Thursday, June 12, 2014

2014 Asian Cycling Championships - Kazakhstan

28-31 May 2014:  Karaganda, Kazakhstan – the venue of the 2014 Asian Cycling Championships (ACC)! I was given the nod only a few weeks prior and after a flurry of organising flight schedules and travel arrangements in between juggling work and training, the championships were finally here!

The adventure began Friday 23 May. After 30+ hours of airplanes and airports, I finally arrived in Astana. Staying directly above the velodrome, I managed to catch a glimpse of the national track team in action before making my way to Karaganda by bus on Monday. The 4.5hour bus trip was certainly enduring as I struggled with a really bad bout of traveller’s diarrhoea! I was sure glad when I finally arrived and met up with the rest of the road team in Karaganda that night.

Checked out Astana by bike! 

Catching up with the national track team outside the velodrome! 
 Wed 28 May: Individual Time Trial. I was excited to be racing my first ACC, and at the same time super nervous! Pre-start, breakfast and soon I was off on the bus to the race start. With heavy traffic and detours, we arrived 45 mins later. Parked opposite the road from where our allocated tents were, we were not allowed to cross as the junior men’s race was in progress. No setting up tent where we were either! The best I could do was to get on the bike and roll up and down the street. The clock was ticking. And I was trying my best not to stress out! 45mins to race start, we finally got to the tent and I quickly jumped on the trainer. Having only had the chance to recce part of the course due to closures, I used the warm-up time to visualize the map. 3 u-turns, 3 right turns, 1 left turn per lap. 2 laps. Windy. Swirly. The mechanic came rushing back to the tent – “Your bike has to be adjusted, aerobars has to go back 2cm!” Having passed all previous bike-check tests, I was annoyed, but tried best to stay focus.

20mins to countdown and I was rushed to the start-line. Where did my extra 10 mins of warm-up time go? 10 mins to go, the mechanic, looking flustered, finally appeared with my bike. Radio – checked. Helmet – checked. “Grace…Breathe!!” And before I knew it, I was on the start ramp. Adrenaline kicked in. Go! I quickly found my rhythm, with the first right-hander 500m in. Gee, my bike sure feels different. I brushed that thought off. Breathe, focus. I was struggling to find a comfortable position on the bike. I shifted back, shifted forward. I tried best to keep focused on the ride. End of Lap 1, the Korean rider came flying past. I tried to use her as a carrot but something was just not right. The wind had picked up on Lap 2. I tucked lower, focused on my breathing, tried to get the legs spinning. The radio was crackling. “Cadence, Grace.” “Just a bit more.” The last 20mins felt like forever. The Japanese rider caught me with about 7kms to go. I gave it everything I had.  
Fueling up with Powerbar Tangerine Gel pre-race!

Ready to go! 
I was disappointed. The ride didn’t go well. “Oh and by the way, we had to lift your saddle up slightly as well.” And that explained it all. No wonder I was rocking all over! Well, what was done, was done. I ended finishing in 10th, 5mins down from the winner. Disappointed as I was, I had certainly left everything I had on the road. Riding my best on a bad day was success in itself.  The learning experience was massive and definitely lots to take away for future races.


Thanks to the entire MNCF and ISN support crew! 

Sat 31 May: 130km road race. 8 laps of the ~16km ITT course. Multiple turns and u-turns. We had 3 starters from the Malaysian team. Maziyaton our race leader, Mariana and myself. Game on! As one of the smaller teams, our race plan was to stay up the front, get a rider in every break-away and go for a winning break. Being my first mass-start race for Malaysia, I certainly felt like a new kid on the block. “Who were the game-changers?” “Who were the sprinters?” “There goes a Japanese rider, no wait, that was someone from Chinese Taipei.” I kept mixing up the same-coloured jerseys. On a technical course like that, there was no time to wait back and see. If a break stuck, it would be gone in a blink.

Let's rock and roll! 
With team-mates Maziyaton (L) and Mariana (R)

On the start line.. 

