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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.



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 2: Myanmar Cycling Federation turns to academy for future

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Despite the meager medal count of Myanmar’s cyclists at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games, the hosting of the event in Nay Pyi Taw meant what could have been an unmitigated disaster for local cyclists became an opportunity for the next generation of athletes hoping to join the peloton. The Myanmar Times sent me to join the Myanmar Cycling Federation’s training camp in Nay Pyi Taw to learn how they plan to revive their fortunes.

Training on Mount Pleasant in Nay Pyi Taw.

Identifying talent

As a permanent resident at the Nay Pyi Taw Youth Training Camp, cyclist Soe Thant trains for 30-plus hours each week – mostly on the bike but also in the weight room two or three times a week for strength training. “It’s good to be at the training camp with a community of cyclists. It helps boost everyone to the next level,” he said.

Indeed, with the establishment of the camp in 2013 – using facilities built to house ASEAN athletes competing in the Myanmar SEA Games – Myanmar Cycling Federation (MCF) officials hope they will now have a foundation to build the sport from its bottom-dwelling status in the country.

The camp’s 415-acre compound includes a hospital, a library, two gyms, an Olympic-size swimming pool and 60 dormitories, each of which can house 80 athletes for a total capacity of 4000. In March there were nearly 800 residents at the camp, divided into two categories: 400 national-level elite athletes and 350 younger trainees in a development program. Since then, most of the elite athletes have departed for training camps in China, from which they will travel directly to Singapore for the SEA Games before returning to Myanmar.

U Kyaw Min Than, the deputy of the Sports and Physical Education Department under the Ministry of Sports, said that of Myanmar’s 44 sport federations, 26 are represented by athletes at the Nay Pyi Taw camp.

He said the youngest residents come to the camp from all over the country, starting from the grassroots level. Most get their first break by being selected to attend one of the country’s four state-run sports academies, located in Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi and Mawlamyine.

“Every May, students who have just finished 7th standard take part in sports competitions, and the academies pick the best kids based on their results,” U Kyaw Min Than said. “They’ll say, ‘You’re good for cycling, you’re good for boxing’ or whatever. The sports academy will look after their education until they finish school.”

From there, the standouts from each academy have the chance to be called up to train in Nay Pyi Taw. John Singh, the vice president of the MCF, said the federations tell coaches at each academy what they’re looking as far as potential athletes in their respective sports.

“For the MCF, we let them know what body types we are looking for in young athletes so we can develop them into good cyclists. The academies then send us a list of candidates so we can decide whether they can come and train here,” he said.

U Kyaw Min Than said most of the kids are in 8th to 10th standard when they first arrive in Nay Pyi Taw. “They have to go to school every morning. Their training happens after 2:30pm,” he said. Older elite athletes often enroll in distance learning courses from local universities, but they will soon have another option.

“In December we plan to open the Institute of Sports Physical Education in Nay Pyi Taw, where athletes at the camp can earn a bachelor’s degree in sports education,” he said. “But those who want to pursue degrees in other majors can still do distance learning through other universities. They are not restricted.”


Road coach Lu Jiang Zhong from China instructs elite cyclists at the top of Mount Pleasant.


Across all sports at the Nay Pyi Taw camp, there are more than 30 coaches paid for by the Ministry of Sport. “For foreign coaches, the federations study their CV and engage them for a three-month probation period with a three-month extension, and then extend the contract six months at a time,” U Kyaw Min Than said.

The MCF currently engages two international coaches: road coach Lu Jiang Zhong, and Amir Mahmud from Indonesia, who was hired at the beginning of the year to prepare the local riders for the BMX Asian Championships scheduled to be held in Nay Pyi Taw on October 31 and November 1.

Lu, who came to Myanmar in May 2014, was a cyclist in China for 10 years before earning a degree from a sports university in Kunming. Now 61, he’s been working as a coach for 30 years. “I’ve been in Myanmar for one year, and during that time I’ve learned quite a lot about Myanmar cycling,” he said. “I’ve found some very talented young riders here. In three or four years, the standard of Myanmar cycling will come up.”

He said the local riders “try very hard” in training, but they need expert guidance from competent locals who understand not only the physical aspects of the sport but also the psychological and cultural facets.

“The coach should understand the cyclist, not only in cycling terms but also his daily life. He should understand the character of the rider,” Lu said. “The coaches in Myanmar need to attend good coaching schools. A cyclist’s first coach is very important. If the first coach does not show him the right technique, his development will be hindered. The coach should match the caliber of the person he is training.”


A nurse draws blood for drug testing following a race in Mandalay in March.

Training and equipment

Road cycling coach Lu said that although the Nay Pyi Taw Youth Training Camp is a good facility contributing to the development of elite cyclists, there are still challenges to overcome.

“We have many problems like equipment and nutrition. There’s a problem with spare parts, like replacing worn-out tires, and some of the food served in the dining room is not appropriate for the sort of training they’re doing,” said Lu.

The entire budget for the camp comes through the Ministry of Sports, including the provision of equipment such as bicycles for the cycling team. During a training ride to top of Nay Pyi Taw’s Mount Pleasant, Lu also complained about the lack of heart rate monitors. “Most countries have heart rate monitors for their riders, but here in Myanmar we must take the pulse with our fingers and count using a stopwatch,” he said.

BMX coach Mahmud – who represented Indonesia in the SEA Games five times as a road cyclist, and who started coaching BMX in 2011 – was a bit more charitable in his assessment.

“The nutrition at the camp is fine. For me, if the training program is good, the riders will be good, and right now the training program in Nay Pyi Taw is okay. The main factor is the time required to develop good cyclists,” he said.

Along with the tighter training structure at the camp has also come increased scrutiny of athletes, including the institution of a drug-testing program. In February one cyclist tested positive for testosterone at a road race in Nay Pyi Taw and was promptly sent home.

“Locally, all the hospitals are trained for testosterone testing,” Singh said. “But at this point more advanced testing must be done by sending blood samples to Bangkok, which costs a lot of money.”

Despite its flaws, the Nay Pyi Taw camp has allowed many athletes, including Myanmar’s top cyclists, to focus on training in ways they never could before. On a typical day the elite riders wake at 5:30am for breakfast, and about an hour later they’re on their bikes, with morning workouts usually lasting three or four hours.

After a four-hour break for lunch and rest, in the late afternoon they head for the gym or get back on the bike for another ride. The only day off from training is Sunday.

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

Written by latefornowhere

June 7, 2015 at 11:56 pm

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.

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)

Video: Descent by bicycle into Gokteik Gorge

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I’ve already written a few posts about my trip to northern Shan State over Christmas holiday. One the way back to Yangon, we spent two days in the town of Kyaukme, where my wife’s uncle runs a guesthouse.

 On my free day in Kyaukme I rode my bicycle to the bottom of Gokteik Gorge and back, a return trip of about 56 miles.

 When I reached the rim of the gorge, I mounted a GoPro on the top of my helmet to record the 20-minute descent on the twisting – and sometimes truck-clogged – road to the bottom.

 An edited, 5-minute-long version of the descent video can be seen on You Tube by following this link: Gokteik bike descent.

Written by latefornowhere

February 12, 2014 at 11:20 am