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Posts Tagged ‘Bicycle racing Myanmar Burma

Hammer time at the Tour of Thailand

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Kyaw Tun Oo of the Myanmar National Team gets a water bottle hand-up during the Tour of Thailand.

In the sport of bicycle racing, the word “hammer” has several uses. It can be a verb indicating the act of riding very hard and very fast while feeling no pain: “He hammered up the hill, leaving everyone gasping in his wake.” To “put the hammer down” is to initiate the act the hammering.

In the noun form, a “hammer” is a cyclist renowned for his ability to hammer. And to “get hammered” is to be spat out the back of the race as the result of the efforts of hammers who are hammering away at the front. As the old saying goes, sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the anvil.

In this year’s Tour of Thailand bicycle stage race, held in the country’s northeast from April 1 to 6, the five-man Myanmar National Team were among those who got hammered.


The Myanmar team (left to right): Ben Rowse, Chit Ko Ko, Soe Thant, Kyaw Tun Oo and Mang Tin Kung.

Myanmar was one of seven national teams – along with Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Bahrain – invited to take part in this year’s race. The 13 other participants were sponsored trade teams from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Kazakhstan, Iran and the Netherlands. The races on each day ranged in length from 132 kilometers (82 miles) to 231km for a total distance of 1057km. Like the Tour de France, there was a stage winner each day, plus a “general classification” based on the riders’ accumulated overall times.

As a member of the Myanmar Cycling Federation’s executive committee in charge of road cycling development, I accompanied the team to Thailand in the capacity of manager, which, despite my three decades of involvement in the sport, was a role I had never before filled. I once read an interview with the manager of a professional cycling team who said the best days for any team’s support staff were those in which nothing dramatic happened in the race. It was only after surviving Stage 1 of the Tour of Thailand that I came to fully appreciate these words.

The first clue that things might go wrong occurred at the team meeting the night before the race started, when I drew number 13 in the lottery to determine the order of the 20 support vehicles that would follow the riders. Professional cyclists in Europe who are assigned 13 usually pin the numbers upside down onto their jerseys to undo any potential ill luck. But when it came time for me to affix those impious numerals to our pickup truck, I thought, “This is Asia. Thirteen isn’t considered unlucky here,” and stuck them on right-side up. The gremlins of misfortune must have chortled in glee at my dim-witted miscalculation, but I was deaf to their spiteful mirth.

Indeed, the first day of the Tour of Thailand was nothing short of a calamity for our team. Just 30km into the 187km race from Ubon Ratchathani to Mukdahan, the race radio crackled with the news that there had been a high-speed crash, and that one of Myanmar’s riders was involved.

As manager and driver of the support vehicle carrying our spare bikes and wheels, it was my job to put the pedal to the metal, drive like a bedlamite to the accident site and offer assistance to our stricken rider.

Urged on by the hysterical shrieks of Myanmar coaches U Naing Win and U Khin Myint, who were with me in the truck, I pulled up to the scene of carnage to find one of our cyclists, Mang Tin Kung, sitting in the middle of the road already getting his injured wrist bandaged by medical personnel. Meanwhile, the frantic coaches leapt from the pickup and performed some quick repairs on the damaged bicycle. Within seconds, Mang Tin Kung was back in the saddle and on his way.


Among the daily spectators were elderly cyclists inspired to take up the sport by recreational rides held in honour of the country’s king and queen.

Bicycle racers are generally a resilient lot – the polar opposite of football players, who can’t seem to stop themselves from flopping to the ground in feigned injury whenever another player passes within half a meter – and despite skidding across the scorching-hot pavement at 50kph, Mang Tin Kung was keen to continue racing. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against him: Unable to grip the handlebars due to his fractured wrist, and stuck in a monstrously high gear compliments of a broken rear derailleur, he gamely struggled on in agony for more than 10km before realizing there was no way he could catch the main group of nearly 100 riders, who were racing at full tilt and weren’t about to slow down for anyone. Mang Tin Kung’s race was over before it had even begun.

From this bleak start, the day never really improved. Not long after Mang Tin Kung’s retirement, and before we had even reached the halfway point, another of our cyclists – Australian Ben Rowse, the sole non-Myanmar rider on the team – suffered a flat tire just as the race pace was increasing from torrid to downright infernal. Again I responded to the race officials’ radio instructions to speed forward like a lunatic to where Rowse was awaiting mechanical succor by the roadside. The coaches tossed him a spare wheel, and he was quickly back on the road chasing the relentlessly charging peloton.

Incredibly, after pedaling furiously for nearly 30 minutes – all the while, his bike computer unhelpfully informing him that his heart was thumping away in excess of 180 beats per minute – Rowse was able to catch back up to the main group. But he squandered all of his physical resources doing so and, a few kilometers later and sapped of all energy, he dropped off the back and was forced to abandon.


The teams begin to gather for the start of another day at the Tour of Thailand.

