Thursday, March 31, 2011

Surprise!!

6 weeks ago my wife left for Germany. By herself. I had a couple of races to do in Asia before I could could so she was left to fend for herself. Well, not exactly. A couple of our close friends were joining us on our overseas adventure so she did have some company but it is the longest period of time that we have been apart.

In Australia, whenever we had to relocate, I'll admit, I was not the greatest help. I would always be reluctant to go and look at places and just leave everything to the last second while Emily was out there working hard to find us somewhere to live. In fact, Emily quite often had to trick me into house hunting by telling me we were going to get something to eat, only to pull up outside a property inspection. 

So, now I left her with the same responsibilities in Germany and after 6 weeks, she found a unit in the centre of Munich. I was not expected to arrive for another two weeks due to a race so Emily was impressed that I managed to miss the entire relocation process. 


However, she did not know that the race was cancelled and I would be arriving two weeks early. I had to keep it a secret for 5 days and continue to pretend that I was on my way to somewhere in asia. I had grand plans to surprise her: Leave a jar of vegemite at her door. Follow her to a shop or cafe and just tap her on the shoulder or just pick her up after work... But all my plans went out the window when I arrived as I was a little too excited and just knocked on her door. 

As she opened the door, I said with a stupid grin on my face, 'Guten tag. Surprise!!'. Emily staggered backward with a look of shock on her face. I stood in the doorway for a few seconds with my arms in the air waiting for a response. 

Emily looked up at me, called me a name that I won't repeat and then punched me in the chest! After she finally realized what was happening she gave me a hug. She looked at me and said. 'Good, you can help us move tomorrow. '

She claims to not remember doing this and says she was only checking to see if I was real. Either way, it was not the greeting that I was expecting!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Flying is over rated

I have decided that I don’t like flying. I used to like it. It usually meant that I was going somewhere new and exciting, a long way from home. Flying was novel, a rarity. The excitement of security checks, navigating huge airports, getting a window seat, the stomach dropping feeling of the take off, in flight meals, movies and the luggage carousel that you just want to ride. Now it has all changed.

It has become the drag of security checks, navigating huge airports, getting an emergency exit seat near the front so you get enough leg room and are one of the first off the plane, sitting on the runway waiting for the take off, tasteless in flight meals, movies I’ve already seen and the luggage carousel that you fight your way to get to just to find your bags are damaged. You could say my flying cup is no longer half full; it’s half empty.


So why is flying so glamorised? Airlines battle each other to be the most prestigious and their advertising suggests that the best part of your trip is going to be the ‘experience’ of getting there. The vocation of being an airline host/hostess stirs thoughts of being paid to travel in suggestive yet professional uniforms, however, isn’t it really just a waiter/waitress? Why don’t bus attendants command the same respect? They both perform similar duties, one just wears more makeup and does their duties a few thousand feet above the ground.

 
If we were to believe what the airlines suggest, then they would be at our beck and call, doing everything they can to accommodate our every need. But I have found it to be totally the opposite. From the moment I check in. Lining up in the ‘economy’ queue for around an hour as I slowly weave my way around the maze of posts and strapping. Did the person at the front get stuck? Can they not find their way out? Are we all just following them blindly? Making sure that I meet the luggage weight requirements despite the fact that I am literally half the body mass of some of the other passengers, and then charging a small fortune for any extra. Begging for an emergency exit seat so that I am not sitting with my knees jammed into the back of the passenger in front of my for 8hrs.

As I wait to board, I am patronised by hostesses in bizarrely impractical uniforms for what they do, as they try to make me feel like I am the most important thing to them. Then, as I board the plane, they bring me back down to Earth by making me walk past First Class, just to see the REAL most important people and all the comforts that I am missing.

Then it’s time for the ‘food’. There are always two choices but I always feel that they try to push the least popular one. ‘Hello, Sir. Would you like the spinach pasta with organic sautéed button mushrooms in creamy béchamel sauce? Or the noodles?’ Tough choice.

And what is with all the alcohol? I once paid attention during the in flight safety video and they clearly tell you to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. But getting water on a flight is almost impossible. For starters, you have to discard any water bottles at the security check. Then you stroll through duty free, where it’s like walking into a night club filled with neon alcohol advertisements and models that are trying to force you to try one of their samples. On the plane, the water they do serve is barely enough to pop a couple of asprin but when the drinks cart rolls around, Jack Daniels and wine flow freely. Maybe this is the ‘experience’ they want you to have?

After the flight, I wait again in economy, waiting for the VIPs at the front to exit first so that I can stand and shuffle in single file to the only exit that is open. Then, after more lining up in immigration and watching the flight crew walk straight through the priority desk, I make my way to the luggage carousel, where, without fail, my bags have come out with some sort of damage. From rips and tears, to broken handles to bent parts on my bike.

