Day 2 Hon Giao pass hill climb (32km @ 5.4%)
(stay posted for the action from Day 1, a 70km road race on the Nha Trang Beachfront)
set the alarm for 0330. uh huh. we have to be at the beach by 0400 to pack our bikes in the truck for the 50km trip out the the start line. Managed to get a good, early sleep so it wasn’t too brutal. we got out there nice and early, time for a coffee and breakfast at a roadside place that services people travelling to Dalat. Quite nice actually – Bamboo structure perched out over the river. start time is 0730 and by 0630 it’s getting warm already. After yesterday’s experience I make sure to stuff myself with as much food and liquid as I can manage. I’m eating/drinking continuously from about 0530 today. I have one precious hi5 electrolyte tablet that I put in one bidon. the other I fill with “Revive”, which claims to have electrolytes (dubious), but tastes less sickly sweet than Pocari Sweat – a LOT more palatable. I have an early GU for good measure, then another one 15 mins before the start. No-one knows whether we’ll be able to get water on the mountain or not. Some say if you have team support you can take drinks, others say the organisers won’t allow it because the road’s too narrow. OK. I scab bottles of water off other teams and keep drinking, doing a slow warmup.
It’s hot up here but not so bad as by the beach, and the air is a lot less humid and much fresher. our surrounds are basically just wooded mountains. nice. it’s not windy at all but people say we’ll get the ‘mountain wind’ towards the top. i don’t think too much about this at the time, just imagine a gentle cooling breeze towards the top that will help me over the line. wrong.
The 46+ age group goes off at 0700. Us and the young group are together again, and we start 0730. the pace is medium-fast at the start. one of the Hanoi Bridgestone guys is towing everyone, nice and steady. great. I’m having a medium to easy time but well aware of the likelihood of cramps and worried about running out of water. left calf was massively sore to walk on after yesterday, but feels OK to ride on. i sit in and look around.
yesterday I was surprised at how many strong guys there were. i’ve only ridden with the Danang bunch, but it seems elsewhere in the country there are lots of good riders. and clubs have come from all over the country, by the way. there is a lot of potential here I reckon, but most people lack technique and race experience, and don’t understand a lot about nutrition. surprisingly everyone’s bike is nicely tuned and running well. this is a nation of natural mechanics. they can make anything go. evidence: lots of vespas and early hondas from the 50s and 60s are still going around. As well as soviet bikes from the 80s.
After 10kms there are three red numbers left as well as me, and a larger bunch of guys in black numbers (young group). a couple of the reds are puffing hard. one guy is still pedalling strongly but he is stamping on the pedals in the most unbelievable way, hips rocking from side to side. this guy won’t last. I decide that it’s time to pour a little pain on these guys and eject them from the black group, then rejoin the blacks myself. Everyone else is happy to let Bridgestone set the pace, so I attack and get a gap easily. One black guy goes with me. I go to about 85-90%, still really worried about cramps, and just intending to make them chase enough to drop some or all of the red guys. Do a couple of turnswith Black, but he wants to go harder. He’s a Quintana type dude, from Dak Lak, a province in the central highlands. I don’t want or need to go as hard as him so let him go.
Who’s coming with me? Mr Dak Lak on his Giant ended up staying away and posting a searing time for this climb, winning his age category by a massive 10 minutes. A Vietnamese Quintana?
After a bit a bunch of 4 or 5 blacks and one red catch me. Good one, my tactic worked in shedding two of the 3 reds. The remaining red is breathing hard. I sit in with them for a bit, thinking he is maybe going to crack. The black guys are worried about Dak Lak, and kick a little. Red doesn’t make it. I can go with the blacks, but don’t need to. Why not take it easy and just mark red? safer. Red and i ride together for about the next 10kms. I’m surprised he can sustain this. perhaps this guy is going to be a problem, especially if I start cramping. he’s puffing and bouncing all over the seat but sustaining well. pace is medium-hard, about 80% [later my Garmin will show me I did 93% of this race at threshold, so the feels were deceptive].
the gradient is pretty even but there are some ramps. I’m pouring sweat, bottles nearly finished, getting crampy twinges in the hammies. pace is not crazy but the conditions are extreme and it’s sapping me. manage to eat a GU and keep it down while the pace is still manageable. I’m licking the sweat off my face too for the salt. this seems to help!