The race started off rather twitchy with everyone fighting for position. With a headwind out and tailwind back, any early break-away attempts didn’t stick for long. The Korean team were out in full force and were certainly keen to control and dominate the race. At about the 25km mark, a touch of wheels sent a number of riders tumbling down. Mariana unfortunately got caught up in it, took a soft landing, but managed to quickly re-join the race. At around the same time, Maziyaton punctured, but luckily with a quick wheel change, managed to get back on. Drama over, things were starting to hot up. Over the next half, it was attack after attack after attack. We managed to get ourselves in most of the breaks, but nothing stuck for long. The sprinter teams were certainly vying for a bunch sprint.

I was on high alert the entire race. Attacks in the feed zone, pushing, riding in the dirt sections and riders coming up from underneath in corners were just some of the many things we had to be aware of. It was certainly a very different environment than what I had been previously exposed to! I missed my bottle in the feed zone, but luckily had enough fuel to spare. With 2 laps to go, it became evident that the race was going to come down to a bunch sprint.

In action.. 
I tried for a late breakaway attempt, but was quickly shut down. With 4kms to go, we approached the final u-turn, and the Korean, HK, Chinese Taipei and Thailand teams swamped us. Cross-headwind, slight downhill on the final straight. I spotted my team-mates amongst the bunch. The bunch was like a funnel, swaying left and right. It was Kamikaze. We were all caught behind the trains, spread across the road. 500m to go, I managed to find my way out. Block headwind, but I had to go for broke. I kicked, but with no luck. The race was over. We finished 23rd, 27th and 30th respectively, all with bunch time.
Athletes and support crew post-race 
The road race was certainly a huge learning experience and despite the team not being able to come back with a medal, we gave it our best. Thanks to both my team-mates Maziyaton and Mariana for making the experience a great one.

So, finally wrapped up my little adventure to Kazakhstan and my first Asian Cycling Champs under my belt. The learning experience itself was massive! There was so much to take away – dealing with the challenges of traveling, adapting to new environments, language barriers, and learning pre-race and race strategies. Thanks to the Malaysian National Cycling Federation for the opportunity, national coaches John, Graham and Wak Amin, my coach Simon, the support crew, team-mates, sponsors, family and friends for all the encouragement and support in getting me here. It’s back to the grind for now – reflect, learn and chase new goals!
Easy ride with the U23 Men's Team
Welcome to Karaganda - windy, open fields… 
The girls checking out Karaganda city.. 

Naughty burger stop with the pros :p 
The team in Karaganda - thanks for the hospitality! 

Transit in Almaty - and we took a public bus to the local ski mountain!! 
Situated only 15kms out of the city - perhaps our next training camp destination? :) 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 Mansfield Crit/ Mt Buller Road Race - Bugged out…

Since the SEA Games last December, the past few months have been about building up the basic blocks again. Back to the reality of a full-time job as a banker whilst juggling training on the bike and everything else in between.

January saw me racing the IP at the Aus track nationals, which was a bit of disaster. Lesson #1 – never fly in on the morning of a mid-day race. February was the Tour of East Gippsland, which again, didn’t turn out to plan with 2 faulty bikes. Lesson #2 – no matter what, always check your bike(s) before leaving home! Despite the setbacks, the past couple of months has been about training and learning – trying new methods, seeing what works and what doesn’t, understanding my body better and fitting the jigsaw pieces of training together to become a better, stronger cyclist. Fast forward to March.  