Maybe it’s just because I have been sitting in an airport for four hours after a long flight waiting for a connection. Or maybe it’s because I have another 8hr flight ahead of me. Either way, I have decided that airlines are liars. I wonder if I would have looked forward to family holidays more when I was a kid if my parents pitched an 8hr car ride in the same way that airlines do? Sitting in a cramped back seat is pretty much the same thing... actually, I’d go as far as saying it’s better. At least you can stop when you want. Airline advertisements should show tired and disgruntled travellers just happy to get off the plane at their destination. Don’t dress it up, don’t make it out to be more glamorous than what it is. Flying is overrated.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

100 Miles of Nowhere

I was cruising the internet and one of my all time favourite websites www.fatcyclist.com, when I read about a sadistic challenge called "100 Miles of Nowhere". It began as a bet a few years ago and is growing into a bigger event that raises money for cancer research.


What is the 100 miles of nowhere? Well, it involves riding your bike for 100 miles (which is 160km for the metric users), around a very short and repetitive loop or for the truely hardcore, 100 miles on stationary rollers. For anyone that has ever ridden on rollers or a wind trainer that matter, this is true suffering.
Sitting on your bike for 5 1/2 hours going absolutely nowhere. And the beauty of rollers is that you get no break; you cannot stop. If you stop pedalling, your wheels stop and you fall off. If you take your hands off the bars, unless you are extremely skilled, you will fall off. If you stop concentrating, (maybe this is just me) you will fall off.


After reading about the challenge, I decided to jump on some rollers to get a taste for it. After 4 years on the rollers (it is common knowledge that 15 minutes in roller time is actually 1 year in real time), I was ready to shoot myself. The sheer boredom or staring at the ground in front of myself made it the longest 4 years of my life. I tried watching a movie, but my roller skills are somewhat lacking and I can't look at the screen for more than 5 seconds (real time) without getting the wobbles.

100 Miles of Nowhere is on June 4th. You receive a great pack if you register, however, I don't know if this is possible for those outside of the US and all proceeds go to the Livestrong Foundation. Sadly, I'm not sure that I could bare it!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where do jerseys come from?

In Australia, you are brought up to believe that name brand clothing production is done by underpaid immigrants and children in poor working conditions as global corporations get rich off others' hard work. Whilst I recognize that there is a problem, I personally think that my parents just used this as a guilt trip so that they did't have to fork out for the latest pair of Air Jordans or Reebok Pumps or whatever it was that was cool back then.

Today, in a society that embraces equality and social justice, this kind of practice is heavily frowned apon, despite our ever increasing consumerism and capitalist driven economy. Many companies pride themselves on providing higher than minimum wages and better working conditions and the term 'sweatshop' is a four letter word. Even in China, a country renowned for cheap labour costs, the clothing manufacturing industry is beginning to change. After years of economic growth, workers are turning their noses up at factory labour in search of something more ennoble, causing wages in factories to rise. This, coupled with increasing costs of textiles in China and a shortage of original designs has raised alarms over China's ability to continue to provide quality, low cost manufacturing.

Now I know what you are thinking... why the heck am I talking about this??? Well, for two reasons: Firstly, I read an article about it the other day in the only English newspaper I could find in a cafe. Secondly, today I went across the border into China to check out the Champion System clothing factory.

Thanks to mass media and scare tactics from my parents, my expectations were of a single warehouse packed with sewing and printing machines. Boy I was wrong. The process of designing and making custom clothing is extremely complicated from start to finish and after witnessing what is involved, I will never again complain about how long it takes. Below is a shortened, more abbreviated version of the production process.

Firstly, apon deciding to have some custom cycling gear made, I need to send in the logos and artwork. These need to be high resolution files so the JPEGs I made in Microsoft Paint need to be redrawn by the art team and approved before going onto the design department. Here, over a hundred people at computers place the artwork on garment templates. This needs to be done for every individual clothing size so that logos are always proportional to the garment, something that few manufacturers will do.


After design and colour approval, the designs are then printed out on huge printers with special imported paper and ink. These prints will be transferred onto fabric so it is vital that they are kept free of imperfections and impurities. Consequently, the room is kept cool and clean with stacks of drying racks. This is one of the most time consuming processes as EVERY individual piece of clothing ordered requires its own printed copy. Its like waiting for 30 coloured photocopies of a 100 page document from a single inkjet printer...



