The Langkawi International MTB Challenge has been and gone and honestly, its proving difficult to put all the week's feelings down in one blog!
For sure, I experienced the dark side of racing, but with that too, plenty of lessons learned for the better!
After a seamless journey from Sydney with Anthony and Kyle, I was excited to land in Langkawi, meet and greet fellow riders and race officials.
The race hotel was located in the capital town of the island, Kuah, which contained a confusion of rather starck and characterless buildings, which catered for business travellers to the island. However, the very few landmark attractions were made up for with amazing food halls and the warm reception from the locals.
Back to business of the week.....after a peaceful night's rest, I woke to face the first race of the week: the XCM Marathon race with the added attraction of UCI marathon points.
I was confident leading out this race from the gun, from experienced UCI riders such as Nathalie Schneitter ( Swiss national champion and number 8 in the world), her team mate Vivenne Meyer, South African National Champion, Yolande Speedy, the highest ranked Australian riders Jodie Willet, Katherine O'Shea and Naomi Hansen, among other nationalities of credible talent!
The race progressed from wide tarmac roads to single track and the battle for the pointy end began! I was on 5th wheel until I lost my footing crossing a creek and lost about ten places and about 200m!
I scrambled back up on my bike and quickly ticked off the lost placings but taking a lot of effort to do so...passing through rough sections off the trail and closing gaps between groups that splintered. By the time I settled back to fifth place, I was spent....still only 20km in!
I caught up to Jodie and and Italian rider in the chase group for the 3 leaders on the front but slowly lost pace and speed again. I was now panicking and making mistakes trying to close the gap...my legs and head were hurting with effort and heat and I couldn't understand why I was struggling.
I took on fluid, gels, water at all the stations and feeling exhausted mid-race, conceded that I was not going to bridge across to battle for 4th. 15km before the finish, I followed a rider down a 1km descent to a dead end, only to have to climb back up and find a marshall at the turning point apologising for his absence 5mins earlier!
By now, I had let a Malay rider and Katherine O'Shea pass me, so again, it was another chase to regain my race position! I caught both and passed only to have the Malay rider speed pass me on the wheel of a male elite rider to the finish line. I finished 7th, 12mins down and highly disappointed.
Day two brought the XC course: a 4.7km loop with a long ascent over loose rocky clay and grass and a technical tight single trail descent to the finish line.
I had done a loop in training the previous day and was confident with the course, apart from a steep clay drop that required a quick right hand turn at the bottom. I hesitated over it in training, but I figured I would do it in the race.
I was disappointed with my start, knowing I should have barged my way to the front before the turning onto the technical climb, but I didn't and that is where the race split from the start.
The front 3/4 riders had a clear run up the climb while I got caught in 7th in a running match.
By the time I got to remount towards the top of the climbs, gaps had formed and I was once again chasing, this time uphill!
I lost time on the descent, trying to get down in one piece, as I figured I would catch people again on the techy climb. I dropped my feed from Anthony through the feed zone and began the loop again, this time having more clearance on the climb which gave me more opportunity to catch riders ahead.
Now I was up to 5th place and kept the pace on to the beginning of the descent. Instead of settling into the descent back to the finish line, and taking the drops with caution, I started to panic, thinking I was going to crash and lose places, and there it happened...I crashed, on the clay drop, looking at it rather than the exit.
Head first, helmet dug into the ground and my bike and I tangled in the mesh. I got up quickly, hoping the next rider wouldn't pass and as soon as I remounted, I knew my head and neck were injured.
I passed the feed zone with a struggle to hold my head and neck up and the race fell apart after that. I managed to get through another loop and by the time I got around to the feed zone once more, I was unclipped, on the ground and passing in and out of consciousness.
An hour later, I was in the radiology department of Langkawi hospital.....safe and extremely well taken care of thanks to Anthony and all the hospital staff but wanting to be anywhere but there all the same...I think we all know how many times I have spent lying horizontal in hospitals this year!
After confirmation from the doctor that there were no brakes or serious injuries taken, I popped in a few painkillers and let the afternoon go by in my bed with room service.
Unfortunately for Anthony, he had about 15mins to get the mens elite start line! Following a bout of heatstroke and food poisoning the previous day, he was in poor condition to race but was required to start the XC that afternoon so he could continue the next stages in the following days.
