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.
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? :)|