Vietnam’s HTV Cup kick-starts global pro cycling

By Jon Aspin   May 20, 2020 | 12:59 am PT
Vietnam’s HTV Cup kick-starts global pro cycling
Racers hit the road on the opening day of HTV Cup 2020, May 19, 2020. Photo by HTV.
Vietnam’s premier bike race, which began in Vinh in central Vietnam on Tuesday, is grabbing the attention of race-starved cycling fans worldwide.

The 18-stage HTV Cup, given the go-ahead as recently as May 6 by the government, "is Vietnam’s biggest and oldest bike race with the 32nd edition starting on Tuesday May 19 held over 18, yes you read that right, 18 stages," wrote Cycling Weekly on May 17.

"It’s basically a Grand Tour. Actually, two years ago they had 30 stages and passed through Laos and Cambodia, so scratch that, this is bigger than a Grand Tour!"

Although the HTV Cup is not accredited by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), several of the world’s most-read cycling sites have noted the unusual destination of pro-cycling’s international re-emergence.

Defending champion Javier Sarda Perez of Spain, who competes for the Ho Chi Minh City team, confirmed the extra attention when he spoke to Cycling News.

"Usually races in Vietnam are only followed nationally but since the news has been reproduced in many countries and in several languages, there’s suddenly a lot of attention on the HTV Cup," he said.

"I myself received a call for an interview from a Spanish national radio station and I answered a lot of journalists who were curious to know about cycling in Vietnam and the health situation here."

Vietnam has won praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic after it kept the number of cases down to 324 with zero deaths.

Le Nguyet Minh, 28, a teammate of race favorite Perez and winner of the Blue Jersey for the best sprinter last year, told VnExpress International, "I’m so proud and excited to be racing again in Vietnam after Covid-19.

"Because the pandemic situation is very complicated this race will be noticed by the world, we hope that this will be motivation for the world to keep fighting against Covid-19."

"My team’s and my own fitness have been good after our second training camp in Da Lat (in the Central Highlands), so we will be trying to defend last year’s title over the coming weeks."

Le Nguyen Minh (L) wins the Blue Jersey for the best sprinter at HTV Cup 2019.

Le Nguyen Minh (L) wins the Blue Jersey for the best sprinter at HTV Cup 2019.

Broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube, the extra spotlight on this years’ race is an unexpected coup for Vietnam Cycling Federation (VCF) general secretary Nguyen Ngoc Vu. He said the fact that the race was going ahead was confirmation of Vietnam’s success in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Originally scheduled to finish on April 30 — as it is every year to coincide with Vietnam’s Reunification Day - the start date of this year’s race (May 19) instead marks the 130th birthday of Vietnam’s revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

"Although it was not possible to finish the race on April 30 as in other years, the race on Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, May 19, will still be a meaningful event that will foster the spirit of Vietnam for the teams and riders taking part," Vu said.

A bridge to higher honors

Thanh Vo, performance director for Bike Life Dong Nai, one of the 12 teams of seven riders competing in this year’s race, said his colleagues are thrilled at the prospect of the extra attention Vietnamese cycling would get over the next three weeks.

"This is the perfect opportunity to show the world that Vietnam has some amazing routes for bike riding.

"From the perspective of the team, we hope this type of attention can act as a bridge for our athletes to compete at the regional level in future."

Much like their rivals, Bike Life’s riders had prepared in the relative high altitude of Da Lat in the lead-up to what they thought would be an April 5 start.

"We only received the official statement from HTV one or two weeks ago," Vo said.

"We were quite prepared for this short notice though. After our training camp we assigned individual training plans to our riders and we were able to make use of technology to track their training sessions online.

"We also organized a short team-building camp, where we focused on the more technical aspects of the team time trial, which will be an important part of this year’s race.

"Vietnamese teams only get two or three big national races a year to impress sponsors, so there’s been a lot of nervous energy."

The HTV Cup continues until June 7 and can be found streaming live on Facebook and YouTube every day.

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