Thirty-three-year-old Sonam’s (he does not own up to a surname) decision to take up cycling over a year ago is paying rich dividends. Literally! The employee of the tours & transportation department of the Amankora Resorts in Bhutan, who used to play football, basketball and volleyball in his youth, turned to cycling only to accompany guests of his luxurious getaway on their mountain rides.
But today, the native of Kichu in Paro district is laughing all the way to the bank because his casual endeavour has now become his calling card. Sonam collected his biggest paycheck in the sport – 50,000 Ngultrum, which amounts to the same in Indian rupees — when he won the 100 km Dantak Open Mountain Bike Race from Thimpu-Paro-Thimpu on April 28 for the second year in succession in a creditable time of 2:37.36, shaving off nearly 14 minutes from his winning time last year.
In second place was his relatively more famous namesake, Sonam Tshering (2:38.51) while Sangay Phuntsho (2:56.06) pedaled in third.
“It’s a great feeling to win and I’m feeling on top of the world. But I was confident of my success from the very start as I knew the route well and had trained hard for it,” an elated Sonam told www.sportskeeda.com after the prize distribution ceremony.
The women’s pennant was captured, also for the second time in a row, by 26-year-old Yeshey Dema in a time of 3:40.53. Dema works with the regional trade office in Thimpu and also started cycling over a year ago. Rinchen Rabgye (3:50.25) and Laura Stone (3:51.52) sped past the finish line in second and third position respectively.
It was a rewarding outing for the sprightly 36-year-old Britisher from Portsmouth who scripted a podium finish despite it being her first ever competitive cycling outing. The director of Greenrock Ltd, an international cycle tour organizer based in the United Kingdom, who also doubles up as a travel writer, photographer and author of the book ‘Himalaya By Bike’, will go home richer by Rs 10,000 on the aggregate.
The winner in the veteran’s division was Gothrip Thsering Tobgay (3:03.06) followed by Bradlie Goian (3:07.17) and Tawpow Dukpa (3:40.53). About 90 cyclists, mainly locals plus a sprinkling of western riders, took part in the event and all completed the race without any mishap, including several children, the youngest of whom was 11-year-old girl Karma Tobjay in 4:19.19.
The orgaisers, Dantak, are an affiliate of the Border Roads Organisation of the Indian Army, and have been doing yeoman service in the Himalayan kingdom over the past 51 years by executing various infrastructure development projects. Dantak have also organised several sports events in ‘the land of the thunder dragon’ over the past few decades.
Mountain biking is wheeling up the ladder in Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim in recent times thanks to the efforts of several entrepreneurs. Bhutan’s marquee event however is the grueling 268 km Tour of the Dragon from Bumthang to the capital city of Thimpu which runs through some of the most scenic, challenging and treacherous terrain. In fact, the tour, first launched in 2010 and usually held in September, is known in racing circles as the “death race” as it courses through some pretty hair raising trails across the inner reaches of the Himalayas.
Prince Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, a cycling buff and president of the Bhutan Olympic Association, who was the chief guest at the prize distribution ceremony, has successfully negotiated the tour along with leader of the opposition, Tshering Tobgay.
Indian ambassador to Bhutan, Shri Pavan K Varma, while extolling the conduct of the race, said, “The event symbolizes the rapport that has been built between Dantak and the people of Bhutan…This sport signifies endurance, stamina, skill and most importantly enthusiasm and I am glad that all participants completed the race, safe and sound.”