Category Archives: Random

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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.

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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.

 

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.

As Special RTI for a Special Cause

rcdfund-blue-sbm

By Martin Phelan
www.rcdfoundation.org
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.

Martin

Gordon’s Final Getaway or #anybodyseenmypassport

By Steph Lim and Håkon Vestry

Steph’s bit!

When the call went out on Facebook, I jumped at the chance to join Gordon’s final getaway and ignored all other relevant information. Like I was recovering from manflu, coughing like a pack-a-day smoker and I’d never actually ridden 150km before. Whatever, I like to ride my bike, I haven’t seen a proper hill for months, who needs facts.

President not impressed with passport discipline in the club
President not impressed with passport discipline in the club

Off we set to KL on a luxury coach. From the planned group of travelers, we lost one before the bus even left (Shanniz Irmana realized her passport wasn’t in Singapore), lost another at the Singapore border (Liam Winston brought the wrong passport and couldn’t exit the country) but luckily Malaysian immigration were extra-lax that day and Hooper got through with his passport which expired in less than 6 months. After all the border excitement it was a mostly uneventful journey and we reached KL in time for pizza, beer towers and street noodles.

The Team
The Team

Day 1 we rolled out 8am sharp with both a lead-out-car and a sag wagon with spares, snacks and hydration (impressive). The group rolled out at a gentle pace and got 3km down the road when Julie Kenny felt sick, realized her HR monitor was giving her the max HR readout of a 30 year old and decided to climb in the van and head back to the hotel pool. 15km later we hit our first climb, Jalan Hutu Langat a 4% climb over 3km, it split the group and we all tapped up at our own pace (except the fast boys, who probably raced each other to the top) and then the descent…. Ahhhhhhh, I’ve missed descending. This trip had lovely winding roads and sweet, sweet descents.

Next up was Bukit Hantu a 3.4km climb with some nasty 10% pinches, I found by this stage Howard Wallis and Jelte Waardenburg climbed at my pace and I was thankful for the company, with us all pulling turns uphill before I guiltlessly abandoned them downhill to descend at my own pace (wheeeeeeeeeeee…..). I didn’t know the route (I never do) but it worked out perfectly, with all T-junctions located at the bottom of hills, I could stop and wait for Howard and Jelte to tell me which way to turn and we would roll in the correct direction together. At about 40kms, we caught up to Steven Wong who had generously punctured in front of picturesque Seminyeh Dam so we stopped for an early break. Phil Morris helped Steven with the puncture while the rest of us took photos of the view and drank 100 plus from our van in the name of moral support.

Onwards and upwards towards Genting Perez aka “the hill that never ends”, a 9km climb. After that it’s all a bit of a delightful climbing and descending blur, until we stopped for lunch at 70km where a group of 10 ANZA boys had stopped at a kampong coffee shop and had been trying to order lime juice from the proprietor who spoke no English. Instead they ended up with “only 2 large bottles of beers” which very quickly turned into 5 bottles as we tried to figure out where the other half of the group went. Probably lost. Apparently this happens all the time. While we messaged the missing riders I used my poor Chinese language skills to order the only food the shop sold, noodles. Turns out everyone else had turned left instead of right (taking them up more hills) and were on their way. Except Steven who by this stage had punctured 3 times and turned back, and Andrew Purcell who never found us, completed the route in reverse and allegedly loves it solo. Our riders arrived but the noodles didn’t, apparently there had been a misunderstanding and so I ordered more noodles and we waited. And waited. Megan, Laura and Gillian decided to get a head start and set-off. By the time we finally got our food the first group had been hanging around for 2 hours and were ready to leave, so we hoovered up what we could and hit the road.

We left in a single group until the next set of climbs. It was at halfway through these, after a brief regroup my legs turned to lead. Howard and I tackled the next set of climbs together, along with Raoul Berthillon who had obviously taken pity on me and vainly tried to tow me along. A sweet descent down Genting Perez, the whole team regrouped down the bottom and I thought we were done with the climbs. Only we weren’t. There was one left and it was 4km on a steep, bumpy main road with high traffic and large trucks. Climbing it I had head-spins and was overtaken by just about everybody. I daydreamed of getting in the sag wagon whilst keeping my legs spinning. Last climb done, we were treated to a hazy look-out view of KL and as much cold watermelon as we could eat from the sag wagon.

We rode slowly back to KL as one group, 18 riders, 146km and 1965m of climbing, we celebrated with G&Ts in the pool.

Håkon’s bit

Before our feet turned into swim feet, we went up to the club lounge (thanks Mark GM Park Royal) to enjoy some finger food, beers, wine, Jack & cokes (followed by jack without cokes). Time flies in good company, and before we knew it, we had to rush over to the Italian restaurant that Mr. Kinder had arranged for us.

We entered Ristorante Michelangelo in same style as a bunch of teenagers high on booze and hormones, probably to the other guest’s exasperation. We split up into two tables, which soon turned out to become the two competing teams for the next day. My team, “Team Tinder Surprise”, was enjoying great wine picked by our in-house expert Monsieur Berthillon, while discussing different dating techniques, ping-pong games in Phuket and also a bit of tactics for the next day’s championship. The table next to us on the other hand seemed to have totally forgotten about tomorrow, and looked more like a company outing from an Irish brewery than athletes on tour. Dinner was followed by numerous “last drink” at a Mexican place. At midnight some of us had enough and went home while the party animals stayed to give KL some ANZA foot prints.

The next morning turned out to be very interesting, where some of us needed input from others in order to figure out exactly what happened between “bar Loco” and bed time. I happened to share elevator with one of our experienced cyclists, who could reveal that she didn’t know how she got home, and that she surprisingly woke up with her clothes on – anyways, in true ANZA spirit, she was ready for the leg killing 15k climb of the day on our 70km mountain route.

