Race to “The most Heroic Gate under the heavens”

The most Heroic Gate under the heavens

So you go to Vietnam for a holiday and at the last minute you decide to take your bike.
What to do… well, it just happened that there was a two day road race the first weekend we arrived.
Ashley was racing for one of the Danang teams and he managed to wrangle me an entry sponsored by the same team.

There are two races each separate from each other, i.e. some riders choose to ride only the one that suited them most.
Race-1 was a 39km criterium on the Saturday and Race-2 was a 9km hill climb on the Sunday, see a section of the climb in the photo below.

hai-van-pass-vietnam

Friday – race meeting

Ashley and I rode to the criterium course and did a recce of the undulations and the finishing climb, although the finish ended up in a slightly different place than we though, it was still a 300m rising finish.
After the recce we rode back to Danang and attended the race meeting for officials and coaches. It was looking pretty standard with officials talking about sponsors, courses and race rules. I was thinking hurry up already so we can get our race numbers and go back home.
Then all hell broke lose, as soon as the referee completed his explanation of the rules, I have never seen anything like it, there was shouting, clapping, booing and nearly fistie-cuffs (well not quite the last but it felt that way).
A few, what seemed to me, team coaches where not happy with the rules and wanted to make their own. Each time it took maybe 10 minutes to settle the room after a query/disagreement, but luckily the referee stood strong and voted down any rule change request, to the absolute delight and loud applause from everyone else in the room.
Finally, an hour later, we received our numbers and rolled home feeling a little tired …. OH SHIT! That was a 120km demanding ride the day before our race, mmmm, not the best preparation.

Saturday – race 1

To avoid using up our legs even more before the race the decision was made to take a taxi to the opening ceremony….phew, that was a sigh of relief. Ashley’s friend, David Lloyd, joined us from Hanoi and was also representing the same club.
At the opening ceremony they had a huge stage setup on the steps of an large council building, where they had music, sexy dancers in lycra, singing girls and speeches.
Some podium girls, dressed in white, stood next to the row of new bikes that were on offer to the race winners, to the delight of some of the local riders who kept telling us the winner gets the girls 🙂
Signing on for the race was a case of chasing some guy walking around with a clipboard amongst the crowd of riders and spectators.
Once the ceremony was complete and we had all lined up behind our representing club’s name signs, we mounted up and had 20+km a neutral section to the criterium course start-line.
Seeing we had left home fairly early in the morning, we bought some Banh My rolls to eat on the way.

The race was split by age groups but combined some to reduce the number of races, under 26 & 26-35, the 36-45 & 46-55 and the 55+ made for three races. Starting with the oldies first.
The course was a 6 lane divided road dog-leg layout with only a rolling soft-closure, luckily there wasn’t much traffic.
Each side of the course was about 6km and we did a total of 39 km… up-down-up-down-etc etc.
There were a few undulation that were small but big enough to put on the hurt when attacked, of which there were plenty although always short lived with everyone wanting to keep things together and not interested in working a break away.
Ashley and I had many attempts, trying to soften the bunch, but it was only ever the whole bunch that would chase the breaks and then stall to 20km/h… we wouldn’t stand for that speed so always jump back on the front to get the average up again.
I had a massive final attack on the straight before the last corner, which broke the peloton up into a smaller group but they caught me and I was toasted, but it worked in Ashley’s favour and he managed to lead up the finishing straight holding off alls the others , including a pro-rider, Tuán Cilin, who had told Ash it was not Ash’s day, that would be tomorrow’s climbing race. He played mind games before the race but…. BANG, could not get around Ash on the finishing straight…. woohoo, Ashley took 1st place. I tried to start my legs up again the last 300 meters but there was nothing left and rolled into 20th.
There was a huge cheer squad that made the passing of the start/finish line a great experience and saw many attacks to get noticed.
David Lloyd rode well, with some seriously fast competition and managed to get on the podium in 3rd.

After all the races were complete we rolled up the road a few KMs to where they had setup the stage on the side of the 6-lane highway. There were many cheers for all the podium winners and great prices of massive golden cups and a new bike for each 1st getter.
Sitting around for a while with heart-pounding rave music discussion and eying off each others bootie. Then rolling home the Hoi An for 39km along the beach road.
Stopping for some noodles along the way.

Sunday – race 2

Again a fairly early start so not wanting to ride to and back from the race, this time we decided to get a car with driver, so that they could drop us off at the start line and drive our warm/dry clothes to the finish line at the top of the pass…. oh, and drive us back home afterwards.
We didn’t have to sign-on today but there was a roll-call on the start line.
Todays race was up the Hai Van pass to the “The most Heroic Gate under the heavens” at the top, this is a 9km hill climb at an average gradient of around 7% with not too many undulations along the way.
The weather was perfect at 23 degrees and dry, until the presentation which would end in the damp cloud at the top of the pass.
This race had graded starts with each age group having about 2 minutes between starts, and the younger grades starting first.
Before the start I thought I’d check my tyres, had wanted to do it before yesterdays race but never got around to it, finding that I was riding at about 80psi… doh!… So pumped them to 100psi and foudn them rolling much better.
Not being known as a climber, I decided to hold back and roll my own pace from the start, as apposed to Ashley who went out from the gun and quickly obliterated all his competition before half-way up the climb, after which he settled at a pace to better his Strava time, which he did.
I stayed on my own pace all the way and kept over taking all who had gone out too fast, completing the climb in 6th place, which felt very good for me. I’d never been up that climb from this side of the mountain, but do still hold the KOM on the downhill of side 🙂
David raced hard trying to ditch the last competitor from 3/4 of the way up, but it wasn’t to be and he could not shake the ankle biter no matter what he tried and got pipped to the line in a final sprint. Still improving his podium position to 2nd today.

The presentation was once again an absolute mayhem of excitement, rave music, dancing girls and dancing Koreans tourist, who just wanted to get into the action and lots of massive bling cups and new bikes for the winners.
As I managed to get into the top 10, I received an encouragement award banner, as well as a participation medal for all riders.
The clouds had rolled in by the end of the presentation but that didn’t dampen the spirits of all riders and spectators.
Racing done and tired we jumped back into our car and the driver took us home… so civilized!

Story written and embellished by: Robert Bleeker – Bleeksie

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