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JELAJAH TRENGGANU 2003
30th August - 4th September 2003

Summary

My first Malaysian stage race - this was a team composed of Team Singapore riders although we didn't use the National Team jersey. Eddy Cheah, got us Schroder jerseys instead - brand new 2 pieces each. That was really nice of them. Never thought I'd see myself in a Schroder jersey! But because we needed to wear the same jerseys, those being the only ones available, so we had to take it. The team started with 6 guys, but ended with only 4 on the General Classification (GC). I made it!

The Race and How We Got In

The Team and Support

The Jelajah Trengganu is a stage race, held once every two years, running over 6 days and is organized for the Malaysian state teams. Singapore was invited when Jami, our Malaysian contact, asked the organizers to invite a team from Singapore.

Before I go on, I think I need to highlight the crucial role Jami played for Team Singapore in this race. Without him, SACA would not have obtained an invitation and our team would have missed out on having participated in a good stage race. The competition while stiff (with Malaysia's 2001 Sea Games medallists inside), was not so far beyond Team Singapore's ability to compete.

Jami was a good team manager, he drove 300km from KL to pick up the team and drove us up to Kuala Trengganu. During the race, he acted as manager, talking to the officials, he drove support, drove us to find extra food and drink. On the last day, he drove us an epic 600km from Trengganu to Spore, before rushing home to his wife and son who had fallen ill with dengue fever! Thanks a lot Jami, the entire team owes you a big one! (Jami also played a pretty big part in helping Singapore get invited to the Tour de Borneo coming up soon!).

Us and Them

While Jami drove the car, he Ariff (Geylang CC coach) to pass out the drinks to us. Us were: Pak, Arab, Soya, Eddy "1.5" Cheah and Evan "Ang Moh" Kwek and your faithful author, the only 27 yr old rookie in the peloton. :) Strange, eh? The vets on the team are all 22-23!

The race had teams from Perlis, Perak, KL, Selangor, Trengganu (2 teams), MSN (the Msian track team), Armed Forces (ATM), Police (PDRM), Malacca, Johor and Kelantan. The stronger Malaysian teams were KL, Selangor, Trengganu A and MSN. Malacca had a very strong junior rider, Ng Yong Li, who posted 47kph for the Junior Cat lap at Changi - duh, how many Singaporeans can do that? In addition there were Lee Robert (MSN), Wong Ah Tiam(KL) and Shahrulneezah(Sel), veterans of Langkawi and SEA Games in the past! Stellar field.

We arrived the afternoon before, and did a 30km training ride. Because the team expected at least one mass sprint finish, we did a training run for leading out Pak. Lesson learned - I have a quick pickup, faster than what Soya or Arub can manage, so I better learn to accelerate more slowly. Eddy, Evan and myself were rookies here so we were here to learn from the other 3 guys.

Prologue, 11.6km, 30th August, 2003, aka The First Surprise

The Team Manager's Meeting the night before gave us a shock. The race would have almost 100km of time trailing! Before the race, we had been informed that the race would have only a 6km prologue. Because of that, most of us had not bothered to bring our aero equipment. Eddy, Arab and Evan did not even bring aero-bars. We were stuck but what else was there to do?

The prologue was not very technical. 11.6km along flat windswept roads, 4km of which was along the sea (beautiful! with a tail-wind!). I started 6th, overtook one guy, ending with an official time of 16min, 40s. Not too bad considering that I didn't risk the corners at all. In retrospect, the corners could all be taken at speed - I got back to the start and told the boys about the course and what to expect.

I end up 29th, smack dab in the center of the field. That's when I realize I can relax and not worry about getting dropped every day. Because more than half of our team was at the top half of the peloton, our strategy for the race began to take shape - race for team GC, i.e. concentrate on the Teams Competition. We were the fifth team after the prologue and our tactics would be to follow breakaways since each day, team position is determined by the first three riders of any team across the line.

Stage 1, 112km, 31st August, 2003, Stretching the Legs

This stage was flat. There was an initial little knoll and a bridge to cross at 5km but after that, it was flat. The attacks would not let up in the first 30km with the weaker state teams trying to send someone up. Our sights were squared on the teams in front of us - MSN, KL, Selangor. We would follow attacks and chases initiated by these dudes but not the rest.

I guess my preparation for this race was much better than for the Tour of Thailand - I managed to be very active in the first 30km, together with Eddy following the attacks. After 40km, a Trengganu rider got away and his team tried to shut down the race. Since none of the other big teams wanted to chase, I parked in about 5th wheel following the occasional bridging attempt.