8 am sharp (when we had agreed to be ready for departure), Team Leader Ms. Gordon sat ready in the lobby together with Team Early Birds, consisting of TDF veteran Raoul, James Bond, the Cervello rocket and our soon-to-be globe trotter Gillian. Meanwhile, the rest of us were pumping tires, having breakfast and getting dressed, probably all of it at the same time. It didn’t take long before all of us (except the two guys who won the banquet the day before) were ready for departure. We sent a squad of our loudest people to try to get these snoozers out of bed, but in vain. We simply had to leave them behind. We all know that Victor and Hoops are great climbers, so maybe they didn’t need the training as much as the rest of us. For what I know, Hoops maybe even logged some distance on his Strava from yesterday’s motorbike pillion ride through the narrow back streets of KL.

It was a nice and sunny morning with a cool breeze swiping through the city as we navigated our way through the somewhat heavy traffic towards the mountains. We stick together as a team, warned each other for bumps, holes and crazy drivers, bearing in mind that as soon as we would reach the hills, our team spirit would probably go down the drain as our hill climbing ego would kick in. We made a quick stop just before the incline started, but it wasn’t quick enough for some of us. The Duracell Rabbit Adam disappeared before anyone had time to react, soon followed by Mike, Mr. Iron Man (Trent) a couple of others including myself. It was a tough 15k climb were chit-chat was replaced by complete silence under strong influence of lactic acid. Just when I thought that this couldn’t possibly get any worse, a 20 knots head wind turned up (thanks for that Mother Nature). Fighting up the hills I could hear Whitney Houston singing “I will always love you” – and I started to wonder if I had pushed myself so hard that I was on my way to die and that this was the start of the journey to heaven (Maybe Led Zeppelins “stairway to heaven” would have been a better choice? ).. A few corners later I was back at planet earth, when I discovered that it was just a MTB cyclist who was spreading love from a stereo in his back pack. Maybe AC/DC would have been what I needed, but creds to the dude for bringing some tunes to the hills from hell.

gordonsfinalgetaway1We had a great stop at the windy summit, getting fruit, soda, water and coffee from the back of a couple of cars. Some photos were taken, some stories were told and then we headed back where we came from. Now it was not a matter of stamina anymore, but just who had the biggest balls. Miss Gordon (who I believe doesn’t have any balls) took a head start down the hills. I think this was my favorite part of the trip. High speeds, a lot of trees to dodge and cars to try to overtake. The hills ended in a quite long straight with a slightly negative incline – a smooth high speed part with the hands on the lower part of the handle bar (wohooo!).

We re-fueled at a mini market and headed back to the hotel in a big group. Just before we reached, Scott, Trent, Laura and I headed to Petronas towers for some selfies! To our surprise, that was apparently prohibited?! Some security guards were whistling at us and telling us that it was not allowed to cycle inside the park. “OK, so we get off our bikes then” – “No, cannot have bicycles here”.
We pretended to be deaf and managed to get a couple of shots (camera shots) before we were kicked out.

Back at the hotel we had a few hours for showers, packing and lunch before we had to get on the bus back to Singapore. It was a tired bunch of ANZAs on our way back, but just as on the school trips, the students at the back of the bus were going strong. We had great fun playing games all the way back to Singapore.

Wrapping up this tour report, I (and Steph) would like to take the opportunity to thank Laura Gordon for arranging Gordon’s getaway. It was my first trip with ANZA and I’m very impressed by how well organized everything was and how smooth everything went. For those who might read this, I can highly recommend attending the next ANZA trip. For me, this was a great opportunity to get to know the other team riders that I meet on our weekly rides here in Singapore, not to mention all the new people that ride in other groups. We share the passion for the same sport and I think that contributes to how well we get along and how much fun we’re having. Can’t wait till next time!

Masters Tour of Chiang Mai – Random Reuben Ramblings Pt2.

By: Reuben Bakker
November 2016
A collection of scenes and memories from a fun weekend in Chiang Mai.
[some post-race ramblings from a personal point of view…]

Scene 7:  Stage 3
It is [potentially] moving day!
There were dreams of a TTT style break catching the peloton by surprise and slipping away into the morning.  That did not happen.

The peloton rolled out for a short 8.5km neutral zone and then the racing started.  Well, for the first bit, the only thing that happened is that the pace went from ~ 33kph to 42kph.  After the neutral zone, we had 54km out back on a flat highway before turning off into the hills.  There were some small break-aways, but nothing that the leaders in the peloton felt threatened enough to hunt down.  The ride out was uneventful, except for the multiple construction zones including some stripped down concrete.  The road was open to traffic, but we had multiple motorcycles escorting us.  Just before the U-turn, the front of the peloton started screaming: STOPPING, SLOWING, WATCH-OUT, CAUTION (and probably the same in Thai).  The U-turn was at a rather large intersection.  There was a RED light in the direction we were approaching and it was not clear;  between the peloton and a clean U-turn were approximately 10 cars and just as many motorbikes, sitting there.  The peloton slowed, split between the cars and made a very slow U-turn.  With 130+ riders, it was not a clean moment.  At the back, riders were fully stopped waiting their turn to get through.  Likely seething as they saw the front of the peloton speed off on the other side of the road.  Several even dismounted and hopped the barrier, cutting the U-turn short by several 10s of meters.

