The CC Mountain Bike Challenge - Batang Kali, Selangor

Race Report for the Batang Kali
CC Mountain Bike Challenge...

It’s been a while since I last raced so, I don’t mind confessing on the Saturday evening I had the usual pre race restless night as a mix of nervous and excited thoughts tumbled around inside my head.


The 6th Edition of the Batang Kali MTB Jamboree
Despite being awake in good time to get down to the start area to rack Excalibur on or near to the front row. As this was a not a race that I was intending to race in, I resisted that urge and instead took my dogs for a leisurely walk and had a similarly leisurely and satisfying breakfast. This made this, by far and away, my latest and probably my most relaxed start of any event that I’ve ever done.

This was not really a deliberate strategy but more the result of circumstance. My intention was simply to use the race as a good training ride and to assess where I was in terms of competitiveness on the Mountain Bike. I also intended to record the route for Denis (who was kindly letting me stay at his house and who wanted to see if he’d missed any trails after spending the last year cataloging the trails around his new home).


So shortly after 7:15 I shook myself from this unusually pre-race relaxed state of mind and rode the 1.7km to the start line for the scheduled start at 8:00am start. Arriving with just under 40 minutes to the flag off I was expecting to be demoted to the back of the grid. So it was rather pleasantly surprising to find an easily accessible gap in the 3rd row of the starting ‘pen’ where some people, so I subsequently learnt, had arrived at 5:30am to secure a slot. 

As a consequence, it seemed somewhat ungrateful of me to ignore this gift of avoiding a lot of unnecessary effort & risk of getting up to the faster riders for a proper workout. So I settled Excalibur into this hole and exchanged the usual morning greetings and pleasantries with some familiar friends and made a few new ones.


These 2 Dudes have their "game on" face on
At 7:50am the friendly Race Director who was one of these new friends announced the arrival of their VIP who proceeded to greet the front row of the grid. His (sorry I have forgotten his long name and title) arrival was a relief as this meant we were most likely to start on time. 

Then, just before the National Anthem & Prayers, quite suddenly the riders on the front row were beckoned forward to what was supposedly the “official” start line some 3-5 metres in front of them. Many riders in the first few rows missed this cue and my comfortable little slot on the 3rd row now became an even more comfortable one on the 2nd row. I took this as a good omen & a further blessing as it would help me stay out of trouble in the ‘madness’ that was about to happen and which every Mountain Bike Race I’ve ever done has at it’s ‘kick off’.


Spot the Matsalee
At 8am precisely we were released from the start line and, as predicted, two things happened immediately. Firstly, the faster riders at the front, made a very quick sprint away from the line to assert their position to sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak. Secondly, a significant number of the 1st & 2nd row of cyclists that had got up especially early to secure their pole positions could not get up to or maintain the required speed for long enough and immediately gave these positions up to the faster riders waiting behind. 

In this process there were many scary sounds of locked and interlocked wheels as people misjudged what other riders were doing or what they themselves were capable of. Despite the urge to glance in the direction of these sounds, I’d experienced enough of these starts to know that to do so was a serious folly. What is critical, as criterium experienced cycling mentors like Tony Harvey and Simon Cross had advised me previously, was to stay totally and utterly focused on what was happening immediately in front of and around you. I reminded myself of these words of wisdom and reapplied myself to executing them flawlessly.

After a few tight turns out on to the main road we swung round a left hander on to the Genting Highland road from Ulu Yam. Most of the slower riders had already been gobbled up and the pace gradually eased back a ‘tadge’ allowing the remaining faster riders that wanted to, to weave their way through the 'traffic' and assume a place at the 'head of the snake'.

This slowing of the pace of the lead peloton was short lived though.As immediately after the left turn back towards Batang Kali the lead riders surged and swept down this road at a frenetically fast speed. The lead pack of 70+ riders where I was comfortably positioned spread across both lanes of the road and made a sharp right and then left turned onto the gravel Kampung roads that were a lot narrower. 

Throughout the surge and tight bends I remained pretty contained making sure to remain on the left-hand side of the road as cars were approaching on the right and, whilst most had thankfully pulled over on to the grass verges, I didn’t want to risk meeting one of these head on at the speed we were traveling at.



As the Kampung lanes narrowed into fire roads in the secondary forest the field slowly and steadily started to spread out and I was able to see up ahead a number of the riders that I wanted to be competitive with. 

Most significantly this included Gary & Jeff from the Lokka Race Team in their distinctive orange shirts and Ravi and Danny. I settled into a nice pace that I felt would keep me in contact with them all and the lead group and would also keep a bit in the tank for later, as, as I always tell myself, it's a long way to go. Thankfully this pace was fast enough to pick off riders who were already paying the price for the frenetic pace at the start and this included the very capable Danny from Ipoh.

Throughout this initial mellay I had felt comfortable, contained and, as a consequence, confident of things to come. Despite the speed and surges at no time did my heart rate spike or elevate to a rate that was unsustainable and neither did my attention & focus on staying safe but in touch deviate. 

As a consequence, by the time we reached the 1st of the 3 Checkpoints (CP’s) I was pretty pleased to be in what I estimated was the top 50 riders. This CP arrived much sooner than I'd expected. It was immediately before the trail narrowed and started to climb and was preceded by a fast section of trail so the Marshals there opted to slap stickers on to the rider rather than the race bib on the front of the bikes. 

Given the speeds we were traveling at this was probably prudent of them. How effective it was though remains questionable for me as the Sticker that was slapped on to my back certainly wasn’t there when I finished. 