By the finish line, two more Myanmar National Team riders – Chit Ko Ko and Soe Thant – had also quit, victims of the first stage’s Tour-de-France-worthy average pace of 45kph over more than four hours of racing in 38 Celsius heat. They were simply undertrained and psychologically unprepared for the difficulties of the day. That left us with one finisher, 21-year-old Kyaw Tun Oo, who crossed the line tucked safely in the main field more than 10 minutes behind a couple of smaller, faster groups of riders who had taken off up the road.

While our riders were getting hammered out on the course, I was also facing personal challenges in my first experience as a support vehicle driver, which basically involves several hours of fighting for position on limited road space with 19 other team car drivers, all of whom are intent on handing up water bottles and food to their riders, changing wheels as quickly as possible when flat tires occur, and fixing bikes that have been broken by crashes. I was just happy to make it through the day without nose-diving into a roadside ditch or running anyone over.

The good news was that after Stage 1, the rest of the race was relatively incident-free as far as we were concerned. This was largely due to the fact that, according to the rules of stage racing, riders must finish each stage to continue the next day. Our team’s four abandons from Stage 1 were therefore out of the race for good, meaning that U Naing Win, U Khin Myint and I only had Kyaw Tun Oo to look after for the remaining five stages. Each day Kyaw Tun Oo finished strongly in the main group, avoiding crashes and suffering only one flat tire, on Stage 3, after which he was able to chase back to the main group without much trouble.

Kyaw Tun Oo’s riding was astute enough to catch the attention of the other teams, and managers from the Netherlands, Taiwan, Malaysia and other countries approached to tell me how impressed they were with his performance, despite the obvious shortcomings of Myanmar’s national team program.


Sweat-drenched Kyaw Tun Oo survives Stage 2. Only four more days to go.

Like most institutions under this country’s odious military government of decades past, for years the Myanmar Cycling Federation was largely dysfunctional, contributing little to the advancement of the sport and, at times, actively suppressing its development – this latter point was aptly illustrated by a bewildering incident in 2005 when MCF officials actually called in the police to prevent a well-organized and well-sponsored mountain bike race from taking place north of Yangon.

But in the past couple of years the federation has turned a page under a new president who is passionate about, and understands, the sport of cycling. More races are taking place each year, and more riders are participating in these competitions. Most important, more locals are simply getting out on their bikes for recreation under the auspices of vital, independent organizations like Bicycle Network Myanmar.

For now, Myanmar’s top riders are struggling just to finish big international races like the Tour of Thailand, but the pool of potential champions is set to grow, and it won’t be long before a hammer from Myanmar is hammering at the front of the pack, putting the hurt on the cyclists getting hammered at the rear of the peloton.


This article was originally published in the July 22-28 edition of The Myanmar Times Weekend magazine.



Myanmar Cycling Federation seeks to build on success of Asian BMX Championships

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The 10th Asian Continental BMX Championships, held in Nay Pyi Taw on October 31, not only provided a day of exciting international competition – it was also the first cycling event ever held in Myanmar with official endorsement from the sport’s governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI).

The BMX race was attended by Boowong Choi, secretary general of the Asian Cycling Confederation under the UCI, who said he was dedicated to bringing championship-level events to as many Asian countries as possible.

“We have 11 Southeast Asian countries in the ACC but only a few have held championship events. Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and others have never organized events at the championship level. If we give them more chances to host races, cycling will grow in the region,” he said.

In that regard, Myanmar is now ahead of the game in Southeast Asia after having hosted last weekend’s competition. But there is still much room for improvement, he said.

“The level of organization in Myanmar is low compared with Europe, Korea, China – but with more experience I think they will improve,” Choi said.

Myanmar Cycling Federation president U Khin Maung Win agreed that local organizers still had much to learn, but added that for a first-time event in Myanmar, everything came together surprisingly well.

“There was fantastic participation from a lot of Asian countries. There was a lot of support from the UCI. So the future looks good,” he said. “This is another milestone in creating better awareness about cycling in Myanmar. We’re very, very excited.”

Thai-American racer Amanda Carr, who won gold in the Elite Women’s event and who also serves as a BMX track operator in Florida in the United States, said the championships in Nay Pyi Taw were a “really good start for the country”.

“It’s nice to see how much Myanmar is investing into BMX as a sport,” she said.

Among the shortcomings mentioned by participants was the design of the track, which was built for use in the 2013 SEA Games. But BMX racers are a hearty bunch, and they weren’t about to let poorly banked corners or rough surfaces get them down.

“The track here is unique,” elite-level Japanese rider Takamasa Sampei said diplomatically, “so we just have to adjust the way we ride.”

Such problems can potentially be addressed in the near future, as the MCF is currently considering whether to build a new BMX track on land allotted by the Ministry of Sports in North Dagon township.

A short cross-country mountain bike course is already under construction at the site, which will be inaugurated with races scheduled from December 11 to 13.

The federation has also been allotted a 9800-square-metre plot in Kyaikkasan sports ground, which is suitable for construction of a velodrome. However, no funding has been allocated, nor has a time-frame for construction been set.

As for future UCI-sanctioned events, Mr Choi has already opened discussions with the MCF about holding the Asian Continental Mountain Bike Championships in Myanmar in late 2016 or early 2017. Let the nationwide search for world-class cross-country and downhill courses begin.

