Cambodia 2023: Mountain biker Riyadh Hakim battles heat to post personal best result at SEA Games
Riyadh Hakim competing in the Cross-Country Olympic Final at the 32nd SEA Games. Photo: SNOC/Eng Chin An
The day started optimistically for Riyadh Hakim bin Lukman, Singapore’s sole entrant in the Cycling Mountain Bike Men’s Cross Country Olympic Final at the SEA Games.
The Kulen Mountains Course on the outskirts of Siem Reap is a beautifully designed course, perfect for mountain biking and provided a fair challenge for all cyclists in the competition. With its technical climbs and descents, it is one of the better-built courses in Asia and not one that was put together overnight.
But what had been a promising morning turned out to be a punishing day under the scorching sun with temperatures rising throughout the morning, pushing the mercury to a punishing 44 degrees Celsius by the time the race was flagged off at 11am.
Riyadh seeking respite from the heat before the start of the race. Photo: SNOC/Eng Chin An
In fact, it was so hot that the organisers had to reduce both the men’s and women’s races by a lap each, from seven to six laps, recognising the effect of the brutal heat on the cyclists.
“It was definitely the hottest race I’ve ever taken part in and my team and I did our best to mitigate the effects of the extreme heat,” said Riyadh.
The task of overcoming the course and the heat was not helped by the limited time the competitors were allowed to familiarise themselves with the course, as they were given only a total of three hours of practice over two days, managing at most to put in six or seven laps to get used to the curves and corners of the course.
At the starting line, Riyadh was focused on putting on his best performance, knowing that this is one of his biggest races this year, and the number of hours and sacrifices the former PE teacher-turned fulltime athlete had put in to prepare himself for this day.
“All the hard work has been done, and I just wanted to race my best race,” said Riyadh. “I gave it my 110 percent, pushed myself to the fullest, and my heart rate went as fast as 200bpm, averaging around 180.”
Coming in 11th fastest out of the field of 20, Riyadh could not help but feel a tinge of disappointment.
“Yes, but that’s all I could do today,” he said. “Everyone was in the same playing field, and everyone gave it their all, so I can hold my head high.”
Still, it was an improvement on the 14th place he achieved at this same event in the previous SEA Games in Vietnam last year when he was a Games debutant.
“I’m really happy with how I paced myself today, we did a good job as a team… with my coach, manager, mechanic and two medical staff.”
Riyadh with his support team at the SEA Games. Photo: SNOC/Eng Chin An
And his takeaway from today’s performance?
“I feel like I’ve to be happy with me doing the best that I can, and be satisfied with whatever results,” he said. “We come to every race ready to fight for the win, but some days can be more difficult than others.”
First job over, now Riyadh looks forward to Monday 8 May when he will be taking part in the Cross Country Eliminators.
He will enter the event as one of the athletes to watch, given his reputation as the 2019 Asian Champion in this event.
“I certainly hope to do better (than today) as I feel my forte has always been the technical finesse in mountain biking, so hopefully I can come away with a better result and perhaps a medal for Team Singapore."
The 32nd SEA Games are held in Cambodia from 5 to 17 May 2023. For the latest Team Singapore coverage and news, follow Team Singapore on their social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) or visit the official Team Singapore website.