Anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy climbing — mountain bike, road bike, touring bike… it doesn’t matter which. If it points up, I ride up, not so much the speed but the fact that I just enjoy riding up. No aptitude needed, just the right attitude to overcome the altitude.
I hadn’t raced in a long time, but the old legs had the urge to give it a go at the KOM race, the second one to be held. The route was the same as last year — from Simpang Pulai just outside Ipoh ( Balai Bomba), to Blue Valley in Cameron Highlands. The distance? 54kms of up, up and up. Unhurried, it’s an enjoyable ride given the constant, not-too steep incline. At race speeds, well… it can be quite a brute.
I had only ridden up this alternative road to Cameron Highlands once before — about 10 or 11 years ago when it was still not fully completed and closed to traffic. A group of us mountain bikers had decided then that it would be a worthwhile adventure riding up the road, and at the same time score bragging rights to be the first few (if not the first) cyclists to do so.
(The next day, we rode the infamous Jim Thompson trail in Pos Mensun).
The Simpang Pulai-Blue Valley route is quite a scenic one, with early morning and dusk being the best times to ride (or drive) up — when the sun is casting long shadows, the sky a dazzling blue and the clouds sporting tangerine hues of the sun’s golden rays. The cool air at these hours are very agreeable too.
It was a 5km rolling start, which meant that no rider was allowed to overtake the starter’s car. Using a megaphone, the marshall kept trying to tell the peloton to ‘take it easy, don’t worry, we won’t be officially flagging off the race just yet’. It seemed rather odd to me. I mean, this was a race, and the podium hopefuls weren’t going to be dawdling behind waiting for the flag. Everyone knows that if you’re going to be with the leading group, you simply can’t afford to miss the train, otherwise, you’re done for.
Of course, it’s all purely academic to me, racing in the retirees category (46 and above) and all. My strategy for an uphill race is simple – try to stay as near as possible to the front group so that as they break off and leave me in their dust, I would hopefully not lose too much ground, and time, when stronger riders at the back start overtaking me.
Like a well-oiled drive-train, it played out exactly as I had planned, especially the part where riders kept overtaking me one by one, including a few racers on fat-tyre mountain bikes …. and a few lithe, young competitors of the opposite gender who breezed past me like I was on my loaded tourer.
I grind along at my own pace and pretty soon (misery, as we all know, loves company), I’m joined by another racer in my category. I hadn’t realised I had been quietly pulling this guy up a difficult section….sneaky bugger. He pulled alongside me and, grimacing and smiling at the same time, said “Thank you, brudder”.
We decided that it was best if we ‘tarik sama tarik’ each other up the mountain. A pacer is always good for helping one keep a constant cadence and speed when it comes to riding uphill. And so we two old fogeys rode up together, sometimes I would be ahead a bit and then pull back to make sure my new friend kept up and sometimes, I would be the one sucking his wheel.
But, it was not to be the happy ending that we had envisioned, riding together crossing the air-filled Shimano-sponsored finish arch. 5 kms or so from the finish, my calves started cramping, the result of one too many out-of-the-saddle sprints uphill, or when the elevation pointed downwards briefly (not to mention the lack of hill training, obviously).
This is always a good tactic to execute when you need to pull back some time and distance on other racers who weren’t up to it, as well as to test their resolve and strength. But, seeing as my name isn’t Alberto Contador, the only person who suffered as a result of my clever tactic was me (did I mention that I watch a lot of Tour de France races on the tube?)
Anyway, the last few kilometres were almost flat to gently rolling, which meant that it was now free-for-all. My seemingly not-so-strong friend left me almost standing when he left me to join a fast pacing group. I could only look on with frustration…another jump out of the saddle and my calves would have seized up for good.
More riders pass me as I rode on at a steady pace that was more agreeable to my calves. 500m from the finish line, I hear a bit of wheezing from behind. It’s another retiree trying to overtake me. I wasn’t having any of that, of course…I decided that pride was more important than seized calves so I went for it – I dropped a couple of gears, stood up and sprinted for the finish line.
To say I had a bit of a problem dismounting was putting it mildly. I very carefully got off the bike, was greeted by a young lady with a finisher medal who proceeded to garland me with it. I checked the elapsed time on the cyclocomputer – 2hrs 54 mins…not too bad, seeing as I was only 49 minutes behind the race winner who clocked 2′ 05”. I mean, what’s 49 minutes? You walk around a bit, have a drink, chat with other riders and before you know it, 49 minutes have gone by, right? Ok, so you can even throw in a nap or two in 49 minutes. Big deal….
I’ll be back next year. 2′ 04” is my target. Now, if only Contador could show me where he buys his favourite steaks….
Note: My officially recorded time, according to the results just published, was 2hr 53mins 48secs, 41mins 12secs behind the race winner. Not sure how they calculated the plus-elapsed time.
Except for 3 photos, the rest of the assorted photos below are those that I was either tagged in or stolen from friends’, or friends of friends’ albums in Facebook 🙂