Written by latefornowhere

November 6, 2015 at 11:53 am

Myanmar’s Khine Zin Moe races to bronze at Asian BMX championships

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Myanmar’s Zar Ni competes in the Elite Men moto round.

Surrounded by Asia’s best, including several with Olympic aspirations, Myanmar’s Khine Zin Moe forced herself into a medal finish at the Asian Continental BMX Championships, held in Nay Pyi Taw on October 31.

The event showcased the talents of 58 riders from 10 countries across Asia, including Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand.

The day started well for Myanmar when Khine Zin Moe posted the fastest effort in the qualifying time trial among the nine entrants in the Junior Women’s category.

Her blazing pace around the course earned her first choice of position at the starting gate in the moto round, where she finished second in her heat behind Sienna Fines from the Philippines, ranked 35th in the world.

Indonesia’s Tifiana Adine Almira Azaria, meanwhile, suffered a hard fall in the third moto that had race officials concerned she might have severed a finger, but she walked off with a deep cut and fracture instead.

In the finals no one was able to match Fines, who snatched gold just in front of world number 34 Chutikan Kitwanitsathian from Thailand. Khine Zin Moe crossed the line in the bronze position, to loud applause from the partisan home crowd.

“It was a very good experience racing against high-level international competitors,” Khine Zin Moe told The Myanmar Times after the awards ceremony. “I felt some pressure to perform, but for me it was home ground. This gave me courage to race against the others. I was not afraid at all.”

Despite her victory, Fines confessed to dealing with a fit of anxiety before the start.

“I was very nervous because it’s my first race back after a three-month injury, so I’m really happy to win,” she said.

Myanmar also made a valiant showing among the Elite Men, whose 19-deep field included 12 world-ranked cyclists. Nay Pyi Taw-based Zar Ni impressed with seventh place in the qualifying time trial, and then finished fourth in his heat in the moto round – just enough to squeak into the semi-finals.

Zar Ni (left) and the rest of the Myanmar team congregate before the start of the racing.

But it proved to be one round too far as Zar Ni was unable to find his rhythm on the track’s lumpy bits and finished outside the top four finals qualifiers in his heat.

Among the eight competitors in the finals, five were from Japan – and like the 2014 Asian Championships in Indonesia, they swept the podium: World number 39 Yoshitaku Nagasako repeated as champion, Jukia Yoshimura traded last year’s bronze for silver, and Tatsumi Matsushita crossed the line in third.

Four Myanmar cyclists line up in the Junior Men’s race. Khun Aung Thein and Kuang Htet Thar made to through the moto round and advanced to the semi-finals, where their quests for glory came to an end. Japanese riders Daichi Yamaguchi and Yuto Hasegawa took gold and silver respectively, while bronze went to Thailand’s Sitthichok Kaewsrikhao.

China’s Lan Yu (left), Amanda Carr (center) and Japan’s Haruka Seko pose with their medals.

There were no Myanmar entrants in the Elite Women’s category, which was dominated by Thai-American racer Amanda Carr, ranked 14th in the world. She crossed the line first each time she set rubber to the track, from the qualifying time trial, through the moto round and on to the finals. China’s Lan Yu had to content herself with silver, and Japan nabbed yet another medal with Haruka Seko’s bronze.

For Carr, earning International Cycling Union points in Nay Pyi Taw was another step toward her goal of representing Thailand in the 2016 Olympics.

“Olympic qualification is a two-year process, from May 31, 2014, to May 31, 2016, so I have to travel worldwide. Already this year I’ve competed over 24 times,” she said. Up next for Carr are races in Japan and Thailand, all with an eye toward Rio.

Thailand’s Amanda Carr takes out a strong lead over the remainder of the Elite Women’s field.

Written by latefornowhere

November 5, 2015 at 12:48 am

Taunggyi cycling weekend: My races

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In action in Taunggyi. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

The fourth round of the year-long MSP Cycle and Make a Difference Charity Series was held in Taunngyi, southern Shan State, Myanmar, on May 30 and 31.

This time I attended as a cyclist rather than as a journalist, although taking part in the road race required borrowing a bicycle from Bike World that was affixed with appropriate mountain-goat gearing: a vintage 1983 Pinarello with aluminum Vitus tubing. It was a fun, lightweight bike that would prove to be an asset on the uphills but a bit unstable when the speeds got too high on the descents.

Excluding the neutralized start (see below), the race was run on a 54 kilometer out-and-back course starting with a fast 5km descent followed by 10km of flat riding, a harrowing 7km climb with switchbacks, and a slightly downhill and flat 5km run to the turnaround.

The race started at 6:30am at Bogyoke Park in the center of town, but the prelude was a slow neutralized start for the steep, 10km descent off the Taunggyi Plateau to the real start line in the town of Aythaya, home to Myanmar’s first European-style winery.


