Cycling: In her maiden appearance at the 6th DANTAK Open Mountain Bike Race in Thimphu yesterday, Chimi Dema completed the race in 3 hours, 12 minutes and 6 seconds to win her first title in the open women’s category.

The 19-year-old class XII graduate is a regular at open marathon competitions held in Thimphu every year. Chimi Dema currently holds the national record in the middle-distance running category.

During the national athletics meet in July last year, Chimi Dema completed the 800m  race in 2 minutes, 47 seconds and 49 milliseconds, breaking her own previous record by six seconds.

Chimi Dema said that her father’s support and her interest in sports and physical activities encouraged her to take part in the bike race for the first time.

“I had exactly 20 days to prepare for the race. I knew how to ride a bike but riding a professional bike was all together at a new level for me,” said Chimi Dema. “I had to learn the technicalities in those 20 days.”

Chimi Dema said that she trained for at least five hours everyday. “I was aiming for the top five positions in the category. I didn’t expect to come first. It was a very pleasant surprise.”

A total of 12 women took part in this year’s race.

In the open men’s category, Aaron Pete Bayard from the USA defeated last years’ winner, Sonam, by a narrow margin of just three seconds. Aaron completed the 90km race in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 6 seconds.

The 33-year-old bike mechanic first participated in the DANTAK bike race in 2014. Aaron said that it was just for fun then. “For this race, I started practicing right after I got back in the country earlier in February.”

The American said that he suffered a minor cramp after crossing khasadrapchu. “I was worried that the cramp might cost me the race but somehow I recovered and was able to continue the race,” said Aaron. “Although there were not much hurdles during the race, the last climb, which was some 100m for the finish line, was the most difficult part.”

Aaron congratulated fellow participants and acknowledged the sportsmanship of the Bhutanese athletes. “I think Bhutanese are natural cyclists and they are very good at it.”

Sonam, who came second in the race, was sipping a cup of coffee at a restaurant nearby. He said that up until the Bhutan Oil Distributor station near Lungtenzampa, he was leading the race. “This is not an excuse, but there was some problem with my gear while climbing up the Lungtenzampa road,” Sonam said.

After riding a UK brand bike, Lapierre, in the past three competitions, Sonam used a new bike, Niner-9 Air, this year. “The quality of bikes matters during big competitions but at the end, the amount of training and hard work put by the athlete makes the difference,” he said.

Sonam added that he was prepared for the race and delivered the best he could. “As a sportsman, I believe in luck. It was because of this luck someone came first today and I was left behind,” he said. “Everyone had prepared well and I’ve no regrets with my performance. We cannot win every time but we can always improve ourselves with every race.”

A total of 169 participants took part in the race from Changlimithang to Paro (Bonday) and back to Clock Tower Square in Thimphu.

His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay also took part in the competition.

The day also marked the 56th Raising Day of Project DANTAK in Bhutan.

Younten Tshedup