King of the Mountain bike race 2011

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).

Nice gradient for hill racing. The maximum altitude is about 1,500m. Total elevation gained is about 1,571m

From the archive -- illegally riding the Simpang Pulai to Camerons highway way back then...notice the gravel? Me on the left.. the clown on the right is good friend Alex McNab. Are you reading this, McRempit? Brings back memories doesn't it?

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.

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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 🙂

Raring to go at the start line. Notice the jersey of the cyclist on the right? Nice name for a cycling club. Well, birds of a feather are known to stick together...

Kiasus staking out their spot in the front of the peloton.

Rolling start with the Hilux leading the way.

This mountain biker is even more 'kia-su'. Must have started from outside the main gate of the Balai Bomba.

Draft fest... the guy behind me was my companion for most of the way. We shared the workload drafting each other.

Me about to be overtaken by a mountain bike...

No smiles...not when I'm suffering

I'm all praise for well-shaped guys like these

This group led by Saiful, sneaked past me in a whoosh a few kms before the finish line. He was leading out another veteran (unzipped jersey). In near-cramps, I was unable to chase...there goes another position in the Vets category.

My friend, Kiat (right) finishing in very good time, way ahead of me...

Me again, with my new 'team mate' on my right.

Another good friend and hardworking biker Kenny Kwan. At the back of him is an unknown showoff

For the first half of the race, the weather was fabulous -- cool and cloudy.

The serious racer's support vehicle

At the finish line at Cafe 88 in Blue Valley. The black strip on the floor reads off the transponder fixed to the bike to record the finishing time. A RM20 deposit was returned when we surrendered back the device.

Just looking at the legs won't give away the fact that they're ladies. And yes, they were all way ahead of me.

Poseur! My favourite photo. I hadn't realised that while I was posing for my own photo, the photographer from Cycling Malaysia mag had shot me as well. It's definitely a better picture...maybe that's why they decided to add it to their FB album 🙂

What happens when timber lorry meets puny cyclist?

Well, if said timber lorry is already lying on its sides, puny cyclist whips out camera phone and snap a few shots to document the rare occasion. That’s what happened last weekend, halfway up the winding inclines of Genting Sempah, on my way to Bentong, about 50km away. Today’s ride was to be a round trip, starting from the Orang Asli hospital in Gombak, up and down the mountain and on to Bentong and then up down the mountain again on the way back.

This accident was definitely a case of overconfidence, over-speeding or just plain recklessness. Either way, it calls for note-to-self to be very, very wary of these 10-wheelers coming in the opposite direction when riding up this winding road. One of my friends had already had a first-hand experience meeting one of these monsters on one of his rides here …  he survived but it was a very painful encounter.

Co-driver: "You got see last Sunday's Shanghai F1 race ah? That Nico Rosberg ah... fuyoh...never change to wet tyre ... some more can win 3rd place woh!" Driver: "Ya man, his team-mate Michael Schumacher no good oredi...I better than him, man.... Wo!!! Is that a sharp corner coming up?"

I wood hate to be under all that load ...

Real men, real legs.

Usually, a man doesn’t openly admire another man’s legs but of late, this part of the male anatomy seemed to be drawing more of my attention than it normally would. Lest I be labeled a leg fetishist, I hasten to add that the ones I couldn’t take my eyes off weren’t exactly anthropoid — rather, these were metal prostheses belonging to 2 men that I have nothing but admiration for.

What are the odds of coming across 2 men each sporting a metal prosthesis in the space of 2 weeks? Better still, what are the odds of meeting 2 such men both of whom are avid cyclists?

The first cyclist I met was during the recent Penang Mountain Bike Jamboree. This is a highly popular annual event and draws close to 1,000 mountain bikers from all over Malaysia, who ride themselves silly in the hills of Penang island. More than half of the participants apparently come from out of Penang, yours truly included. And it was at the registration tent that I caught a glimpse of him, confidently walking towards the starting arch, his Terminator-like leg gleaming in the morning sun.

