Everything is in a constant state of flux here in Langkawi. Most of it for the better. Stages are being modified to bring out faster and more competitive racing, avoiding long and dreary death marches in the heat in exchange for more cross country-oriented courses and pace.
Stage 2 was always slated as a UCI XCO stage - short laps with C2 points on tap, but the course profile published did little to convey the true quality of the course - straight up a 150m high climb over the course of about nine minutes.
A mix of slippery and steep rocky sections covered with greasy mud and high speed grassy pitches, the climb was complimented with a slippery and steep descent between rubber trees, interspersed with exposed and slippery roots. A true World Class XCO course, we all were expecting something flat and easy - this race was neither.
Not having race too many true cross country races this season, especially against a field of this quality, today's race was a real treat - requiring total focus on both effort and bike piloting, gaps between riders were tight - a true sign of the competitive nature of the track and the riders. Good job LIMBC!
I'd been struggling the first few days in the heat but started coming around on day 2, spending most of the race battling through traffic with my Georgia-based teammate Thomas Turner - we moved as far up as eighth but lost a spot on the last lap to close out the top 10 together. We were in the money and UCI points, so we'll take that. I was selected for anti-doping control where race winner Karl Platt and I spent almost two hours waiting for our hydration levels to kick in enough to do our duty. We heard that yesterday a rider spent seven hours waiting until he or she could provide a sample after the race!
Stage 3 was originally scheduled to be a six-hour endurance race on a 7km circuit. This would give riders approximately 20 chances to end their misery and DNF with each passing of the start/finish line. Fortunately, the race was modified to a cross-country style race on a shorter 4.5km circuit. Eight laps of what turned out to be about 50 percent grassy field and 50 percent technical singletrack - steep climbs full of rocks and roots, creek crossings and a nice slathering of slick jungle mud.
We took the scheduled bus ride to the resort property which hosted the event and took shelter from the heat in a local pizzeria while the women raced...and had our first real espresso of the trip!
Once the race began, things quickly sorted out and I slotted into fourth position with Platt, Stander, and Italian rider Johnny Cattaneo. Somehow Lachlan Norris was already off the front and gone. Things were great for two laps of the eight until I tried to wheelie a creek and slid out on the landing... and landed in the next creek. The rest of the race was spent in a dynamic and ever changing chase group. Eventually it came down to last lap battle with myself, Stander, and Thomas Dietsch - I used spicy Cajun skills to get away in the singletrack before the final 2km grassy field section. Not quite the podium, but the battles are getting better.
The highlight of the day was catching a ride in the military transport vehicle which was carrying racers' bikes 35km back to the host hotel. Sitting in the cab of the huge truck, I joked that we should ford a few deep river crossings to take advantage of the engine's snorkel...my wish almost came to fruition when a late afternoon monsoon hit the island and instantly flooded every road in site. Nothing seemed to phase the driver as he kept the gas pedal pinned no matter how flooded the roadway seemed.
One of the challenges of the daily racing schedule is being prepared - without a team staff, many of us are left to sort things out on our own - hotel departure to return can sometimes span six to eight hours, with a warm up and race in between, riders are looking at needing food, and a lot of it. Today, I ran out and bonked washing my bike. The walk from the hotel garage to the elevators was the hardest leg of the day.
Tomorrow's a road race will be a mass start group of mountain bikers, on pavement, heading out for 13km of rolling, urban, wet tarmac before tacking 13km of relentless climbing to the high point of the island.
I'm more scared of the commute than of the climb!