No chase group got away far w/o evoking a big chase from the smaller teams. It rained halfway through the stage, soaking everyone thoroughly and when the rain started to let up, the big guns opened up. Arab and Soya were marking the big guns and got away with them. The rest of us followed the peloton across the finish line.

Although Arab and Soya were initially with the lead group, they both got cramps at almost the same time and got dropped! Initially they thought they were 10km to go, but the stage was actually shorter, and they only had 1km to go when they were dropped. Sad and both guys were very annoyed with themselves but then again, they had only been begun part-time training for about 3 months. They crossed the line about 40s ahead of the peloton and Arab was now 11th, our leading GC rider.

Stage 2, 127km, 1st September, 2003, Mooo-ving Encounters

Again, no change in plans: mark the early attack. Lee Robert of MSN attacked at KM2, and I was instantly on his wheel with a Trengganu A rider, behind the KL and Selangor teams were fully alert and brought the peloton up to us. All the smaller teams were antsy this morning, with attacks going off again and again. Because there was a team whose jersey was very identical to MSN, I got confused and found myself following double the number of attacks! Its times like that when a race radio (which we did not have) would be useful. After about 40km, I found my right thigh to be cramping slightly so I eased off on chasing. Jami had reminded us to keep taking fluids, so I switched from marking attacks to getting water. Soya was also getting cramps, there was once I saw him unclip to shake and rub his legs, and Arab was seen rubbing Yoko-yoko muscle reliever on his legs in the peloton! It was survival time.

There was a truce at about km 60, and everyone became content to recover for the final attack on the uphill finish - we were to finish atop the dam at Lake Kenyir. Water Parade Time. We had a procedure for this - we would move to the back of the peloton, raise our hand and Jami would zoom up, hand us water and we'd move up again to distribute it. I was going to get water when the peloton came across some cows. Now to a cow, a cyclist on a bike is about the same size. They started to follow the peloton and started to run, faster and faster! Then one cow crossed the road and the whole herd followed. Gah!!!

I hit the brakes as the cows crossed the road to the right. I thought, that's it, so I stood up to accelerate to the peloton when the herd decided to cross the road again!!!. A cow fell right in front of me, forcing me off the road. Have you ever had a 800 pound animal snorting and huffing run into your path and fall down?!!! Scary stuff. Soya who had been resting at the back, was forced off as well. It was a real difficulty to start again after that. Even drafting the van was really difficult. Jami was tooting his horn like mad and yelling "Kemalangan! Kemalangan!" (Kemalangan means accident) at all the commissaries. Although we hooked up with the peloton again, within 10 km, I would meet some of the worse cramps I ever got, both thigh muscles would seize up simultaneously!

It was really painful, the type that made you holler at the top of your voice! For the last 30km it was a bitter struggle not to get eliminated. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of the 90km team time trial two days away - we need as many bodies as we could get. There was once I had to sit on the road and rub the muscles! Apparently everyone in the team got into trouble that day, with cramps and having to push the bike at some point.

Somehow I made it in just within the time cut. Imagine my dismay the next day when I found out that despite my best efforts, our team would still be short of one man. Evan, who was in front of me, apparently had cramps as well and had to stop. However, he got onto the broom wagon, got near the finish line, got down again and rode across. Instant disqualification. With a DNF, the organizers would remove you from GC but let you ride. With an attempt to cheat, nobody can help you! Totally daft behavior.

Jami was furious with Evan and that night, he couldn't stand to be in the same room with Evan, he brought his mattress to our room and slept in our room. I can understand his anger - after all, he was made to look like a fool in front of the commissaries. The thing is Evan did not tell anyone what he did apart from a cryptic statement to Arab "I sat in the van". ???

Stage 3, 138km, 2nd September, 2003, Holding it In

This was the longest stage of the day, across rolling country but no major climbs like the day before. The race started at an average of 28kph with the Malay boys shouting "Piano! Piano!". A Trengganu kid however, ignored all pleas for peace and escaped to remain at 2 minutes for most of the day. After yesterday's epic struggle, I told the team I had to sit in. I could not sleep well the night before because of a) muscle aches and b) GI distress (again!!!!)

The previous day, Arab and I had been so hungry we wolfed down the packed lunch. The packed lunch had spicy, suntan in the chicken gravy. Imagine suntan sitting in the van for a few hours - bacterial nirvana, and it was going to be a real pain to just sit on the bike trying to keep your sphincter muscles closed!

