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2003 SINGAPORE SEASON OPENER: Elliptic Orbits Under the Sun!

The Singapore Road Racing season opened on March 2nd, 2003, at Lim Chu Kang road. A whopping 150+ racers took part with large numbers in the Veterans and Open Categories and more newbies than ever in the Sports Category. t@ was especially excited to field 10 racer dudes in the Sports Category, the majority of whom were in their virgin race. After months of riding base, the floodgates of Lactic Acid were to be opened! t@ now had two "teams": TA Open - Lippy and myself(sting); the rest were TA Sports aiming for some slicing and dicing..


TA Racer Dudes: Diesel, Sting, Bruce, Caveman, Stick, Oldman, Fangio, Wanker, Beef, Chris, Porky and Gingerman

Lippy won the Sports GC last year, so he was automatically upgraded to the Open Cateogry. Lippy recently scored a sponsorship deal with Treknology for Trek kit and a brand new Trek 5900 frame and fork! He found everything on the bike to be stiffer and faster. So he was definitely keyed up for the race. I had resolved to move up to Open Cat racing. I felt that the time had come to learn new tricks from the Dukes of Local Racing. Also I was getting tired of the crashing in Sports. A Junior Rider from Sports, Stuart MacFarlane of Cycleworx, later said the number of crashes in the Sports race this time was "obscene". Fortunately everyone in t@ Sports kept their rubber side down!


Lippy in his new Colors; hey no TA logo!  

THE RACE COURSE AND FORMAT

The LCK course is an ellipse, 2.5km in either direction. Half of it is along Old Lim Chu Kang Road where it runs between a military airstrip and duck farms (with the strong aroma of duck waste serving as a wake-up call). This strip was rolling and sheltered with trees, starting with a small rise and ending with a straight descent. Taking a sharp 180 degree turn leads the racer dude onto Lim Chu Kang road and for 1 to 1.5km, we have a false flat. About 1km from the sprint line, the road levels out and become flat until another hairpin turn into Old Lim Chu Kang road. This stretch of the road was a 3 lane road with no shelter. One can observe the windsock on the airstrip for hints of wind direction. Each lap of the course is approximately 5km.

Unlike other countries, road racing in Singapore are often chancy affairs. We never get to close the roads entirely, and we do not even have a full rolling enclosure at times. We do get a few CISCO officers to control traffic but often that is it. Take this LCK race. Pain was the only motor-marshall that we had for the entire race. Unfortunately, one motor-marshall in the front of the peloton is not really a rolling enclosure. The situation can become very muddled when the Open and Sports pelotons catch up with each other and the lack of officials to separate the two packs makes it very messy. Hopefully, we can get more motor-marshalls in the future.

This time, SACA decided to toughen up the race - 75km in total for both Sports and Open. The veterans and ladies raced 40km. Since t@ has no participants in the vets/ladies/mtb categories, I do not have much of a story to tell for them. My friend, Ben Tang of Team LiquidElements, did tell me of a dispute in the sprint finale of the vets race. In the messy sprint finish, the SACA officials had a hard time telling if Ben came in fifth or sixth as their video and photos were not clear enough. It is unfortunate but I guess such close sprint finishing is always difficult to judge when one lacks proper equipment. (Latest news: Ben has been officially given the 5th position).

In addition to the race GC, there were also intermediate sprints once every 3 laps. This was a race within a race. Many teams were there. In addition to t@ were Cycleworx, LiquidElements, Schroder, ANZA (in Vets/Open/Sports) , Ascender and Geylang. This race was always going to favor the teams with sprinters more, with its flat parcours. In addition to teams there were large numbers of Independents out to make an upset.

A few days before the race, Samuel Yang and I had been talking about the kind of wheels to use for the race. We wondered whether it would be a head-wind on the frontage of the airbase and whether we should use aero wheels. We later decided against aero-wheels as we feared a cross-wind. (We were somewhat right. The wind on that day was a tail/cross-wind). Not that I have any very aero wheels - the best I have are Mavic CXP-14, 24 spokes on 105 hubs! So for this race, I ended up using my "all-round racing" 28 spoke tubulars.

