Nepali Times
Mountain bike champs


The villagers of Halchowk across the Ring Road west of Swayamhhu had a rare monsoon treat on 9 September. They lined up curiously to watch as 118 cyclists competing in the first Himalayan Mountain Bike Championship 3 Race Series raced down the spine of Nagarjun Hill and across the paddy fields-the fluorescent T-shirts offsetting the emerald of the rice fields.

Amidst much hustle and bustle, rain and mud, the event took off on time, Weather remained ideal for a tough day of biking. The sky was overcast, with sunny intervals. It became a memorable day for bikers and spectators alike.

Participants performed with flair and dexterity, struggling to keep balance as they negotiated the slippery steep slopes. The first race to start was for the Junior (10.4 km) category, which also included an inter-school competition. It began at 11:00 in the morning, followed soon by the Women (13.7 km). The Senior and the Open (both 33.6 km) began at one in the afternoon.

In the Inter-School Championship, Little Angels School took away the gold with 200 points to their credit. The school had conducted a pre-race training over the past month and had prepared themselves by taking five of the 10 school finisher positions. British School bagged second position with 190 points and Little Rhododendron International (LRI) came third with 180 points. The timings were decided on the aggregate of the fastest three.

Sanjeev Thapa (38:21), Manoj Shrestha (38:29) and Rajendra Khadka (38:43) stood first, second and third position in the Junior group. In the women\'s category, which consisted of only three riders, Saraswati (Sara) Bhujel bagged gold with a timing of 1:00:47, followed by Kate Thompson (1:01:58) and Sandra Tedeschi (1:02: 47). "It was sad not to see any more women participants. But it indeed was quite an effort to get the gold, racing against foreign female racers," Bhujel said. Among the seniors, Sonam Gurung once again received much applause from the crowd for finishing with a time of 2:53:19. Gurung is also considered an \'iron cyclist\' and has a wide experience of raiding the highest passes and base camps with his mountain bike. He was followed by Nico Vreelkin (3:04:19) and Willem Boers (3:34:12).

Ranjan Rajhhandari led the open event initially with a superb performance of endurance and stamina. But at the end of his third lap, he was slowed down by an injury. Richard Shirley, a visiting British rider, led the final lap and won the gold with a timing of 2:22:51. Rajbhandari\'s persevered and came second at 2:29:5". while Ramesh Tamang finished third with a timing of 2:31:09.

Despite the success of the races, there were concerns about safety standards and suggestions for future championships. Logistics could also be a problem, as indicated by 72 junior riders who got lost in the rice fields and steep routes.

"It was sad to see the race marshals lolling around wearing yellow jersey doing nothing to help the speeding cyclists," says Suman Shrestha of Ason, a guardian of one of the Junior racers. "We had to stand in the diversion, park a motorbike and show the racers the correct trail ourselves."

Director of Himalayan Mountain Bike, Peter Stewart, who was also the race director said: "Because most of them are volunteer sportsmen, I thought they would understand the sporting spirit better than the others. They can really make a difference in making this event interesting." The HMB had asked for volunteers from the Athletic Association but were not given training or orientation earlier, said one of the volunteers.

There was also criticism regarding the lack of safety standards on the steep and dangerous sections of the trail. "It was a serious flaw. There were not enough race officials. Anything could have gone wrong," says Chhime Gurung. president of the Nepal Mountain Bike Association (NMBA).

The first race event was aired by Star Sports on 17 September, and so will the other two events in October and November.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)