Negotiating the neutralized descent from Taunggyi. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

We stopped there for a quick photo-op, and then the starting gun was fired – at which point a group of elite riders from Nay Pyi Taw went to the front and flew down the first hill at a pace that had my crusty old Pinarello suffering from speed wobbles. I reached a top speed of 66.6kph, and later learned that the faster guys had exceeded 85kph. At any rate, the front guys slowed down when we passed through the toll gate at the bottom of the hill, allowing me and a few others to latch onto the back of the front group.

Once on the flatlands, the race was largely shaped by the lack of any tactical sense among the younger cyclists. The action (or lack thereof) started when one rider jumped off the front. In response, a single rider moved to the front of the peloton and set a tepid pace. No one would help him work, not even his teammates. Then another rider jumped off the front to join the solo break, and the single-rider chase effort was repeated. After a third guy escaped, the pace in our group dropped to about 30kph. The race for the top three places was effectively over.

Did I contribute to the pace? No, I did not. Among my excuses were: I was the sole Bike World rider in the race (and also the only foreigner), and so lacked teammates with/for whom to work; my training time is limited to five to six hours a week, compared with the 30-plus hours logged by the Nay Pyi Taw riders; and I was twice the age of most of the other cyclists – let the young’uns do the work.

Plus, I had to save some energy for the 7km climb. As soon as the road started sloping upward, I watched the fast climbers pedal off as I settled into my own pace, which was enough to leave a few of the sprinter-types in my wake. One young Nay Pyi Taw rider followed me most of the way up, only to “attack” and leave me behind about 1km from the top.

Just past the crest I caught another rider who had taken off at the start of the climb but had not been able to hold the pace of the fast climbers. He sat on my wheel during the entire 5km to the turnaround at Heho Airport, at which point he went to the front to take his turn. But our speed immediately dropped by about 3-4kph, so I went back to the front and set the pace all the way up the gentle slope to the top of the long descent.

We swooped through the hairpins and flew past trucks, cars and motorcycles, and we caught the rider who had followed me up the climb. He latched onto us for a while, but then, inexplicably, he tried to pass me on the inside of curve as we crossed a set of railroad tracks. It was a bad move as there was no space between me and the edge of the road – I felt his elbow hit my right hip, and then heard his bike hit the pavement at about 50kph. By now we were near the bottom of the hill, where an ambulance was parked alongside the road; as I sped past, I shouted for them to drive back up and check the rider who had just crashed.

Meanwhile, me and other rider continued toward the finish. Knowing that I was unlikely to catch anyone ahead of us, and determined more than anything to get in a good training ride, I went to the front and did all the work along the entire 10km flat section without asking the other rider to pull through. I tried to keep up a decent pace, at times threading the needle down the center line between slow-moving trucks in our lane and oncoming cars in the other lane.

I was pretty toasted by the time we passed back through the toll booth, at which point we faced the 5km climb back up to the finish line. I moved over and waved the other rider onward: He promptly pedaled past and finished about a minute ahead of me. Incredibly, the guy who had crashed on the descent caught me about halfway up the climb: Having flown off his bike and landed in the vegetation alongside the road, he had suffered only a few minor abrasions on his arms and legs.


Approaching the finish line in Aythaya with my very own police escort. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

With fewer than five riders over the age of 40 in the race, we middle-agers were not given our own age category. Still, my efforts were enough to earn me fourth place in the Over-26 age category, which was a bit better than I had expected. The mountain bike race the next day did attract five 40-plus riders, myself included, so in this case we were given our own age group.

The mountain bike course was about 5km outside of Taunggyi toward Hopong. It was a nice 4km loop – which we did five times for a short, fast race – winding through a pine forest, starting with a fast, swoopy downhill and then a sharp right turn onto a short but very steep climb. Deceptively, the apparent top was not really the top: Although the grade lessened considerably, there was another 200 meters of slightly uphill grinding before hitting the next downhill. This section flummoxed quite a few riders who pushed too hard on the steep section and had little left to keep pedaling.


Near the start of the mountain bike race. (Photo: Thandar Khine)

The backside of the course featured a short, easy climb, another descent, another tough hill and then the fast descent to the start/finish. Rain the previous evening had made the red soil quite tacky, and the added grip meant that braking was required at only three or four points around the entire course.


Speeding across the red soil of Shan State. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

I was one of the few riders who tackled both races over the weekend, and my legs were a bit heavy from the road race so I tried to get a good warm-up on the paved road near the course. Still, I lined up at the very back at the start so the young racers with something to prove could race without interference from my relatively slow-moving self.


Passing near the start/finish area. (Photo: Thandar Khine)

Still, I managed to pass five or six riders on the first descent, and despite my determination to take it relatively easy on the first lap, I dropped two more on the first climb. The first two laps were pretty painful, but by the third time up the most difficult hill I was feeling pretty good and started picking off riders who had started too fast. I passed five or six more before the finish, and during the entire race was caught by only one rider on the last lap. I kept him in my sights all the way to line, and when the dust settled I found that I had finished second in the Over-40 age group, bested by a very short, very fast 40-year-old from the Myanmar/Thailand border town of Tachileik.