My third edition of the Mansfield Crit/Mt Buller road race weekend. This race brings back memories. 2012 saw me absolutely devastated in tears – I had bonked so badly with 3ks to go that just keeping the bike upright was an absolute struggle, and almost the entire field rode past. 2013, I came back with even more determination, and surprised myself making it onto the podium of B Grade women.  Despite being in the midst of a heavy strength-training block, things were looking on an upward trajectory this year with training times faster than race times the year before.
Managed a little smile just before the top (Photo courtesy of Cycling Victoria and Jo Upton Photography) 
Enjoying the last of the summer a fortnight ago with Jacob

The weekend kicked off with a Saturday afternoon criterium in the middle of Mansfield. A T-shaped course with right-hand turns - a tricky little course. With only 11 starters, the first couple of laps were pretty non-eventful. A couple of mini-attacks were quickly shut down – a break on a course like that can mean the end of a race. I found myself yo-yoing back and forth through the field –my legs had no zip whatsoever and I was really struggling. The next big attack by Lizzie Williams a third of the way through was the major break – with Lauretta Hanson, Shannon Malseed and Verita Stewart joining her. I saw it coming, but somehow, had absolutely nothing to respond. I spent the next few laps chasing to no avail. It was soon the 4 in front, myself hanging in the middle, and a couple of girls further behind. Race over. I finished off the race for good measures rolling into 5th place. Lauretta Hanson sprinted to a convincing win, followed closely by Lizzie Williams and Shannon Malseed wrapping up the podium. That evening, my throat was absolutely killing – and I was downing whatever mouthwash I could find. Uh oh..not a good sign.

We were greeted by a chilly 10 degree morning, a huge contrast to the 30 degree weather a fortnight ago. A good pre-race spin-out to get the legs warmed up before I hit the start line. 26 out of the 31 entrants lined the field of Women’s A Grade – a relatively big field this year. With a number of big teams in Bicycle Superstore, Total Rush and Bike-bug dominating the field, the race was fairly controlled from Mansfield to the Mirrimbah tollgate, the base of the 16km climb. Any attacks were immediately shut down ensuring that no one got a head start on the climb.

Once we hit the base, the mad scramble began, and I managed to make the first selection of 18 riders. The girls were riding at a good steady tempo, but my legs were starting to give way. We weren’t going that quick, but something just didn’t feel right. I glanced down at my Garmin – power numbers were way less than threshold, but like the day before, I had absolutely nothing. I yo-yoed off the back a couple of times, digging hard each time to get back on. I was certainly well fueled-up, but had no energy whatsoever. Within 3ks, I soon popped off the back. My race was over. I spotted Emma Scott a few metres up the road, and paced her the rest of the way. The groups of men that kept going past were good motivation to keep going. I eventually finished the race, a little over 6 minutes down from the winner Lizzie Williams.

I was obviously a little disappointed with the results, but there was nothing much more I could do with the illness that had hit me – which turned out to be a bad flu bug I had picked up from a couple of sick colleagues at work. A year ago I would have totally stressed over the lost of form and non-performance at a race, but over time, I have learnt to better manage situations like these, and view the weekend from a different perspective. The flu was unfortunate, but nonetheless, I had a good weekend away and enjoyed the racing. Thanks to Cycling Victoria, Mansfield Cycling Club, volunteers and friends for the support. It’s back to the training blocks for now - looking forward to the road season ahead!

Let's ride!! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 South East Asian Games!!

12 – 19 December 2013: The build up for the past 4 months have been for these Games – the big event was finally here! The 2013 SEA Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. My first international representation for Malaysia – excitement, nervousness – all intermingled together.

Rockin' my new skin suit for my first international race! 

The Malaysian cycling contingent at KLIA

After a long day of traveling, transiting through Bangkok airport, we finally arrived in Naypyidaw on Thursday 12 Dec night. All the cyclists were put up at the Golden Lake Hotel – comfy beds, great service, good food – checked! Our bikes were flown to Yangoon, some 320km North of where we were, and thus didn’t arrive till the Friday morning. It wasn’t till mid-day before we managed to head out on an easy ride to spin the lactic acid from all the travelling.

By now, we had less than 48 hours to race day, and yet, no one in the team knew what the ITT route was. I was rather agitated, and finally, after some asking around, thanks to the help of our Singaporean neighbours, I managed to get hold of the course map and profile. Next morning, team-mate Marianna and I, together with the coach recced the course – half-riding and half hanging on to the motorbike. 8-12 lanes wide, twisty, bumpy cement roads, 3 roundabouts, couple of sharp 1-2km hills – this was going to be one technical and challenging course!

