The Roadie Project #4: Survival

In a Bear Grylls-type way, I enjoy the idea of venturing bravely into tropical jungles, fighting off monkeys with one arm and changing a tyre with the other using only a jungle vine and a tub of freshly harvested tree sap. Actually, maybe I'm thinking of Bush Mechanic. Anyway, the key concept here is IDEA.  

My imaginings of spending another week sitting happily at anaerobic threshold, heroically telling my legs to Shut Up in a sexy European accent, were quickly replaced by another memory of Winston Smith in George Orwell's 1984, at the point in the book when he realises, as he is being tortured, that he won't be the brave soul he had imagined, but rather will do anything - ANYTHING - to make the pain stop.


When people ask me how I found the Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge (LIMBC) 2011 - the 5 day MTB stage race - the following thoughts appear in my head, and I try to choose whether to mention them in my response:

  • 35-40 deg+
  • Humidity OH THE HUMIDITY
  • A world cup standard XCO stage (WHAT WAS I THINKING??)
  • Some inopportune mechanicals, including as I was about to launch THE MOST DEVASTATING SPRINT FINISH EVER**
  • Playing Russian roulette with the race meals
  • More than slightly related to the above: Andy and the amazing technicolour gastro

I can't tell you exactly what effect the heat, fear and racing had on me, but sitting on the plane home, after 10 days of racing in 11 days, I found myself watching Justin Bieber's Never Say Never. Enough said.


A quick rewind...


LIMBC was intended to be a holiday. Andy was keen to race and had convinced me that we needed a romantic getaway together that did not involve him standing on the side of the road waving a bidon. The race was on a resort island. I quite like monkeys and aeroplane food. It was a good match.

Things started to go awry when the LIMBC race directors announced the start list. It was filled with Cape Epic winners, world cup winners, and some guy who came 2nd in a little race called the Vuelta. The women's contingent featured a host of national champions.* The racing would be Very Hard.


Sensing my fear, Apollo came to the rescue with their top of the line carbon dual-suspension bike, the Terra 30 (new for 2012), designed especially to make roadies like me look good. SCODY created some top-shelf Ride Happy custom kit featuring their special MTB-specific chamois (pure LUXURY after 10 days of racing). I crammed in as many MTB rides as I could with people who were much better than me. Then I crossed my fingers.

I discovered far too late that the old roadie trick of looking the part went only so far in floating me through technical single track. The organisers kindly included some bitumen in some of the stages so I didn't feel homesick, but there were enough techhy bits for me to really appreciate just how skilful the good girls are. A small blessing was the cancellation of the 7-hour enduro stage in favour of a shorter, 1.5hr XCO stage, which made me so excited that I almost drank the local tap water. The cancellation was on the grounds that the proposed enduro course went through too much raw sewerage and water buffalo mating ground for the UCI's liking (I kid you not).


The result? I'd like to claim the excuse that my legs were tired after Honda Tour, but Lachie Norris managed to race both the Herald Sun Tour and Langkawi and made it look easy. The truth is that mountain bike racing is hard, and, although I had flashes of fun out there, it was predominantly a humbling and frustrating experience. Humbling because I was creamed as soon as the course got technical, and frustrating because I made some rookie errors. I can't wait to do my next MTB stage race, but I'll make sure I choose one that is better suited to road-tards.


Stay tuned for video footage...


*I'm not sure what the proper collective noun is for a group of high-achieving cyclists, but let's call it a head-case.

**I can say this now because it never happened. But if my rear tyre hadn't blown out, it would have been MAD.