All posts by anzacyclingrtied

KL – All Change

Gordon’s Getaways have gone away and our captive hotel GM escaped to Yangon, what will KL be like without them?

Friday – By New Frank

Gathering at 2pm at West Coast Highway McDonald’s and after ensuring all bikes were securely loaded, we boarded a very comfortable Malaysian bus. The ride to the Singapore Malaysian border hardly takes 30-45 min. Given the time of day, around 3pm, we cruised past the Singaporean side of the border in no time and set off to cross the border. Arriving at the Malaysian side, we had our passports checked once more and were ready to board the bus again, but not after re-assuring ourselves our precious road machines were still there. Sounds very smooth I hear you say! Indeed, but at that moment our Malaysian friends decided the whole bus had to be “scanned” for potential presence of drugs. True, cycling has been plagued by many doping scandals over the past decennia, but I guess Malaysian border control had other drugs in mind. As everybody knows, we are just happy ANZA folks interested in cycling (and our after-ride coffees and maybe the occasional beer). After an unsuccessful “scan”, that is nothing found, at 4.15pm we were finally on our way to our final destination: Kuala Lumpur!

I had the pleasure of doing several races this year for ANZA, Tour de Bintan, Tour de Phuket and Barelang Six Bridges, but this was my first social trip. From the start the atmosphere was relaxed and very friendly. At the first and only intermediate stop on the good quality Malaysian motorway, we all enjoyed ice creams and other healthy food. Hey, it’s a social trip, not a race!

By 8.15pm, we arrived in KL at the Parkroyal hotel. It took us in total just over 6 hours, which is pretty fast given the time spend at the border. We were treated as VIPs by the lovely people of the hotel and in no time had our road machines in the room. Given it was the first night and Saturday would have a tough ride in store, most of us made it back to the hotel in time for a good night sleep!

Saturday – By Less New Frank

Saturday morning, the day of 145km and around 2,000 meter of elevation, the ride to Genting Sempah, started with an excellent breakfast at 6.30am. We gathered around 7.45am for the inevitable group photo with everyone in the beautiful new kit showing off the names of our kind sponsors. At 8am sharp we were ready for our 15km parade out of Central KL. The ride out of town was smooth and it was surprising to see how considerate drivers are in this big city and leave sufficient distance. You can tell Malaysia has a cycling culture, of which the successful track team is the best example. The experts will recall Azizulhasni Awang claiming the gold medal in the keirin discipline at this year’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships! Unfortunately we missed the cycling disciplines of the South East Asia games which were kicked off on that Saturday.

Hardly warmed up we took on the first climb to the Ampang Look Out Point, a 3 km climb with an average gradient of 4%. The nice thing about a social trip is meeting people you normally don’t ride with given different shape, ambitions, etc. Here were rolled at a leisurely pace to the first hill and regrouped at the top of the hill. After just 20km we were all welcoming the cold refreshments from the 2 support vehicles carrying cold drinks and fruits.

After the descent, groups of similar capabilities and skills formed naturally and we took on several hills of varying gradients. The number of monkeys we’ve seen on the road were countless and it was a relief to Peter Archbold that climbing solo for the best part of the ride with bananas in his jersey pocket and a pace best described as a brisk walk on the hills, thankfully not one monkey seemed to notice the resemblance of Peter to a Deliveroo rider!

The route basically consists of 2 loops and near the end of the second loop as we were approaching lunch time and all stomachs were pretty empty from riding and enjoying the great scenery, only our group was rather unsure of the exact location were lunch was reserved. Our group consisting of around 10-12 riders decided it wise to call the driver of the support vehicle only to realise none of had a network signal. We started to doubt if we were on the right route and returning would imply taking a few hills again, which was not a nice prospect. Only than it occurred to us the restaurant was just around the corner and the driver was already waiving to us. Quite a relief!

The morning efforts had taken its toll on a several riders and in the afternoon multiple groups had formed again. The faster riders reached the Look Out point, basically the gateway to KL. Slowly but surely all riders reached the summit of the Look Out point, the last climb of the day. Some in somewhat better shape than others and together we descended for well-deserved ice cream before riding back to the hotel escorted by our friendly support vehicle.