Red man is from the Gau Vang (Golden Bear) Saigon team. These guys are the most numerous and best supported bunch in the race. Team motos are apparently now cleared to come support their riders and his guys start coming by and giving us intel (my team moto is still up ahead supporting our riders in the 46+ group to the finish). We get to a flat spot and they say there are reds chasing, spin up! Golden Bear freaks a bit and stamps on the pedals. I’m not worried – let them catch us. I’m saving my attack for within the last 10kms. I do a few lame turns but he’s doing most of the work. On one steep ramp his support tells him to hurry it along again and he waves me through. “Can’t”, I say. “My legs are really weak”. I learnt this from Christophe. Golden Bear snorts derisively and takes the lead again, spinning up. no race smarts!!! [later I tell the Danang guys about this tactic and they look at me in awe: master tactician!]
it’s stupidly hot. Golden Bear has team people all along the route. They pour bottles of water over his head every few hundred metres. no-one helps me! i get close to him to try and get some of the spray. yes, that desperate. people are saying ‘Don’t help the foreigner!’ Funny. Occasionally I come up beside him and steady my breathing to psyche him out a bit. He’s puffing like a billy goat. Not worried about him any more but plenty worried about cramps. My chain is also skipping and making alarming noises. uh oh. keep it steady, in the saddle. about 7kms to go.
my team moto turns up. yay!! but no water yet. Huan (on the moto) tells me there’s not a lot of steep stuff to go. OK. I wait for the next long, steep ramp and attack Golden Bear after he’s done a long turn. I distance him very quickly. Good one. I keep it steady in the straights where he can see me then accelerate in the turns when I’m out of view. He’s out of sight now, but I’m pouring with sweat and twinging in the hamstrings. My chain is skipping. Fark, I’ve got this won if my chain doesn’t break and I don’t cramp massively. Need water.
hooray, the moto comes back with Lien (lovely lady who rides in DN) on the back with water bottles galore. she gives me one. I pour it over my head, drink the rest. that is just awesome. It cools down a bit but … here comes the mountain wind! a fricken 30km/h headwind!! Ok. 5km or so to go, Golden Bear a safe distance behind. Just maintain. I shift to the back of the saddle and use the quads, easing the cramp twinges. I’m going to be fine. But I dare not make any big out of saddle efforts for fear of a mechanical. (I put a new chain on and snapped the connecting pin off dodgily with the chain tool – no pliers and no file handy. a little lip is protruding, catching on the cassette.) Now my front mech goes wobbly too and won’t stay in the big ring when I get to a flat section where the headwind becomes a tailwind.
about 2kms to go now, it’s in the bag. I pass the rest of the black group (2nd to 4th). They still haven’t caught the solo breakaway guy. they are hurting. They look at the ground as I go by. my team moto is giving me more bottles of water now. awesome fun! race cars and a crew from Khanh Hoa province TV go by. the moto club guys roar by on their big bikes. I’m living my TDF fantasy. Yeah!!
The top comes into sight. It seems like hundreds of people are all over the road at the finish line. Golden Bear is out of sight. The last vehicles go by, I see the flag. As I cross the line I do a Confucian martial arts ‘respect’ gesture (left hand over closed right fist at chest height) to show my gratitude to the race organisers and fans. Goes down well. My team meet me and hustle me to a shady spot. More TDF fantasy role play. I have come over the line second of all, a bit behind the winner from the young group. the finishing blacks sprint it out for second and third. awesome.
other riders and team people come up and give me kudos. One guy keeps pointing at my bike and going “Colnago”. A bit of waiting around, then the awards ceremony on top of the mountain in the courtyard of the forest protection building. What a haul: trophy, pennant, jersey, cap, and a Bridgestone roadie worth 1500USD. The awards are given by Suzuki san, retired Japanese pro and Bridgestone ambassador. He says congratulations in Japanese. Luckily I know enough Japanese to give the proper formal response (arigato godzaiimas) with a little bow. He’s loving it. random people come up to be photgraphed with the winners. I’m totally losing touch with reality by now.
My homies from the Danang Sport Cycle Club, and a random lady from Son La who was attracted to the bling.
we get back on the bus and head to Nha Trang. I manage to upload to strava from my phone and start getting comments, including an offer to ride with a sponsored team in a race in the Philippines. The fantasy continues… This is hysterical. If Steve came over here he would probably attain demigod status and be able to make a good living as a pro.
A quiet night back in Nha Trang. Vuong and I go to a sports bar that has the TDF screening, drink some Tiger draughts (they are cold so they taste good) and eat some dodgy pizza which also tastes awesome. no train tickets left so we fly back to Danang the next day. Just like pros…