A Photo Blog By: Peter Williamson
When Arran and Jorgen finished their Friday warm up ascent of Doi Suthep, strava told them a little story. Their yet to be met team-mate Natalie, climbed it in almost half of the time they had just taken. In fact, she had been QOM until a couple of days previous. Great substitution Donna!
We should have twigged then that when she said she had ridden the course in reverse and there were a few steep climbs and it was likely to be muddy and hot that she was a mistress of understatement…
Now it’s out there on YouTube for the world to see thanks to our friend the Durianrider and his camera.. ‘the hardest century ride I have ever done’… with cameos from your very own Anza teams.
The first 40 km were a delightful meander thru the beautiful Thai country lanes with optimistic trains of riders in their new very colourful new Rapha team clothes. This totally took your mind off what was to come. Teams of 4 at two minute intervals were bunching up as enthusiastic riders stretched their legs.
As summed up by the Durianrider… “this is f.. epic man” … “this is the hardest century ride I have ever done” … but better still watch it.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB_4UVlLRhQ
We hit our first climbs on first class roads and settled in to our own rhythms…these seemed long and hard .. but its all relative. Quite a lot of people were starting to walk or help weakest team members. This is well before the turn on to a minor concrete road at 60km. Then it started.. into the national park we go…
Grooved concrete on the uphill, severely broken concrete rattling your teeth and stretching your brakes on the very steep downhills… Now if we are making all these descents does that mean anything?
You betcha! Sharp ascents steep enough that conventional cars would be struggling to get up them. My compact crank and 11/27 setup was not going to make it without continual zig zagging… which meant the fastest way to the top was direct via shanks’ pony… prompting the Durianrider in his you tube to comment that he” didn’t know Trek and Moots made prams”. He was on a 22/40 setup… and as he described it ‘Frooming’. From my memory Jorgen said he saw up to 28% on his strava.
Oh yes… plus mud, gravel, sand. Bike handing was a constant challenge for 40km.
And then the real climbing started! Blah!… in 40 plus degrees with over 100 very hard kilometres in the legs… “see how you go son” “come to Chiang Mai and I will show you some climbs’ claims the Durianrider.
The long ‘police box climb’ might not have quite averaged in the teens but the immediately following 7 steps (switchbacks) was well into the teens… which left Arran ready to have more than words with the organisers. Is that the sign of a successful Rapha ride?
The Durianrider points out that even with his light weight and extreme cadence he was having to pump out over 300 watts to get up these very long very steep climbs… but at least the roads were decent again.
If my Garmin says I was descending in the high 70’s you can be sure the Jorgen’s was registering well in to the 80’s.
Another 30km down the valley and into a hot and sticky Chiang Mai saw the two ANZA teams home hours before anybody else and knocking a good hole in the beer supply. Around 7 hours on the bike. and certainly, more than half an hour pushing the pram. Natalie didn’t bring a pram!
Well after dark teams were still straggling in. Yup there were a few prangs and some broken bones. This was road bike handling at the extreme. Last words to the Durianrider… “i reckon that’s the hardest Rapha ride in the world… if anybody knows a harder one let me know”
I will be back … with a 22/40 and having learned ‘Frooming’ properly.
I reluctantly agreed to write this article before I left Singapore. But, if I were to be honest, the idea of laying out all my plans in physical form scared me. What if we got a week in and gave up? What if I got to London, fell in love with it and didn’t leave?
This whole journey began with what I thought was a joke. Having just met Jonathan in the Melbourne sharehouse that I had just moved into, he mentioned that he wanted to cycle ‘around the world’ but had no one to do it with. Thinking that it was a preposterous plan that would never happen, I laughed and readily agreed. That was probably my first mistake!
Contrary to what I had thought, the plan didn’t disappear. Some initial internet research uncovered a myriad of blogs and websites dedicated to the topic. So, soon we were discussing routes, bikes and equipment.
There are a number of popular bicycle touring routes across the world. With Central America, SouthEast Asia, Europe and Central Asia seeming to be the most well worn. Having travelled extensively in Europe and South East Asia, Central Asia with its Soviet Era architecture and many unprouncable country names ending with ‘Stan,’ seemed like a good choice. It’s relatively low popularity as a tourist destination and the opportunity to cycle through Azerbaijan, a country I had never heard of until they hosted Eurovision in 2011 also added to the appeal.
While the idea was still very much in its infancy Jonathan and I decided to cycle across Myanmar as something of a practice. We cycled from Mandalay to Inle lake from where we took a train to Yangon. Battling desert-like conditions and a demanding timeframe due to the limited number of government sanctioned hotels in Myanmar (camping is illegal). The most unpleasant part of the trip still proved to be the train journey. A trip that had been described as quaint, scenic and charming. The journey itself involved hour upon hour of monotonous scenery, a dining car with only monks and police for company and carriages that moved continuously in directions that aren’t exactly compatible with forward motion travel (or squat toilets toilets for that matter).
So, while we discovered that train travel may not be the best option in the developing world we also learnt that cycling through it may be easier and more enjoyable than previously thought. Especially given the (surprising) prevalence of repairs.
For example, upon the disintegration of my bicycle’s rear hub in Bagan, (a small town famous for its pagodas and not much else), we were able to find someone to rebuild the wheel overnight- probably an unthinkable task anywhere else!
So, having confirmed that cycling was indeed our preferred mode of transport, that the one thing that you don’t prepare for will happen and that our friendship could be sustained over a two week period of time; we considered the trip a success and started seriously thinking about the next one.
That leads me to where we are now. Just over a month ago we set off from Tbilisi, Georgia with the plan to cycle across to Azerbaijan and then onto Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Krygzstan, Kazhakstan and onwards to China.
I met up with Jonathan in Tbilisi, Georgia on the 22nd of April with plans to begin cycling on the following Monday. My arrival seemed to prove somewhat of a relief to Jonathan who, like some of my friends seemed to have thought that I would change my mind (i.e. see sense) and stay in London. However it also brought with it the fears and apprehension associated with having to reassemble a bicycle that had (hopefully) withstood multiple flights and airports, not to mention the London tube and it’s escalators in what was now a rather mangled cardboard box.
My arrival in Tbilisi also made me aware of a slight planning oversight. It was cold and windy. Probably not actually in a Europe, middle of winter kind of way but arguably uncomfortable for someone who had spent the last three years in Singapore! So, after spending Saturday constructing our bikes in the hostel’s common area (while explaining our plans to the slightly incredulous guests) on Sunday we set off in search of a bike store and polar fleece.