The front of the peloton saw the chaos of the U-turn as a chance to drop people and the speed quickly spun up well over 50kph.  Caught up in the moment, I was near the front, just behind Raoul in just in front of Victor and Adam of the AWCS team and when I heard Adam (or thought I heard Adam) yell: GO, GO, GO!!!!  Raoul wound it up, I wound it up and Victor wound it up in an attempt to bridge a gap to a small group of riders up the road.  Raoul peeled off, I was on the front, I probably lasted less than a minute before peeling off myself, but we were successful in getting Victor on a wheel that got him to the small break away.  Out in no-mans land, I sat up and then 30 seconds later, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, I was swallowed up again.

Interlude:
At some point, I look over, see an ANZA jersey and wonder to myself: Who is that?  After a second, I realize it is Jason Dubois.  Jason is a strong rider in his own right, but over the first two days, finished well off the pace.  After the stage, I see him and ask how his ride went.  He said that it was no fun getting dropped by the peloton and riding solo or in a small group for the majority of the stage, so decided to go all in and stick with the peloton as long as possible.  This put a smile on my face.  Jason finished only 10 minutes off the pace, much better than his first two days, especially considering the climb at the end of the stage.

The peloton rolled along.  Soon, there was SURPRISE and CHAOS again.  We entered another construction zone, spread across the lanes of the road.  This time, the ‘feature’ was multiple lane wide, 10 meter long, 30cm deep cut-outs.  With loose gravel on the concrete between them.  “Luckily there was at least 2 meters of space to maneuver between the cut-outs”  The peloton split.  Some left, Some right and made it through.  Nothing like big holes in the road to keep you paying attention…

[note: These construction hazards should have been communicated at the beginning of the stage and fully neutralized.  There was a rather bad crash for the second peloton of the day on these cut-outs]

75 minutes and 54km after the neutralized roll-out finished, we were back where we started; it was time for the hills – first 11.5km of very moderate rolling hills then 9.5km of real hills.  Conscious of my ‘mistake’ from the previous day, I ensure I’m near the front of the peloton.  Zoom, Zoom, we twist through some small villages, even seeing two elephants walking the opposite direction.

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Elephants on the roadside! Photocredit: screengrab from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRg9Ql5jum8

Finally, we are 4km from the finish.  ONLY 4km away, but with significant elevation gains to be made.  First up is a 1km KOM hill.  With the leaders a minute or two up the road, everybody around just settles in to their granny gears and try to spin up the hill as fast as possible.  The KOM hill is followed by 1km of relative calm and then 2km of 9+% grade to the finish.  After 9+ minutes, the finish is in sight!  I stop the clock at 2h01m21s, 3m01s behind the [age group] stage winner and 15th in the 30’s category.

It is time to find the water truck.  Down a little laneway, it is easy to spot.  Soon, I’m joined by Frank, Sofiane and Ståle.  The bike is set aside, water is consumed and fist-bumps, congrats and back-slaps are doled out to any and all who have finished.  It was the toughest climb I’d ever completed (though that’s not saying much – I’m new to this).

After hydrating and consuming my recovery drink, somebody mentions about going back to the finish line to cheer on finishing riders, both of peloton 2 (finishing the same route as the 30s) and the open A and open B categories who had some extra hills to do.  We lined the road, clapped and cheered people to the finish.  Surprisingly, watching people slowly pedal uphill to a finish line, one by one, can be quite exhilarating.

For those keeping score, I’m now 5 minutes off the pace with a single stage to go.

Scene 8:  Stage 4
Stage 4 is an ITT.  Uphill at a relatively steady 6% grade.  Prior to coming to Chiang Mai, I figured it to be a 35+ minute climb.

The night before stage 4, I’m scenario planning inside my head.  What should be goal for the final stage?  I look at the standings.  I’m somewhere in the mid-teens.  I decide that a realistic, but tough goal would be an overall top 10 finish in the GC and predict that I would need a 33 minute stage to get there.  To the bikecalculator.com website I go.  If I put out 400 watts average, I should be able to get 33 minutes.  Is that a realistic wattage output for me?  I don’t know.  How am I going to pace myself?  I don’t have a power meter.  After 5 minutes of thinking, I remember this thing called ‘average speed’ and a speedometer on my garmin.  If I have an average speed of 20kph before the final 600m where the road pitches up, I should be able to hit 33minutes.

The morning of the stage, I have a slow, rolling warm-up and the make my way over to the start-line.  I wish those around me good luck and tell the guy behind me (30 seconds start time difference) not to pass me.  Soon it is my turn.

After the count down and rolling down a ramp off a platform (just like the PROs), the hill starts immediately.  After the first km,  I look down and see my average speed is 22 kph.  I’m in good shape.  My heart rate is a steady 170 or so and now it’s just 30 minutes of putting in the work; something I’ve done before (on the viaduct, but never 30 minutes of straight climbing).  By the 3km mark, reality sets in.  My average speed drops below 20kph.  So much for my 33 minute time.  Perhaps I can do 34 minutes…

The minutes count up and the km left on my garmin count down; slowly.  I can see the rider in front of me, but never get close.  I seem to alternate between putting down some good power and then having interludes where I’m just spinning.  This pattern repeats again and again.  I start looking forward to the dip in the road.  The strava segment shows a “relief section” including a significant down hill.  The 7km mark goes by, it doesn’t come.  The 8km mark goes by, it doesn’t come.  My average speed keeps dropping.  I have the energy to keep going, but not any faster.  At some point, I get passed.  I try to keep up without getting into the ‘drafting box’ but cannot.  Soon, another rider passes also.  Lucky for me, the rider immediately behind me doesn’t pass.

