Paul, Andre (Epic Sports) and I left for The Langkawi international MTB Race on Thursday the 13th October, I couldn’t believe it was already time to leave as the week before had been so busy I didn’t even have time to give it thought!
I had just been for an on the bike performance test prescribed by my surgeon Professor Feugier to follow up from my operation and the results showed a perfect return of blood flow to my left leg, for which I’m extremely grateful and positive for the future!
We had a great send-off from friends and family and boarded our 13h00 flight, with a 6 hour forward time-zone leap we were in for a long day!
We landed in Kuala Lumpur on Friday morning and after a short lay-over and hour’s flight were stepping onto Langkawi soil met by a stifling wall of hot, humid air. I knew it was going to be hot but wow this was special!
The event organizers were super accommodating having catered for all our needs from the time the trip was just a seed of thought to our touch-down back in SA and shortly after landing we were in a taxi zooming through to our home for the week, the Bayview hotel
|Feeling the jet-lag!|
After taking the first day to recover from travelling and start getting into the new time zone Paul and I headed out on Sunday for a loop of the island on our Volcans. It was a little longer than we had planned but good to stretch out our travel weary legs and start getting acclimatized to the heat. We also got a good feel for the layout of the island.
|Giant eagle tourist attraction under repair|
Rider registration and briefing was held on Monday and we learned that stage 4, the 6hour XC endurance event had been changed to a normal XC format race due to changes that had to be made to the course resulting in a much shorter 4km lap. With the intense heat this would for sure be less demanding!
After the briefing we joined Burry and Charles Stander for a ride out to Stage 2’s XC course. You would think that on an island with a total of around 100km of tar it would be difficult to get lost but I think we landed up taking every possible wrong turn and just as we were about to give up found the course venue. The 4.7km course started with a 300m tar downhill and then after a right turn onto the dirt headed straight up a technical, rooty, steep climb which wound upwards for about a km had a short respite and climbed some more. It then headed into the jungle for a fun super technical descent and finished off with a fast jeep and single-track section. A fun, World class course! Heading home I knew that was certainly going to be a tough one to race!
The following day Paul and I headed out for a pre-race warm up ride and got our feet up to prepare for the next day
Stage 1 opened the tour with a 65km XC marathon around the island on a surprisingly technical course through mud and jungle.
Around 35 ladies lined up for the women’s race and with my current UCI seeding I got a front row call upJ. We started 5 minutes after the men’s start which was delayed whilst they awaited the arrival of the Governor to get things underway.
The pace was quick from the gun as everyone was feeling out the competition. After a tar section we turned onto jeep track and I stuck close to the front of the group not wanting to get jammed up through the technical sections. Around 9-10kms into the race I saw Paul pushing up ahead, sad to hear his arm was messed I asked if he was ok and continued on. At this stage the 2 Colnago riders; Nathalie Schneitter and Vivienne Meyer and I had a 20-30sec lead on the rest of the field. I lost contact with them on a tar section just before the 15km tech zone and chased hard going into the next technical single-track. I had lost a bottle early in the race and in hind-sight should have stopped to get a new one from Andre but wanting to close the gap on the leaders I just quickly shouted to Andre that Paul needed help and raced on.
Just after the 30km tech zone Jodie Willet (Australia) and Michela Benzoni (Italy) caught me, I pushed hard but I was feeling the effect of the heat in a big way and could not stick with them. Reaching the 45km tech zone I was very grateful to see Andre; hear Paul was ok and take on fresh bottles (I had run out a long time before). The biggest climb came with 14km to go and I settled into a good rhythm hoping I would gain some ground on the riders ahead. The course never let up and was very demanding to the finish and I crossed the line in 5th place feeling quite broken!
I found out from the organizers that they had taken Paul to the hospital and would be brought back to the course shortly. Andre soon joined me at the finish and we went to the lunch hall to get some food whilst we waited. After a couple of hours and having asked numerous times when he would arrive I headed back to the hotel for a shower only to find Paul there all bandaged up and in considerable pain. He had just been dropped off there after a long stint in the hospital where fortunately they had not found anything broken.
We spent the rest of the day with our feet up recovering whilst Andre worked on getting the bikes ready for the next day’s XC stage
Stage 2 started with the women’s race just after 9am, I warmed up well which meant I was already soaking wet :p and went to have a look at the first climb section. It had rained and the now slippery climb was tricky to negotiate especially as there was only one real line up.
