The day that bike racers in Singapore have looked forward to, finally came. After a year of rescheduled races due to the Indonesian Haze, we finally got a chance to board the ferry’s and head to Batam City for the first major race of the year. The Cycosports Nongsa Challenge.
The race format would see us loop a 12 kilometre circuit after a neutralised entry from Batam City. Category 1 & 2 would do 7 laps, while Category 3 and the ladies would do 5. The advantage of the race format, is many of the riders would not have seen the circuit before. So they could use the first lap to familiarise themselves.
My preparation had been stellar. My numbers showed me growing from strength to strength, and my final ‘hard’ ride with the West Coast Riders that week saw me riding very strong. But in the final days before the event, my darling kids came down with a bug. Resulting in poor sleep, and the bug getting hold of me on the Friday before. Still I wasn’t about to let that hold me back.
In the weeks prior to the event we had formed a new race team. Rapha has done a huge amount to support the development of cycling culture in Singapore, and had a strong group of riders who regularly rode together. Within no time we had a core team of six riders, three of which would be at Nongsa. Rapha RCC would see its first race team presence.
The starting area was like nothing else. A buzz with thumping music, high energy, and the surrounding park full of people engaged in various games. But when the time came, it was race time. Category One went off first, with a solo RCC. In category two we’d have a slightly stronger presence. Quietly we were going in confident, the field was small and there was no clear sand baggers. We had a conservative strategy, with the main aim of surviving with the main pack.
The plan was thrown out the window when in the neutralised zone, a twitchy and nervous pack resulted in a side swipe of Everett’s front wheel. He carried on briefly, but it soon became evident he had dropped due to a mechanical. Our plan was to ride as a team, so I slowed behind the pack to try find him, but after not showing for some time, I had to make the call to rejoin the pack. We’d be one man down before the racing even started.
Which the larger teams occupying all the key positions at the front, it was tough for us to find our way. Settling for the later half of the pack, where we completely missed the nine rider breakaway, full of strong contenders from the Mavericks and SwiftCarbon Virgin Active. Seeing the a individuals we thought we serious contenders for the win were still in the pack, we were certain the peloton were comfortable letting the breakaway go.
In the first few laps, the pace felt ‘comfortable’. We were moving at an average of 34 km/hr, and this suited our plan to allow us to save something for the final lap. But as the laps continued, the scotching sun pushed the temperature up over 40 degrees celcius. Despite carrying a bug into the race, at the end of lap 4 I was still feeling good. But the continual ‘roasting’ from the sun took its toll. I soon found myself battling to stick to the back of pack, especially up the main climb to the Flight Centre KOM. My craving for water grew, and then we had lost Peter. Finding some support in Daryl Tok and Clement Teo, we pressed on in pursuit.
Then I broke. I could no longer pull back the gaps. In previous laps I could concede a gap up the main hill, knowing that I could pull it back over the crest and through the right hand turn. Finding a favourite part of the circuit gave me confidence. But once off the back of the pack, the solo ride was brutal. My lap times feel, my stomach felt ill and I was in a world of hurt.
I learnt that Daryl had made a brave solo move to chase the breakaway, only to have it cut short later by a puncture as he got within reach of the leaders. Clement rode one strong to finish the main pack. Two strong rides from the young guys.
In the closing laps, I found a slight boost as Cat 1 leader Nick Swallow past me up the main climb. While I races were worlds apart, just witnessing the strength of his ride inspired me to find some extra energy. I was soon rewarded as the Cat 1 main peloton came past at a pace that I could latch onto the back for a few kilometres. It proved to be an invaluable experience as I got a chance to see up close how the Cat 1 guys ride, on their last lap. It’s hard not be be inspired by these guys. I ride with most of them at least twice a week, mainly doing the weekly Crazies ride. But seeing them under race conditions made me feel like I was 16 years old again.
Following their wheel gave me one last gift, as I arrived at the turn to the finish not far behind them. Launching me with confidence into my last lap. I managed to lap Everett, who I hadn’t seen since his misfortune and we rode together into the finish. A killer climb awaited our tired legs, a double kicker that teased us before we finally crossed the lined.
I had made it. The rest of the team also ‘survived’ like myself. Our plans hadn’t exactly played out, but as a team and as individuals we had learnt a huge amount. The majority of us beelined for the resort pool to cool off, a refreshing end to a long day in the heat.
So what did we learn?
- We train at night, but race in the day. Not great preparation, hence the heat really drained us. Preparation will be a key focus point for Rapha RCCSGP coming into the new few races.
- Positioning is super important, even early in the race. Missing the early breakaway changed the race for everyone in Cat 2. We will need to ensure we are more proactive in managing our position in the peloton.
- We weren’t the strongest climbers, so we now know we should have been more aggressive at the bottom of climbs to put us ahead of the pack. Which would have meant losing less time on the climbs.
Bike Racing in Singapore has always been a challenge. Despite the best intentions, organising events take the efforts of some amazing people, sponsors and teams. Firstly I’d like to acknowledge the amazing support Chris and Nic at Rapha gave on short notice. These guys give of themselves everyday to help cycling culture develop in Singapore.
An event like this cannot go without acknowledging the man and the team behind the event. Kent at the team at Cycosports endured a rough year in 2015, as the haze postponed almost all their events. In 2016 they are back with a bang. Every cyclist owes these guys and girls a huge thank-you. Without their organisational efforts, events like this would never happen. That thank-you extends to their amazing sponsors: Flight Centre Active Travel, Pure Nutrition, Wave One, ALT Pizza, Turi Resort, Batam Tourism, and of course Rapha.
To the team that raced on the day. I huge congratulations to everyone, it was great to see everyone back out racing. As a community of cyclists it falls to all of us to continue to grow the sport. A special mention for clubs like the Mavericks, SwiftCarbon Virgin Active and ANZA who continue to use their influence to raise the bar and encourage others to participate.
The next race on the calendar is Tour de Phuket, where Rapha RCC will aim to have a bigger and stronger team. But we also have rumours of an event in Singapore on March 13th.
Share your story from Nongsa… what happened? and what did you learn?
note: I’m working on acknowledging the source of all the photos