While the German Bundesliga marked the restart of football championships in Europe this weekend, the Trinh Cup Truyen Hinh, known as HTV Cup, is the first bike race to be organised after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The race starts in Vinh in the north of Vietnam on Tuesday May 19, celebrating the 130th anniversary of the birth of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. The 18 stages long event will be held until June 7.
“People here in Vietnam are very happy with Cyclingnews announcing the race last week," defending champion Javier Sardá Pérez from Spain who rides for Thanh Phô Ho Chi Minh said. “
"Usually races in Vietnam are only followed nationally but after the news has been reproduced in many countries and in several languages, there’s suddenly a lot of attention on the HTV Cup. I myself received a call for an interview from a Spanish national radio and I answered to a lot of journalists who were curious to know about cycling in Vietnam and the sanitary situation here."
National broadcaster Ho Chi Minh TV – the driving force behind the event – contacted international reporters, including Cyclingnews, to ask how they found out about the HTV Cup. Cycling fans know of races in China, Japan and occasionally Malaysia, for the Le Tour de Langkawi but the Vietnamese racing scene remains a closed market despite ten stage races being contested every year by a number of local professional teams. However none of them are UCI registered.
In the last South East Asian Games held in December 2019 in the Philippines, Vietnam finished third in the medal tally of cycling events behind Thailand and the Philippines, winning the women’s road race with Nguyen Thi That. When Vietnamese riders get a rare chance to secure international exposure, they perform well. Nguyen Hoang Sang of Bikelife Dong Nai is the most recent example. He finished fourth in the Tour of Selangor in Malaysia in December and seventh in the Cambodia Bay Cycling Tour in January this year.
For once, Vietnamese cyclists will be followed by cycling fans worldwide because there are no other races permitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the HTV Cup will be broadcast life on Facebook and YouTube. Asia is leading the return to racing, with the Thailand Track Cup scheduled for 13-14 June on the Hua Mark velodrome in Bangkok.
The 84-man peloton of the HTV Cup has already made their way to Vinh in the province of Nghê An. From the northern part of the country, the race will visit fifteen provinces during twenty days, heading south to Ho Chi Minh City for the grand finale.
The race celebrates the reunification of the country in 1976. Last year, for the 30th anniversary, it included 30 stages, covering the whole month of April. Covid-19 has postponed the racing this year, May 19 – the day of the 130th anniversary of the birth of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, is symbolic for the country that has recorded zero fatality during the outbreak.
Teams have been filmed training on time trial bikes prior to the HTV Cup and a 48-km team time trial is scheduled on stage 13 in Nha Trang.
The opening four stages are fairly flat, starting with a criterium in Vinh. There are also five short criterium stages, all broadcasted live on television. Stages 5, 9, 10, 14 and 15 are the most difficult. A total of eleven serious climbs are featured over the eighteen stages, starting with Deo Hai Van - 9km at 5.4%, on stage 5. The finale of stage 14 includes a one-kilometre ramp at 11%. Stage 15 goes from the beach to the mountains and so is the queen stage with the 16.5km long Ngoan Muc pass and the 7.2km long Prenn pass.
"The top of the last climb is only two kilometres before the finishing line," Sardá explained, who chose Da Lat for his pre-race training camp.
The 18 stages of the HTV Cup:
May 19, stage 1: Vong Quang Truong, 52km
May 20, stage 2: Nghe An-Quang Binh, 199km
May 21, stage 3: Quang Binh-Hué, 162km
May 22, stage 4: Hué, 42km
May 23, stage 5: Hué-Da Nang, 113km
May 24, stage 6: Da Nang-Tam Ky, 130km
May 26, stage 7: Vonh Thanh Phô Tam Ky, 50km
May 27, stage 8: Tam Ky-Quy Nhon, 230km
May 28, stage 9: Quy Nhon-Pleiku, 167km
May 29, stage 10: Pleiku-Buon Me Thuot, 180km
May 30, stage 11: Buon Me Thuot, 50km
May 31, stage 12: Buon Me Thuot-Nha Trang, 190km
June 2, stage 13: Nha Trang, 48km (TTT)
June 3, stage 14: Nha Trang-Phan Rang, 135km
June 4, stage 15: Phan Rang-Da Lat, 123km
June 5, stage 16: Da Lat, 51km
June 6, stage 17: Da Lat-Bao Loc, 110km
June 7, stage 18: Bao Loc-Ho Chi Minh City, 163km