These prints are then sent to the sublimation room where they are transferred onto an imported white fabric. Sublimation is a process in which the dyes from the print are transferred to the fabric using heat. The heat tends to make fabric shrink so to prevent any errors, the fabric is preshrunk. Sublimation is not like an iron-on t-shirt print that essentially puts a sticker onto fabric, but it actually transfers the dyes themselves onto the fabric to create a high quality printed fabric that still feels like, well... fabric. Sublimation produces better quality prints and allows for a wider range of colours and designs. Using this process, you can actually print photographs onto fabric. The limitations are that sublimation can only be done on polymer fabrics or polymer coated fabrics but Champion System are always in search of better dyes and materials to work with. The dyes that are used now are also water-soluble so that the paper can be recycled after the sublimation process.


After another colour and design check, reflective striping and embroidery is done before the prints are cut out by hand (which is actually faster than a machine) or by a special laser cutting machine for some items. This leaves a perfect seamless edge that melts the fabric as it cuts to prevent freying.


From here, it is off to the sewing room where the pieces are put together. There is major attention to detail here, from hidden zippers to tapered collars and removal of any excess threads. If a mistake is made here, it is back to the printing process to start all over again.


After the garment is finished, they are quality controlled and placed on manikins for size and fitting. If everything is okay, they are tagged and packaged for delivery to my door. This is the process for most garments and there are a few exceptions. One of those is socks...

Have you ever wondered how socks are made? I haven't. But one would assume it is just material sewn together. As it turns out, Champion System have huge sock machines that draw from massive spools of thread to produce a seamless sock. It takes a few minutes to do one sock and the left and right sock are done separately! After the ends a joined together to create a seamless seal, the socks are ironed flat and packaged for shipping.




So that is where cycling clothing comes from. Typically, in Australia, when looking for custom cycling clothing you hope for two things. Firstly, a quality, well-made product that feels good and does its job. Secondly, the privilege of being able to put your own designs and logos onto the clothing. Unfortunately, it has become a bit of an expectation that you must sacrifice one for the other. After my tour of the factory, Champion System has proved that they have a philosophy based around both and are leading the way in many of their design innovations. For a better view of the factory itself, check out the video below...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cabin fever

I have been in Hong Kong by myself for almost two weeks now. When I say 'by myself', I mean it literally. I am staying in a warehouse that has been converted into an apartment. I know what you are thinking; 'He's staying in a tin shed between a stack of pallets and a portable cold room', but industrial areas in Hong Kong are not like those of Australia. I am on the 18th (top) floor of a high-rise building in the outer suburb of Fo Tan and have all the home comforts including bed, television, kitchen, laundry and karaoke machine. I have been a lone-wolf pack, left with nothing but my thoughts and a lot of time.


I have seen several movies in which individuals are trapped alone and eventually cabin fever gets to them. I had always wondered if this was true or just a Hollywood concoction designed to help make horror movies but I think that I am suffering from it just a little bit. I mean, I'm not building an army of soldiers out of soap suds in order to take over the world or telling my reflection in the mirror to go ahead and make my day... Yet.

Instead, I have been coming up with a lot of crazy ideas and referring to myself in the third person occasionally. With so much time, you end up getting tired of Facebook stalking and tend to expand on small ideas until they are massive hypothetical impossiblities. In fact, here are my top five ideas...

1. A movie called 'American Sumo' in which, Will Ferrel plays an American wrestlers who decides to gain weight in order to break into the professional Japanese sumo leagues. Can't you just picture it? If this movie ever comes out, you know where the idea came from.

2. Get a tattoo. Now I don't just want to put some random artwork permanently on my skin. I don't want a tribal pattern despite having nothing to do with a tribe or profound words in Chinese characters that I will just have to accept that the tattoo artist is being honest about. I want something that is me. I have pondered the Southern Cross which to non-Australians might sound like a possibility, but to locals, may bring up memories of wearing board shorts and pluggers whilst starting a racial riot on Australia Day. So I searched for a cycling tattoo and what did I discover??? There is no such thing as a cool cycling tattoo. There, I said it. Prove me wrong. The closest thing I could find was the one below and it turned out to be the logo for Godspeed Couriers in the States.


3. Making an iPhone app that will put all of your pictures into one big picture like those mosaic ones you see of Star Wars images. I have a feeling that this might be a little too much for the old iPhone to handle though.



4. Learn cantonese. How hard could it be? I even downloaded translation apps on my iPhone. However, like learning to play the guitar, I quickly gave up on this idea.

5. At the markets here in Hong Kong there are so many cheap knock-offs. Shoes, bags, shoes, clothes, shoes, jeans and shoes. Why is it that you can only purchase these in Asia? Why can't I fill up a shipping container with this stuff, send it to Australia and sell it there? Even with the costs of shipping and import taxes, they would still be ridiculously cheap. Then I realised that there are probably some importing and copyright laws that I may be breaking in the process.

So that is my top 5. I am pretty sure that I will come up with a sure plan for world peace and resolve the global economic crisis soon so keep an eye out for those.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Go faster!