As he walked past me, I asked if I could take his photo and he immediately obliged, including a close-up. Before I could talk to him further, an old friend from Penang came up to me to say hi and our metal-legged friend was gone. From what I gathered later, he was from Ipoh and, he seemed to relish long rides. He’d even taken part in the recent Ipoh Century ride, a 160km road race.

Thumbs up to those with 2 fully-functioning legs ... stop whining and start riding, while you still have them.

While the left shoe clips in, the right one is held in place by a magnet on the pedal and sole. Talk about extra weight.

The 2nd guy I met was during a ride on the infamous Broga loop with some friends here in the backwater of Ulu Langat, Selangor. It’s a 138km ride with a few massive climbs thrown in — not for the faint-of-heart, especially when the blazing sun beats down mercilessly at midday (I finished 6 bottles of water that day, including 2 cans of 100 Plus). Apparently, there are 2 versions of the ride — the Broga Jantan (as in ‘manly’) and the Broga Pondan (as in pansy wimp). The Pondan version is 138km 🙂

Regrouping at the top of Bukit Peres. Look carefully at the 'Be End' signboard, it's peppered with holes from shotgun pellets on the left side of the scale, courtesy of some rakyat who didn't share the 'berjasa' bit. It does have one very good use though; it marks the border of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, and it also tells you that you have arrived at the top of Peres.

Just after we had crested the first climb of the day — Bukit Peres — and while we waited for the rest of the group, there he was, taking a breather. I could hardly believe my eyes. At first, I thought it was the same guy that I’d met in Penang, but it turned out to be otherwise. Fascinated, I got to talking and discussing with him on the finer points of cycling with a metal prosthesis. We even came to the conclusion that there is some merit to it … yep, the owner of such a limb need never worry about cramps.

Local Ulu Langat boy with his steel leg, heavy steel bike powered by a 9-speed cassette with a 19-speed cog lowest gear. Impressive ...

So there we were, milling around the top of Bukit Peres and suddenly we got to noticing a few other pairs of legs in our midst that were worthy of admiration as well, which brings us to the second part of the story …

The ones that commanded the most attention now were attached to Leonard — massive muscles that made short work of the massive hills that came his way. It was  rather demoralising to see him sprint up and disappear over the hills, leaving us in the dust. Shang ‘da man’ was even more appreciative, with ‘sick bastard’ being one of the compliments he paid his good friend after cresting a particularly challenging incline.

Leonard Lim's very intimidating quads

Shang's very intimidating tan marks

This pair of sleek, sinewy legs belongs to Kenny Kwan-tador

Today was also Shang’s first real taste of the full Broga monster, thanks to Leonard. At one point, he even threatened to turned back … actually, it was at the half-way point at Kuala Kelawang so we all said ok, see you back at Batu 14, but he wasn’t going to give us that satisfaction, so we all continued towards Lenggeng for lunch, where he viciously attacked the 3 extra eggs on his fried rice. I guess the protein overdose must have worked wonders because after climbing the last but excruciating 3-km hill aptly named Bukit Hantu, he flew off downhill like a spooked chicken with extra wings and ended up being the first to touch down at the starting point.

Shang replacing the protein lost on the last 3 hills

Kenny Kwan, Debbie and me ... tucking in to a well-deserved lunch at BP Curry House, Lenggeng.

Adeline, Keong, Alex and me ...taking a breather before the final climb of the ride up Bukit Hantu

Indefatigable Adeline ... don't bet on her drafting behind you. It's more likely the other way around.


Overheard at the rest stop before Bukit Hantu:
Leonard
: So, Shang, you’re not going back with me right, since we’re not friends anymore?
Shang: No la (grits his teeth and smiles, since he came in Leonard’s car)…you da man, mah… Of course, we’re still friends.
Leonard: Like that ah, let’s take a photo together then… and smile.

What a happy ending ….