The song of the Malaysian community's Adhan seeped through our beachside hotel window just early enough to make Day Zero's wake up call superfluous. Being 14 hours ahead of our home time zone hasn't made waking up early difficult at all, though staying awake after dinner has been a fight we've given up on.
To Team Jamis, travel and the challenge of new places and experiences are the cornerstone of what inspires us. We are where we go. We don't do this just for the bike race. We do this because of where the bike race takes us. And where it takes us becomes a part of us. It is these early days before the race are where you're really able to take in the flavors and elements of a locale - something as simple as going out for a post-flight spin is where you wake up and realize what an amazing experience you've already embarked on... and the race hasn't even begun.
The Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge, a five-day mountain bike stage race on the Langkawi resort island off the west coast of mainland Malaysia, started off as an idea for a late season excuse to travel and do a bit of relaxed racing. Now that we are here, just one degree north of the equator, the race is shaping into one of the most competitive fields of the year, second only to the Absa Cape Epic.
Traditionally stage races like these are point to point, featuring true cross country terrain stages of 60-140km each, over mountains and valleys, and with thousands of meters of climbing. This helps the race starts to be a bit less hectic - the racing will sort out the hierarchy of riders in the group, through natural selection if you will.
However, I think the LIMBC will be even more challenging in some ways than those with more difficult terrain. Held on a compact island and rather than straightforward point-to-point races, the LIMBC has a lethal mix of endurance and World Cup cross country athletes competing on looped circuits as short as 4km and for durations as long as six hours.
This week is going to require a savvy mix of world class speed, endurance, tactics, and tenacity to pull off any portion of the $130,000 USD prize list. Well, that, and a high resistance to heat and humidity. Stepping off the plane straight from a snowy early fall week in Utah, the palatable blanked of humid tropical heat was the first thing that announced our arrival - we're in the tropics.
My travel partners for the 10-day journey are Jamis teammates Thomas Turner and Blake Harlan, along with fellow countrymen Brady Kappius (Clif Bar) and Russell Finsterwald (Trek/Subaru), in addition to stage race buddies Kona's Kris Sneedon and Cory Wallace, both of Canada.
The seven of us make up the North American contingent, giving us a modest impact on a race highlighted by cross country world medalist and Olympian Burry Stander, Cape Epic champion Karl Platt, French national champion Thomas Dietsch, 2011 Vuelta runner up Chris Froome, Asia champion Kohei Yamamoto...the list goes on and on. I'm doubting my local time in the Utah cyclo-cross scene last week is going to get me much of a call up with these guys.
Our first two days here have been filled with heavy legs, reddened faces, and endless grins as the reality of our arrival sank in - we're really here. Langkawi is an island full of hospitality, affordable food, amazing beaches, and its one of the better places I've ridden amongst vehicles.
But for now, we're focusing on one thing: riding on the LEFT side of the road. You'd be surprised how quickly you forget to do so.
Racing starts on Tuesday - a mass start 60km jungle loop circumnavigating the Gunung Raya mountain stage that later we'll be summiting. It should be a muddy and chaotic event. Catch you guys after the clean up.