Waiting for the awards ceremony with the other medalists. Over-40 winner Sai Tun Aung is standing just behind me in the orange jersey and blue Sky cap. (Photo: Aung Win Tun)


Shaking hands with race organizer Khin Maung Win. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

SEA Games Preview Part 1: Myanmar’s cyclists begin their slow revolution

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Thuzar trains in Nay Pyi Taw – the only woman to represent Myanmar in the cycling events at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore.

The cyclists residing at the Nay Pyi Taw Youth Training Camp hit the road at dawn. Even then, before the sun clears the horizon, the temperature is already climbing. Soon it will be high enough to induce perspiration with even the slightest of movements.

On this morning the athletes – nine men and one woman – ride along flat roads for 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the foot of Mount Pleasant north of the city, where the real workout begins: They blast up the relentlessly steep 9km climb, their legs churning and their lungs heaving as they leave trails of sweat on the pavement.


The road to the peak of Mount Pleasant.

One by one they struggle to the peak, where they coast to a stop so that staff from the Myanmar Cycling Federation (MCF) can record their pulse rates. Once everyone has finished the climb, road cycling coach Lu Jiang Zhong from China gathers the riders together to assess their performance, which he deems sub-par: He gives them grief for failing to achieve their maximum heart rates. As hard as they pedaled, it just wasn’t hard enough. The coach tells them to ride back down the long hill and climb it again, this time with greater effort.


Crossing the line at the top.


Road cycling coach Lu Jiang Zhong uses the manual method to count heartbeats.

When Myanmar announced its target of 50 gold medals for the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore, gymnastics, fencing, sailing and petanque were all called upon to contribute. There was no such expectation for cycling.

Following investment across the sporting landscape, at the 2013 SEA Games Myanmar climbed to long-forgotten heights in the games’ medal table. Overall, the nation finished second in the gold medal tally with 86 to Thailand’s 107, and came fourth in the overall medal count after Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

But in 13 cycling events with 39 medals on offer, Myanmar earned only a single bronze. Otherwise, the local riders were well off the pace, if they managed to finish at all.

With medals driving investment, the immediate task to revive Myanmar’s cycling fortunes falls to just three of the 10 pedalers. Among the three cyclists chosen to attend the Games in Singapore is Soe Thant, 21, from Pyinmana. He will wear one of the two Myanmar jerseys that will appear in the 165km men’s mass-start road race scheduled for June 14.

Born into a family of farmers, Soe Thant quit school in 9th standard, at the age of 15, to attend the government-run sports academy in Mandalay. “I would be a farmer too if I wasn’t an athlete,” he said. “But my parents are proud that I’m a cyclist. They’re proud that I can represent Myanmar in the SEA Games.”

Soe Thant started his athletic career as a runner, but after his arrival in Mandalay he was chosen by the MCF for development as a cyclist. His competed in his first bike races in Nay Pyi Taw in 2011, where he finished fourth in both the 1km and 4km individual time trial events.

In 2013 he rode in the downhill mountain bike race at the 27th SEA Games in Myanmar, where he finished a dismal 10th out of 11 competitors. The MCF blamed the poor result on mechanical problems with his bicycle. But once word came that there would be no downhill mountain biking in Singapore, Soe Thant switched to road racing.

Also on the scorching peak of Mount Pleasant, Thuzar, 24, is recovering from her second leg-breaking ascent of the climb. She is the only woman in the elite training group, and she’s been picked as Myanmar’s sole entry in the Singapore SEA Games 114km women’s mass-start road race on June 13.

A native of Monywa, Sagaing Region, where her parents are farmers, she joined the Yangon sports academy after matriculation to train for middle-distance running, but the MCF nabbed her for cycling based on her height and weight.

Like Soe Thant, her first races were 1km and 4km time trials in Nay Pyi Taw in 2011, where she finished first and second respectively. And like Soe Thant, she started as a downhill mountain biker but has now switched to road racing. She said the transition from runner to mountain biker to road racer has not been easy.

“Cycling is very strenuous mentally and physically. It’s much harder than running,” she said. “When I was just starting, my inexperience also had a psychological effect. I was afraid of punctures, crashes and riding in a group of cyclists. Those were the most worrisome things for me, but now I’m okay with it.”

She said her mother is not particularly happy about her athletic pursuits. “She thinks cycling is something only boys should do, and she’s afraid because it’s a dangerous sport. She worries I’ll crash my bicycle,” Thuzar said, adding that she has compromised with her family by joining a three-year distance learning program in economics while living at the training center.

Her mother’s consternation aside, Thuzar said she was happy in Nay Pyi Taw.

“We have all the facilities we need and people to guide us the right way,” she said. “Since switching from mountain biking, I’ve only had about 10 months of training as a road racer, so the time is very short to aim for gold at the Singapore SEA Games. But in another four years I think I can do it. I just have to be patient.”

In the meantime, she said she will try her best in Singapore. “Even though I’ll be competing without any teammates, I have confidence in my training,” Thuzar said. “I will fight to my last breath.”

This article was originally published in the June 2 edition of The Myanmar Times.

