Tearing up the roads in Cambodia

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Ed is not a bona fide member of LVIS. He probably doesn’t really qualify- his mantra is less “the pursuit of sporting excellence without the seriousness” and more “the pursuit of an unfortunate level of seriousness as an excuse to eat cake.” But he does own purple and yellow lycra. And, as a friend of Nathan’s, he was part of the crack squad that LVIS sent to Italy last summer to wear pink at the locals (and ride a bit). He lives in Shanghai.

Unperturbed by the fact that everyone outside the UK assumes you’re actually from Las Vegas if you wear an LVIS jersey, and looking for an excuse to rock Vegas pink one more time, Ed signed up for the 20th annual Bike4Kids charity race around Angkor Wat, Cambodia in early December. Where, unlike home, it wasn’t raining and was 25 degrees. A few Shanghai riders had entered the event in 2014, and brought back mixed reports of great racing, chaotic mid-race elephant and tuk-tuk dodging, amazing scenery, and roads so bad the only sensible course of action was a mountain bike.

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The course is four laps (100km) of the “Grand Tour” around Angkor, basically taking riders straight through the north and south gates of Angkor Thom, past the Elephant Terrace, around the Bayon, past Angkor Wat’s main gate, alongside the Srah Srang and Jayatataka lakes, past Preah Khan temple and then back into Angkor Thom. That’s a whole lot of old stuff. The profile is flat, and the road is for the most part single-lane. A 5km section is quite lumpy, a single turn is covered in dried mud and stones, and there are few potholes that had been back-filled with fine gravel. But in general, the road was what you’d expect to find while riding in rural Europe. Not the apocalyptic event some had predicted. And no elephants, unfortunately.

The race starts just after dawn, which arrives rather suddenly in that part of the world. Riders make their way to the start and line up in darkness, and just before the gun goes it suddenly becomes apparent that they’re actually wedged between an ancient temple and some sort of elephant fighting pit. No time to take it in, though, because the “neutralized” start is policed by a motorbike that just accelerates if a rider gets near it. This is probably a good thing, though, because the participants range from local elite riders down to guys on folding bikes who are just aiming to finish the whole 100km. So as the group steadily accelerate up to 50kph for the first few minutes, most of the potential crash-fodder (along with some riders who were caught unawares) is left behind. Ed and teammate Seb make the cut.

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Seb and Ed had a plan to try and get away together in the third lap, but testing the waters in the first two suggested that it wasn’t going to be easy. Most local riders were quite happy to pootle along at 30-35kph if on the front, but would chase even the fiercest attack relentlessly. So, by and large, the group stayed together, with speeds bouncing between 30 and 50kph depending on who was on the front and whether anyone was being chased. With the narrow road and elongated peloton, it must have been a bit confusing for riders at the tail end… Unless this is considered normal in Cambodia- who knows?

Still, nobody had tried anything serious going into the third lap, so the ersatz Vegas rider and his teammate were hopeful. Both attacked and got clear for a few minutes each; but in both cases were shadowed by local riders who refused to work. At this point they have no idea of the local riders’ abilities (except that they appeared strong and fresh), and had no desire to deliver a couple of freeloaders to the line and lose the inevitable sprint, so after a few moves each, they gave up.

And so began the last lap. At this point, Ed and Seb are feeling pretty despondent. Then, to make matters worse, a couple of Cambodian guys slowly ride off the front, and nobody reacts. Off they go, breaking away at the speed of lethargic treacle whilst all the riders look at Seb to bring them back. But Seb’s not playing this game anymore, and neither is Ed or any of the other foreigners. The local duo rides out of sight so uneventfully that they are promptly forgotten.


But then Seb put in a couple of last-ditch effort attacks, immediately covered but stringing the peloton out. This time when he slowed, the speed dropped dramatically, and on an impulse Ed jumps. Seb’s efforts had obviously had the desired effect, because nobody follows; seemingly, they were all looking at him to do the work. Fools. At this point they are 12km out from the finish, which handily translates into a little under a 20-minute effort- just the kind of unfortunately serious thing that Ed is used to doing on his way to the cake shop. Renewed energy and inspiration is suddenly found in the thought of standing on the podium in Helen’s jersey. Unfortunately, steady progress is interrupted by the reappearance of the forgotten two-man breakaway, who on being overtaken suddenly find sufficient energy to chase and cover attacks, but under no circumstances do any work. Great. An even greater sense of urgency now emerges as Ed imagines Helen’s reaction to hearing how close he had come before cocking it all up. And so begins a game of trying to force the local guys to the front, whilst not letting the overall pace drop enough to get caught by the peloton. These guys were so incredibly workshy, this involved hitting the brakes hard to force them to ride by, Top Gun-style. Finally, Ed was able to split them with a couple of kilometers to go, and then sprint from a few hundred meters out to ditch the remaining rider.

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All in all, the Bike4Kids race is enjoyable riding and racing for all levels, and a great weekend relaxing in the sun and wandering around ancient temples. It’s probably a bit far for most Vegas riders, but Ed definitely hopes to defend his title next year and would welcome some actual-Vegas riders to race against/with.

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