The ride ended without a single puncture or other mechanical problem which is pretty amazing for a group of 26 riders. That seemed like a good prospect for Sunday’s ride!

After refreshing, we gathered at the Parkroyal lounge where we were pampered again by the hotel staff. Given the rugby game Australia – New Zealand was live at that time, it was a good moment to remind ourselves again what ANZA stands for. Discussing the result of the game is totally unnecessary for the country without black colours!

Around half of the group still went into town, while the rest was off to bed given the next day had some challenges as well. At FLAM’s, we enjoyed French thin crust pizza with a few beer towers. With a Man United game on TV, discussions quickly evolved to where real football is played. Given only Glenn and yours truly were able to defend “real” football, against a majority of Aussies it was clear it was a lost battle. So we will be looking forward to the next World Cup of Aussie-rules football, I mean footie!

Most of us still wanted a good night of sleep, while other were busy “simulating long endurance race efforts” where sleep deprivation is a factor in the race, including sufficient intake of liquids of course. Luckily they made it safe and sound back to the hotel at 3.30am.

Special credits go to Mary Scot and Mark O. for pushing their boundaries with their longest rides ever without getting into the support van (or maybe for 1.5km). And yes, every time Mark asked the driver of the sag wagon how far still to the top, he answered “it’s just around the corner!”

Sunday – By Julianne

Rolling!

The lovely ride up to Genting Sempah was on the menu for today. Not many suffered from any hangovers of last night, so we started bright eyed and bushy tailed our climb sharp at 8’o clock from the hotel.

22 ambitious riders were on the start today. The climb was decent and steady with some new QOMs and no big surprises.

Glen Raoul and Mike took off from the front of the group at the overhead bridge which caused some splits to the pack.

Everyone made it up the climb which was a monumental effort considering the long ride on Saturday.

Other than the way back down where Steven decided to descent with one spoke less, just for the fun and to have some drama. The drama got luckily fixed thanks to Stephanie’s Ringgit donation and we were on our way (after an ice cream stop).

The only drawback was that our well deserved pool time got cut short by a few minutes.

Our KL trip ended with traditional beef burgers at the pool, followed by an almost sharp departure at 2 pm back home to Singapore.

The return drive was uneventful and with a super duper speedy crossing through Malaysia and Singapore boarders we even beat those who flew back into Singapore.

Many thanks to Mike who organised the trip, great job as usual!

Thanks for the ride guys!

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Gillian’s cycling adventure| pt 2

Gillian and her friend Jonathan may or may not make it out of Iran

If you missed part 1 it’s here Gillian’s Cycling Adventure

From Tehran the (overly) ambitious nature of my planning became obvious as we cycled down to Shiraz (where we consequently found no Shiraz, or any other type of wine for that matter) and then onto Isfahan.  Whilst both cities were magnificent and beautiful, the 40 plus temperatures made appreciating their sights a challenge.

Cycling in Ramadan created another layer of difficulty, as many restaurants and shops were closed during the day. I also felt uncomfortable eating and drinking in public thinking that we were breaking the law.  We later discovered (much too late) that travellers were exempt from these restrictions!

From Isfahan we stopped at Persepolis where were allowed to camp next to the guard house for the night. The night of our arrival the guards quickly found an English speaking guide who arrived at our campsite with tea and stories of his work as an archaeologist during the original dig.

We then began the trek across the desert to Yadz.  While this part of the trip involved long stretches without towns or people, being able to watch the landscape constantly change proved fascinating.  All the podcasts that I had subscribed to in an attempt to stave off boredom went unlistened to as I focused on the road ahead.

I have heard cycling being described as being about the passing of time,
and with the wheels continuously turning, sometimes fast and other times painfully slow, it definitely felt this way. During these stretches of desert in 30-40 degree temperatures the focus became about getting to the next sign, the next hill, to the first 30km and then over the 100km mark.  There has obviously also much time spent watching my Garmin waiting for the kilometers to tick over! (Much to Jonathan’s disgust!)

