Around 250 riders turned up to race this 5 day stage race on the tropical island of Langkawi, Malaysia. The organisers plan was to keep each stage different, e.g. enduro, xc, hill climb etc. A nice idea.
Riders were based in one central location which keep things simple. I arrived on the island a few days before the race to try to acclimatise. I cycled to key points on the Island over a couple of days and checked out the race hill climb which rose from sea level to over 800 meters.
There were UCI points available on days 1 & 2 and a generous $130k (USD) prize fund attracted a high standard in the men’s and women’s elite field. I was aiming to do well in the Vets category (they called it Masters) where there was also some cash for grabs.
Stage 1. 62km Marathon loop
The Masters (vets) were the 3rd group to start. As we hit the humid singletrack the Italian (Marzio Deho) let rip. Aussie Simon Knowles followed but was shortly undone by a ripped tyre (this was a bad one and effectively put him out of the race overall, as he didn’t make the mid way cut off). The first half of the stage was quite challenging and mixed … plenty of mud, river crossings and tough super hot little climbs. I was working my way through the back markers from the first two starts and got up to the lead women. Many competitors looked thoroughly rinsed, even the skinny local riders.
I came across another master (the Thai guy, Prasort Chimart)) ahead … he must have splashed passed me on the river crossing. I kept pushing hoping I would see the Italian up ahead. With about 2 hours done I started to weaken, the humidity was getting to me and sapping my power. On the big climb after the final feed station I cracked, all the riders who had been sitting on my wheel went past. I was hanging from here on, hoping that tarmac would be prevalent. I took one wrong turn which cost me a couple of minutes and with only 5km to go I snapped my chain. I got to the finish at 2hr 57 minutes. It wasn’t one of my better days on the bike, I was down 20 mins to the Italian and 9 minutes on the Thai guy. Quite a few were just behind me. I was a bit annoyed at how much time I had thrown away.
Turned out the Italian Marzio was super supergood … world masters champ, Italian marathon champ, Trans Rockies winner etc.
Elite Men: Burry Stander (SA) out sprinted Karl Platt (Ger) for overall victory. Thomas Dietsch (Fr) 3rd
Stage 2. XC
Masters: This was a tough little course. A familiar pattern shaped up after the start. The Italian hit the front, Simon tried to follow. On the first climb Kiwi Malcolm McLeod went past me and looked strong. I tried to make the technical sections count. There were some quite tough descending twists through the woods. I brushed the padded trees a few times … any trickier and my collar bone would have been at serious risk. I got past Malcolm and on lap 2 Simon came into sight. I caught him on lap 3 and pushed on hoping he would crack from his efforts trying keep up with Marzio. He wobbled but stuck with me, half way round lap 4 he went ahead before the technical section … I managed to get a branch in my back wheel and derailleur. That was the killer moment, I couldn’t get back on and came in 3rd. I made up 5 minutes on the Thai guy so, it was game on for 2nd overall then.
This was a good course, tricky enough for a UCI accredited cross country race.
Elite Men: Karl Platt had his revenge and put nearly 2 minutes into Burry Standler to reverse the day 1 result … quite impressive from a guy who is best known for marathon stage racing. 3rd Johnny Cattaneo (Ity)
Stage 3. XC
This was supposed to be the 7 hour endurance multi lap race which a lot of the Endurance riders at the event were looking forward to. However on the advice of the UCI the lap was cut from 7km to 4.5km and it was changed to a short XC format race. Apparently the lopped out bit was a bit too muddy and there were leaches. I can’t imagine any reference to the risk of leaches in the UCI rule book? However, after falling apart in the later stages of day 1 I wasn’t too upset with this. I thought a double XC length would have been a better solution, so there was more of an endurance element.
Half the race was like a cyclo cross grassy affair. The other half consisted of wet sloppy sections in the wood like the previous day which needed a bit of running and then a bit of caution. It was a mass start with the women, and senior masters. I slipped out of my pedal at the start and by the time I had worked my way up to 3rd Marzio and Simon were long gone. I was shadowed by the lead senior master for most of the race. The 6 laps was over super quick.
I finished in third and put another 5 minutes into the Thai guy. This meant I was in 2nd overall, about 2 minutes up on 3rd. This was a slim lead going into the hill climb. The Thai guy was a skinny chap, on a light bike and I was a bit worried.
Elite Men: Last year’s winner Aussie Lachan Norris made a brave early break in this flat fast stage and managed to hold off the pack behind. 2. Johnny Cattaneo. 3 Karl Platt
Stage 4. Hill climb
I decided not to change my fast rolling 2.2 tyres for something lighter and thinner. Many did change though. It was the first mass start. The stage would be all on road. The pace was stop-start before we got to the climb 27 minutes in, but generally quite fast. The Elite riders started to fly up the climb. Marzio was with them. Things fragmented. I held onto Simon. Kiwi Malcolm looked strong and eased away. Simon & I jousted with the skinny guys from East Timor. There was no sign of the Thai guy coming from behind. The climb was 13km long. I thought I had broken Simon half way up, but he got back on & put in a spurt with 3 km to go. I didn’t have the legs to race for 3rd place, but was pretty happy with 4th as I had put in another 4 minutes to Thai guy. This meant that that going into the final short Mountain Bike crit I just had to get the bike around and I would be 2nd overall. Ace.
This hill climb was the one race where all competitors started together. 9 minutes up the road on me, Marzio was just pipped in a sprint with Burry Stander.
Aussie Don McConell, grabbed overall victory. He had been ill for much of the week missing stage 1 so was ineligible for the stage win. Maybe the illness made him lighter. Karl Platt was the official winner, Burry Standler 2nd
Stage 5. XC Crit
This was a fun way to finish the race. 30 minutes + 3 laps. The early pace was stiff but not concussive. The race shaped up to be between Marzio, Simon & myself when Malcolm burped his tyre. With 3 laps to go Marzio, dropped a power bomb on the rough stuff and got away. Simon managed to follow for a brief while and got a gap on me. I rolled in 3rd again.
Overall top 3s
Elite Men: 1. Karl Platt (Ger) Team Bulls 2. Burry Stander (RSA) Specialized. 3. Johnny Cattaneo (Ita) Full Dynamix
Elite Women: 1 Nathalie Schnettlier (Swi) Colnago Farbe Sudtirol (Swi) , 2. Vievienne Meyer (Swi) Colnago Farbe Sudtirol . 3. Jodie Willet (Aus)
Masters (Vets): 1. Marzio Deho (Ita) Team Olympia 2. Anthony White (GBR) Cannondale Racing MT ZOOM, 3. Malcolm Mcleod (NZ) R&R sports
Karl Platt won $15k, Schnettlier won $7.5K. Not bad for around 7 hours on the bike.
The event was generous to the older folk, Mauro won $3k … and yours truly won $2k. That was on top of money for the stages. Not bad hey!
I was lucky that Simon was effectively out of the race on day 1 with the ripped tyre, and the Elite field was lucky the Marzio competed in the age group category.
The Elite field was very strong. I think alot of Elite riders expected they might have finished higher up. The Asian XC champ only finished 9th. The European elite marathon riders showed their class.
This was a nice event which because of the short nature of the racing left plenty of time to do other stuff. Quite a good holiday, and/or work (like me). The premium hotel was ace, it was difficult not to over indulge on the excellent food. Next year the ultra endurance event will be back in and the organisers are looking to make the stages longer. I hope to go back. Langkawi is a pretty nice place, small enough to see on a bike in a couple of days, a very big hill to train on and not too much road traffic. The beaches and views are very nice. It typically rains in the evenings, warm rain.