Eddie "1.5" (we called him that because the joke was that our skinny teammate would launch the devastating attack for the finish line 1.5km from the finish) survived an early scare. The back of the peloton was being strung out at over 45kph when one of the state riders touched wheels and went pavement surfing. Boom! Eddie was so close behind, he was forced off the road. I was a few wheels behind and instead of slowing down, the riders around all attacked to bridge back up. I glanced back and saw the commissaire's car slowing down, I assumed that they would tow Eddie back up - they did, but man, it took forever and for a moment I felt guilty maybe I should have waited. Soon enough however Eddie made it back. Lucky 1.5.

I sat in the peloton the whole day, nursing the thighs and sphincter muscles, getting the occasional water bottle to share with the team. But otherwise, I just tried to recover. Pak was our top performer that day getting a 2nd. Arab was unlucky; he was in the front group but could no longer control his sphincter muscles and forced to stop at a petrol station toilet a mere 5km from the finish, losing a huge amount of time. I was sorely tempted to stop at the same kiosk when my grupetto passed by but the desperation not to finish alone proved stronger.

Arab wasn't the only casualty. I saw a lot of riders clambering out of the bushes. At the finish I rushed to the toilets to find a queue of people moaning and standing awkwardly in front of the cubicles. Sigh. All because of packed food.

Stage 4, 84km, 3rd September, 2003, Lady Luck, where are you?

By this time, our team GC was getting hammered. Even Malacca, with a squad of well-trained juniors were whipping our asses. They had climbed ahead of us in GC by two minutes. We had one last chance to improve our team GC as the last day was going to be FLAT AS A PANCAKE. That chance would be the team time trial, but again here we had BAD LUCK.

Today was 84km of team time trial. We had five guys while most squads had 6. We started calmly, keeping the group together on the climbs towards the coastal highway. Within 20km, we saw that Malacca had dropped 2 riders, and we knew we were on a roll. Ariff was the neutral observer in the Malacca van and he said in the first 20km, we had gained back 1 minute on Malacca and were gaining some more. We had gotten into a very smooth rotating paceline - Jami could even see the Malacca team up the road.

Then disaster struck. 1.5 ran out of luck. Eddy came back too fast and knocked Soya's rear wheel. He lost balance and fell. Arab ran over him and fell too. Game over. We must have lost about 2 minutes before we started rolling again but after that, we never seemed to get the rhythm again. In the end, Malacca came in 3 minutes ahead. Crap. The only good point of the day was the resort we stayed at - it had washers and dryers and we all got freshly laundered clothes again.

Stage 5a, 92km, 4th September, 2003, The Little Train that could

Selangor by now was sitting pretty on GC first in individual and team categories. They put their boys onto the front and kept the early break at 2 minutes. They worked themselves to the bone, reeling the break back ever so slowly. Not that the peloton was content to let them work peacefully. At km 30, 2 MSN riders attack the group to make a bridging attempt. Instantly, Trengganu A has one rider with me up to them. The four of us pull through smoothly, keeping the speed at 44kph minimum (the peloton was doing 40-41 when we attacked). No go, Selangor shut us down within 5 minutes.

After that, everyone was willing to let Selangor do the work. They kept a steady tempo and slowly but surely reeled in the early break. There was a brief flurry of counter-attacks after that, but the road was so flat, nobody got away. The peloton was together at 20km to go.

At 20km to go, I see Eddy (stuck in his 53x13 all day due to his crash messing up his derailleur), move up beside Soya. Taking advantage of the yoyo effect at the back I move up to them. At km 12, I tell Soya "Stay behind me!" We form a second train about 10 wheels back from the front. The pace was still below 45kph. Time to collect the boys! There was me, Soya, Arab and then then Pak. For the next 7km, I would be at the front keeping the train clear of obstacles. Imagine the audacity of a 4 man train lining up beside MSN and Selangor! Lee Robert was yelling at his boys not to let us in any draft - the elbows were coming out!

At 5km, we climb the last obstacle, a bridge into Kuala Trengganu. Soya tells me "Move to the left!". I do and he takes over. Later he admits it was a mistake - his odometer is not working properly and he thought there was only 1km to go!!! Damn. I could still have done a ton of work after the bridge but there was no way I could get back to the train after moving off it - guys were bumping elbows not letting anyone in. Still, at 1km to go, Arab started the lead out, leaving a group of four to challenge a thrilling sprint finish with Pak coming in 2nd by about half a wheel!

We were ecstatic! Blazing hot weather, some of SE Asia's top riders and here was a team that was battered by injury, illness and inexperience; yet we never rolled over and played dead. With four and a half guys left, we still tried to stand up and be counted.

The night criterium was an anticlimax. I'm mighty glad to have finished the race and to have ridden with a great bunch of guys. Yes, even Evan, that silly boy - just hope he never pulls a stunt like that again.

Till next time!

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