When we finally did arrive, Yadz turned out to be just as enchanting as expected with its desert coloured buildings and blue tiled domes.

From Yadz we attempted to cycle across the last stretch of desert to Mashad, the city considered by Muslims to be the holiest city in Iran  (i.e. The Iranian equivalent of Mecca) and our border crossing point into Turkmenistan.
The highlight of this 900km dusty and hot bicycle journey turned out to be camping next to the site of the remnants of a helicopter and plane crash, an ill fated attempt to end the US hostage crisis.  There, we were hosted by the Red Crescent staff who made us dinner and breakfast before providing us water for the next part of our trip!

We then managed to cycle another 120km through the searing heat and wind before Jonathan realised the stupidity of the endeavor and took the bus.  I stubbornly cycled another 270km before I was waved down by a passing motorist, invited into her home for lunch and dinner and then I was bought a bus ticket for the next day!

Watching yet more desert roll by from the bus window I definitely realised that I wasn’t missing out!

While a great place to see the finish of Ramadan, Mashhad proved to be the least exciting of the Iranian cities that we visited. So after a very long tour of the mosque, involving me wearing an extra long borrowed chador that was not dissimilar to a bed sheet; we were glad to receive our Turkmenistan transit visas. This event was somewhat of a lottery win as many people are rejected with no explanation. The irony of wanting to visit a country that did not want us was not lost on me!

Arguably the strangest and least visited ‘stan, Turkmenistan gained nortoriety through the dictatorship of former President Saparmyrat Niyazov.  In this role, Niyazov covered the country in golden statues of himself and ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi,’ leader of the Turkmen until his death in 2016. So, it was with much anticipation and curiosity that we crossed over the border into what our Lonely Planet guide described as a “totalitarian theme park.”

While it didn’t feel right to be excited about visiting a totalitarian regime, having spent a month in Iran it was a relief to finally cross the border and enter another country, any country!  I would also have to admit that the opportunity to have a beer (or two) and not be obliged to wear a headscarf was playing heavily on my mind!

With only five days to cross the country, after successfully navigating the border crossing we loaded our bikes into a waiting taxi and headed towards the nation’s capital, Ashgabat.  Once there, we spent the afternoon cycling around admiring the marble buildings, gold domes and large areas of uninhabited lush parkland before checking into a hulking Soviet era hotel.  A fairly bleak option, we were provided with one towel to share, no toilet paper or toilet seat and told to open a window if the Arctic blast of the air conditioning became too much.  All for the princely sum of $50 USD!

The next day we took a series of taxis to get to the Darvaza gas crater in the Karkarum desert.  While the desert had been described to us as an opportunity to get a glimpse into traditional Turkmen life, with its collection of ramshackle huts and occasional camel the landscape proved rather bleak!  The crater itself, a result of Soviet-era gas exploration in the 1950s was definitely worth the trip.  Basically a pit of flames, the fire burns with incredible ferocity and can be seen from a great distance away (which is handy given that it felt like standing next to an open oven door!)

Alone at the crater, we managed to take innumerable photos before camping for the night and returning to Ashgabat the next day.  After a another night there we took the overnight train to Turkmenabat and cycled the remaining 30km across the border into Uzbekistan.  With its seemingly unending bureaucracy and paperwork, this crossing took up most of the morning.  This left us with little choice but to cycle through yet another desert in the midday sun as a ferocious headwind blew sand into our faces.  Delightful.

Thankfully, the next day proved to be a vast improvement.  We met up with a French cycle touring couple that we previously encountered in Iran.  The day was then spent singing and chatting while cycling through lush green fields criss crossed with irrigation channels and dotted with workers in colourful headscarves.  This was a definite change of pace for us!

As we cycled along we were greeted by villagers and many children and adults on bikes, who seemed to delight in whizzing past, chains squeaking and rattling.

As expected, Bukhara proved beautiful and was not full of the bus loads of tourists that we had expected.  After two days of exploration, we set off to Samarkand, arguably Uzbekistan’s most impressive city with its grand monuments, colourful bazaar and rich history.