Today I went for a relaxing ride along the water front. Well, it was supposed to be relaxing but thanks to a brutal head wind, it was a little laborious. As I pedalled along, head down as if I was trying to push the buttons on my computer with my chin, I noticed some perfect examples of what not to do when riding into a head wind.


A light sprinkle of rain passed over and everyone was desparate to get to the next point of shelter or simply limit the amount of time they are stuck in the rain. In times of desparation on a bike, when speed is paramount in getting from A to B, there are several techniques that one can adopt to maximise your efficiency, however, from what I saw, here is a list of things that will NOT make you go faster in the wind, no matter how hard you try...

1. Smoking: Although the cigarette itself is probably the sole reason that you want to get out of the wind and rain in the first place, it is only going to slow you down and ironically, this applies both in the short term and the long term. Riding with a cigarette in wind and rain is like trying to drink from a cup whilst running; it ends up going everywhere and when you do get a mouthful, you end up having to stop anyway because you choke on it.


2. Arm pumping: As soon as sprinkles of water began to fall, many people started the arm pump; bobbing your head up and down in rhythm with the pedals as you do imaginary push-ups on the handlebars in the search of more power. It was like fast walking pigeons trying to escape the rain.

3. Putting your bike into a harder gear: It makes sense; bikes can go faster when they are in a big gear so when you are struggling to pedal one of the easiest gears you have, change it up a few and make it even harder??!! Why do people on bicycles think the opposite to driving a car? You don't start a car in 5th gear and when you want to overtake someone, you don't look for that 6th gear???

4. Sitting dead bolt upright: Perhaps they were simply providing a wind block for those behind them or maybe they wanted to feel the full brunt of the wind in their hair? Either way, the laws of aerodynamics suggest that this is not correlated with going faster.

5. Zig zagging: Like a yacht tacking its way into a wind, many cyclist tried to employ the same technique. Sure, you get reprieve from the wind but you also take about five times longer to get anywhere.



Thankfully, the rain didn't last but it got me thinking. I once saw an episode of Myth Busters that found experimentally, you will get less wet if you walk in the rain, rather than run. (If you don't believe me, watch the above video.) At the time, I dismissed it as garbage as, to me, logic suggested otherwise. Perhaps, those employing the techniques above had already discovered this???

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Gauntlet

The number of long rides to do in Hong Kong is extremely limited. In fact, I really only have two to choose from and one of those can't be done on sundays and public holidays as there are no bikes allowed on the road! So today, being Sunday, I set out to find an extra hour of ride time.
 
In attempt to stay off the busy roads, I ventured out along the bike paths. This turned out to be a bad choice as riding on bike paths in Hong Kong on a Sunday is like running a gauntlet. Not only are there endless groups of people on hire bikes that seem to have no brakes, hundreds of kids that randomly change direction and bikes parked in the middle of the path with seemingly no owner but for some reason I cannot understand, people walk on the opposite side of the path.
 
In Hong Kong, you drive on the left hand side of the road (which helps me when riding on the road), and on the bike paths you ride on the left hand side as well. But when it comes to walking, everyone walks on the right hand side! Escalators are on the right hand side and if you want to let people pass on an escalator, you move to the right. This causes chaos on the bike paths as you get people walking in the opposite direction in a sea of bikes.
 
I have one theory to explain this. Being next door to China, Hong Kong gets a lot of visitors from across the border. In China, they drive on the right hand side of the road. Perhaps, they bring this habit to the streets of Hong Kong?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Doctor's advice

Normally, when I get sick, life goes on. I still have to go to work, I still have to do chores and I still have to get up early. I just know my wife is going to laugh at that when she reads it because she thinks I always get a severe case of man-flu but she is not here to argue her point.


Normally, recovery always comes second to the everyday duties. In fact, if my old boss is reading this, he would find that I only ever had one day off sick from work!! (and I wasn't sick ;) I would live with a cough and running nose and just hope that it eventually goes away. Most of the time it does, but sometimes I end up at the doctors for medication. I always love the advice the doctor gives; 'Make sure you get lots of rest and drink plenty of water.' Is this advice really a revelation for some people??!! All I want to do when I'm sick is sleep, and I have to pay $70 for some one to tell me I should?! I won't start a rant about going to the doctors or I'll never stop.

Anyways, I have finally got the chance to put the doctor's advice to the test. I am currently in Hong Kong to do some training before the Tour of Thailand. I arrived with a flu and the weather has been cold and raining so I have taken the opportunity to 'get plenty of rest'. What does that mean? Well, I have slept for around 12hrs per day and watched a lot of movies in between. Not only have I caught up on twenty odd years of self-imposed sleep deprivation, but the recovery process has sped up a lot. Normally, it would take me around two weeks to get over a cold properly, but after only three days of sleeping, I am feeling much better.

