Monday, 31 October 2011

Report back from the Langkawi International MTB Race 2011

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!
Testing with Dr Weir

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.
Langkawi waterfall deep in the jungle

Breathtaking tropical beaches
We spent them zooming around the island on our scooters, visiting picturesque white beaches and swimming in calm clear water with small rock and jungle island backdrops and walking through craft markets taking in the artistic artworks that form part of the Malaysian culture all the while dodging tropical thunderstorms; not always successfully I might add.
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
Yolande (@yolandes)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge 2011

Tropical beauty
On the 15th of October Andre (Epic Sports and MTN mtb mechanic), Yolande and I left OR Tambo and headed off for a new adventure this time on an island just off the coast of Malaysia, somewhere none of us had ever been before - Langkawi!
99 Island Geopark
We had all heard that it was to be warm but nothing quite prepared us for the initial shock of walking out of that airplane onto the tarmac at 6:00am. Probably the combination of the heat and humidity almost knocks away your breath! Soon we were herded into a taxi thoughtfully organized by the race office and whisked away to Bayview Hotel which was to be our new home for the next 9days. 
BayView view
All of the international contestants were staying at Bayview and the staff where super friendly and very accommodating for everyone’s needs. It also gave a great opportunity to mingle and meet new people from all across the globe who had come to take part in this new event. All meals during our stay were catered for from the hotel as well as all transfers to the daily events. Each team was also allocated a tech area in the garage of the hotel which was always a hive of activity every evening when the bikes were tweaked for the next day’s events.
Team garage area
This race had a very interesting format offering a spread of disciplines starting with a marathon followed by a xco then 6hr endurance, point to point hill climb and finishing with a dirt criterium. All of these put together in a stage race format and with a very generous prize offering made for a spectacular few days of racing. The first two days also offered uci points which gave the event a different twist. The UCI guys did a great job overseeing the event and helping to give it a very high standard setting the bar for years to come. Unfortunately day 3 had to be replaced with an xco due to some problems with the original longer course prepared for the endurance course.
Final award ceremony
The event finished off with a banquet styled prize giving together with a live show which brought an end to a fantastic week of racing in Langkawi.

As far as how my race went it was unfortunately short lived with rather a dramatic finish.  On day one I had a front row start due to my marathon points which was exactly where I wanted to be with a field of over 130 lined up behind me. The start was slightly delayed while we waited for a Langkawi dignitary to get the event started officially but luckily water got passed around as the sweat was pouring off everyone even before the first pedal stroke was taken. Finally the race was underway and as expected from a world class line up the pace was quick from the gun! As we headed into the first jeep and single tracks of the thick forests I was slightly caught out behind a few riders. My legs were loosening up nicely and I started making ground but then on a quick jeep track downhill a rider in front of me lost traction with his rear wheel careering him into the foliage. As I moved to come around him he apparently hit some small bushes which shot him straight into me shooting me over the bars and into the undergrowth.
Huge local media interest!
At first I thought I had a soft landing and would get away relatively unscathed but as I tried to get up I realized there was more wrong as I couldn’t move my hand let alone hold the bar. After a stop at the medics I tried to continue for another 45min hoping that it may loosen up. By the time I got to the next tech point I realized there was no way I could finish and went to the medics. I think I must have been one of their first patients as I received full medical attention including them wanting to wheel me everywhere, red lights blazing, screaming sirens and running traffic lights made it all very theatrical! X-rays showed that there was nothing broken but because it was so swollen that I couldn’t see my knuckles and bruising on all the joints meant that rest was in order.
Woman's start day 3
I started the xco with the plan of getting lapped in the hope that if my hand got better for the last few days I would still be allowed to race. Sad thing was that I had a great start and up the first climb I worked myself up into the top 15. However on the tricky down hills the pain was too much and in danger of losing the bar I opted to walk and therefore be lapped after two laps. The same thing happened for day three but day four was the hill climb which was all on tar so thought I could give it gas there. I started right at the back and worked my way up to the front group. I stayed with them till about 12km to go where I lost contact and raced the rest of the race with a group of 5 riders. I came over the line first of our group and in 16th position which I was quite pleased with.
View from the hill climb
This effort however took its toll as that eve I battled to sleep even with anti-inflamitries and pain killers due to the throbbing in my arm. After inspecting the crit course for the last stage and realizing with my 100th place starting position there was no point even pretending to compete the last day. What a disappointing race for an otherwise incredible event but I guess this is mountain biking after all and these things happen. 
Yolande smashing the crit!
What a great event all in all and I am sure this will grow in the upcoming years and become one of those “must do’s” in the life of a mountain biker. From the friendliness of the people, the vision of the organizer, the beauty of the country side and the overall fantastic value for money this event exceeded all my expectations and is definitely the best event I’ve done in 2011 and hopefully will make it back in good health for next year. 
Commute option of the island
We also got a chance in our spare time to roam the island and take in some of the sights and attractions it had to offer. We did this by renting scooters and navigating our way around the streets, enjoying the local cultural, visiting all the natural sights including amazing mountains and cable cars, waterfalls, beaches, craft markets and jetty’s. Everyone was so friendly and helpful and life just seems to move at a little slower pace. We eventually even started getting used to the humidity and didn’t notice the heat as much or just didn’t mind always being sweaty – I’m still not too sure.  
Cable car and skywalk -700m up!
Anyway, till next time keep the rubber side down and while I rest and heal you better keep up the training!
Thanks to the organizers of LIMBC as well as always to MTN/Qhubeka for making this race happen, your support has been fantastic!
Regards, PC
Fast girls!
For more info check out:

A good battle at MTN Crater Cruise

Woman's podium

I had a really good build up with quality training sessions but although I have been able to squeeze a little more power from my SRM each week it was still with a sense of uncertainty of how I would fair against my opposition that I headed off with my fellow MTN-Qhubeka team mates for the MTN Crater Cruise.

