Monday, 16 February 2015

The hell of 'Tan

Tour de Bintan race report, October 2014

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another”

I thought I could handle the heat. And I was right, but what really screwed me was the heat and the humidity. Things went downhill from day 1. The start line was about 16km from the hotel, so I decided to do a recce ride to check it out. Took it easy and had a pleasant ride over. Hung around for a while and then headed back to the hotel. I could see course markings on the road on the way out, so all I had to do was to follow them back the wrong way round, right? Wrong. In fact, the markings I followed were for the second day’s racing, so instead of a steady ride back over the big hill to the hotel, I rode the Day 2 race circuit pretty much in its entirety. I was out there for seven hours. I ran out of water, I ran out of food; basically I f*cked myself. But there it was; so refuel, rehydrate and get ready to do it again tomorrow.

Race day 1 dawns. Actually, a key event happened just before dawn – it rained. A lot. This meant that the world was still drying out by start time, and the air was mega humid. Sweating just standing around humid. Now, the night before, I’d asked one of the race organisers how most people would get to the start line. He told me that you could put your bike on a truck and then get a bus, but a lot of people would ride to the start. He said, and I quote “it’s easy – you just follow the long line of riders” So I rode, figuring it would be a nice warm up to ride to the start line in the company of others. I headed up the road, looking for the “long line of riders” I WAS THE ONLY FREAKING ONE. Bus after bus passed me, all full of riders lolling in their nice cool air conditioned seats. But was I bitter? Damn right I was. So anyway. Lining up at the start in a pre-sweat soaked state, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of riders were rocking three water bottles – two on the bike and one in the pocket. It seemed unnecessary to me, because the course map showed plenty of water stations. The races that I’d done before with water stops had neutral zones where everyone had to dismount and walk so that no-one got penalised for getting a drink. But, as it turned out, not here.

So the race starts. I get myself up amongst the first 10-15 riders, and despite a heart rate higher than I’d like, I felt good. So good that I had enough breath to ask a fellow rider “why 3 bottles” He said that no-one stops at the first water point. Ah. I was already drinking at the rate of a litre an hour, and a quick calc told me that if I didn’t stop, I wouldn’t have enough to take me to the next one. I got myself to the front, thinking I could minimize the down time, and stopped to get a refill. And while I was thus engaged, the entire group swept past, disappeared up the road, and suddenly I was standing there on my own. “If only I knew some people who had done this race before who could have told me about this” I thought to myself. Or words to that effect and naming no names. But there it was. Back on the bike and fuelled by righteous anger, I gave chase. Man, did I chase. But I never caught. What I did was sweat. I mean it was like Niagara. Water, water, water. I poured so much of the stuff down my throat that in the end my stomach rebelled and said “ENOUGH” Next time I’m going intravenous. And then cramp. The roads here are never flat. It’s a continuous roller coaster – not high hills, but big enough to need an effort to get up. Wearing. And every time the road headed up and I put pressure on the pedals I got a cramp spasm. So progress became a process of spinning up the hill in granny, roll over the top and then get in the biggest possible gear to go downhill to maximize momentum for the next one. The roller coaster from hell. After a while I managed to latch on to a group of laowai Singapore investment bankers, who while unfit, were at least in better shape than me, and they rolled me all the way to the finish. I found a shady spot, laid down and didn’t move for two hours.

Day 2. I knew the water thing was coming, so I sprinted off the front to gain some time. It made no difference. I stopped, no-one else did, race over. This time, I didn’t even try to chase, I just settled in to enjoy the ride. Which I did, because Bintan is a lovely place, and it was amazing just being here. And in so doing I eventually caught and passed a long line of refugees who had been spat out of the peleton. A group formed and we even had a race of sorts. This was an unexpected bonus, and fun was had. But overall, I felt massively cheated. By my own body for dealing so poorly with the conditions and by the race organisation for a system whereby you got penalised for getting a drink. But this was just me. Overall, the whole event was impeccably run, from bike collection from the ferry to getting all of the various categories to the start line and back every day.

