Fun and sun in Kuantan!

Many of you will know KL, some may have cycled around KL and found out how quickly you transition from busy city with overcrowded roads to quiet countryside. Few of you will have ventured outside this in term of cycling in Malaysia. This is a shame because the country has a lot to offer with Ipoh, Cameron Highlands, and Kuantan.  Kuantan I am told has lovely countryside, but I wouldn’t know as I just spent four and a half hours staring at a variety of backsides or the stem cap of my bike with the motivational letters “HTFU” stencilled into them.

Kuantan was the venue for the latest Malaysia Century Ride, that being a century in the old money of British miles, so just a smidge over 160km. The MCRs are great events, sitting somewhere between a race and a sportive, they are too competitive at the sharp end to be a sportive and there are too many people of mixed ability for it to be a pure race, but the best thing about them is that with over 2000 competitors, they are fantastically well run and amongst the friendliest events I have ever entered.

Some might think that it’s a long way to go for a bike ride, but the whole thing is a great weekend. You get up about the same time you would on a normal cycling Saturday, jump on a coach and sleep/veg out/chat for 7 hours before arriving at the race headquaters and hotel. Pick up race packs, banter with your mates, grab lunch, assemble bike, replace 2 x tyres because like everybody you just couldn’t be bothered to do it after the last ride where the damage occurred, buy as much kit from the assembled vendors as you can because its 30% cheaper than in Singapore, buy water and beer from the nearest supermarket then head out for a great local seafood dinner from one of the many restaurants just outside town.

So, after a great showing of 18 last year, ANZA Cycling has an elite squad of 3 this year. Well, Steven Wong is the elite squad and Dave Powell and myself make up the other 2. There are a few more ANZA riders about but they have either left the country and are now part of other Malaysian clubs or having had to beg seats on rival clubs buses, were riding in those jerseys to avoid abuse on the way home 🙂

Why so few you may ask, I really don’t know. Joyrides sent 3 coach loads, East Coast Riders sent 5 coach loads and the Dawn Riders who Dave managed to hitch a ride with had a similar number. All in over 800 people thought it was worth the trip from Singapore to Kuantan, and all I can say is that they were right.

DSCN14677.30 was race start time, so breakfast was agreed amongst the 3 compatriots of Dave, Mark Losi (racing in rival BJCC colours and ANZA gloves) and me. A short ride to the start and we were there by 7.00am. Others had similarly planned to beat the rush and we were somewhere about 1000 riders from the start.

Mixed messages
Mixed messages

No worries I thought, 8km of neutralised 25-30km/h should be plenty for me to get to the front. We hooked up with Steven Wong, ANZA rider number 3 who had got up a little earlier to get his place closer to the front and he stayed just long enough for the obligatory club photo.DSCN1468

7.30 arrives, the gun goes off and nobody moves, it takes a minute or so for the movement to ripple down through 1000 riders, then we’re off. Once under the timing gantry I’m off trying to work through the field, and that is the last I see of the other ANZA riders for the day.

It’s going beautifully, at 7km I can see the front of the bunch about 500m away, still 1km to go, and 7.5km I look up an the front peloton is gone! Apparently the 8km was from the start banner, not from the timing gantry. I look up the road and see Peloton 1 is gone, with a snaking line of elastic riders bridging the gap, I realise at that point at 8km that my ‘race’ is over. Not to worry, after a few km of riders attempting to bridge, the elastic snaps, and Peloton 2 quickly forms and my plan is, as it was, to stay in the peloton until the end. The hills are at the start this year, and after 25km of rolling hills, suddenly I’m not feeling great, from front of peloton I suddenly slip back about 100 riders at least, but fortunately over the crest of the hill the pace slackens and I get a chance to catch my breath, I recover and we’re off.

DSCN1472
Me and a few mates I met in Kuantan

I love peloton riding, I’m doing 42km/h with a heart rate of 155 (that’s low for your hamster hearted editor) and a power output of 150 watts, I’m in heaven! I feel great, I’m passing people all the time, no, really, I’m passing people all the time, so why am I not at the front of the peloton. With a large group, the dynamics develop such that there are 2 conveyor belts of riders one on the left and one on the right. The riders on the outside are accelerating t try to move to the front and then move over to get out of the wind at which point they slow down and slip back through the centre of the group before repeating the whole process again As I’m sitting comfortably in the centre the effect is as if I am constantly passing people, it’s a great feeling.

I wasn’t expecting water support and so my mind had turned to how I was going to manage the drink stops without being dumped out the group, when all of a sudden a car turns up and starts offering bottles out of the window, I grab one, pour it into my bidon and know I’m set until at least the 105km water stop.

I’m working on my nutrition strategy in advance of L’Etape in July so I’m taking a gel every half hour and since I’m feeling good they are actually quite palatable. All of a sudden it looks like the group is going to split, somebody has decided we are going too slow and has upped the pace. I make mistake 1 of 2 and after the gap increases, I take it on myself to bridge, head down watching the power meter, I see 400 watts appear for a while and know I can’t do that for long! The gap is crossed, and the 2 groups are back together, but I realise that the effort as too much for me, I drop about 100 riders again and am thankful for such a large group as I manage to hold on and recover again, but feeling pretty pleased with myself as 5 months ago I would never have attempted that.

The ride progresses, the km are being eaten up and I still feel great, somebody tells me that there is a bridge right before the end and I think about how to tackle that. A few attack start with 10km to go, but basically the peloton counters and nothing sticks. The bridge appears, and I commit mistake 2 of 2 and attack, by the top of the bridge I’ve overtaken almost everybody and am about 5th in this peloton, but as we crest I realise I’ve over cooked it, I can barely pedal down the other side. A 14 year old offers me his wheel. How dare he! Doesn’t he know I’m old enough to be his father, maybe even grandfather, he was the one I was screaming at on the way up the bridge to move right to avoid a crash, perhaps he is showing due respect for my advice, either way I’m insulted! I take his wheel gratefully and he pulls me onto the front group. I see the finish line and all of a sudden the top sprocket of the rear fandango breaks and the 2 ladies from cycledelic who I had been marking all day sweep past me with 10 meters to go! Oh well, such is life! I cross the line with 4hr 22min for 160km and am ecstatic that this is the first race I’ve finished in the main bunch.

Cooling Down
Cooling Down

We are greeted by the local fire brigade who are providing a cooling fountain for all to enter, I cool off then we head off to collect medals and regroup with the other ANZA riders. Dave finished comfortably under 5 hours, Mark broke a spoke but soldiered home with only slight damage to his frame caused by sliding 50km with a rubbing back wheel and Steven Wong, performing as we have come to expect was first in the 50+ group with a time of 4 hours and 5 minutes.

It was a great day! I can only recommend it to everybody for next year.

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