It was on this trip that the irony of our choice of location to begin our cycling journey was revealed. Tbilisi is a car city. So, while it has the grand boulevards, plazas and buildings that one would associate with Europe it’s main square and grand monument within it, function as a roundabout for at least three lanes of cars. This made what should have been a short trip to the bike store a navigation exercise involving changing levels, cobblestones and a fair bit of honking. Our subsequent appearance at the bike store was met with a slightly disappointing lack of surprise but we were able to properly inflate our tyres and to make some final adjustments to our bicycles.
The next day we fully packed our panniers for the first time and set off. The traffic and road conditions again prove difficult, although this time it was the incredibly strong side wind that proved challenging. As, despite the weight of our bikes and luggage, I felt as though I was going to be blown off the narrow road shoulder into the path of a truck. Which would have provided a hasty end to our cycle touring adventure.
As we headed out of the city we met our first fellow cycle tourer. A Russian, he proved to be a highly excitable and enthusiastic companion for a few kilometers who upon realizing that we didn’t speak his language continued to try to engage us in conversation albeit more loudly and enthusiastically.
That night we had our first ‘wild camping’ experience having established that Jonathan’s previous camping experience was irrelevant as it had only occurred at music festivals! We identified what looked to be a suitable field, set our tent up and unrolled our sleeping bags. The field’s slight angle made staying on our sleeping matts without sliding down them a challenge but given that we had managed to find a secluded place and assemble our tent with relative ease we considered it a success!
As we continued to cycle in the direction of Lagodekhi, the town that borders Azerbaijan, the roads seemed to become less crowded, the drivers more friendly and the landscape more inviting. While most passing cars made sure to honk at us we soon realised that it was an attempt at a friendly greeting!
After a relatively straightforward border crossing between Georgia and Azerbaijan we continued to cycle towards Baku. A city that had been described as a cross between Dubai and Europe. Obviously, I was curious. I also have to admit that my enthusiasm was somewhat based upon my strong desire for coffee. A desire that couldn’t really be dampened by the numerous tea stalls that seemed to exist everywhere even on mountain sides. Thus proving themselves to be somewhat frustrating to this exhausted cycle tourist who has always associated long days in the saddle with coffee, 100 plus, magnums and coffee. Yes, I did mean to mention that twice.
The country side of Azerbaijan proved itself to be scenic and the people incredibly friendly. Upon arrival at the first town across the border Jonathan was immediately assisted by friendly locals to buy a SIM card and directed to the town’s only ATM. Clearly itself an attraction, a curious hoard of locals thronged around it, eagerly watching each transaction.
As our cycling and camping continued, we grew better at choosing camping sites, tested out our camping stove and I confirmed that I do indeed cycle faster while being chased by wild dogs. Although I am yet to find out whether this is the way to improve my hill climbing performance.
Language, in particular our complete lack of Russian continued to create interesting situations. Upon arrival in one village we were told that we could not camp in a particular spot as we would be “eaten by wolves.” It became apparent after a night of fitful sleep in a field nearby that these wolves were actually wild dogs. While this experience wasn’t exactly ideal, being shown a field to sleep in and given tea, bread and honey by the locals the night before was a rather unforgettable experience!
Cycling into the city of Baku itself proved a rather fraught (and friendship-testing) experience with its elevated roadways, one way streets and very poor air quality. However, it was an interesting place to rest and our Iranian visas were approved with little difficulty.
From Baku we cycled along the Caspian Sea, across the border and into Iran in the direction of the Chalus, a beachside town popular with Tehran’s occupants in summer. While we had both envisioned this coastal cycle as being a pleasant one, we were met with very strong headwinds, at one point struggling along at 10km per hour which made for a rather demoralizing day.
These frustrations were definitely counterbalanced by the extreme levels of hospitality and kindness shown to us by the Iranian people that we met along the way. While I had read about this, nothing could really have prepared us for the continuous greetings out of car windows, a readily accepted invitation to be part of an extended family’s picnic lunch or the repeated invitations to stay in people’s homes when we were seen erecting our tent.
Almost on par with the incredible hospitality of the Iranian people has been the prevalence of fresh bread shops, each selling only one type of flat loaf that is available at breakfast, lunch and dinner time. It has proved difficult for us to buy the bread and stow it away for later after a long day of cycling! And we have hungrily eaten the hot bread directly outside the store more than once! (And been given cream cheese and tea to go with it by bakers who looked on slightly incredulously.)
The road between Chalus and Tehran provided the most difficult two days of cycling so far. A narrow road with single lanes in each direction it winds its way over the mountains. And very disturbingly for cyclists it’s tunnels are famed for asphyxiating car occupants as they sit in summer traffic jams. We took our time navigating the switchbacks and trying to stay on the narrow shoulder that the road provided. And while we had wanted to celebrate the first day of climbing the descending sun forced us to hurriedly choose a rather gravelly camping spot above a police station instead.
The second day proved similarly difficult but held the promise of a long descent. (Although this was something that the skeptical part of me was sure that would be punctuated by more hills.) Too exhausted to celebrate at the top as I had planned we finally began to descend but were greeted by the next challenge, a 1km long tunnel with minimal lighting and an almost non existent shoulder. After engaging in an internal debate as whether it would be cheating to jump into the back of a passing truck, Jonathan demonstrated that he is definitely the far more pragmatic and practical part of this team and we did just that.
As we raced through the tunnel in the back of a small truck, I clutched into onto both my bicycle and headscarf and knew that we had made the right decision. This feeling was reinforced when I noticed the steady stream of water flowing across the tunnel floor. After dealing with the next long tunnel in the same manner we were able to reach the nearby town of Karaj that night where we were invited to stay in the garden of a passing mountain biker.
We left the following morning determined to beat the traffic and cycle the final 40km into Tehran. This soon proved to be a misguided strategy as we got caught up in rush hour and watched with growing incredulity as drivers changed lanes indiscriminately, reversed into traffic after missing highway exits and motorbikes took to the footpath to avoid the jam. Upon adopting a few of these strategies we finally made it to our hostel where showers and cake awaited.
A week in Tehran followed in which I inexplicably began to feel affection for the city. This being despite the heat, near constant traffic jams, honking and almost sheer impossibility of being able to cross the road, even at a pedestrian crossing without being hit by a car or perhaps even a motorbike traveling in the wrong direction.
In Tehran we were able to organize visas for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (although we’re still waiting on confirmation for the latter.) And to prepare for the next part of our sojourn, a cycle through the desert to see the Silk Road cities of Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd.
A few years ago I foolishly signed up to participate in the Tour of Bintan Gran Fondo with some colleagues, including OANDA’s regional CEO, a seasoned pro. I must confess to some trepidation, but I figured if Singapore is flat, then Bintan must be too. Clearly this was a terrible error on my part, further compounded by the fact that so many of my co-workers were keen cyclists, and several even competed in Ironman competitions for fun.