I never doubted the doctor's advice would work, I have just never really had the time to use it. Maybe I should have actually taken time off work when I was sick? Then maybe I wouldn't have ended up with bronchitis all those times either? Thank god for hindsight.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day to day

Each day, the race moved around Malaysia from town to town. This alone was a logistical nightmare, however, behind the scenes there was even more involved. After each stage, all you want to do is relax and unwind but you were always in a different location. This meant you had to find your things and move to a new hotel. After a couple of days, you quickly develop a habit and each morning when you wake up, you follow the same routine.

Each morning, I woke up early, drank some water and pinned my numbers to my jersey for the days race. I always try to eat breakfast at least three hours before the race to ensure that there is enough time for the food to digest so I get changed and head down to breakfast.


With over 200 people staying in the same hotel and trying to get to the same floor at the same time, it often took over 15 minutes just to get into an elevator! At one hotel, there was only three elevators and we were staying on the 20th floor. Everytime the lift opened, it was full to the brim as people found it faster to get in as the lift was going up and wait for it to get to the top, then head back down. I would often hear people swearing as the lift doors closed and many had to wait around for another one.

At breakfast, I made sure to eat enough food for the day's stage. This often meant rice or even pasta for breakfast. Normally, I would have nothing more than a coffee before going for a ride so at times, I had to force myself to eat. Getting a decent coffee was also a bit of a struggle. Some places do not give the option of putting sugar into your coffee and premix the coffee with sugar in it. It tasted as if they had 3 tablespoons of sugar in each cup and as there is often no milk, you have to use coffee whitening powder instead!

After breakfast, I would wait 15mins again for the elevators to go back up to my room. I would then change into my kit, pack a backpack with everything that I need for the day and then pack everything else into my suitcases and leave them outside the door. They are then collected and sent directly to the next hotel. After another wait for the elevators, we all head downstairs and either ride to the start or catch the bus if there is a transfer.

After the stage, the first thing that I want to do is eat but as most of the stages were wet, I had to change into dry clothes and pack everythinng into the cars first. Then after eating, I would have to jump back on the bike or catch another bus to the next hotel. This is the worst part...

When I am exhausted and full of food, all I want to do is fall into a food coma, but to ensure everything is ready for the next day there are a few things that need to be done first. After another long wait for the elevators, I finally get to my room. With no laundry, washing is done in the bathroom sink with soap and water which I became quite good at by the end of the tour. Then after a shower, I try to get my clothes as dry as possible so they are dry before the next day's stage. During this, I drink as much water as possible to ensure I am rehydrated.

Then its time for a massage to get rid of any aches and pains and to ensure your body has the best recovery for the next day. By the time this is all over, it is usually time for dinner where I often had to force myself to eat again. During the week of the tour, I'm pretty sure I ate about 12 chickens and 10kg of rice as this was the common dish served at the hotels. After dinner, the team would have a meeting to discuss the days stage and plan for the next. After this, it was off to bed to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Travelling Circus

Jelajah Malaysia was my first big tour race. Well, my first tour that wasn't just based around one location like most of those in Australia. The tour covered over 1100km in 6 short days, and had an entourage of what seemed like over a thousand people that changed location everyday and followed the race as it moved around malaysia.


The whole thing was like a travelling circus. Everyday, the whole show was packed up and moved on to the next town for a few hours before doing it all over again. The logistics for the race organisers must have been insane!

The race convoy alone was something to be marvelled as a plethora of vehicles followed the race route on roads that were completely closed to the public for an extended period of time.

One hour before the race passed through, a separate convoy of cars paved the way including two police cars, a cavelcade of race novelty and sponsor vehicles and a fire and rescue vehicle. An hour later, just in front of the race was a police lead vehicle, about 30 police motorbike scouts, another police car, a radio comms car, press and media, VIP guests, another police car, a lead car, race director, commissaire and information motorbike. Then came the 180 rider in the race. This was followed by a commissaire car, race doctor, two neutral spares cars, a neutral water motorbike, two neutral spare motorbikes, another radio comms car, 30 team cars, another neutral service car, another commissaire car, two logistic cars, a car service car, another ploice car, another ambulance, two police motorbikes, the broom wagon and truck and a final police car!! On top of this, there were several media and camera motorbikes that went up and down the race and every team also had a second car that carried the luggage from each to team to the next hotel.


This convoy made its way around Malaysia day in and day out and was testament to the race organisers. But needless to say, it was not without incident. I saw two team cars crash into each other, two motorbikes crash into each other and even two members of the public crash into each other as the convoy came through.

At one stage, I pulled over on the side of the road due to a punctured tyre only to be rammed into by a media motorbike. He was extremely apologetic but still scared the heck out of me!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Australia Town

It sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke...
"There are two Russians, two Estonians, a German, an Austrian, a Swiss and an Australian sitting in a room drinking beer...."

