I’m back! The past few stages were pretty brutal, sometimes not the race itself but the long transfers after it. For example, after one of the stages, the police truck leading the whole convoy of buses took what seemed to be the wrong turn and went though the famous ’44 corners’ mountain, doubling the total travel time from 2 hours to about 4 hours! By the time we reached back to the hotel … it was already close to 8 plus in the night and we haven’t showered, had dinner, or get any of our massages done! I was so hungry by then that I’d order room service, on top of what our Team manager bought for us, just because I couldn’t wait for him to come back.
Stage 2 was a pretty epic one in terms of how many riders, both from the peleton and the team, DNF – ed. 16 riders in total did not finish the race, either pulling out mid – way or finishing out of the time limit. Of that 16 riders, 4 of them were from the team, leaving us with only 3 starters for the next time (i.e Ah Huat, Calvin, and I). I was really surprised at how many riders pulled out that day to be honest! It wasn’t the toughest parcours for the entire race (I deem stage 8 to be the worst), but it was definitely a hard day in the saddle especially when the peleton was fresh and pulling out their big guns for the stage win and GC. Mitch didn’t really recover from his diarrhoea at all, and got popped quite early on … Haidar and Kee Meng had some food poisoning … and Jun Rong just wasn’t feeling it. I was struggling throughout the whole stage, but oddly enough, I was in a very calm state of mind and didn’t panic when I got popped off the back on the KOM climbs. I think it was experience to know when to go really hard or sit up a little, a bit of memory work of the stage profile, and a bit of mental mathematical calculation to work out how much time 15% time cut was, that helped me to get through it.
So there were 3 left from the team coming into Stage 3. The job for Calvin and I was to protect our leader Ah Huat and to get bottles for him, basically his domestiques. Looking at the race profile of for that day, I knew if I got over the first KOM (at the 7.5km mark), I would be able to firstly, make the time cut (2 more KOM climbs, the last one being at 10km at average gradient 6%), and secondly, do a proper job to support our race leader. The peleton went pretty fast up the first KOM and I was pushing my damnest to stick with the peleton up the 4km climb, but got popped off about a km to the top with another rider… I knew then that I’d only one chance to get back to the peleton on the descent, and that’s what I did. Taking a bit more risks and feeling like I was in MotoGP, I got back to the peleton just before we hit the flat section (which would’ve been pretty difficult to chase back on!). So back to domestique duties… Once I had a bit of breather from the chase, I went straight to the front to find Ah Huat and let him know that I was there for him. Calvin, on the other hand, had popped off the back earlier on the first KOM climb and didn’t manage to catch back the peleton the rest of the day. His 2 other companions abandoned the race while he rode on to the finish alone, some 70km away. He didn’t make the time cut, which was an even greater task given that the roads had been opened to the public already.
Then there were 2. Ah Huat and I. 1 leader and 1 domestique. Stage 4 was proper brutal. 165km day with a mountain top finish up the famous ‘Kelok 44’ climb … which means 44 corners/switchbacks. I have done this climb before, but doing this after 140km of racing was something different. In fact, it wasn’t the ‘Kelok 44’ climb that was the most brutal, it was the last 5km of the race. We went up this really really steep and windy pitch, and I’m not sure if it was my mind that started playing tricks on me, but after the 2km to go mark, the 1km to go mark took forever to come! I’m sure that was more than a km in between!! Anyhow, I knew that to finish the stage comfortably within the time cut, I’d to make it to the base of the ‘Kelok 44’ climb with the rest of the peleton. Easier said than done, because there were some proper rolling sections before the 2nd KOM climb of the day started, and shortly after the mountain top finish. Again, I’d to dig extremely deep and put myself in a lot of pain to go up that 2nd KOM, I got popped off again 3/4 of the way up, but so did others, and we managed to catch the peleton quite a way before the final climb of the day … So my plan worked in the end! It was also great to see my other teammates cheering us on at the top of the ‘Kelok 44’ climb. They rode down (or up) from the hotel in Bukit Tinggi and according to my roommate (now former), it was just a short 20km away. What?! I should’ve taken a short cut instead of making a d – tour … Just kidding! I finished the stage pretty pleased with my riding actually, because firstly, it has been a long long time since I ever rode 165km, secondly, my TSS was a whopping 350, and thirdly, like what I told my team manager when I got back on the bus, I have definitely improved and grown stronger as a rider because if I was racing the same course 2 years ago, I definitely would’ve been dropped during the rolling sections before the 2nd KOM. For sure. So yeah, I was buzzing a bit in my mind even though I was just plain tired and felt completely destroyed.
Stage 5 today was a tricky one. On paper, the race profile didn’t look as bad as yesterday’s … Just a couple of rolling sections of 500m in elevation gain over 25km. But, as usual, racing always throws something else at you, and today, it was the wind. Probably the windiest day, we were hit with headwinds and crosswinds pretty much from the start, up the climbs, down the descents, and definitely in the finale (because we rode around lake Singkarak). There were definitely lots of tired legs in the peleton today, and at some points we were going pretty slowly (by racing standards) on a 3% climb with the wind blowing at us from the right side. Until of course some riders decided to put in a couple of attacks, causing a new injection of speed into the seemingly – slow pace. Again, I put myself deep into the hurt box till my body just couldn’t follow them anymore, and a good 20 odd riders formed a gruppetto and just rode tempo (well kind of) to the finish. To be honest, I was feeling really shitty today and just couldn’t really produce that bit of extra power at all. Hopefully I’d feel much better tomorrow.
I must say though, that I’m a tad surprised (and secretly happy), to still be in the race. I came into the race not having raced a UCI stage race in 2 years, without a clue how my body would respond again to consecutive days of hard racing, and I’m pretty pleased to still be in here and a domestique for Ah Huat. I have to finish this whole Tour, if not for anything then Ah Huat. It would really suck to be the only one from the team to be in the race, because of a whole host of reasons that I’m running out of time to explain. So everyday when I get on the bike, I fight and fight and fight. Every night before the next stage, I come out with a ‘race plan’ in my head, so that in the morning I’m ready to execute it. It should be partly called a ‘survival’ plan, because really, a quarter of my goal is to go all the way to the end. When I’m hurting bad, I remind myself again of that plan, and then I dig deeper and bury myself further into the hurt box.
I’m taking this race day by day, stage by stage … 5 stages down, 4 more to go. 111km tomorrow on the menu with more climbing. Just another day in the hurt box …
Again, I apologise for the lack of photos because internet connection isn’t the fastest thing around here …