The 9km mark comes and I’ve given up hope for any downhill section.  My average is 18.7kph, not too bad, but not my goal either.  I settle in for what I know is coming in the final stretch where the road pitches up.  The final 400meters are a 10% grade.  I should drop the hammer, but I only slow down and grind through; there is no power in my legs.  Sign-boards are on the side of the road telling me how far it is to the finish.  I see a 100m sign and am dejected.  In a moment of unclear thought, I think that there is 100m of elevation to go.  That seems like a lot, but on the other hand, it’s only a bit more than one Faber.  After a second, I snap out of it and realize I’m 100m to the finish line.  There is no energy to speed up.  I grind on, cross the finish line and stop the clock in 35m25s.  I’ve missed my goal time.  After getting a push to a place to safely dismount, I lean over the bike trying to catch my breath and take a long swig from my too full water bottle.

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Crossing the finish Line Photocredit: Amanda Bakker

Catching my breath; the most sweat I’ve ever dripped on my bike… Photocredit: Amanda Bakker

Catching my breath; the most sweat I’ve ever dripped on my bike…
Photocredit: Amanda Bakker

 

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At the end: Reuben, Ståle, Frank, Peter and Sofiane Photocredit: Amanda Bakker

We wait around the finish line, cheering others through the finish and then go down the hill several km to a look-out for the final award ceremony.  After watching the awards ceremony and consuming some packet lunches, it’s time to go back down the hill to the hotel.  I take it easy while many others zip past.

At the hotel, we see the final GC results.  I end up in 16th place, 8m56.92s behind the 30s winner (If I had hit my 33m goal time for stage 4, I would have ended up 12th overall).

In one way, the end is a bit anti-climatic.  I didn’t win anything.  ANZA got several minor stage podiums but nothing in the GC; despite this, I have a rather strong sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  I rode well; many of us from ANZA rode well.  It wasn’t perfect, but the extended weekend went about as good as I could have expected coming into Chiang Mai.

[note:  A special thanks to #gordonsgetaways for keeping everybody on the up and up; pre-trip; during the trip and post-trip].

[for a video of scenes from the first three stages, please check out:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRg9Ql5jum8 ]

 

Masters Tour of Chiang Mai – Random Reuben Ramblings Pt1.

By: Reuben Bakker
October 2016
A collection of scenes and memories from a fun weekend in Chiang Mai.
[some post-race ramblings from a personal point of view…]

Scene 1: I’ll add you to the [message] group, but you have to race…

Many moons ago (mid 2016), after several months of riding with ANZA, my fitness finally allowed me to start riding with the fast Kranji bunch.  With this going on for a month or two (I cannot actually remember), I got my first invite into a ‘sub-ANZA [chat] group’.

It went like this:

Frank: “Reuben, there’s a Facebook group of some of the people who ride the fast Kranji.  I’ll add you to the group, but you have to race…”

Reuben: “OK” [completely unsure about racing, but completely sure about wanting to ride  fast]…

Scene 2: The Sign Up

Months [or weeks] passed and the sign-up for the Masters Tour of Chiang Mai goes live.  Laura posts something to the ANZA FB page.

The “FB group” comes alive – more than usual.  There are a lot of maybes, some course analysis and then finally people start saying yes and actually signing up.  Due to peer pressure, and the aforementioned desire to go fast on my bike, I contemplate signing up too.  The calendar is checked, [family] agreements are made, SQ miles are readied and I too book.  By my count, there are 8 from the “FB group” who say yes.  Quite impressive from the viewpoint of this newb.

[side note: Overall, there were ~30 riders from ANZA including the AW race team.  There were 6 of us from the ‘fast kranji’ group: Steven Wong, Peter McQuade, Frank Stevenaar, Ståle Nore, Sofia Behraoui and myself; joining Frank, Sofiane, Ståle and myself in the 30s were Jason Dubois and Adam Scott, both solid riders in their own right.

for event results, see:  http://my4.raceresult.com/63209/?lang=en#0_941B57 ]

Scene 3:  The Prep Work

Strava courses were read, again, and again and again.  The 2016 race report from the ANZA blog was read, again and again and again.  Through the chat group, Steven Wong doled out some great advice about the course, where time could be made (or more specifically, lost) etc…

Even more important was having the proper fitness to be able to ride strong on days 3 and 4.  Weekly mileage went from 300 to 350 to 400+ in the weeks leading up to the event.  Intervals were added and a 2 week intensive was also planned for the beginning of September.  Luckily, the Haze never materialized for more than a couple of days.  In the weeks leading into the event, I easily achieved my highest cardiovascular fitness ever.

Scene 4: Stage 1

All ready to go for day 1; Ståle, Frank, Peter, Sofiane and Reuben photo credit: Frank’s phone
All ready to go for day 1; Ståle, Frank, Peter, Sofiane and Reuben
photo credit: Frank’s phone

Thursday night, I didn’t get much sleep compared to my usual 6-7 hours.  I wasn’t really nervous about my first road race, the bed was fine, my room was quiet.  Regardless, I woke up Friday morning, ready to go.  A 5:30am breakfast followed by an emptying of the bowels and it was time to convene on the race hotel.

We had a 23+ km roll out of town at a nice steady 32kph and ended up on a small, narrow 2 lane country road.  Immediately, there were 50 guys all facing the bushes emptying their bladders.  I figured I might as well try too, but nothing came out.  Probably too many nerves.

After 5-10 minutes, the first peloton containing open A, open B and the 30’s were off.  This was my first time riding so fast in such a large peloton (there were 136 people listed over these three categories).  I had once read that riding in a large peloton was a thrill close to flying.  The first 15km, before the first [small] hill, we averaged 45 kph, often hitting over 50kph.  This newb stayed in the middle / back of the main pack.  It was thrilling.