But this was the situation after the final stage as we all unwound. It was weird to be the odd one out as I sat there and tried to make sense of what was being said. I threw in my two cents where I could when people spoke English but I doubt at times it had any relevance to the conversations that were actually going on.

It gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for foreigners that come to Australia and why they have a tendancy to stick with fellow visitors from their country. There is comfort in knowing that those around you will understand what you say, your sense of humor and most importantly, that you can understand them.

In fact, I think I might start the global phenomenon of 'Australia Town' and set up Aussie equivalents of China Town around the world. You could go there and buy beer, vegemite and anzac biscuits over a game of cricket. You could eat at restaurants that have a BBQ and a swimming pool inside them. There could be kangaroo scultpures and southern cross's everywhere and you could ponder the mystical history of Ned Kelly and Crocodiel Dundee!!


But I doubt it will have the same historic and cultural appeal as a China Town.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jelajah Tour: Stage 6

Stage 6 was a long stage of 175km but unlike the others, had two category 3 hill climbs. Fortunately, they were early on at 21km and 44km. My job was to make sure Mart got over the climbs and chase any dangerous breaks. 

As we approached the first climb the pace in the bunch went up. It was a gradual climb for around 3km with the last km getting a little steeper. Halfway up, Jaan's chain dropped off. He stopped to fix it. 50m later, Mart's chain jammed in his rear wheel after his cassette rattled loose. I stopped to give him my wheel but he could not get his out. After what seemed an eternity, he finally got his wheel replaced and began his frantic chase. The team car had arrived and I received a new rear wheel as the back of the convoy was approaching. 

I jumped back on and tried to keep pace with the cars. Mart caught back up to a group but unfortunately, the race had split in two, with the leaders around 100m up the road. He chased again to try to bridge the gap but with so many hills and the fast pace of the group, he didn't make it. 

I worked my way through the cars and caught a group of around 10 riders. The convoy continued to speed on past us and it was clear we were well behind the bunch and was not going to catch them. We rode for another 60km before calling it a day and getting into the broom wagon. 

At the front, we had lost our gc position as mart and Jaan lost huge amounts of time to the leaders in the lead group. 

Needless to say, we were all very disappointed with the final outcome of the tour. If is amazing the difference that one small mechanical can make. 

Jelajah Tour: Stage 5

The organizers wanted to make stage 5 as difficult as possible. After stage 4's late finish we had a 1hr transfer to the next hotel. Then on the morning of stage 5, we had another transfer to the start. To cap it all off it was by far the longest stage with 221km plus 9km of neutral. 

My cold had worsened and to be honest, I was a little concerned I may not go the distance. After the Earthquake in Japan, there was also a Tsunami warning for the area and there was a lot of conjecture as to whether or not the stage would be changed as a result. It wasn't.

There were the usual attacks in the opening km's but my legs felt fine as we chased them down. Three riders broke clear and opened up a gap that hit 5min at one point. Terengganu sat on the front at an easy pace to bring them back. The plan was to catch them just before the finish for another bunch sprint. But they caught them too early!

With 60km still remaining the counter attacks came. Small groups broke off the front as riders were clearly getting tired. Mart broke clear with a group and was well positioned to move up in gc if it succeeded. 

Many riders tried to bridge a gap of around 30sec to the break and Jaan was successful. Eventually, the group contained 34 riders and the yellow jersey rider was not one of them!!

Being Malaysian, the yellow jersey rider had the support of every other Malaysian in the race. They all moved to the front of the chase group to bring back the break. But they did not work well together. One rider would take a huge powerful turn but it would only tire those behind him so they could not find a rhythm. I sat in around 5th wheel and constantly slowed down their efforts so that the break would gain more time. 

With 10km to go, it was clear that we were not going to catch them. Meanwhile at the front, Jann had broken away with another rider and was flying towards the line. He looked like he was going to make it but with only 200m to go, was swallowed up by the peleton and a rider from LeTua took the win and the yellow jersey. Mart moved up to 3rd overall but was tied with one other rider so tomorrows final stage was going to be vital. 

Jelajah Tour: Stage 4

I awoke on the morning of stage 4 to gale force winds and sideways rain and was a little worried. The race was only 89km and dead flat but head directly north up the coast into the wind. 

Fortunately, it was a late start and by the afternoon, the wind had died down but it continued to rain. To cap it all off, my throat was beginning to tickle and I felt the preliminary symptoms of a cold. 

We made our way to the start line in the pouring rain. There was a sense of excitement in the bunch as there were rumors that the stage may be cancelled due to flooding. But it was not to be. 