Unlike the preceding races in the MTN Marathon series the women’s start was together with the rest of the men’s field and I knew it would be crucial to hang in with the main bunch as long as possible especially with such a strong women’s field.

The pace picked up as we hit the dirt after the long tar neutral section, I was feeling strong and reached the first technical single track with the front group. On the following gravel section I lost contact and was soon joined by Ariane (Contego), Yolandi, Ischen and Catherine (Bizhub) and Cherise and Karien USN. We rode together taking turns to pull in the front until we turned into the next technical single track; Ariane was in the lead and pulled a short gap as we lost a few seconds through one section. Reaching the rocky climb and descent I pushed hard to try and close it, too hard I realized after making a small error and losing some time. Yolandi and I had now taken a lead on the remainder of the field and we chased hard working together on the gravel road and jeep track sections trying to catch Ariane.
 I went into the single track along the river ahead of Yolandi grateful for my decision to ride the Conti X-King up front as it gripped well through the tight corners. I came out ahead of Yolandi put my head down and set my sights on closing the around 1 minute lead Ariane had on me.
Having lost a bottle early on in the race the 2nd tech zone and my team support were a good sight and I gratefully took on some fresh bottles. The next gravel road section with its relentless corrugations felt eternal but came with some respite as I could see I was starting to close the gap eventually catching just after the last water point. We reached the last climb together and I took the lead Ariane right on my wheel through to the railway line crossing and into the last 5kms. Ariane came to the front. I tried to take the lead when the course and my legs allowed but she was able to put in a strong surge that I could not reciprocate. I had to settle for 2nd wheel and she reached the final bridge first taking a well deserved win with me finishing 5seconds behind in 2nd.  Yolandi finished in 3rd, Ischen 4th and Cherise filled the podium in 5th

I was happy with my race performance using everything I had in my armor but more so with the fact that I’m feeling my former strength returning, happy days :)

It was great to win the MTN series overall and keep the pink jersey in the team especially after having such a broken season! Thanks to Doug and Team MTN-Qhubeka for making it possible, to my competitors for a great battle and to Advendurance for a quality MTB series!

Congrats to my team mates for great race performances despite their 3inch handicap and a big thanks to Andre (EpicSports cycle shop) and Nicole Alan for the support

Next week Paul and I head off to Malaysia for the MTB Tour of Langkawi; a 5 day individual MTB stage race which I’m super excited for!

Till our return, take care
Yolande Speedy
Team MTN-Qhubeka

Monday, 10 October 2011

Crater Cruise 2011 - Its a numbers game!

Crater Cruise 2011 – It’s a numbers game!

Dirt road racing
This being the last race of the season for 2011 and on top of the usual bragging rights of winning this prestigious event there was a lot more at stake this weekend. After a year of fierce racing, immense pressure and pure uncertainty what we had for sure was this: Yolande despite the odds had won the series with one event to go and in the most impressive show of character Adrien was in a very outside position to take the men's overall title. However the catch was that he would have to win and his closest rival needed to place 4th or worse. So in short is was race on!!
Very dramatic
The most I could hope for was to stay as close as possible for as long as possible and always in eyesight especially while still stuck in a bunch situation to give assistance should it be required but I had with no doubt known that it would come down to him to finish it off and make a dream come true. I was surprised with my result and actually very pleased to finish off the season with this result and here is the reason why:

I stuck with the lead group through the first very fast gravel and single track sections and up the first climb where I normally in the past lost contact. However it was not until the next really bumpy section that I just slipped off the back. I pushed hard up the KOM and joined up with Jacques and another rider after the rocky downhill where we stayed together with only 2min off the leaders all the way till the last climb about 10km from the finish where I lost contact from the other two. 

The course this year was way bumpier than 2010. They also added an additional 2km grass ball climb where we used to just have a gravel road and the total distance was also 2km longer. Luckily it was a little cooler than previous years. I finished in a time of 3hr38min11sec exactly 18min32sec faster than my time last year. I have a max hr of around 190bpm and I had a 20min peak hr at 180bph, a 10min peak of 182 and a 5min of 185 in the race which I don’t think I’ve been able to do the entire year.

That tan just washed right off!
My finish time this year would have put me exactly 5sec behind the winning time of 2010 so would have been an amazing 2nd place only 1year ago and obviously by far my best result ever in this event. It is also the best I have felt on the bike in probably a year and a half, I was very grateful to have that feeling back bar that it is now the end of the year. So why now? 

Well I went back to my old set up as well as back to the trusty dual suspension. I made a different tire selection as well a suspension swap again. I also changed my training the last month and have done more quality not trying to chase the benchmark hours. I have also tried to isolate myself and get away from all the negativity and try and focus on why I do this and what makes me a faster cyclist as well as build on the fact that my training partner was back in the game and the energy coming from that as well as trying to motivate Adrien was helping me feel a lot better.

Good Pics - thanks Zoon Cronje
Well now back to the numbers: last year I finished 16th and 8 of those riders I beat this year. So this year with a completely improved result I finished a much better ……..16th. Therefore all I can say is that the quality of the field has improved a lot in the past year; hard to believe it is has been that much. The biggest improvement however has been the same as it has the whole year…..just 3inches. And who can argue with that, after all it is just science.

Thanks to MTN/Qhubeka and Doug Ryder for all the support the last 2 years as well as to Advendurance and all the effort they put into this 2011 MTN Marathon Series.