They had no problem getting out of bed at silly o’clock in the morning to train, but as a Kiwi used to long open roads and a variety of routes to choose from, doing lap after lap of the Red Dot was anathema to me. I have a low boredom threshold and I also like to sleep in on weekends, so this was far from my cup of tea.
I managed a grand total of one training ride in Singapore before traipsing over to Bintan with the group to train on the actual course a couple of weeks before the tour itself. My emotions ran higher than my pulse when I discovered that the earth was not flat on Bintan. Quite the opposite actually.
To cut a long story short, I was left behind by my colleagues halfway through, weakest lion cub peloton style, and as a result I completed the remaining 60km of the course perched on the back of scooter, clutching my precious bike as we sped along.
With this fantastic preparation, I took my place on the morning of the tour, ready for my 150km “day out” in the tropics. I felt good about the rolling start right up until I reached the first hill. After that, the only cyclists who seemed to be going slower than me were those who had already crashed and lay sprawled on the side of the road. And I do mean literally on the side of the road – I never knew cycling was a blood sport.
I pedalled away, mostly on my own, throughout the day, making the time cut-offs, losing so many fluids that I actually stopped sweating. Going through terrain that resembled a volcanic scoria field in the blazing heat, I was almost delirious and hallucinating about a three-litre party bottle of coca cola. Full fat coca cola. (I never drink coke) Then it started to rain, and I mean really rain, at which point I yelled, “For #%$^@#% sake, could this day get any worse?” At this point a boat full of animals and a bearded man in robes floated past me.
A strange thing happened though. Eventually, I began to find my stride. Maybe my body was so dehydrated, I was osmosing the water through my skin. I started speeding up and by the second checkpoint I was flying, in my mind anyway. I got into a rhythm going up the long hills and coasted down the back, and I even started using the little robot thing on my handlebars to track my pace and speed.
Sure enough, some six hours after I started, I arrived at the finish line on my little Fuji. I say little because I am usually a front row prop in rugby and it sort of looked small on me. The feeling of achievement was really quite indescribable, as was the fear I would never be able to father children. Ever. I also went straight to a local shop and bought an unfeasibly large bottle of coke.
I will admit my training regime was perhaps lacking and maybe I should have put my ego and boredom quotient aside and done those laps of the island, but I did actually learn I had a lot more willpower and drive than I ever realised. I stopped being afraid of those long hills and started looking forward to them as I knew how I would tackle them before, and they stopped hurting quite so much, unlike my behind.
Trading is much the same. If you lose a lot of money, your bum will hurt as much as your ego and your wallet. If you go into it ill prepared and you don’t do the training, you won’t enjoy a good experience either. How you manage your risk and your losses comes down to mental attitude, and I promise you, that as a self-directed trader, you will lose money at some point. The trick lies in your attitude when that happens, managing your risk properly and losing a lot less than those times you make money.
At OANDA we won’t promise you unrealistic riches for little to no effort. We won’t tell you that you can make risk-free returns. Dedication, preparation and attitude can do that for you. Much like preparing for cycle tours. A recurring theme I see amongst you in these blog posts.
What we can promise you is a fantastic platform with some great products to trade. We will teach you to manage your risk and the correct mindset to be a self-directed trader. We WILL NOT allow you to use excessive leverage, and we’ll treat you the same whether you have SGD1k or SGD1mn. (OANDA was founded by two professors on this democratic principle)
At OANDA you will find down to earth, friendly people whose mission is to help you on your trading journey and to treat you with integrity and respect. Always. We look forward to meeting you soon.
Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst
OANDA Asia Pacific
Dimension Data is all about using information technology to transform the businesses of our clients to enable them to achieve great things in the digital era. We do this for many of the Fortune and Global 500 companies around the world and in Asia – to bring their cloud, collaboration, networking, communication and digital business ambitions together. And to keep it all secure, managed and delivering results.
This is what we also do with the Amaury Sports Organisation – the company that owns the Tour de France. Our role has been and is to transform their business, to use the power of data to bring viewers closer to the action in the TdF – to make the audience feel part of the event. People today don’t just watch the racing, they experience it through the apps, data and analytics we deliver real-time directly to them, and to broadcasters and commentators around the world.
This passion for cycling also drove us to sponsor Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka – an elite cycling team who has a greater purpose – to race for a cause. Bicycles change lives, and Team Dimension Data works with Qhubeka to change the lives of some of the lowest income communities throughout Africa. Qhubeka enables children to ride to school – to achieve an education. Qhubeka funded bikes also increase a person’s ability to carry goods (by a factor of 5!), and to ultimately improve their lives and those of their families and communities. We have a goal to provide 5000 bicycles this year, along with the training, equipment and know-how to service and maintain them for a lifetime. (As a side note – Qhubeka uses Buffalo bikes – they are as strong as a buffalo, but won’t set any records on the RTI!).
Our passion for riding, for racing and for making a difference also bought us to embrace ANZA – and we thank you for allowing us to be part of this great community in Singapore and throughout Asia. We look forward to contributing to the ANZA world, and hope that the Dimension Data spirit will be present as we have fun, ride and race together, and give back to the communities that we live in and influence.
James Walls, Sofiane Behraoui, Steve Blackwell and Dave Nicholls
Dimension Data Asia Pacific.
I found out in January that I would have a 4 day work trip to Pau, France (located just north of the Pyrenees’). I managed to stretch the work trip out to a 3 weeks (the cycling is really good around there) and then realized it also timed perfectly with my 2 favourite bike races, the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlanderen) and the Paris-Roubaix. I took an additional week’s leave and signed up to the sportives, without really thinking about it or knowing what to expect (sometimes I make impulsive decisions). After 2 weeks of “training”/riding around the mountains and hills of Pau and one week of conferencenetworking/heavy drinking, I was ready.
I travelled to Ghent the day before the cyclo-sportif. I met up with Adam, a cyclist from my SPR, my previous Perth cycle club (who I’d never met before) and we talked strategies over dinner. He planned to do the 200km ride, whereas I had signed up for the 140km mid-distance Flanders cyclo-sportif. We both planned to ride to the start in Oodernarde, a town about 25km south of Ghent. The next morning I set off by myself with ominous grey skies looming overhead (Belgium = rain). I got 2km down the road where I passed a group of cyclists loading bikes into a van and decided to stop and ask if they had space for one more. They didn’t really, but were happy to squeeze me in, letting me hitch a ride and save me a ride in the rain. Winning.
