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Goat-roasting mountain bikers dominate downhill race at Myanmar National Cycling Championships

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After a four-year hiatus, Myanmar’s national cycling championships returned with a vengeance from December 2 to 6, with hard-fought medals awarded in the disciplines of road racing, BMX, mountain bike downhill and mountain bike cross-country.

The Myanmar Cycling Federation (MCF), which organized the event, underwent major restructuring in 2014 and last year set about reviving the sport in the country by holding more events and bringing in more sponsors, such as Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors, Myanmar CP Livestock, 100 Plus and AMI Insurance.

“This is the second year we started seriously organizing cycling races, and the first time in four years we have held the national cycling championships. I think overall it’s a great start,” said MCF president Khin Maung Win.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm among the cyclists. This event has focused more on elite riders, so we don’t see heavy participation from all the cyclists out there who have emerged in the past two or three years. There are many cyclists out there, but this level of competition is something new in Myanmar.”


The championships kicked off with a three-day road stage race. Prizes were awarded to the top finishers on each day, but the national champion’s jersey was given to the cyclist who completed all three days with the fastest accumulated time.

The first race saw the field of 42 competitors ride 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Nyaung U to Meiktila. A crash on a sandy section of road about 30km into the race took down 10 riders, all of whom were able to remount and continue racing. The combination of hills and stiff headwind split the field into small groups, with SEA Games veteran Soe Thant from the National A Team taking the win in a time of 4 hours, 48 minutes, 18 seconds. His teammate Aung Phyo Min finished second at 3 seconds, while third-place Zin Lin Ko crossed the line 2m 16s behind the winner.


Day two from Meiktila to Pyinmana was similarly contested over 160km, but the course was flatter and swifter than day one. Another crash occurred about 20km into the race when an errant canine dashed through the middle of the group of fast-moving cyclists, causing Aung Ko Oo (Speed Team) to hit the deck. The unfortunate cyclist suffered a broken leg and was taken to hospital for surgery.


Meanwhile, Aung Phyo Paing (National A Team) and Sai Aung Kham (GTM A Team) escaped the field and finished first and second in 4h 4m. Zin Lin Ko led the main field across the line more than 10 minutes later.


The third and final road stage was a 30km time trial on wide roads around Wunna Theikdi Stadium in Nay Pyi Taw, with each rider starting individually at one-minute intervals. The day’s race was won by Kyaw Tun Oo (GTM A Team) in 39m 19s, but the overall national championship title went to Aung Phyo Min, whose accumulated time of 9h 38m 37s over three days of racing bested second-place Soe Thant by 42 seconds and Zin Lin Ko in third by 3 minutes.




On day four, the championships moved to Mount Pleasant in Nay Pyi Taw, the venue for the 2013 SEA Games BMX and mountain bike races. Zar Ni (GTM) out-pedaled 22 competitors to win the BMX championship, while Aung Naing Tun (Mandalay Free Riders) was fastest on the mountain bike downhill course, making it to the bottom in 2m 53s. His MFR teammates dominated the day, sweeping the top 10 spots.


Aung Win Tun – manager of the Mandalay Free Riders team, which prepared for the race by guzzling beer and roasting a goat on a flagpole the night before – noted that Aung Naing Tun’s time was on par with medalists at the 2013 SEA Games. “He rode an awesome speed. He’s racing at the elite professional level,” Aung Win Tun said.


Aung Naing Tun, who has been competing for eight years and who bested second-place Aung Paing Soe by 7 seconds, said he did not find the downhill course particularly difficult.

“The tracks we ride in Mandalay are more difficult than the course in Nay Pyi Taw. This track is better for riding at high speed, but it’s not technically difficult,” he said.

The national cycling championships closed on December 6 with the mountain bike cross-country race, consisting of five laps of a tough 4.4km course that included several technical sections and some very steep climbs and descents. Winner Ben Rowse (Bike World A Team) covered the course in 1h 17s, beating the previous day’s BMX champion Zar Ni by 1m 41s.