There were some minor hills, but the main peloton stayed together.  We hit the [small] KOM hill at the 32km mark and the group started to fragment.  I felt good and kept going up, passing people left, right and center (note – I started the hill near the back of the main peloton).  I crested the hill with only a couple of riders in front of me (plus a small breakaway) and was able to fly down the slope reaching over 70kph (see again the flying reference).

It was at this point I made my first mistake of the race.  For some reason, I thought the riders I was with had put some distance on the peloton. After all, there were maybe 15 riders or so who I saw rotating around myself, throwing small, non-sustained attacks off the front.  It was awesome!  My error is that I didn’t know what was behind me.  It was the full peloton.  Full Stop.  I was having lots of fun, but spending too much energy with 30+km left in the race.  We hit the final hill of the day and I was fully absorbed back into the peloton.

I was still feeling great, so was riding near the front with about 20km to go.  Then cramp.  My right quad got stiff and ‘almost seized’.  I was able to keep rotating it and due to the flying nature of the peloton I was able to sit up and just spin without being dropped.  I assessed my fluid situation.  I had ~ 2.3 bottles left (yes, I carried 3 bottles).  I have this minor fear of running out of hydration (a story for another day), but had been feeling so good and running on adrenaline that I hadn’t properly fueled / hydrated myself over the previous hour.  Luckily, I was able to prevent full cramps.  I downed a bottle of liquid, finished off my gels and started feeling great again.  Time to go to the front again.  Both of my quads had something else to say about that.  Cramps again.  Time to shut it down.  I sat in the back of the peloton and coasted into the finish.

I met all my pre-race goals of stage one.  Have fun, not getting dropped by the main group.  In fact, it was even better than that.  The race winners ended up ~ 15 seconds on the peloton and all of the 30s in the peloton got the same time, 1:41:46 with an average speed of 43.9 kph.  An awesome morning.  Frank and Sofiane were also with the peloton and got the same time, with Sofiane even getting a podium spot (5th)!  Ståle had gotten dropped and rolled in some 7+ minutes later.

Rick on the podium accepting 5th for Sofiane; Sofiane had left with Frank to visit the bike shop for Frank’s mechanical. Photocredit: screengrab from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRg9Ql5jum8
Rick on the podium accepting 5th for Sofiane; Sofiane had left with Frank to visit the bike shop for Frank’s mechanical.
Photocredit: screengrab from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRg9Ql5jum8

 

Scene 5: Stage 2

Reuben Rolling into check-in for stage two with five bottles of liquid; can you guess where they are? Photocredit: screengrab from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRg9Ql5jum8
Reuben Rolling into check-in for stage two with five bottles of liquid; can you guess where they are?
Photocredit: screengrab from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRg9Ql5jum8

 

 

I have this fear of running out of water and dehydrating.  I don’t really know why this fear exists during a road race where there are motos all over the place with bottles of water available within 30 seconds or less.  With that said, I left the hotel Saturday morning with 5 bottles full of liquid.  My three bike bottles and two extra hotel water bottles filled with some carbo drink.  We had a longer day ahead of ourselves today, a 25k roll-out and then 99km or racing with a 10+ minute KOM hill about 2/3 of the way through.  I consciously drank a full bike bottle during the roll-out and then filled up the bottle with the two disposable bottles at the 10 minute rest stop before the racing began.

I rolled out with the 120+ strong peloton determined not to cramp and determined not to ride on the front before the KOM hill.  Everything was going great; the first 69km was like a zone 2 ride for me (139 BPM average).  I stayed protected in the peloton and expended very little energy.

The peloton rolled along at 40+ kph, down the highway and then onto a winding country road (without potholes today).  We had a moto escort, but the roads were open and we still had to watch out for cars (and dogs); after all, the peloton was moving fast and took up both lanes when they were clear.  I had a couple of close calls, including a left hand turn with wet pavement, but was able to stay upright.  Overall, the peloton did a good job of calling out cars and taking care of itself.

Then, 57.5km in, there was a car parked on the right hand side of the road.  The first half of the peloton made it through ok.  I was on the right hand side of the road and when I saw what was happening decided that it was best to come to a complete stop.  I safely stopped, upright, and saw a Cycosports bottle roll underneath my bike.  I looked back and saw both Frank and Sofiane on the ground along with several others behind them.  I picked up the bottle to hand back to Sofiane and started to say a word of encouragement; then I see his rear derailleur just hanging there on the chain.  The derailleur hanger had snapped.  There is nothing I can do to help.  I shout to him that the hanger is snapped, hop on my bike and hammer it to get back onto the peloton.  I wind it up and with a couple of minutes, I’m back onto the peloton.  Frank joins me seconds later.

The KOM hill comes some 10km later.  This is my second mistake of the race.  Steven Wong gave specific instructions about the closing seconds of this stage.  The peloton will string out over the hill and after the decent, there will be clusters of riders.  What cluster you get into will determine your finishing time.  In short, get over the hill ASAP, don’t crash on the decent and essentially your finishing place will be determined by the cluster you end up in.  I start the hill at the back of the peloton.  In the first half of the hill, I pass many people.  TOO MANY PEOPLE.  11 minutes and 24 seconds after starting the ascent (according to strava), I crest the hill (side note: If I was further up in the peloton, would I have gotten into a different cluster to finish the race?  maybe yes, maybe no).

It is time for the decent.  We were warned by the race organizers, multiple times, to descend cautiously. I’m in a group of ~ 10 guys and I yell out, at nobody in particular, “BE SAFE”, “RIDE SMART”, “LET’S GET DOWN TOGETHER”.  The hairpin turn filled decent begins.  I think things are going well.  Then, about half way down, I see a guy in front of me have his rear wheel lose contact with the ground.  He stays upright.  A couple of turns later, he loses control and goes over the handlebars and into the ditch.  Two guys (I assume watching him and not their own lines on the road) follow him in.  The decent continues.  One of the Thai guys I’m with yells at a support truck at the bottom of the hill and they spring into action going up to check on the riders.