After helping them park, I set off on the biggest cyclo-sportif I had ever done. The Tour of Flanders Sportif had sold out with15,599 riders and it was brilliant. The weather cleared, there was always a wheel to follow and people were relaxed and enjoying the ride. I saw mostly road bikes, a few mountain bikes, some electric bikes and heard rumours of a penny farthing. The other grand fondos I’d ridden had all been races so toodling along at my own pace in the glorious Belgian sunshine was a revelation. I was wearing my ANZA kit and it was a conversation starter. I got lots of “hello, you’re from Singapore?” and then “wait, you sound very Australian…” and it was great. About 10 km in, after a bit of the same chat with some Australians, I got a “Solo Australian female? You can ride with our tour group if you like! It’s led by Stuart O’Grady…” and that’s how I came to ride the Tour of Flanders with a past Paris-Roubaix winner. Double winning.
The day was great. Stuart was great to talk to, the quintessential Australian, everyman’s bloke, loves beer and had all sorts of cycling tidbits about riders and the course (he also did back-wheel skiddies while descending at 50kph). The cobbled climbs were challenging, the descents fun and rolley, and I was well paced with the middle-aged men in the group (and Stu, who realistically hadn’t ridden a bike in 4 months). The Belgians also know how to put on a sportif with each feed stop having pumping DJs and a variety of food and mechanical services.
Review: Would ride again.
Ronde van Vlanderen
The next day I went to watch the race. At Flanders, both the men and women race on the same day and in the morning before the women’s race, I met Jessica Allan, an Orica-Scott rider from my home town, Perth. The start of the women’s race was a real buzz and it was wonderful to see so many people out supporting women’s racing. After the start, Adam and I rushed off to the Kweremont, a 3km climb which the women rode up once and the men 3 times.
The Kweremont was a great place to spectate from, and again, the Belgian’s know how to organise a bike party/cycling race; and there were DJ’s, big screens, food stalls and plenty of beer. We had jumped the first barriers and were located right on the cobbles, along with spectators from all around the world. Watching the pros power up cobbles repeatedly was humbling. The day before I had slowly ground my way up the Kweremontin my easiest gear but the pros? Big ring, pain face and repeat climbs – great watching.
After a week filled with Belgian chocolate and beer, I travelled south to Roubaix for the Paris-Roubaix. I initially wasn’t planning to ride the sportif, but a friend persuaded me that I’d be fine, and I believed in his unfounded confidence in my abilities and signed up. After all, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunityto ride the same final 172 km that the pros ride, complete with 52km of cobbles (I obviously didn’t think it through). And because misery loves company, I persuaded my friend Colby to join me (his wife thought we were crazy – she was right). Doubt started to creep in as we picked up our race packs. There were fewer women at this event than I’d ever seen at a cycling event, maybe 1%? Women are generally sensible, perhaps I am not being sensible…
The day started out foggy and 5 degrees and after 10km we hit the first cobbles, the 3 star, 2.2km Troisville à Inchy. This was nothing like the smooth, reliable cobbles of Flanders. The Northern French farmers had obviously placed each cobble specifically to inflict the maximum amount of pain and I bounced around like a cork in a thunderstorm. Don’t hold the bars too tight, but don’t let go, keep pedalling, pick your line… I felt like I was small enough to float over the Flanders cobbles but Roubaix cobbles were brutal. The second set of cobbles was worse, the Viesly à Quiévy included a cobbled descent and it was bloody terrifying. Don’t brake!! Keep your line! I tried to hold my line on the crown so I didn’t die in the surrounding cobbled potholes on either sides. Turns out, when you stop pedalling from terror, you slow down, and when you slow down the cobble-induced pain is enough to jolt you back into pedalling again (in my defence, the following day the pros crashed badly on the same cobbled section so I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating). Anyway, I made it through; 2 sections down, only 28 to go – it was going to be a looong day.
I soon learned to seek out every gutter available. I rode on everything, dirt, gravel, sand, grass shoulders, anything for a little relief from the horrendous cobbles. Why was I even doing this? What kind of sadist was I? Anyway, my CX skills definitely came in handy. At around 70km I reached the 10thcobbled section, the famed Trouvee d’Arenberg. No gutters, no relief, you’re supposed to just power through cobbles like a serious cyclist but really, maintaining power over 2.4km of 5 star cobbles is a joke (and a very bad one). Section done, only another 100km to go! At each feed stop we regrouped, complained about the cobbles, and laughed/cursed at how stupid we were to have signed up for this sportif – it was that kind of day.
By the 19th segment of cobbles I was kind of getting the hang of it. 10 segments to go, I was inspired – 50km left? That’s practically almost finished! The last 50km was a bit of a blur, more enjoyable than the first 120km but by far the best part of the entire day was entering the velodrome for a lap at the finish! Hurrah! Finished!
I’m pretty sure I only finished the event due to sheer tenacity. That and my friend Colby who let me follow his wheel over the whole 172km (he’s a good bloke). All those photos of me smiling? That’s me laughing at my own Most of me never, ever wants to do that ever again. a very tiny part of me wants to come back and better it “now that I know how” (those last 10 sections were much better than the first 19!) but luckily I live very far away and that probably won’t happen.
The next day, I watched the pros ride the Paris-Roubaix and drank beers at Arenberg, which was much, much better. And now, when I watch the 2016 Matty Hayman video where he says the Paris-Roubaix is his favourite race I think he has problems.
Positives: I can now can hit every road bump and grate in Singapore and scoff “you call that a bump?”
Negatives: All the cobbles. ALL OF THEM. It really is called the hell of the North for a reason (correctly advertised).
After missing the Masters Tour of Chiang Mai last October due to injuries I was keen on competing in another multi-day race. Since I don`t like Bintan ( I don`t know why), Phuket seems to be the perfect choice: not too long, I knew a few roads, and, for me, the best one, it is hilly!
So I signed upand was very happy that a big ANZA group, especially from my weekly Kranji 35, had also decided to race TdP. We did a few great training rides like Phil’s Hills ATI/ Southern Bumps/ RRR and I tried to train regularly on Faber to get at least a few meters of altitude.
So after all the preparations and packing the bikes, arranging the temporary accommodations of our daughters and being petrified to run out of gels Martin and I started off on a great weekend.
TdP Prologue, 5km ITT
After arriving at the Race Hotel and building up the bikes we had just enough time to grab some food before heading off on the 8km to the start line at Phuket Gateway. We weren`t in a hurry and so the whole Cat 3 group did a slower course recce all together. As we left the Gateway and turned right to the first and longest straight, I felt the wind and was very pleased to have my clip-on bars on. The course was great (besides the wind), there were only two turns slowing you down, and to the finish line you had a little “climb“ up, so it was perfect for me.
