So I’ve been riding a bit around Hanoi since I’ve been here and fallen in with a good group largely of ex-pats, who ride regularly on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. We ride about 40-45km, average about 30-35kph, we drink coffee at the end of the ride – sound familiar so far?
One of the Vietnamese guys who rides with us, Linh, told us there was a crit coming up in the middle of Hanoi and invited us to come race for his local club who were organising it.
Three of us decided to take him up on it. Ash who has been riding with us on his trips to Hanoi also decided to travel up and race with his Danang club.
We had no idea what to expect. How many would show up? How effective would the road closures be? As the day go closer it started to sound a bit more serious – road closures would be full-on, apparently there’d be 150 riders in our age group, the club would issue us jerseys and hold a pre-race briefing. Rumours of some pretty full-on training amongst the Vietnamese groups started to circulate, my nerves started to kick in.
Another complicating factor was the fact that I’d organised a housewarming/Claire’s birthday party at our house the night before the race – I sent the invites out about 12 hours before we got the offer to race..the only way forward was to embrace it all. So my team mate Dan (formerly of Bike Culture) and I decided to spend the Saturday night mixing cocktails for the other guests whilst (largely) sticking to the virgin versions for ourselves. We had a lot of drunk ladies on our hands, but that’s another story. And after a whole 4 hours sleep it was time to get up and race.
It was raining. It does that quite a lot in Hanoi. Dan thankfully decided to forfeit the warm-up ride and drive to the race.
The opening ceremony was something to behold, Vietnamese women holding placards for each of the 30+ clubs, flag bearers everywhere, addresses from stage, a parade lap with an accompanying escort of 30 or 40 Harleys and a load of other big bikes that probably never get over 40kph in Hanoi, and thankfully the rain stopped.
The word circulated that it would all be screened live on National TV, saving the Claire the dilemma of whether to drag tired kids into town or not.
The racing started with a bunch of kids racing a couple of laps on shopping bikes – the boys still managed a proper elbows out sprint stack right at the finish line. The crowds were swelling and getting right into it. The women were up next. The pocket rocket from our club took out the race, and the pace looked pretty high.
The over 55 race was pretty serious. One of the other expats recruited to ride for the Thang Long club is Vincent, a 57 year old swiss guy, who rides me off his wheel all the time. He and 3 others from Thang Long bridged to a lone rider also from our club to take out a clean sweep of the podium – but with a few impressive, and expensive looking stacks in the bunch. Did I mention the bikes yet? There is some serious bling here. The number of Boras, Lightweight and other top-end wheelsets on show was unbelievable. Look seemed to the most popular frame, followed by Times, Colnagos, Specialised Venges and a few Pinnarellos – mine was the only unbranded Chinese frame I could see.
I didn’t see much of the next race as Dan, Ash and I tried to warm up a bit, filtered up to the start line and we were off in the 35-45 race – the marquee event of the day. Wierdly there was nothing for anyone aged between 15 and 35. Anyway the plan for Dan and me was to just to try and hang in the first half of the bunch for 5 laps or so (race was 15 laps of a 1.7km circuit) and see what happened. Don’t do anything stupid. The average speed for the first few laps was around 43kph. It was fine as the bunch was about 120 strong,and riding well. Things were going according to plan. I was holding position, Dan, and few other Thang Long guys were around me and I had a good view of Ash mixing it up at the front. The general pattern seemed to be, fast down the finish straight, ease off at the bottom, take it easy up the other side, or chase down lone breaks. Then it all ramped up again before a 90 degree bend into the finishing straight where everyone turned on the afterburners for the TV cameras at the finish line. And repeat, 15 times.
I was getting into the swing of it and holding a good inside line and momentum at the corners. When after about 7 laps I was in the front few riders going round the tight bend. I got on the pedals hard out of the corner to anticipate the usual surge, and behind me the bunch sat up. Apparently Ash, who had been involved in making and closing down a few small breaks, said he refused to chase me so the others sat up. All of a sudden I had a gap, just as I was coming under the TV cameras as well, awesome. The support crew at home got a bit excited and started taking photos of the TV coverage.
Well I was off the front, 120 guys behind me, about 20km to go. Time to channel my inner Jens/Bleeksie. Luckily the bunch weren’t too interested in chasing. Unfortunately nobody jumped across. I did however get to ride over 2 laps off the front on my own, with camera bikes and crowds making me feel briefly like some kind of pro. Unfortunately there was no 3fidi branding in view, unless they got a clear view of the headtube on my bike
So after my 6 minutes of fame I got swallowed up, but still had some legs to hang at the front of the bunch, whilst Ash continued to make and cover the odd move. The bunch got increasingly sketchy towards the end, and some heavy braking in the bunch on the bottom corner of the last lap lost send from about 20th wheel to about 60th wheel and I never managed to recover. Apparently Ash got blocked on the last corner, so neither us got to mix it up in the final sprint, but judging by some of the carnage in the final straight, that was not such a bad thing. A Ho Chi Minh rider took it out, but not before 10s of $1,000s of carbon had bounced, scraped and slid it’s way down the final straight.
Was it fun? Oh yeah, we are all now checking the calendar for future races. Thang Long are making us as full racing members of the club and throwing a party for us this Sunday. Who knows they may even stitch a few jerseys together to make something big enough to fit Dan.