Needless to say, he was running on near empty for the race, and his efforts in the XC that afternoon put him to bed for the remainder of the evening and ended his competition for the week.
I was hopeful for an overnight recovery so I could pick up the mood in the weary camp, but it only took one lap into the XC the following day to know that my neck injury and concussion were still at large! I couldn't hold my head up and it throbbed under my helmet and my body just felt out of control. I rode until I got lapped.
I spent that evening in recovery mode once more…taking in painkillers, eating large plates of food to keep up with my body using up all the energy to recover and drinking litres of water with hydrolytes.
The hill climb the following day was brought great excitement among riders and spectators. The stage consisted of a 22km bitumen road race, with the last 12km uphill. It started en masse and with the instant feeling of low energy and head aching, I got quickly dropped!
I thought of dropping out at the base of the climb where I was meeting Anthony for a bottle change but I told myself to keep riding, as I could progress in health overnight and finish the final day with a bit of form.
I caught my Sydney cycling buddy, Vanina, on the base of the climb and rode up with her for company and to keep her spirits alive in the closing tough uphill kilometres. She was having a great week of racing and knowing her dislike for bitumen ascents, I thought I would make the journey to the top go quicker and seem less painful for her!
Saturday was a bit of a surprise as my head and neck were getting less painful and my body was in the mood for a warm up before the XCC course, which consisted of a fast track of bitumen and lumpy grass.
In my final attempt to give the week's racing a final shot, Anthony had suggested to go from the gun and just attack until I blew......which I thought was a long-shot given my week's form and now having a position furthest back on the start line!
But I had nothing to lose and my warm up had felt a bit more productive than previous days.
As soon as the gun went, we were gone and if there was one thing I was going to do before I got off the bike today was to lead it into the single grass section....and I did it.
The top 5 riders swapped off the front for the first few laps at speed and the field had splintered down to 10 riders. I attacked several times, lead chases and closed gaps and with half a lap to go I blew!
I ended the race somewhat with a feeling of accomplishment...I had racing form back in the legs, I was on the mend, and was about to enjoy a restful evening on the beach in great company.
After we had familiarised ourselves with the local mode of transport during the week, we took our rented scooter with a group of fellow riders to a popular beach where we indulged in some water sports and cocktails, followed by evening dinner in the best eatery in Kuah.
The final presentations took place back at the stadium until 10pm, where winners were presented with their HUGE cheques, namely Karl Platt and Nathalie Schneitter.
The hotel the following day was a hub of packing and goodbyes for many of the riders while others got settled into a holiday for the following week on other locations on the island (jealous!)
We took our final journey on the scooter north of the island to a deserted beach which spelt tranquility and relaxation as soon as my feet touched the sand!
Anthony and Kyle swam out to an island (ambitious!) while myself and Jodie waded in the warm water and reflected on the week (lazy!)
We returned to Sydney Monday afternoon with good and bad memories of the week past.
Motivation is on the up and the legs are getting some feeling back but still lacking their mojo.
I have already put the body back through its paces with an ergo session at Jet Cycles (not happy!) and have booked an appointment with a physio for some neck therapy (happy!)
Life goes on and the lessons learned from last week can only be invaluable to me for the season ahead.
I'd like to applaud all the organisers for such a great race that can only get bigger on the international MTB calendar. I will be back.
Congratulations to all my racing buddies for their fantastic results and achievements during the week.
Thanks to my coach and partner Anthony for keeping the spirit up despite the long days in the hurt locker we both endured and standing patiently in the feed & tech zone the 35 million degree heat every day!
Special thanks to Bec and Ben Henderson's mum for keeping me calm and relaxed while waiting for the ambo...I think I gave her a horrific fright and stopped the blood flow to her hand as I squeezed it with anxiety!
The community of the island: their spirit, warmth and culinary skills can only be experienced first hand so whether you are a rider looking for a challenge next year or simply feel like a holiday....Langkawi is worth a visit. (I'd even recommend a visit to the hospital!)
Thanks always to my sponsors for their continuous support.
I couldn’t fault all material and products during my week away racing and was encouraged by the large following and loyalty to such brands on the international racing scene.