Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cyclists kick off Games preps

Cyclists strain uphill during the road race in Nay Pyi Taw on March 24. Douglas Long/ The Myanmar TimesCyclists strain uphill during the road race in Nay Pyi Taw on March 24. Douglas Long/ The Myanmar Times

Myanmar cyclists kicked off their long build-up to the 2013 Southeast Asia Games with a weekend of racing in Nay Pyi Taw on March 24 and 25, organised by the Myanmar Cycling Federation and sponsored by Myan Shwe Pyi Ltd Caterpillar dealership.

The schedule featured road races on March 24, followed by BMX, mountain bike cross-country, and mountain bike downhill competitions the next day.

The races marked the first time competitive events were held on the cycling courses designed for the 27th SEA Games, slated to be held in Myanmar in December 2013.

The road race, which started at 7:20am, attracted 43 male cyclists and seven women.

The men’s 120 kilometre (74 mile) race started calmly enough, with the riders staying in one group as they pedalled their way out of Nay Pyi Taw. A few half-hearted attacks on downhill stretches of the course were quickly brought back by the stronger riders.

The first selection occurred about 30 kilometres (18 miles) into the race, when a group of 11 cyclists pushed the pace while ascending a short, steep hill, leaving the others struggling in their wake. The front group consisted of Phyo Wai Zin, Chit Ko Ko, Myo Thiha and Kyaw Kyaw Do (Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation); Myint Aye, Kyaw Myo Hlaing and Win Hlaing (Ministry of Finance and Revenue); Kyaw Min Oo and Aung Phyo Wai (Maxxis); and Abrial and Australian rider Ben Rowse (Bike World).

The front 11 did not stay together for very long, splitting in half a few kilometres later on the next big climb. Making the cut up front were Mr Rowse, Phyo Wai Zin, Chit Ko Ko, Myo Thiha, Kyaw Myo Hlaing and Aung Phyo Wai, and by the halfway point of the race they had forged a gap of 3 minutes, 13 seconds over the next group on the road.

The cyclists had enjoyed a tailwind on the way out of town, but after the turnaround on the out-and-back course they faced 60 kilometres of pedalling into a strong headwind that sent dust clouds billowing across the road and considerably slowed the pace of the race.

The front six riders looked set to battle it out for top honours, but with 40 kilometres (25 miles) to go Myo Thiha had to drop back when his right pedal broke, leaving five in the lead group.

About 1 kilometre later Chit Ko Ko launched a devastating attack on the longest, steepest hill on the course, leaving the other riders gasping for breath. His Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation teammate Phyo Wai Zin caught back on the descent, while Mr Rowse, Kyaw Myo Hlaing and Aung Phyo Wai formed their own small group behind and laboured into the headwind.

Chit Ko Ko and Phyo Wai Zin blazed their way toward the finish line, and it was clear that they would take the top two spots, but with about 6 kilometres to go the teammates touched wheels, causing Phyo Wai Zin to lose control of his bike and hit the pavement at high speed.

He was up in a flash and back on his bike, while Chit Ko Ko, with frequent looks over his shoulder, was clearly divided about whether to get to the finish line as quickly as possible or sit up and wait for his teammate so they could cross the line together.

He finally decided to forge on alone, winning the race with a time of 3 hours, 21 minutes and 52 seconds. Phyo Wai Zin came home 36 seconds later, and then spectators had to wait more than 4 minutes to see who would round out the top five. In the end it was Aung Phyo Wai, Kyaw Myo Hlaing and Mr Rowse, in that order.

The women’s 70 kilometre (43 mile) road race was won by Mu Mu Aye (Original Group), who finished in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 35 seconds, a massive nine and half minutes ahead of second place rider Aye Aye Thin (Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries). The top three was rounded out by Lway Aye Shwe Yin (Institute of Sport and Physical Education) who finished a further 5 minutes, 31 seconds back.

The wind was still howling the following morning, shrouding the mountain biking and BMX courses at Mount Pleasant in a haze of red dust.

The weather conditions did not seem to bother the 38 men who tackled the first national-level cross-country mountain bike race to be held in Myanmar. The event was contested over six laps on the rigorous 4.1 kilometre (2.5 mile) course designed for the SEA Games, which featured plenty of steep hills, sharp turns and deep sand.

The top two places were sorted within seconds of the start of the race, as Sai Aung Khant (Institute of Sport and Physical Education) blazed down the first hill and through the tricky 150-degree right-hand turn at the bottom with a small gap over Ben Rowse (Bike World), with the rest of the field pedalling madly to limit their losses.

Sai Aung Khant maintained his lead position throughout the race, covering the 24.6 kilometres (15 miles) in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 36 seconds. Mr Rowse finished in second place, 5 minutes and 13 seconds behind, leading home a multinational bloc of riders sponsored by Bike World, including Charlie Nathanson from Sweden, Tom Howe from Britain and Kyaw Hlaing from Myanmar in third, fourth and fifth places.

Eighteen men entered the mountain bike downhill race, the riders starting one at a time with the goal of getting to the bottom of the narrow 1.5 kilometre (1 mile) track as quickly as possible.

The fastest time of 2 minutes, 53 seconds was clocked by Myat Thuya Zaw (Institute of Sport and Physical Education), while second and third places were taken by Soe Thant from the institute (2 minutes, 55 seconds) and Aung Naing Tun from the Mandalay Free Riders (3 minutes, 18 seconds) respectively.

Sai Aung Hlaing Sai (Mandalay Free Riders) and Ben Rowse (Bike World) rounded out the top five.

The BMX races attracted five male and two female competitors. The top three in the men’s event were Zar Ni, Thuya Zaw and Kyaw Tun Oo, in that order, all from the Institute of Sport and Physical Education. Lway Aye Shwe Yin from the institute won the women’s race.

John Singh, chief commissar for the Myanmar Cycling Federation (MCF), described the weekend of racing as “very fine”.

“At present we are doing our best to prepare for the SEA Games. We have new, young bloods coming up and I think the future is golden for them. We have a camp where our athletes train around the week under the guidance of a South Korean coach,” he said.

Mr Singh said the events in Nay Pyi Taw would help not only the athletes but also the MCF in preparing for next year’s SEA Games.

“This was the first national-level event for cross-country, downhill and BMX ever held in Myanmar. It is a great experience for us, especially for the down hill event, learning how to communicate. We looked at the events [at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia] and we need some electronic timing equipment to be more perfect,” he said.

Third-place mountain bike cross-country finisher Charlie Nathanson, a laboratory consultant for quality control for clinical laboratories, said the race course designed for the SEA Games was “fantastic”.

“I was really surprised. It’s great and it’s hard and I’m sure [the MCF] can do a good job for the SEA games,” he said. “The race had great organisation, it’s been a fantastic atmosphere, and it’s just fantastic to come here. It’s a nice place to organise the whole event.”

However, he added that the local cyclists had quite a bit of work to do before they could be competitive at the international level.

“Some of the Myanmar cyclists were much better than I expected, but in general it’s quite clear that there’s a bit to be done for the cycling here in the country,” Mr Nathanson said.

The total prize list for the entire weekend of racing was K4.96 million, including K330,000, K180,000 and K130,000 respectively for the top three finishers in each event.

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