[side note:  see this video; it is a rear-seat camera of the second guy in the crash – all three who crashed are able to get up – just before the crash, you can see me make an appearance].

After the twisties, the downhill straightens out and it is time to hammer to try to catch any riders in front of us before it is too late.  I find myself in a group of ~ 10+ guys including some locals.  We finish out the decent with 2km at a -5% grade and a speed of 60kph.  Again, AWESOME!

We even have our own support scooter.  I’ll suggest that it was a bit more than a water bottle and wheel scooter as there appears to be a bit of drafting going on.  Not exactly moto pacing, but there was a brief stretch where there were probably less than 5 meters between the scooter and the front of our cluster.  This didn’t last too long.

We see a small cluster in front of us.  I’m feeling really good at this moment.  Nobody else in the group seems like wanting to do a big pull.  Screw it.  I’m at the front, ramp it up and we soon catch the small group in front of us.  I get a pat on the back from a fellow rider.  It’s a smaller group and we likely would have caught them anyways, but it feels great to have been the one pulling our group into the next one.

We have ~ 15km to go.  Overall, there are 20+ riders in our group.  We cannot see the group in front.  So, we settle into a pace.  I’m not cramping, and did I mention that I was feeling great, so I’m happy to repeat my mistake from yesterday and rotate around the front with a handful of other guys while the rest hang on.

At this point, nobody has any idea on how many people are in front of us.  So, the tactics begin, with some hope that podium spots are still available.  The group slows down, the group speeds up.  People are left on the front too long, people next in line don’t rotate through, there are a couple of half hearted attacks but nothing sticks.  With 5k to go, it ramps up then settles down.  Same thing with 3k.  With 1k to go, I find myself on the front again.  MISTAKE.  We are just kind of coasting (as much as you can use that word when you’re going over 45kph).  At 500m, I’m still on the front.  I won’t be able to follow any wheel in for sprint finish glory.  OK then, with no other options in my head, I decide to sprint from the front and hope I’m stronger than the rest.  I stick it in the 11t and ramp it up to 56kph and try to hold on.  For the most part, I do hold on, but believe I’m edged by 1/4 of a wheel or so going over the finish.

We finished strong, but are 2 minutes and 1 second behind our age group stage winners (12 people in the 30s finished with a faster time).  We are the 4th cluster to the finish line.

Overall, the 99km stage is completed in 2h31m05s with an average speed of 39.4kph.  Of the two minutes lost on the age group leaders, approximately one minute is on the climb and one minute is on the decent.

Frank and Ståle come in with the next cluster, less then 2 minutes later.   Sofiane joins soon after in the broom wagon.

Scene 6: Scenario Planning for Stage 3

There are two stages left, but with the last stage being an uphill, stage 3 was going to be moving day (if there was any moving to be done).  Overall, there were 9 ANZA riders in our peloton including the Allied World guys in Open A and Scott Leadbetter, racing Open B (sub 30 year olds).  Stage 3 was profiled as: 62km of FLAT, out and back on a highway followed by 11.5km of a very moderate incline and then 9+km of hills, including 3km of straight up to the finish (the open A and B got a special set of hills after that as well).

To put things succinctly, the goal of any planning would be to get riders with any sort of hope in the GC to the hills with fresh legs, possibly several minutes up on the peloton.  I’ll leave things there.  We decided to sleep on it.  I spend way too much time scenario planning in my head while slowing getting my kit ready for the next morning and go to bed way too late.

stay tuned next week for part two…

The Murderously Hot Slackbladder Tour to Mersing

nik_0607By Adam Scott, Scott Adam, Scott Leadbetter, Scott Free, or any damn Scott you want.
Changi Point to Mersing: One ferry and 185km
Mersing to Singapore (Woodlands Causeway): 135km (plus rides home and beer)

Author’s note:  Any resemblance to actual events, or people is purely coincidental.  Names have been changed to incriminate the innocent.

At 6.20 AM the 19 members of the Mersing Massive assembled at Changi Point Ferry Terminal.  Travel documents dealt with and manifests made some of the crew fuelled up on Kopi-C whilst the rest admired Scott Leadbetter’s spanking new Pinarello Dogma.  Dave Powell kindly offered me some Clif bars before it was released they had been requested by the other Scott.  As dawn broke, Andrew Cherriman sent the first boat of full bladdered riders on its way and the rest of waited for the second faster boat.

nik_060340 minutes later we all arrived at Pengerang in Malaysia having taken the long route round Singapore’s rapidly expanding Tekong Island.  Whilst the early bird catches the worm, clearly Malaysian Immigration officials don’t like getting up early to catch illegal immigrants.  We arrived to find the immigration booths deserted and the border wide open.  Fearing the mess that just walking through would cause when we came to leave Malaysia we waited for the cleaner to go and raise an official to stamp our passports.