I took my preparation very carefully for this race. Although I had no pressure to win, I still tried to do all the tricks. Sleeping early in the nights leading up to the race (I actually had trouble getting good sleep recently), drinking lots of water, eating lots of pineapples, not riding too hard on Friday and Saturday. On race day, I was supposed to meet Gingerman and cycle to the race site - I waited for him at the petrol station until 7:45am, watching racers make their way to the race course, before I decided to head out. I learned later that he had an ear infection so he took a taxi to the race!


Racing in the heat: see the faces 

 

THE OPEN CAT RACE

It was hot, humid, cross-windy, cloudless. It was so hot I had helmet strap burns on my face after the race! There were about 30 studs in the Open Cat race. You can tell these guys are serious as most of them bother to shave their legs. I was one of those out of place guys who does not shave his legs. Neither did I run top-notch Record or Dura-Ace components, which seemed pretty prevalent in the peloton. I like the way the Record shifters could be made to do "click-click" sounds - Park of Geylang used that a lot to tell people he was moving up from behind them. Hopefully, my plebian Ultegra gruppo would not be too much of a disadvantage!

A few laps before the Vets finished, t@ set-out to do a warm-up on the course. After rolling around slowly for 2 laps, I came across Samuel tapping his left knee. That guy had been training so hard, he was getting a bit of tendonitis. At the last Rodalink ride before the race, him, Lippy, Per and Nick blazed off so fast, the peloton was chasing at 45kph but could not close the gap. Talk about heads and shoulders above the rest! Samuel dragged me into latching onto the back of the Vets Race for a warm-up. It was a good trick. Helps calm the nerves and warms up the legs. Soon, they called us to the startline.

We had been on the starting line for about 4 minutes already while our official kept briefing us. I glanced around at the Schroder and Cycleworx dudes beside me and we exchanged nods and smiles but did not make much small talk. I guess the first race of the season is always the most nervy one. This race around, we had new challengers in the Open Cat peloton: Colin Pearson of ANZA, Per Stromblad, Samuel Yang and Lippy. It seemed highly unlikely that Nick Swallow, the two year reigning champion of Singapore, was going to get amazing breakaway rides as he did in previous editions of SACA races.

"If you can stick with them, you can beat them!", I thought to myself. The only problem with that strategy was that I knew I could not stick with them! I have been hammering myself silly at the Rodalink rides and while I often had no problems coming in with the front pack, I never could smell the fastest breakaway. In 4 months of serious training, I have gone from pack wheelsucker to pack driver so that is some consolation but it is not quite enough. I am desperate to get up there with the Dukes of Local Racing. Now the National Boys will tell you that Local Racing is chump change compared to overseas; but that is my number one goal right now. To be competitive in chump change races. Unfortunately, the spirit is willing but the flesh...oh, the flesh...


Lippy riding next to a Refrigerator 

The race was very quiet for 10 laps. On lap 1, a break of four escaped: Arab (Cycleworx), Park(Geylang), Samuel(LiquidElements) and another guy. They disappeared for about 6 laps before the break self-destructed. Samuel actually did not work. He simply followed them, and fell back to the peloton very rapidly. He felt that if Nick was not going to attack, he would not attack either. In fact, I felt that most of the peloton was simply shadowing Nick's moves. If I had gotten into a break, it probably would have stayed off for a long time. Next time I should remember Jacky Durand - If you are not fast you must be audacious. Next time ATTACK!


The Peloton shadows the reigning Champion

The only excitement in the race was this rider from Geylang called Scott. He rode really aggresively and once he tried to do a crazy bridge from the peloton to a breakaway, he almost rode off the road! I think he is not well liked in the peloton because dudes were clapping and cheering when they saw it. Another time, he was riding in the pack and people started shouting at him and I saw Samuel putting a hand out to keep Scott away. Interesting racing tactic - ride to scare the other racers - except that everyone knew what he was up to. He was a loyal rider to Park though - he would pass his leader food and water.

