In the lead up to this year's VTV Cup, Spanish cyclist Javier Sardá Pérez has spoken about living and racing in Vietnam.
Before one of Vietnam’s biggest bike races got underway in Hanoi on Sunday, a favorite for the overall title, Pérez of Team VUS, spoke to VnExpress International about his preparations, and how he became a member of the Vietnamese cycling peloton.
The HTV Cup 2019 champion also weighed in on the impact of the Vietnamese diet, the pursuit of KOM on wealthy businessmen in Hanoi and what he describes as his most difficult climb. Vietnam.
Months before the start of the annual VTV Ton Hoa Sen Cup*, which began with the criterion of 30 rounds around Hoan Kiem Lake, Pérez signed a local contract preparing alone, away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. .
In June and July this year, when the rainy season in Vietnam was halted, Pérez took himself to his hometown of Cantabria, in the mountains of northern Spain.
Cantabria is synonymous with some of the most iconic mountaintop finishes of Vuelta a España, the three-week UCI major tournament that has been held in Spain since 1935.
"Here I have everything I need as a cyclist," the 31-year-old said.“There are all kinds of terrain."
Having arrived in Vietnam at the back end of two seasons of cycling in Japan, Pérez’s first experience of the sport here was emblematic of a career choice that goes against the odds.
Invited by BikeLife Dong Nai to ride a bike at the 2017 VTV Cup, now as a competitor, he performed very well, finishing second and winning the 12th stage 126 km from Nha Trang to Da Lat.However, after leaving to complete the season in Japan, what surprised him was that he did not receive a call from the team.
"I still don't know why they didn't call me back then," he said with a laugh."But I guess this is cycling, and you can only do so much of it."
Javier Sardá Pérez competes in Japan in 2016.Shizu Furusaka's photo.
In hindsight it was a situation that mirrored the frustration he had felt in Europe, where he says contacts, sponsors and politics are often as important as good legs and good results.
Despite a promising career as a young rider, as he specialized in winning a number of notable one-day races, like many others, he found opportunity in My hometown is hard to come by.
To highlight the narrow margin in relation to his sport, in 2015, Pérez finished 11 seconds (and 30 places) behind current track world champion, Alejandro Valverde, at the championship Spain country.
It was not enough to attract the interest of a quality team, and so Pérez began weighing his options abroad.After time in Argentina and then Bolivia, in 2016 he signed with a Japanese team, Victoire Hiroshima.
"In Europe it is very difficult to find a strong team without good connections.If you do not have much financial support, you cannot participate.In Asia, if you have good results, you will be more appreciated because the riders here want to learn from your experience, so they prefer foreigners."
With his time in Japan at an end, Pérez moved on quickly from the BikeLife disappointment, signing a contract for the 2018 season with a team from southern Vietnam's An Giang Province, Gao Hat Ngoc Troi AG.
Here, his personal results in the most important races have not gone his way, which he says has been exacerbated by feeling alone.
"When I race, I feel good, but when my team moves to Long Xuyen [capital of An Giang], I feel very alone.I couldn't talk to anyone because no one could speak English, and this was a big factor in their leaving."
Now, having signed for the Ho Chi Minh City-based VUS team in September last year, Pérez "feels good" and wants to stay.This is further reinforced by his success in the most prestigious event in the country, the Ho Chi Minh City Television Cup, which he won in April.
"This is the most important race for all Vietnamese teams.
"It has the longest history and the highest prestige."
Javier Sardá Pérez in the leader's jersey at the 2019 HTV Cup.Photo courtesy of Javier Sardá Pérez.
The HTV Cup is a multi-stage race that has been run in Vietnam in one form or another since 1989, and generally covers the length and breadth of the country.In 2018 it included 30 stages of soul destruction, but sanity prevailed this year as it went back to 16.
"I've been working to win that race for a long time, and I'm really happy to have won it.
"It was great to work with my team because they took care of me at every stage.For example, I had difficult days in Hue, when I woke up sick and suffered a lot."
The HTV Cup hasn’t been the Spaniard’s only significant win.Late last year, not long after joining VUS, Pérez made the first 12-stage Indochina Tour to Cambodia and Laos.That's not a bad result considering his early struggles with weight, an essential metric in any cyclist's life.
“I struggled with my diet when I first came to Vietnam.
"Something about rice and some fried food has put me on three kilos, which is a huge amount for me.Yes, cycling in Vietnam makes me fat.
"I went from 62 kg when I reached 65 kg a few months later.When I came back to Spain I started a diet and now I'm 61.5 kg, which means when I go hiking, I feel good."
Fat-shaming aside, it’s all part of the process of adaption, he says, which includes dealing with the weather in Vietnam and taking advantage of unusual opportunities whenever they present themselves.
Earlier this year, before returning to Spain for the summer, Pérez couldn't turn down the chance to make a few dollars by climbing a remarkable hill outside Hanoi in Ba Vi National Park.An unnamed businessman offered him 10 million dong ($430) to break the time record climbing it, and he duly did so.
"A rich man in Hanoi challenged me to go to Ba Vi for the best time", he laughed.
“[He] offered me 10 million dong if I could do it. So now I have the KOM (King of the Mountain) for Ba Vi on Strava!"
The ‘toughest climb in Vietnam’
Javier Sardá Pérez recces the course of the 2019 Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.Photo courtesy of Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.
On the topic of opportunities, Pérez will get another in Hue later this month.
On September 22, he'll likely start his favorite comeback in the second edition of the Coupe de Hue Gran Fondo.This is a 150km amateur race that starts and ends outside the Hue Citadel and includes just over 1,800 meters of climbing.
Already officially recognized by the UCI and open to anyone with a decent road bike, the weekend will offer a chance for riders like Pérez to swap stories with the 2009 world champion, Cadel Evans, who will be there as a guest of the event’s main sponsor.
It won't just be a fun run for the winners, though: On day one, a 15-kilometer downhill time trial awaits, climbing what Pérez describes as "climbing" hardest mountain in Vietnam", Bach Ma Mountain.
"But how difficult it is depends on the driver," he said.
Normally closed to the public, the People's Committee of Thua Thien-Hue province has allowed the race organizers to enter the national park for the day.
With an average slope of 8.3 percent, peaking at 15 percent in some sections, the steep climb is 1,200 meters at just over 15 kilometers.For those who want to go fast, the Spaniard recommends the right combination of gears.
He took the course again in May.“This is a very difficult climb, but when you get to the top, there are some very beautiful views of Hue and Da Nang.
“With good mind and physical strength, anyone can do it."
Broadly speaking, that is exactly the kind of philosophy that Pérez has applied to his gallivanting cycling career.Inspired at the age of 8 by his grandfather, who was also a cyclist in Spain, nearly 25 years later Pérez sees no reason to give up.
“Cycling is freedom for me,” he said before returning from his training tour in the highlands of Cantabria.
"When I get to the point where I can't get out of bed to work anymore, or if I start not enjoying it, I stop.Valverde is a world champion, and he's 39 years old, so I think I can still ride for a long time."
*The 2019 VTV Cup covers 1,045 kilometers over eight stages and is contested by 82 riders from six local teams and six others from Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Australia, the Netherlands and France.
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