TORQ Fuelled, Scott UK riders, Nick Craig and Melanie Alexander, have been busy of late racing in both China and Malaysia, with Mel Taking part in the Guiyang Mountain Bike Invitation Race and Nick returning for a second year to the Tour of Langkawi. Here are the reports from each of them below.
Nick Craig, Tour Of Langkawi – After a busy summer of racing, it was time for me to go back to defend my title in Langkawi. With it being a beautiful place, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make and it didn’t take me long to decide on doing it! With an average temperature of 32 degrees C, I knew it would be hard but would still be a great race with blue skies, picture perfect beaches and a great track.
This year, I was flying with British Airways and Air Malaysia One Word Alliance, and was looking forward to catching up on some movies, kicking back and sitting still for once! On arrival at Langkawi, I was surprised to find the most important tool not with me! My bike was stuck in an airport somewhere along the way! No stress though, as I could relax and wait till the next day to build and ride my bike!
After landing, getting through passport control and chasing up my bike, I was off to the hotel, with one slight problem in that I wasn’t feeling too great and had a sore throat and bad chest, nightmare! By this point, I was starting to wonder if it was worth coming out here; I’d just landed and already was coming down with a virus and had no bike! The race was to start on the Monday so I would still have time to recover and fuel up before Monday’s prologue.
Sunday was spent relaxing by the hotel waiting for my bike to make its appearance, I did some quality training in the steam room and pool, with the average humidity at this point near 90%. The steam room was the best prep I could have done and it helped my chest to loosen up. News in…my bike.still in Manchester airport..not great…with a promise to arrive late Sunday night/early doors Monday.
With a start time of 10.24am on the Monday morning for the prologue, it wasn’t looking great; I had to find a bike from somewhere! I went to see the guys over at Team Orange Monkey, who kindly lent me the team manger’s own bike for the prologue, until mine arrived. Can you imagine me, little Nick, astride a large 29” – all I’m going to say is hamster!! The prologue itself went alright; I still wasn’t feeling great but, after a few energy Gels from TORQ, I perked up and came 2nd to Marzio by 5 seconds.
It was Monday afternoon and I was expecting my bike to appear so I could build it up, it was meant to arrive at the hotel while I was racing. However, upon return it was not there, with no sign of it. 3o’clock, 5o’clock, 7o’clock, 9 o’clock, 11o’clock……….the bike finally touched down in Langkawi at 12.30am, just in time for One Alliance not to pay compensation – typical! Tuesday morning was an early start, spent building my spark, which was surprisingly all good with no damage, and I was happy to have my own bike for The Round the Island 67 km Stage.
After 2 hours 15 minutes of battling with Patrick Jenson, masters’ world champion from Holland, Marzio from Italy, and last year’s 3rd place Anthony White, it came down to the two old foxes, Marzio and myself. With 10km, I kicked hard up a climb, helped along by my Schwalbe tyres, gapping Marzio and pulling away to a 2 minute lead. All was looking good until I got very hot, slowed to a crawl and,with only 5km to go, Marzio came back at me – little did he know what a state I was in, leaving it until 2km to go before he attacked. By this point, I was zig zagging and crawling to the finish line, losing 1minute 24 seconds to the end in 1.5km! Realising that perhaps I had a touch of heatstroke after the race, I almost dived into a case of ice where the drinks were stored!
After recovering from my heatstroke on the evening, I was ready for stage 2 on Wednesday. It was the Point to Point across the island called the East to West. The length was only 45km but I knew from last years’ experience, it was as long as the previous day’s stage. The funny thing is that the night before, I was in bed with my legs up against the wall, talking to them, while my room buddy, Rab Wardell, couldn’t stop laughing at me talking to my legs telling them it was only 1 peak not 3!
Race day came around and off we went; Marzio set the pace on the first climb, only to have some mechanical issue. I didn’t wait to see what they were, as I was pulling away to a lead. Things were looking good, but then I arrived at a T-junction with tape facing right and an arrow to my left…decisions, decisions.
I stuck with the arrow, not the tape, as I thought the tape was from the previous stage, but it was 50/50 and I went for the wrong 50, along with other riders from the senior category. After 2 minutes riding up, I decided to do a U-turn and follow the tape instead; this was the right choice, but when coming into the first feed I was asking after Marzio, who was ahead by 2 minutes. Surprisingly I closed in on him, as he was still having issues with his bike, and it turned out that he had no pedal and was riding on the axel. Marzio is one strong guy; he sat behind me drafting for the next 30 minutes before I hit a climb and dropped him. Now alone and facing the great wall of Langkawi, the one peak I had to apply my years of training and mental toughness required to get up and over it. All was okay and I came into the finish to take the stage win, surprisingly not far behind at 1 minute 20 seconds was Marzio, still with no pedal! He completed an amazing ride and showed his strength as a rider.
