|Javier Sarda Perez competes at the annual National Cycling Tournament, HCM City Television Cup early this month. — Photo courtesy of Javier Sarda Perez
The coronavirus pandemic has sidelined athletes across the world, but for one Spanish cyclist in Việt Nam, it's brought a degree of fame in his home country he never thought possible.
Javier Sarda Perez races for HCM City and won the annual National Cycling Tournament, HCM City Television Cup earlier this month, his second consecutive HTV Cup crown.
With Việt Nam his second home, Perez plans to live in the country after his retirement from professional racing, which is still some way off.
“At first, it was a little bit hard. Other culture, food, weather, but little by little I got adapted and I’m really happy now and I feel Việt Nam is like my home. People are kind and make my life easier,” Perez told Việt Nam News.
“Now I still want to keep racing because I’m in my best moment. I don’t know when I will stop cycling. As long as I have a good legs and motivation, I will be racing. After that I want to stay here in Việt Nam and make a future life here,” Perez added.
According to the 32-year-old, the HTV Cup is always the biggest goal for his team and himself, so victory brought him great joy.
This year's glory was especially sweet because he has become a prominent athlete not only in Việt Nam but also in Spain.
|Javier Sarda Perez celebrates winning the annual National Cycling Tournament, HCM City Television Cup early this month. — Photo courtesy of Javier Sarda Perez
Perez has been interviewed by major newspapers in Spain like Marca, AS, El Mundo as well as television channel Antena 3.
For the first time in his career, Perez has become a star back home as most sports in Spain have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year was more special due the COVID-19 pandemic. My country suffered a bad situation and had a long and hard quarantine.
"Here in Việt Nam, we have had a normal life and this means we could race at HTV Cup."
When people knew that he was the unique athlete from Spain in this event, they started to follow and asked him about the race.
"It was a little bit crazy but it was also a chance for me to tell more about Việt Nam, cycling and the HTV Cup,” said Perez.
Perez said he auctioned his winner's yellow jersey last year to raise money to donate to charity.
“Last year, I met people from SJVRC.org when I was participating in an event in Đà Nẵng.
"I could see some children who were living in an orphanage and how this organisation was helping them.
"Since that moment, I felt that I wanted to try to help them because these children deserve the best.
“I follow them on Facebook and before HTV Cup I thought if I could win the race and sell the yellow jersey, it could be a good way to help them.
“After the race, I auctioned both for US$750,” said Perez.
|Javier Sarda Perez seen in training in Đà Lạt City. — Photo courtesy of Javier Sarda Perez
Perez was in Việt Nam for the first time in 2017 to race in the VTV Cup in which he finished second. In 2018, a team from An Giang Province contacted him and he raced for them for almost a year until his current team called him. Since that, he has raced for HCM City.
Perez raced in Spain for a long time as well as Portugal and Japan.
“Cycling is like a tradition in my family. My grandpa was a cyclist also, my uncle followed him and after that, it was my older brother and me.
"I love this sport and it gave me all in my life,” said Perez.
According to Perez, Vietnamese cycling is growing every year.
“There are super good riders here, and good future riders can help to make cycling in Việt Nam bigger. Races and events are also better every year,” said Perez.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perez is still in HCM City and in training for the VTV Cup.
|Javier Sarda Perez lives for the bicycle. — Photo courtesy of Javier Sarda Perez
“I think it’s safer to stay here and wait to see how this situation (COVID-19) is going,” said Perez.
“To be honest, my life in Spain and Việt Nam is similar. Every morning, I go training. After that, I just stay at home resting, enjoying with my parents, brother and sister, and walking with my dogs.
“When I’m living in Việt Nam, the unique difference is that I’m alone. So I only go training and try to live 24 hours for the bicycle,” Perez added. — VNS