Road-race to Mandalay

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My story on last weekend’s cycling events, published in the April 1 edition of The Myanmar Times:


Nyan Linn Htet (006) and Kyaw Htet Aung lead a group of cyclists on the Mandalay Hill climb. Photo: Douglas Long / The Myanmar Times

Competitive cycling in Myanmar took a step forward last weekend when the third leg of the inaugural Cycle and Make a Difference Charity Series hosted the country’s first-ever nighttime mountain bike race in Mandalay.

Held on March 27 – as part of a three-day cycling competition that also included a road race on March 28 and a cross-country mountain bike event on the final day – the event was described as a “milestone for the local cycling scene” by Khin Maung Win, owner of Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors, the series sponsor.

“I think the cyclists found it rewarding. Riders came from all over Myanmar to compete. It was quite amazing to see them all here,” he added.

The winner of each event was given a K1 million certificate to donate to a charitable organisation that works in a community in the vicinity of the race course.

The night race, which started at 7pm at the Nature’s Life Sporting Ground near the base of Yankin Hill, consisted of 10 laps of a fast 5-kilometre (3-mile) course, contested by relay teams made up of three to five riders each. The rules stipulated that no rider could do more than two consecutive laps before handing off to a teammate. Fourteen teams participated.

The winning team of Sai Aung Hlaing Sae, Aung Naing Tun and Sunny Aye, representing the Mandalay Free Riders cycling club, finished in front of a screaming crowd with a time of 2h 4m 47s, just 18 seconds ahead of a three-man team from Nay Pyi Taw.

The 50km road race on March 28 started with a quick cruise around Mandalay Palace before diverting northward onto a tough circuit that included three leg-curdling ascents of Mandalay Hill. The tattered field of 45 riders then faced a long, flat stretch to the finish line in an industrial zone southeast of the city.

The race was won by 37-year-old Min Min Han from Mandalay in time of 1h 24m 5s, with Chit Ko Ko, 21, trailing in second place by 11 seconds.

Min Min Han – who also managed third place in the over-26 age group in the cross-country mountain bike race on March 29, despite having to dismount to squeeze past a truck that briefly blocked the course – was modest about his accomplishments.

“It was a good weekend for me,” he said.

The cross-country mountain bike race – five laps of the same 5km circuit used for the night relay – was taken out by Zaw Win Ko with a time of 59m 10s. He bested his nearest competitor, Sai Aung Hlaing Sae, by 8 seconds. More than 50 cyclists participated in the race.

The women’s road and cross-country races were both won handily by 21-year-old Tin Win Kyi, a triathlete currently residing at the Youth Training Centre in Nay Pyi Taw.

“The mountain bike course was okay. It wasn’t too tough for me,” she said, “but the end of the road course had too much traffic. I had to ride carefully.”

June’s Singapore SEA Games have come too early for the youngster who has only recently joined the sporting academy, but on the basis of this performance she will be one to watch for the future when the 2017 Games roll around.

The series consists of events held every two months in different locations around Myanmar. The first event took place in Yangon last November and the second in Nay Pyi Taw in January. The fourth round is tentatively scheduled to be held in Taunggyi, Shan State, in late May or early June.

Jeff Parry, an Australian cycling guru who lives in Yangon and who participated in the night relay and cross-country races, described the weekend as a “very well-organised carnival of cycling”.

“The mountain bike course was a nice, well-chosen track with a bit of everything,” he said. “I’m already looking forward to the next event in Taunggyi.”

Written by latefornowhere

April 1, 2015 at 3:02 am

Mandalay mountain bike race

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On the last day of the Mandalay cycling weekend, I decided to participate instead of taking photos. The course was the same as Friday night: A 5km (3-mile) loop with a series of short, steady climbs and quick downhills, with nothing too technical. We did five laps, which the fastest riders completed in about one hour. My time was 1 hour 9 minutes, which was good enough for 8th place out of 29 riders in the over-26 age group. Below are some of the photos I took after the race.


The top finishers had blood drawn for drug testing.


A couple of the elder statesmen of the cycling scene.


Awards ceremony.


The Mandalay Free Riders mountain bike club.


Tin Win Kyi, first place in the women’s road race March 28, first place in the women’s XC mountain bike race March 29. Triathlete-in-training at the national youth training center in Nay Pyi Taw.


That’s me after my race. (Photo: Khin Maung Win)

Written by latefornowhere

March 31, 2015 at 1:07 am

Mandalay bicycle road race photo album

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The nighttime relay race on March 27 was followed the next morning by a 50-kilometer (30-mile) road race that started near Mandalay Palace, diverted onto a circuit that included three tough ascents of Mandalay Hill, and ended with a long flat section to the finish line. Lots of photos below, many of which I took from the back of a hired motorcycle.


Gathered for the 6am start.



Crash on the first straight section.










On Mandalay Hill.







Baffled tourists watch a rider crest Mandalay Hill.






Written by latefornowhere

March 29, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Fast times at the latest 11 Hills Challenge Bike Race

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Blog.11 Hills Ye Kyaw Sawer

Mountain biker Ye Kyaw crosses the finish line.