Would I do it again? To quote Willard for a second time “When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle”

 David Clark

Friday, 28 November 2014

Yunnan Gran Fondo

The Yunnan Gran Fondo
China 16 – 22 November 2014

Colourful Yunnan Gran Fondo to give it its full name is a five stage tour of Yunnan province, starting in the city of Kunming and ending in Lijiang. Hotels and bus transfers between stages are all part of the deal, organised by Nicholas Hellquist of Nordic Ways. There was no more than 12-15 laowei (look it up) out of 240 entrants for the 5 day event with a total of over 2,000 people taking part in the event overall including day riders. The whole event is at high altitude, with elevations ranging from 1,600 to 3,200m. Plus every stage takes place on closed roads. Which I could get used to.

Stage 1: Kunming. 114km around Lake Dian.  My attempt on the over 50 category GC podium got off to a bad start: The written instructions said that there would be a pace car to guide riders the 10km from the hotel to the start line. The start time was at 08.30 and so I waited outside the hotel at 07.30 for the advertised guidance. A steady stream of riders left the hotel and headed up the road, but I waited. Time went by. Eventually I spotted one the local organisers, and I asked him when I could expect the pace car. The answer was that there wasn’t one. Not the answer I was looking for, and it meant that I arrived at the start line 20 minutes late, followed by a long solo effort of trying to catch the groupetto by chasing into a head wind. Which was never going to happen, although I crucified myself trying. GC hopes over before the race even started. Hey ho, nothing left to do but to enjoy the ride day by day.

Stage 2: Yuxi. 181km around Lake Fuxian, the largest freshwater lake in China (or maybe it's the one at Dali… whatever). I got this one right, at the start line in good time. The gun went and it was a flat out sprint for the first 5km. This did what was intended and the race rapidly shook out into 3 ability based peletons. This was a pattern that repeated itself all week. As was the same half-dozen riders on the front who did all the work. Yours truly included natch.

Stage 3: Chuxiong. A 24km Individual mountain time trial aka Ride up a big hill as fast as you can. Simples. Got to the top at 2,400m in 59 minutes and then spent 15 minutes coughing Shanghai out of my lungs.

Stage 4: Dali. The start line was at 2,000m and it was 0 to redline (again) right from the gun for a circuit of Lake Er Hai, the largest freshwater lake in China, unless it was the other one. The familiar routine of the 3 peletons established itself, and it was a long head wind haul back the finish line in the town of old Dali. 1km to go, and all of the wheel suckers came miraculously back to life and started jockeying for position. The whole peleton was heading into what I thought was a 90 degree bend before the final straight at an adrenaline-fulled rate of knots, when it turned out that the 90 degree bend was actually 180 degrees. Cue carnage. My mountain bike skills kicked in, I hugged the inside line and was third in the sprint to the finish. Proper racing, great stuff.

Stage 5: Lijiang 85km. The start line was in the old town. Very atmospheric with a mix of numerous ethnic minorities doing their traditional dances. Most dramatic was a group of mountain man drummers clad in what looked like leopard skin hats and polar bear cloaks. The first couple of hundred metres was a road surface of large, rough pave. Uphill natch, added together meant that the sprint from the gun splintered the starting mob rapidly. The course was two laps of the town, which included a nice big hill which wound up through some outlying villages, before heading up to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain pass at 3,000m. A peleton of 30 or so riders formed and by now I could see many familiar faces, including of course the usual half dozen big-hearts who rotating at the front driving the pace. Big-hearted or dumb? You choose. The peleton disintegrated the second time up village hill and then it was every man for himself. I found a manageable gear and churned it, and re-discovered the thin air “blow and recover” grunt breathing low oxygen management method from my army diver training. It seemed to work and I passed a steady stream of riders before reaching the finish line at 3,400m. And then it was over, with lots of hugs and smiles among the pace making elite. A fast downhill run back into town to the local sports stadium for prize giving plus an impressive gratis banquet provided by the town followed and the all that was left to do was to manage the massive comedown after a fantastic week of great racing, superb scenery and good comradeship. And who knows, somewhere in a parallel universe, I did make the start of stage 1 on time and the Podium for the GC. But, as they say in France if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle.