Now the waiting for the starts began, and that`s when my heart rate usually reaches the top (yes, I`m absolutely sure, my heart rate during a race will never be as high as before!). I wished Martin good luck, who started 20 min before me, and tried to calm down, but since I had never done an ITT before, it wasn`t very successful. I wanted to be very fast, as fast as I can, but how fast will this be? And is it faster than the other women?
At 15:02 my time had come, and I started not too fast to make sure I did a safe right turn. Heading down the long straight road I quickly found my “triathlon” rhythm, so I just had to remind myself to go as fast as I could and not to save energy for a run afterwards. Soon I passed the woman who started 1min before me, so I was sure I was not too slow. At the two tricky turns I may have lost a few seconds, but my priority was to stay ON my bike, so I didn`t care about that. In the last meters I pushed myself a little bit more, and after 6 minutes, 42.1 seconds I crossed the finish line.
Surprisingly, my time put me in 1st place of the women´s Cat (even 9 seconds faster than Luo Yiwei from the SCF Team, but later she decided to get in Cat 2 and didn`t count any more for the women´s Cat), and was 7th fastest in Cat 3 overall! I was very happy to get my first yellow jersey, but additionally I was very very proud of my fast hubby, who finished 3rd and got his podium, too!
After the podium ceremony we slowly rolled back to hotel, grabbed one, two or some even three ice cream on the way and the evening ended with a lot of food and beer (and for most of us with a lot of waiting for food and beer) in the hotel restaurant.
TdP Stage 2
The second day started with an early and nervous breakfast at 6am, and although I wanted to get enough calories for the day. Starting in yellow wasn`t good for my stomach and so I ended up with a little bowl of muesli and a half of a little muffin. At 6:30 we all rolled down to Phuket Gateway again, and after some photo shots and with the ominous feeling of doing poorly because of my tiny breakfast the 140km stage started with a 7.4 km neutral roll-out.
Then, after maybe 20km, the pace picked up and some riders started half hearted attempts to break-away, but nothing serious happened and the peloton stayed together until we reached the first KOM at the 69km mark. In the kilometers before I had managed to get into second position, and after a lot of rolling hills the KOM started. I pushed and pushed, and I saw Tim and Phil right beside me, and suddenly and much earlier than expected I saw the line on the road and realized- that was it. That was it? This steep but short climb?? Ok, don`t complain about it, still 70km to go!
On the bottom of the hill we were a nice little group with only one other woman, Jaqueline from the Matadors (a Suisse woman who got 2nd in the ITT, only 25s behind me). Unfortunately shortly after this downhill ride we were misdirected, and the others were able to close the gap. That`s when I got the news, that Ian unfortunately crashed on the way down and also one of the other women came off her bike, but nobody knew if they were injured or why they fell.
The next 40km was a nice steady pace with the temperature rising, but I still felt very confident and my plan, just to stay with the other women and therefore in yellow, seemed to work. At 109km the second KOM starts, and this one was longer, steeper and at the end I was first woman, but I didn`t manage to catch up with the bunch of guys in front of me, including Tim and Phil. That was my biggest mistake of the day, because behind me were only Jaqueline and another rider and then, as long as I could see, nobody else. Soon we were a tiny group of 3, still 30km to go, the sun was burning down, and also my biggest rival was with me. And Jaqueline obviously had fresher legs, because she pushed from the moment they had caught me.
A little bit further the guy dropped, and suddenly I lost all my confidence; my legs hurt and began to cramp, it was too hot for me and the never ending rolling hills were killing me. Jaqueline went off, and soon there was a 50-100m gap was between us. I became really desperate, but forced myself to drink and eat to get rid of the cramps. I started thinking: did I ride 110km in this heat to loose my yellow jersey in the last 20km, even without a struggle? And, additionally, will I really go 20km to the finish line on my own?? NO, NO,NO! So in an act of black despair I pushed all-out to close the gap, and then, after another “climb” and a fast downhill ride, I caught her. She didn`t look strong any more, so we decided to help each other to finish. A bit later we passed Tim, but when I asked him for help, his short and exhausted answer was “Can not“, so we rolled on. Then, with maybe 10km to go, suddenly Apinya (a young Thai woman, 4th in the prologue) appeared from nowhere and tried to pass us, and from that point on we had no fun at all. And just when I thought it couldn`t get worse, the race changed to a TTT, but with the difference that Apinya, in front, was surging ahead and Jaqueline and I were trying to slow her down. The only good thing was that Apinyas mobile drink support supported us too. Thanks a lot to these nice and gentle guys!
The last kilometres hurt like hell, and since I saw the 140km mark on my Garmin, I was hoping for the sign-posted last 1km, but it didn`t show up! Apinya gets faster and faster, we were struggling hard to stick with her, and then, after 147km, we finally reached the sign.
Now the sprinting and chasing started, but the moment I stood up my legs cramped almost everywhere and I knew there’s no chance for me. I just tried to loose as little time as possible, and then I crossed the finish line as 3rd, totally spent and cramping.
In the end I lost only 3 seconds and was still first woman overall, Apinya won the stage after a fantastic chase and I got the blue jersey for winning all KOMs, but I wasn`t sure how I could survive day 3.
After showering and a nice (for me) and painful (for Martin) massage I regained my confidence and planned, to win at least the first KOM the next day to get the blue jersey, the rest will come (or not).
TdP, Stage 3
The third day started no better than the second, it was much to early to eat and my stomach revolted again and even though it was a kind of routine I was even more nervous than the day before.
Rolling down to Phuket Gateway, my legs surprisingly didn`t feel too bad, and after a short briefing we started again with a 7km neutral roll-out. Until the first KOM at the 34km mark our reduced Cat 3 Team (the luckily not injured Ian had left us the evening before because of his broken fork and TC didn`t feel well) did very good work for Tim and me (big thanks especially to Cam and Martin!), so we reached the KOM in good condition and could both win our category.
Afterwards, the Peloton split into two bigger groups and a few smaller, but Apinya and Jaqueline were still in the first group with me. Now 50km rolling hills were waiting for us, and sooner than the day before I reached my „no-more-power“-point, as we had to ride a hilly and curvy road with a rough surface and a lot of big potholes. I struggled with getting dropped, and Jaqueline and Apinya were still on the front, looking strong. A few kilometres before the second KOM, though, I suddenly felt better and told myself to push on, and I made it back to the front. The second KOM was the first one in reverse, and it appeared to be much steeper and even longer than in the other direction! Reaching the top as first woman I could hardly breathe any more, and therefore I didn’t look back to the others, instead I struggled very hard to stay with the first guys. Then, maybe 800m after the KOM, another very long and steep hill nearly killed my legs and lungs again, but somehow I managed to stay in my group, above all because I was afraid of being caught by the other women by going on my own.