During the week leading up to the Bike World 11 Hills Challenge on February 8, I had vacillated between whether to ride my mountain bike (so I could compare my time with the dismal 1h 47m pace I had set in October) or my road bike (so I could enjoy the smooth roads and set a faster time). Ultimately I decided on the latter.

In any case, I had been looking forward to the ride because I’m now in much better shape than I was in October (when the main challenge had been merely surviving the distance), and I had lost more than 8kg (18 pounds) during the intervening period, which would help tremendously with getting over the hills more quickly.

The race attracted 49 participants, mostly locals but also a handful of expats, with fewer than 10 of us on road bikes and the rest on mountain bikes (there were separate categories for each).

The race started shortly after 9am, just as the morning coolness was burning off and the heat of the day was taking hold. The starting flag (a folded Ruby Red cigarette carton) was dropped by the monk who runs the Kalitaw School, and to which the fees collected through entry fees were donated after the event.

The out-and-back course – located about 90 minutes by car north of Yangon – totals 38.6km (23.8 miles). The first couple of kilometers are flat and straight, but then the hills begin and the road starts winding in a way that makes it difficult to settle into a rhythm for very long: With the constantly changing need to climb, descend, corner, brake and accelerate, going fast requires a combination of fitness, sound riding technique and mental calmness.

One of the local riders went to the front straight from the start and stared pedaling hard: He was Myint Aye, a former Myanmar Cycling Federation national champion. The rest of us tucked in behind him, content to take advantage of his draft and save energy before the hills started. I was comfortable with the pace as I sat in third or fourth position; this early in the ride, I didn’t bother looking back to see who was following.

As soon as we hit the first slope, two locals on mountain bikes flew past us and accelerated up the hill. One of them died a quick death and faded back into oblivion as Myint Aye powered past, but the other rider got a good gap in front and kept going, his body and bike rocking as he pushed a huge gear. Myint Aye accelerated as he gave chase, putting a gap between himself and the rest of us. I accelerated past the rider in front of me (Maung Maung Soe), and caught up with Myint Aye, and the two of us closed the space between ourselves and the mountain biker.

At this point we sat up a bit, and four or five of the riders behind caught up. I ended up at the front but was reluctant to waste energy so early in the race, so I was happy when Maung Maung Soe came past and took up the pace. His attack lasted about 10 pedal strokes before Myint Aye decided to shed some unwanted baggage (ie, everyone who was not him): He accelerated all the way to the top of the climb and kept going. I accelerated as well, knowing I couldn’t match his pace but determined to use him as a rabbit by keeping him and his orange jersey in my sights as long as possible.

By the top of the hill, Myint Aye had about 5 seconds on me. I glanced back and saw that no one had been able to follow us, so I knew the race was on: I was either going to spend the rest of the time riding alone, or I would be caught by a small group coming back up from behind and we would work together to limit our losses to Myint Aye.

I was able to keep Myint Aye in my sights for a few kilometers, but after that I was in no-man’s land: On the twisting, hilly course, I could see no one in front of me or behind me. I clicked into time trial mode, standing on the pedals up the shorter hills, staying seated and spinning a moderate gear on the longer hills, trying to find a balance between climbing fast and saving enough energy so that once I crested each hill, I could shift into the big chain ring and keep pedaling hard down the other side. Brief respites were provided only by the tight corners and the gritty, sandy sections where I was forced to coast or slow down.

I was using a Garmin computer for the first time on the 11 Hills course, and I’m not sure I enjoyed its companionship: Heading out from the start line, it sat on my handlebars as a constant reminder of so many miles to go, so much more time to spend enduring the pain of riding fast. I was hoping to finish with a time of around 1h 30m, so I expected to reach the turn-around at 45 minutes. At 38 minutes I saw Myint Aye heading back up the road in my direction. Could he already be so far ahead? But two minutes later I was at the end of the course; I turned around and aimed myself back toward the finish line, and then it was time to start pushing a bit harder on the hills. As I passed the other riders coming toward me, I saw that I had a fairly comfortable lead, but I worried that they might also have been saving something for the return ride.

As I grew increasingly fatigued, I found it harder to maintain good riding technique on the tricky course. I felt like my cycling was too choppy, and I was wasting energy with bad gear shifts and bad lines through the corners. I also descended into a mental fog that made me forget the details of the course: The hill on which I really decided to start hammering turned out to be the monster climb with the surprisingly steep finish that was invisible from the bottom – I died about halfway up, and by the time I crested I was barely turning over my gears. On the next hill I made a bad shift and dropped my chain, forcing me to stop, dismount, and put the chain back onto the small front ring. This only took about three seconds, but then I had to restart in the middle of a steep incline, which sapped a bit more power out of my depleted legs.

After this little shock, I focused less on the physical side of the ride and more on calming myself mentally, and from there the rest of race went smoothly; I was able to power up the hills quickly and without too much unnecessary effort, and then swoop through the curves going down the other side. When I reached the final flat section I noticed (compliments of my Garmin) that I was way ahead of my expected time, so I shifted into the biggest gear my legs could handle and pedaled hard in an effort to cross the line in under 1h 20m – a minor goal that I missed by 14 seconds.

