kirirom mountain, Kompong Speu province – Cyclists from all over Cambodia gathered for the fourth Kirirom Mountain Bike Challenge on Sunday morning to try their luck on a 16-km track taking them over mountain tops, down muddy roads, up steep climbs and through rivers.
The experience levels of the 125 participants who raced under an unforgiving sun, varied from well-trained experts to mountain bike novices.
Cambodian Seang Makara, 25, who finished second in last year’s event, finished first in the class for the most experienced riders this year with a time of two hours and 17 minutes for three laps of the course.
A goldsmith from Phnom Penh who has been mountain biking since 2005, Seang Makara said he was happy to have won but added he might have caught a bit of a lucky break when last year’s winner, 18-year-old Oem Heng, had to drop out of the event after the chain on his bike broke only a kilometer into the race.
“I was very happy for winning and happy to see so many more riders this year than the previous years,” Seang Makara said.
Oem Heng, a Bak Touk high school student in Phnom Penh, said he was happy for Seang Makara but added that if it wasn’t for a broken bike he would have finished first or maybe second.
“I have no regrets because it is a sport. There is winner and there is loser in racing,” he said.
The number of participants has increased steadily from about 60 in 2005 to 125 this year. But, in general, mountain biking is a fairly new sport in Cambodia according to the event’s organizer Pierre Yves Catry, 40, who said he was happy to see the competition grow from only two competitive classes when it started to three classes divided into different age groups.
“The Cambodian Cycling Federation only put on races that go on the streets and around the villages so that everyone can see them. But mountain biking is the opposite of that,” said Catry, who finished 4th overall and placed second in his age group.
The main goal of the challenge is, Catry said, to highlight mountain biking in Cambodia.
In the future, he also wants to invite bikers from other countries in the region, such as Thailand, Lao and Vietnam but, he said, there is not that much money in the sport and people can’t make a living doing it.
The winners of each class will receive between $60 and $200, Catry added.
Happy just to have finished the race was Dennis McMahon, an American NGO worker based in Phnom Penh, who had a bad fall in the rough terrain and was bleeding heavily from his left arm. He took part in the intermediate challenge and had to go two laps around the 16 km track, but he hadn’t prepared enough he said.
“I bought my bike a few months ago but I think for next year I would like to train more for this challenge,” he said.
Not everyone finished the race.
Chad Ung, a 16-year-old rugby player from Phnom Penh, who has been biking for the past three years, said he was only able to finish one out of two laps.
“It was too much after the first lap and my bike, was making funny noises,” he said, adding that he would definitely be back next year and finish the challenge.
Sunday’s race was organized by Comin Khmere, a Phnom Penh-based engineering company that put up half of the $6,000 needed for the event, said Catry, who is the firm’s managing director. The remaining funds came from other sponsors and admission fees for participants, he added.