Bang and we were off sprinting down the fast tar section and into the first climb, by the top the majority of us were pushing having lost traction or getting jammed up in traffic. Natalie made it over a soon had a lead over the rest of the field. I got stuck behind a few riders on the descent but managed to get round and pushed hard being careful not to make mistakes on the technical sections.
I felt pretty strong for the first 3 laps but had not been feeling too well since the previous day (effect of the heat which the majority of the field was feeling) and tried to just keep it steady to the end. Andre and Paul did a great support job keeping me topped up with cold bottles and shouting encouragement, thanks guys! I finished in 7th place a bit disappointed with my performance but feeling I had given everything I had and hoping I would be able to recover properly for the next day.
Paul had decided to start the XC race despite his injuries so that he would not be disqualified and could compete in later stages should his hand start feeling better. So whilst I rested up back at the hotel he and Andre headed back to the course for the Elite men’s race. Paul had a great start coming right from the back of the field to around 15th place at the top of the climb but not being able to hold on down the downhill it was short lived. BIG pity about the crash but I guess unfortunately part of Mountain biking!
Having spent the afternoon with my feet up I was starting to feel more human and headed to Starbucks for a good cup of coffee with Paul and Andre when they returned.
Stage 3 a 2nd XC event consisted of 6 laps of a relatively flat 4.2km course broken up by short steep technical climbs and descents. It was another scorcher of a day and by the time I had warmed up and checked out the course I felt as though I had just stepped out of a hot bath fully clothed.
The pace was flat out from the gun. After the first few laps I could unfortunately feel that I had not recovered feeling light headed as soon as I pushed hard. All I could do was to try and maintain my pace and push through to the finish. I crossed the line in 11th place feeling totally spent.
I went for a swim in the harbor after the race which helped to cool down a little and although the days racing had not gone well I was feeling much better that afternoon than I had the previous day and was feeling positive for the following days hill climb.
Stage 4‘s hill climb was an all tar route starting with 14kms of rolling terrain to the base of the 13km climb up Gunung Raya Hill. This was the one event Paul felt he would manage ok with his hand and we headed off to the start together; this event would be a mass start for all categories.
Soon we were off and I pushed hard to stick with the main group my legs feeling the burn from the previous stages efforts but dropped off on the 2nd climb. I worked together with a few other riders and reaching the bottom of the main climb settled into a good rhythm. The climb was quite steep stepping up as it wound up the hill. Although I was feeling better than the previous day I was still battling to push my body above a certain level and was again disappointed with my ride. I finished in 10th place maintaining my 7th place in the GC.
After prize giving for the stage we headed back down the hill stopping to take in some of the magnificent views of the surrounding bay and islands.
Stage 5 the fitting final stage was a short course XC around the sports stadium on tar and grass with a few tight turns and technical sections. We would race for 30minutes plus 3 laps.
After a good warm up I lined up at the start and after the final countdown hit full gas around the circuit. I dropped off from the lead group and started working together with another 3 riders spending most of the lap pulling in front. I finally felt like my body was playing ball and was able to push hard. With 2 laps to go one of the riders in our group punctured which was a pity as she would have helped me tactically in the end. Although the lead group were increasing the gap each lap we were not losing too much time and made it through for our last lap. Coming into the final 300m I tried to get a gap but it came down to a sprint and I was out matched. I finished 12th and 7th overall in the event.
The overall awards ceremony was held that evening in the form of a gala banquet; a very well coordinated and fun event. A good end to an amazing and unique race!
|Final awards ceremony|
The organizers did an excellent job on all of the courses, race organization and event on a whole. There was nothing that we lacked from start to finish of the event except maybe for an air conditioning unit for our bikes ;)
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope to have the opportunity to return next year!
Thanks to the organizers and MTN-Qhubeka for making it possible to compete and to Andre (Epic Sports) for the flawless race support
Some island exploration
On one of our first days there we had been for a trip on their impressive cable car which takes you up to Mount Mat Cincang, Langkawi’s second highest peak where you can then walk across their skywalk which transverses the rift between Mount Mat Cincang and a neighbouring mountain. It was quite an unnerving experience but the views of the island were spectacular and well worth the wobbly knees we all suffered afterwards!
|Wobbly knees on the skywalk|
The afternoon after stage 5 we went and hired scooters. This being my first visit to a tropical island I was ready for to make the most of our last 2 days there.
|Breathtaking tropical beaches|
|Kids in a candy store|
Soon it was time to leave and although I would miss the laid back island lifestyle I was looking forward to be back on home soil!
We’ve now been back in SA for a few days and I’m finally conquering the jet-lag
Till next time, take care