The speeds picked up for the sprint laps but it was nothing I could not handle. There was no attacking into or out of the hairpin turns. As the peloton baked under the harsh Sun, we cruised along at 38kph, waiting, waiting, waiting for the hammer to drop. I was thankful to 10K for passing us cold drinks except that next time, I would suggest that we forego 100+ and stick to cold water. 100+ sucks when you are dehydrated. Oldman started cramping almost immediately after he took 100+ in the Sports race. 100+: banned from future TA race feeds!!!

As the lap numbers increased, I started getting edgy. Starting on Lap 9, I knew that somebody, anybody was going to have to force the pace soon. Riding with the local peloton on their Thursday and Sunday rides, I knew they were capable of sustained efforts for 40km. Lap 9 onwards, we had only 30km to race. The hammer WAS going to fall. I studied the peloton. There were people in two distinct categories: the FIT - they were still talking and laughing and some guy was talking loudly about some TV show he watched the previous night. Then there were the UNFIT - their faces contorted in pain, all facial orifices open and dripping, panting and gasping. These guys were fighting epic internal battles of willpower! I was quite impressed with Soya whose contorted face in the pictures showed that his finishing was done on pure willpower - that guy has been stuck in his National Service training camp for two months with minimal training and he was hanging on. I was inspired to hang in there and suffer as well!

On Lap 10, as we turned out of the hairpin onto the front of the airstrip, I rode steadily to the front of the peloton and waited. I just knew something was going to happen. I was right! The next thing I knew, Lippy, Per and Samuel had attacked from the back of the peloton. They streaked down the third lane at 55kph and got a gap of 30-40m. There was a general pause in the peloton to see who would chase and Nick took it up; Colin Pearson of ANZA stuck on his wheel and the rest of the peloton following. I joined in the draft, but the violence of the attack and the heat was taking its toll on the pack. The peloton broke up into little pieces and I was stuck in a trailing pack. Gingerman later expressed his surprise at how quickly the race exploded - he had been at the hairpin taking photos.


The toad gets hammered

Lippy and Samuel recounted to me later, that there was a general regrouping of the peloton. The die was now cast and the strong men would now force a selection; counter-attacks by Cycleworx were made and chased down. Nick himself could not get away. Matthew of Cycleworx actually escaped in the melee. Finally when everyone in the pack was dead-meat, Samuel cast himself off the front of the pack. Lippy and Per waited for a chase - it failed to materialise and after a while, Samuel realised the pack was fighting for lower placings! He rode steadily, found Matthew, and actually pulled him along (thinking he was a dropped rider!). Fortunately, Matthew himself was toast, allowing Samuel to win the race! In the bunch sprint, Per was the best of the rest, followed by Nick, Colin Pearson and Lippy. This makes the competition between Pearson and Lippy really hot as its the second time in a row that he's beaten Lippy in a sprint. I think this is going to make Lippy really super-extra-motivated for our next race in Sentosa!

I never saw the jousting in the front - I was in the autobus with Eddy and Melvin of Schroder and two ANZA guys. We set a steady tempo and kept picking up blown riders. Eddy himself felt really blown and got dropped. He should not have been so nervous and kept yelling at the other riders to take turns pulling. Often, a quiet word would suffice. I finished the race but it was nothing to crow about. I keep getting dropped on flat roads which is so stupid. It shows that my major weakness is top-end speed. If the opposition brings the speed up above 52kph, my legs break. Dammit, I need some motorpacing. Or maybe some really hard efforts in my 52x12. Yep, you read that right, I just realised (after two years) that I've been running a 52-39 chainring while everyone has the 53-39! AFTER TWO YEARS! This is my new excuse - to point out to everyone my smaller plebian Ultegra chainrings.

THE SPORTS RACE

t@ had Sandman, Diesel, Beef, Bruce, Oldman, Wanker, Porky, Chris, Wanker, Fangio, Fred and Stick. We were confident that Beef, Bruce, Porky and Fangio could make the final selection; except for Beef who was in his virgin race, all of them did!