The course profile......!!?! (and they said to train for a flat course!)
Checking out the course - no, it's not an airport runway! 
Team-mate Mariana ahead on the course..
Being silly knocking off the pre-race nerves..
9 am 15 Dec – 30km ITT - race day!! I had woken up a couple of times the night before – it really has been a while since I’ve been this nervous about a race. An easy ride to the start, warm-up and before I knew it, I was on the start ramp with the clock ticking down!! 3,2,1…I kicked...leaving the roaring crowd behind as I quickly found my rhythm. Focus. Breathe. With the first climb only a kilometer in, I tried to find a steady pace, constantly aware not to go too deep into the red. With the 12 lane wide road, I felt like a tiny ant amongst it all! The unpolished cement roads made for a very bumpy ride, making it tougher to find a steady rhythm. Within 7kms, I caught my first rabbit, and the next one not too long after.  I was now leading the race! It was at this point that I realized that my radio wasn’t working…grrr. Over the next quarter, it was a cat and mouse game with the Myanmar rider. She’d push a massive gear, come past me, linger for a bit before I’d go past her again. The Myanmar team even had an ambulance filled with supporters, with the siren wailing in the background!!

The start line! Let's go!! 
The biggest climb of the day was at the mid-way point, kicking up to 10% at the steepest bit. 2km of pain, as I tried to zone out the burn in my legs from the lactic acid. The Myanmar rider came stomping past me again. Arghh. I held pace, before re-passing, and finally shaking her off for good on the downhill. I had maxed out my gear by this stage, and was trying everything I could to hit top speed over the next quarter. 7 kms to go, and we were back on the start straight. Windy, bumpy, burning legs – I tried my best to focus. Push a little harder. Go a little deeper. A mistake on the final 1.5km climb of the day left me trying to grovel out of the red. Not good!

3kms to go, I was now going flat out. Everything I had. I could see the supporters lining the road. Not long to go. Screecheeeeeed!!! My back wheel swung out, and I just only managed to save myself from crashing!! The lead police car had stopped 50m before the finish line!!! “F!!” Heart racing at a million miles an hour, I gathered myself, squeezed past the car before sprinting for the line.

I ended up finishing in 6th place, +2.44 (didn’t get any time for the police car incident!) from Dinah Chan of Singapore who rode magnificently that day. I was happy to have given it my best that day and even enjoyed quite some time in the hot seat! Perhaps a tinge of disappointment of not having the benefit of course knowledge and course practice time like the other countries did, nor the opportunity of being part of the opening/closing ceremony. Nonetheless, it was a huge learning curve at my first international race against some very experienced riders. My sincere apologies to the crowd for swearing out cusses at the finish line – I was boiling in anger from the near crash just before the line and couldn’t quite hold it in! Sorry!!

Checking out the athlete's village
The ITT riders having a bit of fun post competition
Enjoying the sunshine.
Eggs for brekkie?? :) 

The past few months has been a very exciting cycling journey – happiness, tears, excitement, disappointment, achievements, mistakes – each contributing to the strength and maturity as I continue to develop as a rider. Winning the Malaysian National ITT, making the national road team, racing my first international race at the SEA Games and discovering my niche in ITT's  – it’s been a real adventure!

Thanks to everyone to have helped me along the way – your encouragement, support and advice have gone a long way!
  • Simon Quick, my coach, for his training, advice and encouragement, and the Quickcycle riders for all the great times on those training rides 
  • Graham Seers and John Beasley for your words of wisdom
  • My manager and work colleagues at the ANZ Bank for supporting my passion   
  • Family, friends and support staff for all your help and encouragement!!

2014 is going to be a huge year ahead - chasing entry into the Asian Cycling Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games! “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, BEGIN IT! Boldness has genius, magic and power in it! (Goethe).” Can’t wait!!