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Duo cycles Cambodia for environmental awareness

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090430_19.jpg

With 80,000 kilometres and 45 countries behind them, two determined cyclists take on the Kingdom’s highways

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Richard Ferge and Stani Martinkova in front of Wat Phnom.

Between the exhaust fumes, colossal Land Rovers and hoards of hell-bent motorbike drivers, Cambodia's roads do not strike the visitor as particularly cyclist- or eco-friendly. Nonetheless, a duo of determined athletes are taking on the Kingdom's highways in the name of environmental awareness, armed only with their bikes, good will and a significant degree of road rage. In fact, with 80,000 kilometres and 45 countries under their figurative belts, "The Velomads", Richard Ferge and Stani Martinkova are taking on the globe.

Their journey started in 1996 in the Alaskan mountains when they embarked on a mission to Argentina with an eco-minded transport policy of travelling only by bicycle and, where necessary, train or boat. But what started as a cycling tour of America quickly evolved into an environmental campaign and an eight-year physical epic in which the pair aimed to traverse 100 countries and 100,000 kilometres.

"While we were travelling, we met so many people who were cycling around the world, that we realised it was quite an easy thing to do," said Martinkova, a Czech-British NGO worker and lifelong cycling devotee.

For her partner, sommelier Ferge, the progression from two legs to two wheels did not come so naturally.

"When I first met Richard, he hated cycling. His last experience of riding was when he used to puncture holes in the tyres of the bike he was forced to ride to school," Martinkova said. However, she quickly indoctrinated the Frenchman with the many economic and ecological virtues of cycling, and it seems he has taken to the pursuit with enormous zeal.  

Driving passion

But it is primarily a passion for the environment that is driving the pair, who are using their journey to teach youth in classrooms in each country they visit about the dangers of climate change and environmental degradation.

The pair have had to contend with more than a few linguistic, cultural, political and legal barriers, but as Martinkova explains, the most difficult obstacle "The Velomads" have grappled with has been the degree of environmental degradation they've witnessed.

"The most difficult thing has been the extreme pollution that's going on everywhere.  It's really heartbreaking on a daily basis and we get so frustrated," Martinkova said.

The state of the Cambodian roads and physical environment has been particularly troubling.

"Cycling and walking is seen as being for poor people here, so everyone is rushing out to get their own moto or Range Rover without awareness of the long-term consequences," she said.  The Velomads will be living up to their name for sometime yet as they peddle their message at an average 80 kilometres a day from Phnom Penh through Southeast Asia and Australasia.

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