Aung Myint had finished in 1h 16m, and we both beat the previous course record of 1h 25m. The next finisher was Maung Maung Soe at 1h 27m. I ended up second overall, and first in the Over-40 age group.

Once everyone was across the line, beer and soft drinks were consumed, stories were told, medals were awarded, and 243,000 kyats were donated to the Kalitaw School, and then it was time to go home. I loaded my bike into the back of my pickup truck and enjoyed the all-too-brief drive through southern Myanmar’s gorgeous countryside before descending back into the gridlock apocalypse of downtown Yangon.

Written by latefornowhere

February 13, 2015 at 8:45 am

11 Hills bike race redux

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Bike race photo 2

The start of the road race Ou Yin Wa village. There’s me in my blue helmet and yellow jersey, flying off the start line like a bolt of mid-pack greased lightning. Photo: MSP

In mid-October I took part in the 11 Hills Challenge Bike Race, as previously covered on this blog. Another race was run on the same course on November 23, this one about 6 kilometers longer and attracting a stronger field of local road racers, including a few national-level riders.

No mountain bikes were allowed this time so I used a road bike, which allowed me to travel a bit faster over the hills: I rode the course in 1 hour, 40 minutes – 7 minutes faster than the October race, despite the additional distance. Like last time, I finished in 15th place overall: no improvement in position, but a significant improvement in performance considering the quality of the other riders. The only real hitch in my ride was losing one of my two water bottles when I hit a big bump in the road toward the beginning of the race. Thankfully the temperatures stayed cool until after I finished, so I was able to milk my one bottle until the end.

A mountain bike race was held later the same day. I didn’t take part in that race, but I did write a story about both races for The Myanmar Times, posted below.

The November 23 event was the first round of a six-race series. The next round will be held in Nay Pyi Taw in the third week of January. Stay tuned …


 Bike races kick off year-long, Myanmar-wide series

Bike race photo 1

Cyclists start the mountain bike race held in Nga Su Taung village in Hlegu township, Yangon Region, on November 23. Photo: MSP

More than 80 local and foreign cyclists converged on Hlegu township north of Yangon on November 23 to participate in a day of road and mountain bike racing.

The event was the first round of a six-race, year-long series organized under the guidelines of the Ministry of Sport and sponsored by Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors Inc (MSP) and the Myanmar Cycling Federation (MCF).

The 46-kilometre (28-mile) road race, which started at 8am, was held on the notorious, vomit-inducing 11 Hills course in Ou Yin Wa village in Hlegu township.

The race was won by Phyo Wai Zin with a time of 1 hour, 22 minutes. He also triumphed in the 19-25 age group, while Kyaw Tun Oo finished first among the under-19s (1h22m). Australian Benjamin Rowse clinched the over-25 title (1h29m).

The cyclists then transferred to nearby Nga Su Taung village for the noon start of the mountain bike race. Poor race directions along a few sections of the challenging course caused some of the leading riders to take wrong turns and suffer disqualifications, but in the end victory was awarded to under-19 competitor Kyaw Tun Oo (55 minutes, 46 seconds).

The 19-25 category was won by Than Naing Soe (57m40s), while the over-25 title was taken by Kyaw San Win (57m10s). The women’s race was won by Ma Su Su Wai (1h20m).

MCF vice president Khin Maung Win – who is also the owner of main sponsor MSP, the authorized dealer for Caterpillar heavy machinery in Myanmar – said his company supports cycling because it is “a great sport and lifestyle that will help achieve better living … We are all winners if more people can cycle regularly and maintain a healthier lifestyle. We want to create awareness by supporting competitive cycling.”

He said the idea for the race series came from an “experienced cyclist” with whom he rides.

“The concept is to support competitive racers to prepare training programs based on an organized race calendar throughout the year,” he said.

The race was the first in a series of six events that will be held over the coming year in different locations all over Myanmar, with competitions scheduled every two months. The next events will be held in Nay Pyi Taw in late January 2015, and in Mandalay in late March.

The race series also has a charity element to it.

“We want to support the communities living in the vicinity of race events,” Khin Maung Win said. “We set aside some funds from our company to do that, but we also welcome other corporate sponsors. We like to support education for children, so the funds will go to either scholarships or school facilities.”

He said future events would see improvements – including installing better race course markers and holding the road and mountain bike races on different days – but for an inaugural event, both races went well.

“This was mainly due to sportsmanship demonstrated by all riders and support from the people of Oo Yin Wa and Nga Su Taung villages, local authorities, the Sports Ministry and the MCF. Our volunteers did a great job,” he said.

Knut Bjorgum, a Norwegian expat living in Yangon who finished 14th in the Over-25 category in the road race, was left with a positive impression of the event.

“The organisers, the challenging and beautiful course, the local riders, the cheering local communities – everything was great,” he said.


Written by latefornowhere

December 1, 2014 at 8:22 am