Prior to the Ride
Having wanted to ride in Malaysia a few times before but it all didn’t work out somehow, I was naturally quite excited when I received the invitation to cover and participate in the first ever Cyclosportif organized in Malaysia (and perhaps the first in the Southeast Asia region as well), as Gran Fondo (long distance) cycling events were really taking off in places like America and Europe.
We arrived at about 7 in the evening, had a quick dinner, bought some ‘fuel’ for next day’s ride and had an early night’s rest. There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement not just for me but for my colleague, who was probably the only rider to participate in the 107km category (there were 2 categories, 107km and 155km) on a single-speed bike.
In the hotel room…with our bikes!
We followed the organizing crew into the carpark at Tiara Beach Resort at about 7am and proceeded to get ready for the ride. We were told there were over 800 participants from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Britain and even Japan and one thing which really struck us were the sheer numbers of really high-end road machines-Pinarellos, S-Works, Cervelos…
We were probably towards the tail end of the entire group of 800 plus riders. Almost right after the roll-off, I made the brilliant mistake of pressing the master reset on my cycling computer so it blanked out for the rest of the ride. I couldn’t be bothered to dismount and readjust it so I was doing the long ride ‘blind’…
The first 10-20 km were pretty tough for me as I felt that my leg muscles were very stiff, so much so that I had some trouble catching up with my colleague on his single-speed. Once we entered the smaller roads I felt more settled and began to pick up the pace a bit. So for the first 50km of the ride I was pretty much on my own with the occasional company of other riders who were riding at about the same speed as me.
At around the half-way mark (for the 107km), there was the first water point which I stopped at to fill up my bottles and this was also where the split between the 107km and 155km riders started.
Taking a break at the first water point
At the first water point, about half-way through the 107km ride
Some participants commented that it was confusing but somehow for me it was quite clear for me as the marshals gave clear instructions. Just past the first water point I saw a familiar jersey and bicycle and it really turned out to be my friend I met at a bike shop back home in Singapore.
So for the remaining 50km plus I was riding with him, taking turns to ride at the front and pacing him up the small climbs which looked anything but easy. So many other fellow participants were struggling up those climbs. The weather was also starting to get scorching hot. My friend nearly bonked on a few occasions so we stopped for water and energy gel breaks. The only forms of energy I got for the whole ride were 2 small energy bars and a packet of peanut m & m’s. Yes, you read correctly, m & m’s.
There was a second water point at about 20km remaining and the last 20km seemed very long with the small climbs which were sapping whatever remaining energy we had left. There were moments when we saw the various packs of the fast-rolling riders from the 155km category towards the end of our ride. We just looked in awe during those moments as they were gone in (less than) 60seconds.
For the last 10km a lady road cyclist joined me and my friend so the 3 of us took turns to pace each other to the finish line, it was nice to work alongside fellow riders and complete the long, gruelling ride together. Kudos to my colleague too, who finished the 107km ride on his single speed in just under 5hours.
Some lessons learnt from my first overseas ride event
1. Bring enough water bottles and water, especially for long distance events (100km and above)
2. Bring enough energy gels and bars. Typically, every 30km or 45mins-1hr on the bike=1 energy gel/bar. And bring something you tried before and like. There’s nothing more terrible eating horrible-testing gels/bars when you need the energy. Some gels would also work better with water so it’s essential to have enough fluids.
3. Hand-signals. This is especially useful and important when you are riding with other cyclists or in a pack. I don’t usually do this but the roads in Malaysia are not exactly the best so it’s good to warn other riders about pot-holes, road kills etc…I know quite a number of cycling groups use hand-signals in Singapore, so it’s really good.
Overall, the inaugural Focus Cyclosportif was great and I was especially impressed with the safety coverage and support from the local police authorities as I really felt safe and able to focus (pun intended) on the long ride. Perhaps one minor area of improvement would be the setting up of water points at more regular intervals. The good news is that there have been talks to do this event for the next 3 years, so it’s an event to look forward to.