David Clark

Monday, 13 October 2014


Bothering me since August this has been. So I'm back in Blighty for the summer sojourn. A week to go till the big silver bird back to the PRC and I'm doing some pre-winter chores about the house. First up is jetwash the mouldy flags. I'm half an hour in to the job, brain completely wiped by the noise and the repetition of side to side swooshing when No.1 son creeps up from behind and shouts "YAH!". I go into a crouch, bring the "weapon" to the shoulder and JUST stop myself from giving him the ol' double tap. It's still fucking there. After all this time. No.1 son of course thinks it's highly risible that the old man has flashbacked back to the day, but a full blast from a Karcher a foot away would have had him laughing on the other side of his face. Like really.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Ground rush

ETA to China = 7 days. Lotsa stuff still to do, mostly bullshit admin plus all those things I'd been putting off. Up to now the move to China has been something that existing in the murky mists of future time, well outside my little brain's capacity to comprehend. But now it's 7 days. I can count em...
It feels like parachuting - you hang around in a an indeterminate space for an unknown amount of time and then WHOOOSH ground rush coming right atcha. If you're lucky you walk away.

Lots of sobering thoughts right now. F'instance, I've probably only got time for two bike rides. A Langster frame will be making the trip with me that I plan to bling to the max with cheap Chinese carbon. But when? Can't see me getting back on two wheels in my new guise as urban fixie rasclot for at least a month. A MONTH. I'll atrophy and then die horribly when I try to ride a bike with NO GEARS. But it will have (two) brakes; I'm not that cool.

Why not ride this weekend I hear you ask. Because her indoors' UK MTB swansong is to enter the Stilettos on Wheels women only (RACISTS) mountain bike race in Brighton next Saturday and guess who's pit bitching. 4 hour solo, which is a long ride for an old woman. From mid week I'll start honing her podium etiquette. So no pressure.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Nailin it on the Stigmata


It rained all day Saturday, so I drove up to Garmish for a recce of the ski hire places and lifts for when it does actually snow. Then as it got dark, it did start snowing, but it was nasty wet stuff.  As soon as I woke up on Sunday morning I looked out of the window and there was freezing fog to go with it. fecking brrrr.

Understandably it took quite a lot of mental arse kicking to get out to the car and build up the bike. Finally at about 11am I did, got my shit in order and let the rubber hit the road. Having had a good study of the local map, I already knew that there was an excellent network of marked bike routes out there. But the even better news is that it's mostly on deserted country lanes and equally deserted gravelly forest trails. There was even a section along the bank of the river Ammer, which was spookily Merseyeseque, but without the Jodphurs Cafe bacon butty stop. So today's discovery is that it's just perfect for the cross bike out there and the Stig just gobbled it up.  In the end Sally Satnav told me that I'd done just under 65k on a tour de Weilheim circular, and I only headed back when I did because of icy tootsies. I have never regretting going on a bike ride. FACT.  Lookin forward to more of the same sometime soon.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Prost or Prozac?


So here I am in south Bavaria where I'll be based for the next two months. I haven't had culture shock like it since Manchester.

I've been put in a decent apartment and guess what, I can see the Alps from my kitchen window. Specifically Zugspitz and Wank mountain (yes really) This morning it was covered in white stuff. I'll probably head up there on Saturday for a stiff walk.

I met my neighbour across the landing shortly after I arrived. I'd just pulled up outside and was starting to unload my shit when he parked across the back of my car and marched towards the front door. I lit up his world with my best smile and said hello. He pointed at my car and said "das ist mein park platz" the sour git.

In between managing to remember to bring all my bike stuff, work stuff, computer stuff and leisure stuff, I forgot to pack any socks or undercrackers, so I went to the supermarkt last night to buy some. The checkout girl was a chunky goth wearing a sweatshirt which said "Drink!, Fuck!, Fight!" Quite a lot of 1 and 3 by the looks of her, not so sure about the no.2... More later.