Our time in Samarkand was spent wandering around the city and enjoying fresh food and copious amounts of ice cream before we set off to last destination in Uzbekistan. While having enjoyed much of the history that both the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand had to offer it was Tashkent with its plethora of Soviet-era architecture that I was most excited about. Obviously Jonathan was not as thrilled at this prospect.

As I had anticipated Tashkent proved impressive with its plethora of mostly well maintained monuments, Stalinist ministries and highly decorated apartment blocks.

Somewhat distracted by this haze of architectural induced happiness, at this point Jonathan and I decided to go our separate ways (so yes, Hooper, I owe you a beer).

While the trip had been Jonathan’s idea, he decided that he had seen enough of Central Asia whereas I wanted to head to Tajikistan, home of the Pamir Highway, with its promise of some of the best mountain scenery in Asia (and difficult climbs).

Amicably, we repacked our panniers, I learnt how to use our stove and Jonathan jumped on a flight to Korea as I headed in the direction of the Tajikistan border with the hope of finding a cycling friend.*

*Slight spoiler alert but I should probably note at this point that having spent two 150km days alone I managed to meet up with a French cyclist who had also lost his travelling companion just after the Uzbekistan/Tajikistan border.  So no, I am not still trying to utilize my poor navigational skills in Uzbekistan although I did manage to get lost.  Twice.

OANDA Drinks and Trading Competition

Just a quick reminder that our club sponsor OANDA are hosting this month’s club drinks on Wednesday 28th June.  Yes folks, that is tomorrow!  If you didn’t spot it on Facebook, then here are all the details. The original Facebook Post is HERE.

SPONSORED CLUB DRINKS  – JUNE 28
OANDA’s ANZA Cycling Trading Competition
🍺🍻🍸📊💰💰🍷🍸🍻🍻🍺👏

Join us at the Lime House for cocktails on 28 June for an evening of friendly competition with a chance to win SGD 1,000. Drinks and nibbles will be served while you join in the contest.

You will need to do the following to join the competition:

  • Register now (via the link below)  to reserve your place, you can explore the trading platform from now until the start of the event at your leisure.
  • Bring your smart phone to the event to participate in the competition.

A global leader in online multi-asset trading services, OANDA combines award-winning technology and institutional-grade execution across a wide range of asset classes, enabling clients to trade global market indices, commodities, treasuries, precious metals and currencies on one of the world’s fastest platforms.

We look forward to welcoming you and finding the ultimate OANDA trading genius.

Date: Wednesday 28 June 2017
Time: 6:30-8:30pm
Place: Lime House, 2 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore 089260
Cost: Free for Club Members
Dress: Casual

We would really like you to Register Here -> https://oanda-toptrader.com/

But even if you have an aversion to planning more than a day in advance and therefore cannot bring yourself to register, you are welcome to come along on the day when you find at 6pm that you really need a drink and to bring some sanity to your life by talking about the upcoming TfF which starts this weekend.

 

