Cycling legend keen to ride 'above the clouds' again after Vietnam Gran Fondo

By Jon Aspin   September 24, 2019 | 01:48 pm GMT+7
Cycling legend keen to ride 'above the clouds' again after Vietnam Gran Fondo
Cadel Evans rides the Bach Ma KOM Challenge at the 2019 Coupe de Hue, September 21, 2019. Photo courtesy of Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.

Cadel Evans, the 2009 Men's Road Race World Champion and 2011 Tour de France winner from Australia, competed in this year's Coupe de Hue cycling event in central Vietnam over the weekend.

Featuring two stages, Saturday's stage one was a 15-kilometer time-trial up a steep 1,270-meter climb inside Bach Ma National Park in Thua Thien-Hue Province. Usually off-limits to cyclists, the serpentine and often treacherous road chosen by Race Director Guim Valls Teruel, ended close to the summit of Bach Ma Mountain and offered incredible views of the 400 square-kilometer reserve, which protects some of Vietnam's most beautiful natural scenery.

Called the Bach Ma Laguna Challenge by organizers, the former BMC rider described it as such: "You start off and you go up, through the jungle, up into the clouds, and then above the clouds. I really enjoyed it.

"In terms of the difficulty, the gradient, the terrain and the conditions, this was a hard one, probably one of the hardest climbs in Asia."

Beginning the time-trial with the number one pinned to his back, Evans weaved his way through the majority of a field of over 200 starters to finish in a time of 58 minutes and 29 seconds. But it was not enough to win, with Spanish pro and 2019 HTV Cup winner Javier Sarda Perez taking the stage in 56:15.

Afterward, Evans said the ex-pro in him could not help wonder what he might have been able to do with more preparation.

"After doing it today I’d love to come back and do it again.

"I do about 30,000 kilometers less on the bike than what I used to do, so I don't even feel trained. Now that I know it, I'd love to come back and improve my time, but as an overall experience, it was great."

Cadel Evans (C) rides with local riders during the Coupe de Hue on September 22, 2019. Photo courtesy of Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.

Cadel Evans (C) rides with local riders during the Coupe de Hue on September 22, 2019. Photo courtesy of Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.

Earlier, first-time visitor Evans got stuck in a typically Vietnamese traffic jam following a warm-up ride up the Hai Van Pass.

"That was beautiful," he said of one of Vietnam's most famous landmarks.

"A real adventure going up, and even more of an adventure coming down on carbon rims.

"I then took the shortest route back through town and ended up becoming a real Vietnamese cycle tourist on my sub-6-kilogram carbon fiber bike and race wheels.

"There I was, stuck behind hundreds of motorbikes, chickens running all over the road, a Vietnamese grandma getting knocked over carrying 50-kg sacks of rice on the back of her bike.

"That's when I knew I was in Vietnam. Amazing."

A section of the course of 2019 Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo. Photo courtesy of Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.

A section of the course of 2019 Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo. Photo courtesy of Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.

Social butterfly

Having stood on the podium after finishing second in Saturday's ‘test of truth’ time trial, Sunday’s 150-km Gran Fondo from Hue to A Luoi and back was a more relaxed affair for the retired professional.

Happy to be a "social butterfly" on the bike, Evans said that after racing out to the rural and mountainous district capital of A Luoi, home to a former French airbase, he took the time to enjoy the "incredible" scenery. He even posted on his Instagram account for the first time ever during a race.

The Coupe de Hue is the first international standard cycling event to be recognized by the sport's governing body, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) in Vietnam and is open to cyclists of all levels. Cadel came as a guest of one the race's main sponsors.

"After staying with the front group on the way out I dropped back a bit and rode back on my own," he said.

"In these types of races, everyone wants to beat me, but sometimes I just want to enjoy the scenery, and today it was beautiful."

Locals stand in front of their houses to cheer riders during the 2019 Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo, September 22, 2019. Photo by Vu Ha Kim Vy.

Locals stand in front of their houses to cheer riders during the 2019 Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo, September 22, 2019. Photo by Vu Ha Kim Vy.

Along the way, in the villages between the rolling climbs and tough mountainous passes, hundreds of school children came out to cheer and wave flags along the side of the road. Coming into the final 4-kilometer straight in A Luoi, a huge cheer went up for every rider, with some stopping for high fives and selfies.

"It was overwhelming," said Cadel. "Seeing all the people come out to support this event in Vietnam was wonderful."

For the record, Perez was again too strong for the rest of the field, soloing with 75 km to go to win the 2019 Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo in a time of 3 hours 53 minutes and 7 seconds. Also being fastest up Bach Ma meant he was able to claim the overall winner's prize of VND15 million ($647).

Over three minutes behind him on the day was Christopher Drew Butler of the United States.

In the women’s category, Michelle Tse of China was quickest in a time of 4 hours 39 minutes and 10 seconds, just over 17 minutes in front of Dione Wang from Singapore.

 
 
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