The last 20 km to the finish line we picked up a few guys from Cat 2 and some others dropped, but I felt much better than the day before (maybe because I knew it`s soon over;-)) and just rotated in our little group. Phil did a great break away, but unfortunately about 500m before crossing the finish line we passed him – sorry Phil, but I could not slow them down in time!
After crossing the finish line, we took some fast drinks at a little shop and rolled slowly back to Phuket Gateway, where the Award ceremony started. There we had to celebrate quite a lot of overwhelming results for Cat 3: Tim and I were the KOMs of the day, the KOMs overall and I won the stage and overall. And, additionally, we won the Team result overall!
After the ceremony we had to head back to the hotel, pack the bikes and could only take a short shower before leaving the rooms for check-out. Some of us had a later flight, so we gathered again at the restaurant, eat, drank and had some fun in the waterpark!
Thus ended this great weekend of pain, luck (especially for Ian), fun, relaxing, eating delicious Thai food, and happiness! For me my first multi-stage race was a wonderful experience, and I had to admit, in the beginning I was very afraid of riding in a big peloton again and especially of falling again, but it was a lot of fun and during the race I never felt uncomfortable or was afraid of something (or someone;-)). I can only recommend it, and hopefully in the future more women will seize the chance to race. Furthermore I want to thank Cycosport for doing a great job once again, and last but not least biggest thanks to all the ANZA guys racing with me:
YOU´RE ABSOLUTELY AWESOME (and I´ll definitely miss you!!)!!
“Any fit 40 something can be fast on a bike” – Random quote I picked up while digesting too much information online about trying to ride a bike fast.
I last wrote a post for this blog about adventures of my first multi-day road race, the Masters Tour of Chiang Mai in October 2016. It was quite an experience that left me wanting more.
In the four months since, I had a couple of transition weeks, two weeks off for surgery, an “early festive 500”, a two week vacation and then 8 weeks of moderately intense training for the next stage race on the local calendar, the Tour de Bintan.
As it is easier to write, let me divide this post up into several shorter parts to tell the story of my Tour de Bintan experience.
The Prep Work:
Returning to training from my 2 week Christmas vacation left me in a world of hurt as I don’t have years of base like some folks do; I jealously marveled at others who were able to take a couple of weeks off and then bang out a fast Saturday ride with what looked to be a regular effort. After reading a bit of The Cyclists Training Bible (Joel Friel) and The Time Crunched Cyclist (Chris Carmichael) along with a free 2 week trial account from Today’s Plan, I hacked together an 8 week plan to get me ready.
I want to go fast. And everything that I read about wanting to make significant gains revolved around intervals. So I traded in my weekday group rides for 5am loops around Lornie and Queensway multiple times a week, first starting with 3×8 minute intervals and eventually ending up with 4×20 minutes. Intervals are a grind and by week 7, I was quite happy to see these disappear from the program as I tapered into the race week.
Let me interlude this post;
The week before Bintan, I had the opportunity to ride in the 35-44 year age group of the Car Free Sunday Criterium race. With 3 laps to go, I was in the thick of things, well, the group chasing the solo breakaway, spending time as the front wheel for a straight away or two (a rookie racing mistake I knew I was committing at the time). Then, with half a lap left and tired of being on the front, I let off in effort for a bit. WHOOSH, the group went by. I got onto the back of the group, but thinking I didn’t have a massive effort left in me for a podium or even top 10 finish, I just maintained the pace while the pack hammered to the finish and dropped some 10+ seconds behind the front of this group. This lack of finishing prowess would become a theme in Bintan.
Tour de Bintan Day 1:
Friday started early with a 25km zone 1 ride to the Tanah Marah ferry terminal. I even got to sleep in compared with a usual training ride. I was so proud of being number one in line, I announced it to my ANZA sub-chat group. Note to self: you can show up at 7:30am and still avoid the long lines. The check-in and bike transfer were seamless. Hats off to the Tour de Bintan folks and their partners for logistics. The ferry was choppy. I saw the vomit bags come out and the ferry staff collecting full bags. I tried to rest with my eyes shut, but then it came. First just a bit more than spit, but then with 10 minutes to go, all the breakfast came out. I was later told that I won the award for loudest vomiting.
Early check-in was done, my bike picked up, race briefing attended and race kit put together, it was time to head over to the 16.7km Individual Time Trial (ITT) course. It was 12:30 and with an hour until the ladies started rolling down the ramp, I’d have to hurry to complete a course recce. As soon as I left the tree-lined street of Nirwana Gardens, I felt the wind. It was STRONG. With dreams of smashing a 43kph ITT effort, I quietly wept inside. I finished the recce just as the first lady rolled down the ramp, happy with knowledge of the final (and largest) hill as well as knowing about some speed humps and other smaller hills etc.
At 14:48, I rolled down the ramp. You can see my first race mistake in this photo (thanks James!). I’m fiddling with my Garmin less than 20 meters from the start (maybe that’s my second mistake as I’m also wearing mismatched kit). Head down but still in the hoods, it is hard to find any rhythm with the buffeting winds. I hit my target heart rate quickly and just keep going. Soon I pass the guy who started in front of me and I just keep on going. Saving energy going down hills and using a bit more energy going up. Around the golf course I ‘flew’. On the way back to the start, the wind is at my back. I’m flying, but know there isn’t enough course to get my average speed to the dream of well above 40kph. Then comes the hill. I know I’m supposed to power up this with every ounce of strength in my body as ‘more watts going up hills’ saves you time compared to ‘more watts on the flats.’ For some reason I don’t do it. I didn’t slack going up, but I didn’t empty my effort either. A bit disappointed with myself, I push on. I cross the line and shut off the Garmin. Generally I’m happy and even let out an energetic grunt or three.
My time, officially 25:06, left me in 5th place of the cat (20 seconds off the podium) and is 19th fastest on the day. As a measuring stick, I was well over a minute off the day’s leaders.
I stick around with the ANZA folk cheering on people we know, consume some calories and then roll back to Nirwana Gardens with dark clouds in the sky.
Tour de Bintan Day 2:
Day two starts with me waking up on the floor, listening to rain. The mattress in my “budget accommodation” was too soft for the liking of my back, so I did what I needed to do to ensure I woke up as healthy as possible. Walking over to breakfast, I thought nothing of the very light sprinkles at the time. Then the sky opened up. The rain radar was checked and it was purple!