Thursday was Marathon day; with 1 second separating me and Marzio, it was always going to be a tough day. Crashes, course mishaps, mud, leeches and a fair bit of hike a bike, but all round it was a great course for a Marathon. Marzio took the stage going into the XC stage 4 on the Friday, still only seconds apart.
XC day was 4 laps of 15 mins; a very short race and the deciding stage of this year’s MTB Tour of Langkawi. On my first slip on a climb, Marzio capitalized on my misfortune, and pulled away to win by 1minute 20 seconds. Despite this, it was a really good course with some amazing climbs, super technical, rooted descents, and finished in the oriental village at the foot of the mountains.
On the final day, which consisted of a 30 minute procession on the beach with a small beach race of 3 minute laps, through some woods and back again, Marzio had a gap of 1minute 30 seconds. Realistically it was not achievable for me to win unless he had a major mechanical or issues; on the first lap I thought he’d had snapped his chain, by the choice Italian language he was coming out with, but it turned out that it was only a broken spoke. It was pretty evenly matched throughout the race and ended with a sprint finish to the line. As you know, I am not the best finisher this side of hayfield…I came second again, although within 10 minutes I was floating in the bath-like temperatures of the sea with a can of tiger beer, not a bad end to the race!
Overall it was a fantastic race, great organization, with the friendly people from Malaysia and Langkawi. I hope to return next year, hopefully with my bike! I am now back in the UK and, sure enough, the bike took 2 days more to arrive with me!
Now here’s Mel’s race from China. It sounded like a super tough course again with the heat coming into play and affecting the riders. Still another great result for Mel, who has had a great season!
Racers were invited to apply from all over the World and I was so chuffed to get a place along with my coach and support for the race. Scott Bugden, Maxine Filby, Rab Wardell, Dan Fleeman, Will Bjergfelt and the Orange Monkeys were the other riders from Great Britain. Thirty two countries were represented and some seriously good riders were there, including the present World and 2012 Olympic Champion, Julie Bresset.
The whole trip was very last minute; I read a tweet, enquired, applied and a week later we were applying for our visas and picking them up the day before flying to China! We flew from Heathrow, to Beijing, to Guiyang, which took around 15 hours in total, and we arrived on the Thursday. We were greeted at the airport and transferred to a luxurious 5 star hotel, where we were to be based for our time in China. We were treated really well with meal times being a huge highlight with never ending options.
On the Friday, we started the day with a parade bike ride into Guiyang which was great for having a look at the surroundings and to spin the legs after the long journey. Then, in the afternoon, there was a chance to practice on the Cross-country race course. Still feeling tired, Maxine and I headed out for 3 practice laps. As Maxine had raced on the course the year before and had a good idea of the layout, it was great to follow her wheel. First thoughts were….so hot, steep climbs, nice descents, dry and loose terrain: it was going to be a tough course to race on. We were to participate in two races: The Short Track Cross-country Race on the Saturday and the UCI Cat 1 Cross-country Race on the Sunday.
The short Track was a 1 km loop and entailed riding as fast as possible, completing as many laps as you could within 30 minutes, without being caught by the leading rider. This was so tough and I found myself having a battle with the New Zealander, Katherine O’Neill. We kept swapping between 9th and 10th but eventually I completed 10 laps in 10th position without getting pulled, which I was really pleased with. 3 minutes down on the lead rider – Julie Bresset, I had pushed hard in the heat and I was shaking afterwards.
For the Cross-country race, we had 6 laps on the challenging course. Up the first climb, there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing but over the top, I gained a few spaces back, working my way into 9th and on was the wheel of the Swiss rider Sarah Koba. It was painful but I was determined to hold her wheel for as long as I could, unfortunately, I got a line wrong, lost traction and a few spaces. Back on the bike, I was in 11th with a small gap to 10th – this gap stretched, then closed a bit and, although I was fighting to get in the top ten for the generous prize money, I couldn’t move up from 11th. With the combination of steep climbs and the heat, it was a really tough race.
The race was an absolutely amazing experience and I was so chuffed to not get pulled finishing 13 minutes down on Julie Bresset, who had a 1 minute lead on Katrin Leumann in 2nd and a 3 minute lead on Blaza Klemencic in 3rd.
We were literally there for a long weekend and, early on Monday, we left for our return to the UK. The return trip was not as quick; we spent 8 hours in Bangkok airport and were travelling for twice as long. In total, we probably spent as long travelling as we were there but the time we had in China far outweighed the time of travelling. I really enjoyed the experience and it still makes me smile; the people we met, the challenge of the race and the tiny amount of China that I experienced, were all amazing. I would love to return and take part again next year.
Thanks hugely to my sponsors: Scott UK, Syncros, SRAM, TORQ, Schwalbe, Fibrax, Exposure lights and also to my coach, Scott Bugden (Fit In No Time). It has been an amazing year and I feel excited for 2014.
Well done to both riders who achieved great results in the tropical heat and different courses. Enjoy the rest of your week. Thanks to Cycling Malaysia for the Photos of Nick.