With passports stamped we ventured outside to meet Hafiz, our driver and fantastic supporter for the weekend.  We loaded our bags into his truck and a few comments were made about how little room was left for tired riders.  Once we were ready to go photographs were taken of all the riders were taken (it might help with identification later).  After some last minute trips to the bathroom we headed on our way, agreeing to take it easy for the first 50km and split the group at that point.  A mere 10 km later we had our first incident with Iain McLeod picking up a puncture.  No problem we all thought, a good time for a quick natural break whilst Iain sorts himself out.  Iain set about his repair with some gusto, taking both beads of the tire off rim and replacing the tube.  As Iain’s repair progressed there was much swearing and it became clear that Iain was used to a different level of service.  Perhaps a team car following behind with a spare bikes and wheels is a little bit more like it. Come-on Hafiz, where is the neutral service vehicle?  After several minutes, lots of “useful” advice and several more bouts of swearing Iain handed his wheel to Mark “January” Huber and declared he couldn’t fix it because he might get his shoes muddy standing on the verge out of the traffic (there was some muttering about SpeedPlay cleats being sensitive to mud, and other such things).  After Mark had fixed Princess Iain’s puncture we were back on the road.

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No neutral wheels? Not happy!

For the next 40km our group rode well together on the flats, progressing with an average speed around 32km/h.  However, something was becoming noticeable – it was after 9am and it was starting to get really hot.  Just shy of 50km we approached Desaru and the inclines started to break the group up as the stronger riders pulled too hard on the hills.  We regrouped just past Desaru and stopped for water on the side of the road.  Roger and Scott lined up in a prominent position on  the side road to expose themselves to passing motorists and take another natural break.  nik_0613While we refilled our water bottles, we enjoyed some of Chris Keihne’s delicious homemade whey protein enriched power bars and Andrew Cherriman tucked into a curry that he happened to have in his bag (as you do).  At this point it became clear that some of the team had a different agenda as they eyed up the two seats in Hafiz’s truck.  For once it looked like a seat in the truck was going to be a coveted position rather than one of shame.  With some team members openly talking about when they might make use of them Mr Cherriman declared he was feeling tired from his week away and better just take first dibs on one of them.  At this point the group declared they were not happy with the pace on the hills.  It was suggested the group split in two with the faster riders going off first.

nik_0622
Would the faster group breaking riders please stand up.

Everybody looked at each other and declared they were not the faster one who was breaking the group on the hills.  Once the faster riders had been told who they were, and a few had promised to take it easy so they could stay with the “slower” group, the faster group of Kari, Scott, Rick Pratt, Pete Bennet, Andrew Purcell and Glen Kenny were sent off first with the rest of the riders following a few minutes behind.

As we rode on to 100km the pace in the “slower” group settled down to an average pace a little over 31km/h with the faster group heading off into the distance.  By this time the sun was well and truly out; it had its hat on and it was determined to play a game of raising the temperature to over 40 degrees, such that everybody started to question their own sanity.  There was more discussion of how many seats might be available in the truck if we repositioned the bags.  At the 100km mark we stopped again for water, cake, a few more Chris’ bars and more members of the group formed a line for yet another natural break, again in inappropriate locations at the side of the road.  At the same time Scott and Andrew Purcell declared they wanted to join the “slower” group.  Scott stated loudly (in something that sounded like a line from a Bradley Wiggins retirement speech) that he just wanted to enjoy riding and wasn’t interested in “wacking it” anymore.

With the “slower” group bolstered by two extra riders a determined, but now smaller group, of Rick, Kari, Glen and Pete set off ahead agreeing to break again at 150km.  As we approached the 120km mark the team started to grumble about the heat.  Andrew Cherriman decided this was the time to take up his “first dibs” on a seat in the truck.  Apparently, his earlier curry was repeating on him and he needed to fortify himself for the evening’s adventures [Hey the curry was great, no side effects there!]. He climbed in with Chris, who had clearly eaten too many of his delicious bars and needed to rest up for later.  At the same time Roger’s rear wheel bearing declared it had enough of the heat and seized solid. Sometime was spent trying to free it up, with Roger trying to figure out if 3 people could get in the truck without Hafiz having to get out and ride a bike.  However, he was forced to stay on the road after it was pointed out he could just take Chris’ rear wheel.  While his repair was underway some decided it was a good time for another natural break and a few of us continued on to avoid sitting in the sun any longer than necessary.

At around 130km Princess Iain started to slow up, stopping on the hills and hunching over his handle bars.  There was more swearing about the heat and some discussion about just stopping at this point, but Princess Iain was adamant he would continue.  The heat was clearly starting to get to everybody, including me and my bike.  As we got to the top of a hill my bike decided it would no longer change into the big ring and I was dropped from our now small gruppetto on the downhill.  Whilst I was standing on the side of the road, with my tools out swearing profusely, Scott rode past calling loudly that I would be the next to fall to the heat.  I actually think he was imagining my white bleached bones on the side of the road.  He also kindly told me the truck was just behind us and that I too could jump in.  Thanks Scott, I don’t think I’ll wait for it, I just saw it pass us!   I quickly made my repair and carried on. The road was straight and it was possible to see the group strung out in the distance.  As I passed Dave Powell, it was clear the heat was getting to Dave too, as he declared he was at the front of the group.  2km later he was surprised when we stopped at the side of the road to find the rest of the group minus only the four fast riders who were “wacking it”, and Murli and Princess Iain who weren’t.  Shortly after Princess Iain and Murli arrived Iain declared that he was ok and would continue on despite the fact that he was occasionally blacking out and he felt a bit faint.   “Whoa there Princess, what did you say!”.  Hafiz was called to return, but claimed he was going up the road to get Kari who needed to get in the truck too.  When he returned, strangely minus Kari, Iain was deposited into the truck, forcing Andrew back out onto the road and we continued on to 150km.

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Emergency cooling measures!