As I ate breakfast with James and Sofiane, I lamented about my second rookie mistake, not sending the bike over to the start line and taking the bus over. James and I had planned to ride over. Luckily the purple radar rain moved on and at 6:30 I rolled up under an almost clear sky to meet James. Having been at the hotel lobby for a couple of minutes already, James had seen a couple of people put their bikes in the trunk of a bus. In the name of safety, we smiled at the driver of the next bus, motioned to our bikes and he happily obliged by opening his trunk.
Upon rolling off for the 140km stage, the roads were wet, there was a light drizzle but I imagine the 100+ person peloton and many hundreds more in other waves were happy it wasn’t pouring. After a 2+ km neutral roll-out, the group kept going forward, slowly. We were ‘allowed’ to go faster, but it seems like nobody wanted to. I ‘figured’ on the ‘famed red road’ (some 20km from the race start) the race would ‘start’. It didn’t. I don’t even think anybody even tried to go off the front. Maybe there was a surge, but to say the pace was relaxed would be an understatement. It felt like a coffee ride. In sandals.
At some point, I don’t know when, the pace did pick up, we did finish with a 37.2kph average, but we just kept rolling along. The sun came out, the group separated and eventually there were ~ 20-30 of us with 3 riders off the front in ‘an allowed breakaway’. I wasn’t paying attention so I didn’t know who was in it (my third mistake). Though it felt slow, I was putting out some effort as the cramps came sometime before the 3 hour mark. Nothing major, but just a soreness here and a twinge there to let me know my legs were somewhat hurting. I tried to consume more calories, but not enough as the cramps never really went away over the final 50+ km (my fourth mistake).
At the 100km mark, we were going up a hill. Not fast, just a nice steady pace. I down shifted the rear derailleur with the intent to easily power over the hill and then heard a snap and then chunk-chunk-chunk sound as my RD shifted to the 11t. UH-OH; I’m in the toughest gear on my bike and half way up the hill. My cadence slows down. I stand up. I grind and grind and grind; each rotation is an effort to get my foot around. The lead group goes past me. After probably 20 seconds that felt like 200, I crest the hill and am only 50 meters off the back. I get up to speed and onto the back of the group, thankful that nobody is pushing the pace.
I spend the next 5 minutes figuring things out. I check my front derailleur. It works, but only when there isn’t a lot of pressure on the chain. OK, I have a 39-11t and a 50-11t gear. One for hills (and just drafting in the group) and one for the flats and any surges. At this point in time, I become very thankful for the 20 minute intervals with significant time spent spinning at low RPM.
The group moves on. I sit in. Between my gearing and the minor cramping, I am forced to ride ‘smart’ and just sit-in, well, most of the time. The kilometers pass by. With ~ 10km to go, we absorb two riders from the breakaway. Now there is a bit more life as everyone knows there are two podium spots in the group. Still, there is no impetus to push the pace (except for Ben). The small hills roll on and the rain picks up to more than a steady drizzle. With only a few km to go, the pace picks up, but nothing stupid fast. The one km sign appears and people start jockeying. Given my gearing and not knowing if there were any more ‘up-hill sections’ I just sit in. We round the corner and see the finish line. I see an open line and hammer it, but there are many riders ahead of me. I finish in 10th place, about a second or so behind the 2nd place and nearly 2 minutes behind the stage winner. There were 15 of us left in the chase group at the finish.
A quick visit to the on-site mechanic stand says that they can fix my bike back at the race HQ, so I send the bike for the bike transfer station, consume some calories, share and listen to race stories (like how Frank Reynaerts had a 80km breakaway, got caught and then finished 2nd in his 45-49 age group). We cheer on fellow ANZA members as they go up on the podium and then board the bus back to Nirwana Gardens.
Tour de Bintan Day 3:
I wake up on the floor again but this time with a mosquito buzzing around my ear. Oh well. My bike is fixed, I have enough sleep and am ready to go for another day of racing.
Breakfast is consumed, a brief warm-up is done, everything is packed into the jersey pockets and I’m off to the start-line, this time at Nirwana Gardens. It is time to probe on who is going to do what. I received a tip the night before to watch what number 2 is going to do (from Adam). That was my plan. On the start however, I was given a second option in being told that an unexpected rider would try to make a break. I told them I was in for trying, as long as it wasn’t in the first 20km or so.
The race starts. I thought it would be more lively than day two, but it wasn’t. there were a couple of half hearted surges off the front, but the first 20km went by at a recovery ride pace. The next 20km was also uneventful but for some cursing from one team to another about attacking through a feedzone (I was on the front so got to witness this up close). 40km down and some 70km to go. I’m feeling good, not really wanting to push the pace, but am rotating around in the first 10 wheels of the group.
Somebody goes off the front and then a second. I’m thinking, is this it? They aren’t fully pushing it. Perhaps they’re just probing, but I know one of the guys up there is they guy I was told about. OK. I’m in. I surge off the front, bringing a 4th guy with me (I think this is how it went down). We crest a hill and tuck into a 4 man paceline. After a minute or 2, we are still clear of the group and ED (of 852, Hong Kong) gives the orders: 30 seconds in the front, flip your right elbow and rotate back.
There are 60+km to go. There are four of us, representing four teams, ANZA (your author), Matadors (Romain Barbier), Mavericks (Ruairi Brown) and 852 (Ed Chadwick). As the Mavericks are currently holding yellow, the Maverick rider with us has no interest in helping the break going fast. He is there to mind us. We slow down from 42 to 38 kph whenever he is in the front. Either he isn’t as strong or just wants to slow us down. It doesn’t matter. He has to go. Luckily a bridge comes into sight. After the bridge, he is no longer with us. Did we drop him? Did he sit up? Doesn’t matter. There are now three of us. Camaraderie is formed. Encouragement is given. Each of us wants to win, but for any of us to succeed, we NEED each other to be equals for the next 50+km. We remind each other to eat and drink. The wind is beating down on us. The sun is hot. We go on as my Garmin counts down the distance. It seems like after an hour, we get our first time gap information. I hear 4.5 minutes or so. WOW! My head cannot comprehend it. I’m elated and prematurely start dreaming of yellow (my fifth mistake). We go on. 20 minutes later, or so it seems, we hear that the time gap has closed to under 2 minutes. Time to press on.
Finally, we reach check-point Charlie and know that there is only 15km to the finish, but there are still a few large rolling hills. Going over the speed humps, Ed’s lone bottle falls out. He is spent and shouts to Romain and I to go on. We do. I’m feeling it. There haven’t been any cramps yet, but mindful of how my legs felt the previous day, I don’t go into overdrive and keep things nice and steady. Going up one of the bigger hills, I slow down and stand up. In a momentary lapse, Romain’s front wheel grazes my rear. He stays upright but goes off the road onto the gravel. I peek back, see him still upright and wonder if I should stop and wait or keep pressing. I keep pressing.
