 in District 9, in the shadow of Den Hung Temple, 150 competitive souls came to ride. Mixed nationalities with plastic buckets on their heads and water bottles filled with Revive, all vied for the glory of completing 30km of brutal, tricky track in the 2015 Den Hung MTB Cup.
At 8am we were herded together like a bunch of nervous cats. Pot-bellied middle-aged Vietnamese guys with ponytails jostled with hairy Europeans on fancy rigs. Tough Vietnamese chicks with severe dispositions and pink sports tops edged out sinewy local dudes, confident, laughing and flexing their muscles.
Unsure if we were in the right category, the gun went off at its scheduled time and our opening task was sprinting 200 meters up the asphalt road to the first corner before turning and grinding up a ruddy hill. Chaos ensued as amateurs slowed down the pros and swear words in 10 different languages hung in the morning air. Edged by tall grasses, the route wound steeply up the single-track trail before descending back downhill past the roaring crowds. Intent on pleasing the onlookers, some bikers took the corner too quickly, wiping out and leaving blood and skin behind.
Up, down, grinding gears, shrieks and curses as riders got stuck in mud, blew out tires, barrelled past each other on straightaways and crashed into bushes. We bashed through large viscous puddles and screamed down long rocky roads, hurled round bends, and dropped into a forest that ate riders alive. Its hidden pitfalls and narrow, channelled sections pinched tires and flipped bikes over with glee.
After three laps and 30km of this bedlam our sponsor, The Bike Shop, served up a hearty sausage lunch and ice cold beer as we swapped tales of gore and glory.”
The other riders I convinced to compete on the day were Ben Turner, Renier Claasen, Chris Hoddington, Will Mackereth, Stuart Furness, Nikke Ruokoleinen, Bernd Baunuck, and Felix Gruber. Well done men, you’ve proven that you’ve got what it takes.
To find out more about where to ride a mountain bike in the environs of Saigon visit facebook.com/thebikeshopvn