I knew that I was going to get sick after riding in these conditions and decided to go on the offensive to try and get some bonus time at an immediate sprint. I took off from the gun and after several attempts, finally got a break going just before the first sprint. With Terengganu leading the race with their sprinters, they were not going to let anyone get away. The break was caught 1pm before the sprint. 

I settled back into the group as 3 riders broke clear. The peleton slowed and a gap quickly appeared. Terengganu moved to the front and the chase was on. The peleton flew along at 50kph but the break was nearing the finish. With 5km to go, the bunch was flying at 55kph into a headwind and caught the break with 2km remaining. 

The finish was hectic as the race map showed a corner at 1km and another at 200m to go. Matthias was well positioned at the front. We hit the first corner, but there was still 1.3km to go??!!! Two riders crashed in front of me in the wet but I managed to weave my way around them. We approached the second corner and matthias was in prime position but as we exited, there was still 600m to go, unlike what was indicated on the map!

Matthias sprinted with what energy he had left and finished 6th on the stage, behind the powerful Malaysia sprinters.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jelajah Tour: Stage 3


After 2 days in the heat we were all hoping for some cool weather for the 159km third stage. Our prayers were answered but not in the politest of ways as it poured rain for the first 120km. Not the showers and sprinkles that we get in Brisbane but full on tropical monsoon rain. Sure it cooled things down, but it also made it impossible to see.



My glasses quickly fogged up so I could only see around ten metres ahead of me but when I took them off, huge drops of rain hitting my eyeballs at 50kph made it hard to keep them open.

Now I am normally a bit of a wuss when riding in the wet. I just don't trust that rock hard 23mm wide tyres are gonna hold onto slippery wet bitumen. Call me crazy. But when you add water with 160 riders going 50kph around corners and I am even worse!

I started well, attacking at the front but as soon as we hit some turns, I was shuffled to the back. It took all my energy and concentration just to fight for my position and and hold my line around the corners. Consequently, I was not in any attacks or chases!

Mart managed to get himself into a good break with the race leader and a few others and it was in his best interest to work together as team Terraganu had already taken the race lead by winning an earlier sprint. Despite this, he did not want to push the break. Meanwhile, in the peleton, Terraganu moved to the front and chased hard to bring the break back. And with 30km to go they succeeded. From here on in, there were a few surges but it was always going to come down to a bunch sprint.

The final km was nasty. At 1km to go there was a sharp right followed by another left turn with 200m to go. Everyone was fighting for position as we approached at full speed. Matthias arrived at the first corner near the front and was 4th wheel as they came out of the last corner. With 100m to go he was in 2nd place but the powerful malaysian sprinters flew past in the final metres to push him back to 6th. A few metres back, I crossed with the bunch, happy to stay upright in the chaotic finish.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jelajah Tour: Stage 2

Stage 2 was a long stage of 204km that headed north west to the city of Kluang. We headed to the start line into the same heat that we experienced the previous day. We waited in the shade with ice bags on our heads to stay cool before lining up. 


After a hard stage the day before and a long one today, many riders were keen to sit in the peleton and stay out of the draining heat.


The race began in the usual fashion as small attacks attempted to get away. Before the first sprint point, some riders called for a nature stop, which, in Asia, means attack. A large group broke free of the bunch including Jaan and myself. We held the gap until the sprint where Jaan came 2nd and won some precious bonus time. Unfortunately, the break refused to work together as the panicking peleton came back. 

Eventually, two riders broke free and opened a gap of 3min as Tabritz took their time to move to the front. They had a relatively easy day as they ground away at the time gap to bring the break back with 30km to go. 

I moved to the front to try my luck as a spectator on the side of the road dropped his motorcycle helmet. It rolled onto the road and I hit it at 50kph. The helmet bounced off my wheel and went straight up the road where I hit it a second time before it shot off into the grass. 

Fueled by adrenalin, I attacked. After a couple of km's alone, I was joined by three others. Tabritz moved to the front again and chased as we were brought back with 20km to go. 

A lone Giant Asia rider took off and after a few minutes Jaan followed. The final few km's were surprisingly hilly and the bunch was traveling at warp speed for the sprint. 

It all came together for the final km's and it seemed like chaos at the front as everyone battled for position. Jaan and matthias was well placed at the front as a Letua rider launched himself off the front. 


The final spent was slightly downhill and the Letua rider maintained his gap to take the stage win. The road narrowed sharply at the line, causing Jaan to lose ground and cross in 10th place. 

Jelajah Tour: Stage 1

Stage 1 of Jelajah Malaysia saw the race head 162km to Bandar Penawar on the east coast. The stage was dead flat and with 180 fresh riders, everyone was keen for a breakaway. 


As usual, the race started fast, as I followed wheels at the front and hoped for a gap. I managed a small break with 3 others as the first sprint point approach. Well that's what I thought anyway. With 4.5km of neutral before the start of the race, I did not allow for the extra distance and the break was swallowed up before the sprint. 