Although Rowse is Australian, he was named Myanmar national champion by virtue of an MCF rule stipulating that foreign residents are eligible to take the title.

“The mountain bike track was really good. A lot of the riders struggled, but it’s good that they can see what a challenging track is like and what they need to improve on,” Rowse said.

“There were some good riders out in the front. One guy [Zar Ni] was pushing me all the way to the finish. I think he crashed on the fourth lap and couldn’t catch back up, so I got a bit of a break and managed to win.”


Bike World team manager Jeff Parry said he was happy with how his riders performed, considering they were competing against the top national cyclists.

“In the mountain bike section, I think we excelled. We came in first and seventh places, and the winner comfortably came in first,” Parry said. “The course was certainly up to Asian international standards. It was fast in places, with a couple of steep climbs and sections that were technically challenging. I think it’s been a successful five days of cycling.”


MCF president Khin Maung Win said he hopes to build on the momentum of the national championships.

“One positive thing I see is that are a lot of new sponsors coming on board,” he said. “And of course the most exciting part for me is the young 18- or 19-year-old cyclists winning. They are showing great potential. That’s the future of cycling. Going forward, we want to go into the middle schools and high schools so the younger kids can enjoy competitive cycling.”


Nay Pyi Taw cycling weekend: My races

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There I am: the fat white guy in the middle of the group.

The second round of the year-long Cycle and Make a Difference Charity Series was held in Nay Pyi Taw on January 24 and 25, featuring races for both road cyclists and mountain bikers.

I had been doing a fair amount of cycling throughout December and January, but many of the competitors were residents at the youth training camp in Nay Pyi Taw. I was interested to see how my 47-year-old lungs and legs would hold up against the young locals who were training for the Southeast Asia Games scheduled to be held in Singapore in June.



The road race on January 24 was short and fast, starting with 35 kilometres (21.7 miles) on flat roads before tackling the steep, unrelenting 8km climb to the peak of the inappropriately named Mount Pleasant. I had little trouble keeping up with the main group on the flat section, despite speeds hovering in the 40-50kph range: My advantage over the young riders was my racing experience, and I was able to hide in the middle of the peloton without expending too much energy.


This all changed when we reached the bottom of the hill, by which time we had shed about 20 rider out of the 50 or so who had started the race. Once we hit the slopes, there was nowhere to hide: I was one of the first riders to be ejected out of the back, and all I could do was pedal at my own pace while I watched the young, fit national-level riders disappear up the road.

I eventually finished in 27th place (1h 24m 46s) overall, and in 5th place in the Over-26 age group. Chit Ko Ko, 23, was first across the finish line in the men’s race with a time of 1hour, 15 minutes and 55 seconds, while the women’s event was won by 24-year-old Thu Zar (1h 22m 20s).


The mountain bike race on the following day consisted of five laps of the 4.5km 2013 SEA Games circuit, for a total of 22.5km. The course is tough, with plenty of singletrack, rocks, ruts and steep hike-a-bike sections.


My effort was doomed to failure virtually from the start, as a I suffered a pinch flat about 200 meters into the race. As I rode slowly back up the first hill to the start line, I thought I would pack my bike away and spend the rest of the day taking photos of the race. But then I found myself at my car, putting a new inner tube in my rear tire. Before I knew it, I was back on the course riding the race, albeit nearly a full lap behind the frontrunners.


Despite spending 15 minutes changing my tire, I somehow managed to finish 9th out off 11 starters, and 4th out of 6 in the Over-26 age group. The event was won by 18-year-old Mann Tin Khung (1h 3m 55s). No women entered the mountain bike event.


The next round of the six-race series, sponsored by Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors (MSP) and the Myanmar Cycling Federation, will take place in Mandalay in late March. In the meantime, Bike World in Yangon is holding another 11 Hills Challenge on February 8.




(All photos courtesy of MSP)