We were now on rolling fire road with several steeper sections which were all rideable. Although some chose not to. Thankfully, as you'll see from the images above, the trail was still wide enough to pass without any difficulty. In fact, it wasn’t until we reached a small river crossing that I had to dismount for the first and only time. 

On the climb up the other side of this I stayed off the bike as I knew that remounting too soon with so much traffic around you isn’t advisable. This thought played out accurately and with my brisk hiking pace that was on a par with the strong hill climbers who chose to ride it, I passed a handful of other riders that were either in the wrong gear or didn't have the power to ride it all.

After this serious climb the route was best described as a series of "Fast & Furious" rolling hills on a mixture of fire road and Kampung lanes. The descents needed respect as they were very dry and the surface varied from gravel to firm tarmac. However, they were fast and pleasingly, despite my tentativeness of injuring myself again, my speed relative to the other riders was comparable or better as again a handful of places were picked up by taking the momentum from this speed into the ensuing climbs rather than backing off on the power as the descents bottomed out.

There was one section that might warrant the description of single track although had it been necessary it was still possible to pass on it. This twisted and turned through some young saplings before popping back out on the road we'd left to enter it. 

I chose to tail rather than press the rider in front of me through here as having been riding cleanly up to this point I had now decided that as well as riding as hard as I could I was also going to remain clean and avoid any silly spills or errors which I am prone to.


CP2 arrived and passed just like CP1 as again it was located on a relatively fast section of the course and out of necessity Marshals were slapping the stickers on the rider rather than the bike bibs. I was pretty certain that this 2nd sticker wasn't going to be there at the end as a result. 

Beyond this penultimate CP the trail reverted back to short sections of trail connected by fast rolling Kampung lanes. By now the number of riders thinned dramatically and other one young Lad who'd I'd been keeping in view since the outset there were by now few riders in view. Then by good fortune, just as I was getting a bit complacent, I caught a glimpse of an orange Lokka race jersey up ahead and told myself that it was Gary. 


Gary in beast mode and still my target ;-) 
Given that Gary (Choong) is a few years my senior and someone that I really respect and look up to in terms of his youthfulness and ability to still compete, the prospect of catching him was a huge source of motivation for me and helped me go a bit deeper and find an extra gear.

A few minutes later the rider was sufficiently in focus for me to make out that it wasn't Gary but his team mate Jeff. He was still in the Senior Veteran age group and still worth the chase. Fortuitously, as I pulled up on his back wheel, we also approached another stiff little incline and I used this to pass him with a wide berth just in case he thought he could jump on my back wheel. I also kept the power on all the way up the climb and as I crested I took a peek over my shoulder to confirm that he had chosen not to respond. 

Feeling flushed from capturing this scalp I pressed on with a renewed energy and sense of urgency. After CP3, the only one located on a slight ascent where the Marshals could actually stick the proof of attendance onto the bike bib without risking injury to themselves or the riders, I caught up with the lead female rider and her 'escort' on a hill and passed them both on the subsequent descent.

Shortly after this fast flowing section of trail we were back on to the roads and I knew we were heading back to the finish line. The Junior rider I had been escorting started to visibly tire as we were exciting the trail and as we hit the road I offered him my back wheel which he accepted and eventually after a significant section of road he'd sufficiently recovered to do a spell pulling too which I very much appreciated. 

As we popped back on to the main road with less than 1 km left, he very sportingly dropped back and allowed me to cross the finish line unchallenged. In a way this was a little disappointing as I was actually thinking we could/should cross the line together.
The final turn for the line
Fortunately and thankfully at the finish line there was no one challenging me on the absence of the stickers for CP1 & CP2. This was a relief but also a little sad as it meant I wasn't able to give them the feedback until now about how these 2 CP's needed to be moved so that the stickers could be safely and firmly placed on the bike rather than slapped on the riders. 

My advice to the organiser is that simply relocating the CP's to a slower and safer sections of the course, as per CP3, they could solve this issue. By then adding some signage to warn riders that the CP was approaching and reminding them to slow down to ensure that they did not leave the CP without having collected the requisite sticker would have been icing on the cake. Even with my rudimentary knowledge of Bahasa Melayu I clearly recall the RD's briefing stressing the need for stickers to be collected and it makes it absolutely pointless to have the CP's, if no one inspects what you expect at the finish line. 

In fairness, to the organisers though, this was the only aspect of the management of the race course that is deserving of improvement. Everything else from the markings, the marshalling and the water stations (there were three) was faultless.    

The finishing area was really well organised too and I left it knowing exactly where I'd come in my age group. The course was just shy of 34km with 920 metres of elevation game. As you'll see from the picture below my race time was 1:26:49. This was a full minute behind Gary and 2 minutes 53 seconds behind the winner of our age group. 


However, in the same way as children these days seem to grown up so quickly, the same trend is happening within the veteran community of racers. As these days Senior Veterans includes men that I consider young at 45. As a result, to secure a top 5 finish amongst such a relatively young and quality stacked field (with the exception of Gary who is a phenomenon in his own right) makes me extremely content with the outcome of my ride. As a consequence, I'm now looking to find other opportunities to ride jamborees again and will try to adopt a similar pre race strategy of a leisurely walk and breakfast before leaving for the start line as I did for this one, as it clearly helped me to get the best out of myself ;-)

Final words as always are to thank the organisers, the marshals and all the other riders for making the ride possible and so much fun and I sincerely hope to see you all again (especially you Gary ;-) at your 7th edition of the event next year.

Over and out for now as I have to go find a pool to see if I can still float and am as ready as I can be for the start of the Xterra season in this part (Asia Pacific) of the world. 



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