Broken Ubers, Hot Roads and Mystery Sausages | Mersing 2017

Day 1 (Chas)
The day started badly from an anecdote point of view, with all 21 riders boringly turning up at the correct ferry terminal at the allotted time. Luckily Ed Yue’s Uber driver added a bit of excitement by driving into a wall straight after dropping him off, all in front of the assembled masses.
Two hours, two immigration checks and a bumboat ride later we were in the Malaysian town of Pengerang, ready to start the 180km ride to Mersing. Within another twenty minutes the group was off course and waiting for the first puncture of the day to be repaired; luckily this was only due to a brand new road smoothing our journey to the east coast, notwithstanding the odd piece of tyre-piercing grit. Amazingly it was the only puncture of the day. 
The first rest stop was at Desaru, 50km up the road. Whilst we discussed the risk of our food being stolen by nearby monkeys, we attacked the piles of bananas and banana bread in the back of the support van like a… troop of monkeys.
Suitably replenished, we broke up into a Fast Group and a Faster Group. The latter idea might not have been sensible during the middle of the day on a road with no shade and the mercury pushing into the late 30s, but it did mean the kilometres absolutely flew past. Duncan Begg did much of the pulling on this sector, before revealing that he would be heading out to an offshore island rather than returning with us, hence had no need to conserve his energy for the following day.
Many of us were spent in mind and body by the time we reached the next stop. At least I think that was why we had the worst ever game of Guess the Film; Pat’s clue of “That Australian film with the blond actor” being possibly the worst ever description of a specific Russell Crowe film.
With a few of the back-markers beginning to wobble across the road, the pace slowed as the rolling hills became rolling; eventually rain arrived to cool us down and take our mind off the remaining kilometres, and to put us in the mood for some even cooler beers upon arrival in Mersing.
After eating most of the food in an excellent Chinese restaurant, and discussing the virtues of putting Vaseline above one’s eyes to divert sweat beads to either side (!), some turned in to rest for the next day’s exertions; others retired to the hotel bar for a little more carboloading. The hotel TV was of course playing “The Nice Guys”, that same Russell Crowe film.
– Chas
Day 2 (Ned and Becky)
As the sun rose over Mersing on Sunday morning, 22 of ANZA’s elite stepped out of their chambers on quivering legs. Fuel was required for the day ahead (although not for Duncan who had bravely decided to spend the rest of the weekend on a nearby tropical island…) and no one knew what form this first, most civilized meal of the day would take. Down in the dining room a groups of lycra-clad, stripey tanned pedal-pushers tucked into what can only be described as culinary triumph! Picture the scene from Beauty and the Beast where Belle was entertained and thoroughly nourished by Lumiere’s house staff and you will not be too far from the Havanita hotel’s hospitality… Mystery meat sausage, performance pancakes and giant, previously warm baked beans offered all the victuals necessary for our valiant travelers. Needless to say, the optional hard-boiled egg was taken by few as digestion needed no further challenges this day.
Bottles were filled, tyres pumped, “Rolling” was called and once again the train pulled out of the station. Our bodies moved in seemingly the only way we knew how; calm and serene from the waist up but spinning like crazy down below! With the sun on our backs we headed out, the undulating terrain reminding us of the miles journeyed the day before. The peloton naturally split into a cruisey group and a less than leisurely octet. Ed sadly missed the divide and put in an extra hard shift which he hadn’t planned for. Needless to say he endured well but was gladly welcomed back into the chase group at the next ice-cream stop…
Some notable events throughout the bulk of the ride were being introduce to Malaysia Police Force’s newly established Anti Cycling 2-a- breast Division and the compositions of Liesbeth’s, soon to be smash hit, “Mercy, Mercy Mersing” song. (Now available on iTunes).
More cycling happened before hitting Struggle Street. Our previously smooth road had transformed into the surface of the moon. This alone didn’t deter the ANZAnians however the increased traffic and volume of log-bearing heavy ass vehicles was enough to reduce our twos-up soiree into a single file cong(a)lomerate.
This continued until Johor Bahru where we were greeted by one final manmade mountain. This flyover was like nothing we have in Singapore. If conquered, it’s sheer length and elevation alone would be enough to achieve a steady stream Strava Kudos well into your twilight years. This final obstacle was met with reluctant enthusiasm from most and a traffic-defying gel stop at its summit by Martyn!
I am very pleased to report that all who started, finished (except Duncan ;-p), we all had a super-awesome time and I would like to thank all who helped to organise for their efforts. We are sure we speak for all when we say that this trip has been an absolute highlight of our time in Singapore so far and we are looking forward to many more!
– Ned & Becky
Photos below

Rapha Prestige Chiang Mai | “The hardest century ride I have ever done”

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.

Gillian’s cycling adventure

Gillian and her friend Jonathan are currently cycling across Central Asia. They started one month ago.

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.

What the Tour of Bintan taught me about trading

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.

Photo courtesy of Fatih Muftih / Batam Pos.

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

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.

Last minute Spring Classics Holiday! A tale of 2 cyclo-sportives

By: Stephanie Lim

Background: 

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. 

The Tour of Flanders Sportif

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.

The day finished with beers and frites and more beers and fritesetc etc, and I hitched a ride home with Stu’s group who I then met later for dinner and more beers. Flanders was super-great. 

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.

The Paris-Roubaix Sportif

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).