We had been working on our sprints for a weeks as we know what a sprinter's course LCK was. Unfortunately, we found that we were extremely uncoordinated in making a leadout train. We suffer from typical Roadie Sprint Panic - i.e. we often put our bikes into 13 cog, 500m from the line and charge. We had no clear-cut sprinter who could last the distance. So despite a numerical superiority, our plan was to force a breakaway - or at least whittle the pack down. Only half our plan worked - the part where we wanted to have riders in the first group to the line.

We divided our team into different sections - Offensive, Defensive and Support. This lead to greater satisfaction as everyone had a job to concentrate on. From talking to the racers and spectators, I understand that t@ dominated the peloton defensively.

Oldman did well to ride defensively and cover most attacks; too well in fact, as he even chased down attacks by Junior riders! The Oldman needs new glasses. Actually, this being Oldman's virgin race, he was too nervous. I believe he could have worked with a couple of breakaways and gotten a good chance of placing - he admitted after the race he had no confidence and regretted it. He felt he should have worked more actively in the breakaway. Next time, eh?

Beef and Fred did a lot to keep the troops together. They felt that it was effective because it kept most t@ riders out of the crashes at the back. Another t@ weakness that came to light was that in the peloton, our riders are scattered. Ok, so this time, they were more compact than at the last LCK race. But they were still too far apart for effective communication. Here's something to learn from Cycleworx: ride together. Porky felt impressed at the way the guys in Cycleworx jerseys rode together, wheel-to-wheel. Live and learn.

The most glaring weakness of t@ was that while they chould chase down attacks and follow, they could not launch effective counter-attacks. The attacks were weak, single-man affairs. Nobody could get away.

One incident was memorable - the eventual 2nd place winner, Kale, attacked directly after an intermediate sprint, using the sprinters as a leadout for his effort. He managed to stay away alone for five laps. After the race, I was surprised to hear that nobody in t@ had attempted to bridge up to him. Despite a lot of planning, t@ still lacks the racing instinct. Oh well, that is why they are currently riding sports - its a place to learn the instincts.

The only t@ attack that was of some note was an effort by Porky - he said he imitated Kale's move and got away with a few sprinter types. I was told that Stuart of Cycleworx worked really hard to bring Porky back.


OM covering the Moves

In the finale, Porky, Bruce and Fangio were still together. Unfortunately, they failed to form a leadout for each other. Also, lack of riding in the local peloton meant that they did not recognize Jeffrey Lee. Jeffrey Lee rode a very smart race, expending no energy at all until the final sprint. He won the race by several bike lengths and really schooled our guys in how to take a sprint. That is experience talking.


TA Controls the Front

PAVEMENT SURFING

There was a bit of unpleasantness in the peloton when one rider was a bit abusive to t@ riders during and after the race. He blamed t@ riders for dangerous riding and causing his crash. While I am not going to say t@ riders are the best bike handlers around, I will point out that it is unfair to accuse t@ of being the source of all danger especially when other riders also ride recklessly.

About crashing - I have this to say. Crashing in Sports is EXPECTED. A lot of riders in Sports are inexperienced and take risks that a more seasoned racer would refrain from. Mix this in with weaker riders who are doing all they can to simply keep up and you have a volatile mix. From the information I got, it seemed that 20% of the Sports guys got involved in some mishap. Compare this to 0 crashes in the Open Cat.

Fred saw Samson of Cycleworx clip his pedal in a hairpin and crash. Sandman got caught in a crash in the final laps when some juniors touched wheels and fell, bringing down a Schroder dude. Fangio even had a rear wheel trashed but somehow he managed to complete. It is a Sports Race with Junior riders. I was taken out in a Sports race last year by a Junior rider who slammed bike and body into me. You live and learn and try to identify and avoid squirelly riders. Either that or you move up to the Open Cat.

Having said all that, I am sure t@ riders will be even more extra careful in the future. Situational awareness is the key to safer racing in a pack. I hope SACA officials can remind all riders of this in future races.

Still, despite the mishaps and the shouting, t@ thoroughly enjoyed the race. I am sure our guys will be back for more in the next race - hopefully we can have our new jerseys ready by then! Till next time, thanks for reading.

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