Despite training in the Queensland summer, nothing could prepare me for racing in Malaysia's humidity and heat. Any effort caused my temperature to go up and I was constantly showering myself in water. During the race I drank 8 water bottles! The only respite was short sections where the skies would open up and pour rain for a few minutes. It was like entering a curtain of water and exiting only a few hundred metres later, back into the heat and humidity.

Several small breaks went and came back until there was 70km to go. Mart attacked to bridge a gap across to a small group. I think everyone assumed it would fail as there was a long way to go and the stronger teams of the sprinters came to the front. 

With 10km to go, the group was down to Mart and the very strong sprinter from team Tabritz. They maintained a small gap of 15sec. In the final kilometres, the chase was interrupted as the peleton turned a sharp right with many spearing off into the grass and some landing in a ditch.

With 1km to go, mart still had a gap and the Tabritz rider attacked. The peleton was bearing down on them at full speed with only 200m to go. Mart could not match the attack but clung on for 2nd place! 


Mart had clearly given it all and said that he lost two years of his life after the day's effort. In hindsight, the Tabritz rider winning was, in a way, a relief as they now had to control the race to protect the yellow jersey.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Man Down

Today saw us cross the border into Malaysia from Singapore. I have never done so without flying across in a plane so to do so in a bus was a new experience. You basically check out of one country, enter a neutral zone before checking into the next. It made me wonder if the neutral zone was one of those places where you can do anything you want and no one can stop you. Like international waters. I wanted to gamble, let off fire works and shoot with illegal firearms.

Anyways... After checking into the race hotel, we decided to go for a ride. The weather here is much like Brisbane in the middle of summer, in the middle of the day. A billion degrees, humid as a tropical jungle and it could rain at any moment. The Europeans on the team suffered in the sun, but so did I. It felt like my head was going to explode.


After 60km, we were 20km from the hotel. One rider, Clemens from Austria, managed to hit a pothole and puncture both of his tyres. With only one tube on us, we had to leave him behind to wait. The plan was to leave him by the side of the road, go back and get the team manager to pick him up. Meanwhile, if Clemens could get a taxi, he would call the manager to let him know.

Apon returning to the hotel, the team manager was in the managers meeting for the race and could not be contacted for 2hrs. We assumed that clemens would simply get a taxi and find his way back. 2hrs later and he still had not returned. We asked the manager if he had received a phone call only to discover that he was using a Malaysian SIM card and the number was different. Surely, Clemens had found a taxi by now.

3.5hrs since we saw him, the team presentations were begining and he still had not appeared. It was time to panic. The team manager tried to call and I went to the lobby to see if he contacted the hotel. As I got back to my room, he walked out of the elevator.

Stuck on the side of the road for 4hrs, he sought shelter at a service station but could not get a taxi. A local man who spotted him, kindly gave him a lift back. Clemens still had his wallet and both his kidneys, but boy was he sunburnt. Perfect preparation for the next day's race!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Overweight

After a long wait, I am finally heading over to Europe! But, on the way, I am stopping in Malaysia for a race. This meant that I had to pack everything I own into three bags and then carry it around for a week.

Most airlines usually only let you have 23kg of luggage. I am fortunate enough to fly with emirates who allow 30kg plus 7kg carry on and a laptop. This has not been a problem in the past as I have several tricks to make my bags appear lighter such as cramming everything into carry on. However, this time I had a little more luggage then I expected.

When I checked in, my bike and suitcase weighed in at 39kg. Sometimes, if you are lucky enough, they will just let it through but I think the entire company was having a bad day. How much extra would it coati to take these few extra kg's with me?? $70? Maybe $100?? Nope- an extra $30 per KG!!!! That is $270 for 9kg!!!

Instead, I chose to repack. I put on jeans over my shorts, two jumpers and filled my pockets. I put heavy items into my carry on and threw out non-essential clothing and an extra pair of shoes I had packed. I went back to check in and... Success!!!
So I repacked everything and went down to the security check. It was really not my day as the security guard decided to weigh my carry on bag and did not accept that my backpack was a laptop bag. All together, it came to14kg, meaning I had to get rid of about 5kg.

I put my jeans and jumpers back on (I was still sweating from the last time), stuffed my pockets and went back up to check in. Still 3kg over, I threw out a towel and another set of clothes (which I am pretty sure the guy took). He then told me, after throwing everything out, that I could only carry on one bag!!! I was pretty close to getting on my knees to beg before a nice lady came over and said 'You are lucky I'm so generous' and approved my bags.

I am now sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Malaysia. I just received my race pack which included two souvenir shirts and a hat. They are gonna go straight into the bin as I cannot fit another item in, no matter how light it is!!