SINGAPORE - The Kallang Riverside Park, with the dome of the National Stadium as the backdrop, is a tranquil and picturesque picnic spot. But that can be transformed into an adrenaline-filled off-road cycling circuit, as seen at Sunday's (Jan 20) OCBC Cycle National Cyclocross Championship.
Now into its fifth edition here, competitors race on an off-road course, which could include sections of pavement, on hybrid bicycles which have the frame of a road bike and the knobbly tyres of mountain bikes.
According to national cyclist Junaidi Hashim, who was the top Singaporean finisher in the men's elite event when he crossed the chequered flag in fifth position, cyclocross is still new in the Republic.
The 37-year-old, who specialises in mountain biking, said: "Cyclocross is still very new here, but it is very popular in Europe and outside of Asia.
"This is my first cyclocross race and this is a good stepping stone to host more events in the future.
"It is good for beginners as mountain biking is more technical and tougher. Cyclocross is a faster event and competitors can still feel the excitement of racing through mud, grass and rocks."
Yesterday afternoon's event saw 45 participants challenging for podium places across the junior, women's, men's elite and men's masters categories.
Each lap at the Kallang Riverside Park is 2.1km long with competitors running the gauntlet of six obstacles.
The first is a spiral route on a muddy grass patch and participants had to zig-zag across a path lined with trees before shuddering across a stony pavement. Next, they had to dismount, carry their bikes and jump over two hurdles before having to conquer a steep slope where the final obstacle of steps awaited.
Children under the age of seven took part in the kiddie push-bike event where they traversed a smaller course over a bumpy field.
Apart from the men's elite category, where competitors raced to complete five laps of the circuit, all the other competitors needed to complete three laps.
German Bastian Dohling won the men's elite race, finishing in 36min 28.472sec, ahead of Australian Mike Koreneff (37:03.554) and Swiss Pierre Alain Scherwey (37:57.600). Junaidi was fifth among 11 competitors in 40:19.791.
Australian Stephanie Lim was triumphant in the women's elite field, crossing the line in 32:40.057, ahead of Singaporean Lynette Ngo.
Ngo, an oncologist at Raffles Hospital, is an avid cyclist who considers herself a "roadie" who devours tarmac for breakfast but found cyclocross an intriguing proposition.
She said: "I've been doing so much road cycling that it's nice to mix it up after a while.
"It (the course) is very tough as there are some gnarly tree roots.
"It rained last night, so some patches were very muddy, making it unstable to ride, but the section along the waterfront is quite relaxing."