A brief stop was made at 150km where the team sheltered in the shade, and Laura managed to procure 9 ice creams from a shop at the side of the road.  Whilst we stopped a few of us stuffed ice down the back of jerseys.  I figured it might be worth pushing some into the vents of my helmet, working on the principle that I could lose a lot of heat through my head.  This turned out to work, but meant that for the next 10km I was living in my own personal rain storm with water pouring down my face.  At 162km Hafiz pulled over at the side of the road and a recovered Iain got out of the truck telling us all that he had no idea how he got in the truck in the first place and that he had no memory of the last 50km.  Sighting an opportunity that could not be missed, Rachel Dubois, who must have been a champion player of musical chairs in her childhood, pulled over and jumped straight into his seat.

The remaining kilometres to Mersing flew past.  The afternoon sun tempered by some cloud and falling temperatures helped the team feel better.  The team was so refreshed that, as we approached the outskirts of the town there were some calls for a sprint to the city limits.  Andrew Purcell, Dave and Scott took off.  Never missing an opportunity to show my total lack of sprinting prowess I attempted to chase them down.  Whilst Andrew and Dave had got away to take the two top spots in the “Mersing Saturday Olympics”, I managed to pass Scott with 20m to go.  Like any good man Scott blamed his new bike, claiming that he shifted to his small chainring by mistake because he wasn’t used to his fancy new Campi Record shifters.

We pulled into the hotel parking to be met by the faster group who were complaining that we had left them in the lurch without the truck or water.  It appeared that Glen had been suffering in the heat and spent sometime vomiting on the side of the road at 150km and that Kari had needed to get in the truck, but only for her sun cream.  Overall, it was a good ride up to Mersing, with the whole group getting in with an average speed for the 185km of slightly over 30km/h.

nik_0667A quick shower later and it was beer and food o’clock.  The local seafood restaurant was booked and off we went for a slap up meal.  Laura did an amazing job managing a great selection of food and beer.  There was plenty of rice and noodles, some supposedly vegetarian plates for the vegetarians (all of which seemed to have fish in) and lots of beef (or was it horse…. or deer…. or road kill).  As the meal went on Scott declared he was hungry and needed more rice.  Another plate was ordered, followed by another and another.  Once he had eaten the restaurant’s supply of rice we called it a night.  That was probably good because they appeared to have run out of cold beer.

The next morning we rose to thunder, wind and rain.  After a modest breakfast we ventured on to the road.  Scott Leadbetter was so pleased with being confused with me all day on Saturday that he came down to breakfast in exactly the same Rapha GB jersey as me.  We agreed we wouldn’t mention it again and that we were sure nobody would notice.  Really, I am sure nobody noticed.  They probably thought we were the same person anyway.

The rain was coming down hard. Suggestions about waiting for it to clear fell of deaf ears with Andrew Cherriman stating that might involve waiting until the next day.  To a few of us, that sounded like a good idea.  It seemed such a good idea to Chris that he decided he was getting a taxi back to JB.  A few minutes later, as we rode out of town in a torrential downpour and pitch black (despite it being well after 8am), the taxi idea seemed like a good one as Chris passed us waving from the back of the car.

Anybody Seen Laura?
Anybody Seen Laura?

We continued with our stops every 50km, for what appeared to be our now very regular natural breaks.   There even seemed to be some adhoc stopping going on, with Glen and Roger sprinting off to get ahead of the group to take a natural break only to be caught by the group in the act of admiring the view.  At one point the entire group stopped to allow a natural break for Roger (again), Murli and Laura.  Roger and Murli decided it was best to take some time to hide their modesty and not offend the locals.  Meanwhile, Miss Modesty herself hid from the group between two piles of builder’s sand, in full view of the road much to the surprise of several passing motorists.

After 60km or so, the rain eased and sun came out.  Several Police cars screamed past, apparently they were not looking for a group of cyclists that had been exposing themselves at regular intervals to passing motorists. The oil had washed off our chains such that a few of us developed load squeaks.  The worst appeared to be mine, but it was never completely clear to me as there was a general chorus from a few bikes.  However, as everybody rode past me they kept offering me some chain lube when we next stopped to point where I really started to develop a complex about it and a bit of a headache.  At the next petrol station we stopped and lube was applied and the ride generally quietened down.  People continued to call me Scott, clearly now confused by the fact that Scott and I were dressed identically and not by the fact that we share a name.   The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful, broken only by several more natural breaks for Captain “Roger” Slackbladder.  The group rode well together all the way back to JB.  After battling through the traffic we crossed the causeway back into Singapore, the land of the smooth road surface and calm motorists.

A small group of us headed for Holland Village to allow Mark “January” Huber to pose for photos, which rather than make him look like he was posing for a next year’s ANZA Cycling calendar, looked like he was presiding over the last supper.  The rest of the group headed for their homes and left Glen Kenny to get in a quick Kranji loop, as if 300++km wasn’t already enough for him. As the beer flowed Strava was analysed and it was noted that the group’s time from Mersing to the outskirts of JB is a record only beaten by fellow ANZA member Liam Winston.  If Strava said “same time” it would state that, with all the riders in the group separated by less than 10 seconds in the leaderboard.   The group’s speed was a credit to how well we all worked together and to the fact we all appeared to have the same weak bladders or desire to stop at the side of the road and give passing Malaysian motorists more of a show than they had expected or deserved.

Summer Stories

Generated by IJG JPEG LibraryIt seems it has crept up on us again.  The colonies’ schools have broken up and the great Singapore exodus has begun.

So without much ado about nothing, I will wish you all a great summer holidays and leave you with tales of bad luck and perseverance from Colin Robinson.

If any tales of cycling summer holidays should spring to mind over the next couple of months, as always please feel free to mail them to anzacycling.rti.ed@gmail.com

And while you’re away…
Let’s be careful out there.
Andrew

P.S. #Garminfixyourqualityproblemsyourcyclingproductssuck