I’m last man standing with under 10km to the finish. If the race ended now, I’d have won and maybe even stolen Yellow. But this wasn’t the end. I pressed on. Saving energy on the down hills and tapping out the inclines, always telling myself: don’t cramp, don’t cramp, don’t cramp. I make the right hand turn with 5km to go. Then the left hand turn with 3km to go. I begin to think about the finish. How to handle the cobblestone round-about and the small but non-negligible incline at the last km (tips from Raoul the night before). I get a little confused just before the round-about with the direction of the road, but get to my preferred side and I’m still last man standing.
THEN I SEE YELLOW beside me. I look at the Garmin and see 1.7km left. How long was he stalking me? I see the 2nd place in the GC standing and then a second later 3rd place. I’m deflated. My legs are spent. I try to crack a joke or two as they sit with me over the next 30 seconds. They don’t respond (verbally). Then, Bastian responds with his legs and attacks. The other two follow. I follow too, but not with any vigor (my seventh mistake – later I’d realize my sixth mistake). I’m spent and seeing the three podium spots ride away from me like I’m standing still I just press on at my moderate pace. Just before the finish line, I’m passed by three more riders and finish in 7th, some 15 seconds behind the stage winner Bastian. We stop some 500m past the finish line. Congrats are given, backs are patted, fists are bumped and hands are shaken. That’s racing. Feeling both happy and dejected, the bike gets put against a tree and I go searching for fluids.
Thus ends the racing portion of the weekend. I end up 5th in the GC. I decide that I met my goal of the weekend of ‘racing strong and making some noise’, but unfortunately no podiums.
Calories are consumed. Award ceremonies are watched, my bike is sent to the bike depot for transfer back to Singapore and my room is hastily packed. The ferry ride over is uneventful and no vomiting.
I load my 20kg bag onto my back (my 8th mistake – next year, leave the floor pump, bike lock and half my tools at home) and slowly pedal 25km home for recovery ride 1, thinking about what I learned over the weekend. This is where I realized m 6th mistake: When you’re in a 90+ minute break and know you either commit for [potential] glory or fail early, EAT YOUR CALORIES; ALL OF THEM. I finished stage 3 with over 2 gels left in my gel bottles and a handful of apricots.
Back to the measuring stick. I’m improving, but there is still work to do. There are areas to work on. Back to the quote from the beginning: “Any fit 40 something can be fast on a bike.” This is true (well, I’m not 40 yet…). But now comes the hard part of trying to be a contender: finishing strong.
By Martin Phelan
Special RTI Saturday 18th March
Inspired by a recent diagnosis of Ependymoma of someone very young, near and dear, the Phelan family are raising funds for the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation. Ependymoma is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord. The Robert Connor Dawes foundation are ‘battling brain tumours and supporting brain matters in the areas of research, care and development’. Their mission is all about changing the odds by supporting the science and in the meantime the patients.
I am arranging a special RTI scheduled for Saturday 18th March raising funds to support the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation followed by ‘head shaving’ by anyone willing to do so for the cause. The plan is for the ride to kick-off from Rats at 6am and follow the usual RTI route as far as Sims Rd/Nicoll Highway where we will head for Serangoon Road, Bartley Road and finish at the Australian International School (hopefully by around 11.30am) where the ‘shave’ will occur, coinciding with a sausage sizzle for the Sharks Basketball club and Cockies a few cases of beer have donated product to help the spirit of the day along.
Raffle tickets will be available via Martin and others ahead of the day, as well as at the school and hopefully Dimbulah on the day for regular Saturday riders.
Look out for a dedicated Facebook page for the event which Martin is likely to be sharing over the weekend, please like and share it to spread the word. Martin has also secured sponsorship and a special jersey to commemorate the event, details and orders will also be available via the Facebook page but feel free to PM Martin with an expression of interest ahead of time (incl. size). If there’s interest in a shorter route ride to also finish at AIS for ‘the shave’ feel free to PM Martin or flag interest on the club’s page and if there is sufficient interest he will make sure it’s built into plans for the day.
The background story ….
Before the background, earlier this week the family received the “best possible” news from the lab results – whilst there are never “lifetime guarantees” on cancer, Olivia’s future treatment program is expected to be relatively limited and they are looking forward to being able to return to relative normality in the not too distant future.
Having experienced severe headaches over the holiday season, in early January 2017 our daughter, 15 Year Old Olivia Phelan, underwent a CT scan which identified a ‘large mass’ in her brain.
Around twenty four hours later she went into surgery at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne to attempt to remove the tumor. Despite the seven hours of painstaking work by the amazing neurosurgical team it wasn’t possible to remove the tumor entirely.
Five days later our family learnt a new word – Ependymoma (a form of cerebral spinal fluid cancer). Our Melbourne based family living in Singapore were fortunate to have been ‘at home’ in Melbourne at the time of Olivia’s diagnosis. The extent of this good fortune became clearer as we learnt that the oncologist treating Olivia was a member of a cutting edge global research team which has been collaborating for around five years.
This global research team aim to better understand and treat the differing types of ependymoma, and Olivia was suitable for treatment under one of the research programs the team has been undertaking to improve outcomes for ependymoma patients.
The first step of this program was for a specimen of Olivia’s tumor to be despatched from Melbourne, Australia to a lab in Germany for further testing.
Four difficult weeks (at least) lay ahead before the test results would be available, with initial chemotherapy treatment to commence in an effort to deal with the remaining tumor.
These results have come in recently, with the news “as good as we could have hoped for” (quoting her oncologist) and are understood to mean Olivia’s future treatment can be less aggressive than might otherwise be felt to be necessary.
This isn’t the end of the story however.
In little more than six weeks, our experience has taken us from complete ignorance of ependymoma to an admiration for the value of the research being undertaken by this team.
Very recently we learned that the funding enabling this research group, and to a very significant extent, the ability to test Olivia’s specimen at the German lab is being made available through the support of a Melbourne based, ependymoma specific charity. The Robert Connor Dawes Foundation. A very clear aim of this work is to enable the development and accreditation of local lab test capabilities.
So, what is the purpose here….
Whilst Olivia was experiencing the further trauma of losing her hair due to the chemo drugs, a professional colleague offered to shave his head if Martin chose to do so, in an effort to raise funds, and in a statement of support for Olivia. A huge thank you to Peter Gilbert at BPL Global for providing the spark to these efforts to draw on the support and generosity of friends, colleagues, new and old, near and far (and those who may be strangers to us, until now) so that we can in some way say thank you and support the continued good work of the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation and the research teams and facilities they are assisting.
Thank you for your support and I look forward to seeing you on March 18th.