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Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge

 TORQ-fuelled Scott UK rider, Mountain bike legend and all round nice guy, Nick Craig, recently headed to Malaysia to take on the Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge; a gruelling 7day stage race. Here is Nick’s report from the race...

You have probably come to expect my race reports at this time of year to involve mud, ice, cold and wet CX conditions. Well, it’s a bit different this time; it is more like sand, sea, sun, jungle and monkeys! I was invited to Langkawi, the beautiful ‘Island of Legends’ off the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia. This place offers just about everything for the adventurous and those seeking major MTB fun in the sun. How could I refuse?  

 The Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge (LIMBC) attracts every level of rider, male or female, the young and not so young, regardless of whether you are amongst the world’s best UCI MTB World Cup regulars or an enthusiastic ‘Weekend Warrior’ looking for the best in experience and adventure – Langkawi is the ideal challenge.

The challenge itself presents an exciting but demanding balance of open and singletrack trails that traverse a multitude of terrains, including rubber plantations, idyllic beaches, paddy fields, mountainous jungle and a 300 million year old rainforest!

Since 2010, LIMBC has made great progress; in the past two years LIMBC has grown from a two-day event to a five-day event in 2011, 2012 brought an extra day with a short opening prologue to ‘gently’ get things underway, followed by longer and more technical stages than previous years, including a roller-coaster 90km marathon through Langkawi’s stunning GeoPark. So, whilst LIMBC 2012 brought a few extra challenges and changes, one thing that we’re pretty sure is unlikely to change is the temperature - which is guaranteed to be HOT & HUMID!

Where did you ride your bike today?

This is how I got on throughout the LIMBC, stage by stage...

Prologue - 2.4km.
This stage was very muddy, just like a good old fashioned CX race, but with a 32 degree heat beating down on the riders! The Prologue is run in time-trial format with the leaders’ jerseys decided for the 1st real stage. I was there with my spark 29er RC 2013 model; If I’d, had my scale with me I would have definitely used it in these conditions. Last year’s winner, Marzio Deho from Italy, was last man off.

I got out third from last, finishing in a time of 5 mins 33 seconds. Marzio only just pips me by 1 second for the jersey, with Antony White, a 24hr solo and enduro specialist from the UK, taking 3rd. Soon after, World Cup rider and fellow SCOTT athlete Florien Vogel, riding for SCOTT Swiss Power, won the elite men’s race in a time of 5:16.

Stage 1 - 68km round the east of the island.

My aim for today was to make sure I didn’t go in to the red.  My concern was that I had only arrived in the hot and very humid conditions 2 days previous. The humidity was between 70 and 90% most of the time. Marzio, wanting to stamp his authority on the race, smashed away as soon as we hit the dirt!  I went after him and rode with him for 2 kilometres but he was pushing too hard for me. I eased back, which takes discipline; this could have been risky but I’m sure I wouldn’t have been racing had I tried to keep the pace.

After about 10km I could see him about 20 seconds ahead and slowing... when I caught him I asked if he is ok - he sits behind me for the next 10km riding along very steadily then, as soon as we hit the next climb, he took off! If you ask me, I’m sure he waited for me, just because he wanted me to know he was stronger, it was old fox against old fox!

 

So, with that clear in his head, he was happy to race alone, safe in the knowledge that he could pull away over the 68km course.  I rode my own pace arriving at the finish 1.57 behind him, happy with that size gap and with the hope that I could get acclimatized soon.

Stage 2 - East to West, Point to Point.

There were only 45km in this stage but some of the toughest terrain I have ever ridden.  The organiser had asked me to look at a climb on the evening of the prologue; It was 25% tarmac into real jungle. It was so muddy that the last 1.6 km were definitely going to be walking, 3 peaks style, but they assured me that the next 15km of jungle would be rideable, so I agreed that the climb should be left in as the alterative was all on the road. Marzio and I rode together for the first 25 km; the start format was as UCI stage race regulations. Elite go first, with the women starting 5 minutes after, then Master Men 10 minutes behind. We have to negotiate past the women - with girls at this level it was funny!  When Lea came back past us on the road, as Marzio and I were playing mind games, Lea shouted “Come on guys, let’s go you pussies!!!!!”.  I felt bad but it was necessary as I knew what we had coming, warning Lea to “relax and recover”. As we hit the climb I expected Marzio to smash it, so I rode hard enough to discourage him. When we hit the dirt I jumped off and did my 3 peaks walking and, sure enough, he didn’t like my walking pace.  At the top I had a gap with the SCOTT Spark 29er to help me descend the 15km of amazing jungle trail but, every time we descended, we seemed to have to walk up some more. Then, out of nowhere, we were hit by a tropical rain storm with rain flooding down the trail!

I finished 4 minutes 20 seconds ahead, taking the stage win, and now leader overall by 2 minutes 20! 

Stage 3 - Marathon stage 2 laps 21.5km (shortened due to excessive rainfall).

Marzio is very strong on the bike but really does not like to walk. The marathon had a 2 km mixed walking/riding climb at the start, So I decided to take advantage of this, pulling 3 minutess in the first 15km and then 7 minutes after the first lap!  Things were looking good for me and, at half way round the final lap, I had a 10minute lead. Marzio is very experienced so I had met my match when it came to clever riding - he pulled 3 minutes out of me in the final 10km!  I won the stage and extended my lead to a very nice 9 minutes 20.


"You don't get Palm Trees in the Three Peaks!"

Stage 4 - Cross country 18.5 km (4 laps)

I led the way on the technical trails - the SCOTT Spark was perfect.  After the first lap I had pulled a 20 second gap, which I held till lap 3. I crashed on the run into the start of the last lap and, as I got up, Marzio caught me, sitting behind me for the first half of the last lap. I anticipated his move on the very steep road section; he smashed up on his big ring, I hoped that he would suffer for his effort on the last climb, as he must have gone in to the red, but he kept it up to take the stage by about 50 seconds.  Marzio showed his class and strength with an impressive finish, giving him 1 minute back.

Stage 5 - Dirt Crit on the beach.

With the Prime Minister of Malaysia present, all the stops were pulled out for the final day racing. Soon into the race it was between Marzio and I. I would have to make a real mess or encounter a mechanical problem to lose the overall. We raced together to the bell; I attacked for the final sprint but could not shake off Marzio. In the sprint he smashed down the finishing straight to take the stage, but to no avail as I won the overall.

Photos: Geoff Waugh, "Another Gold for GB"

After the stage the Prime Minister, Natalie (last year’s women’s race winner) and myself, planted a tree to symbolise the positive impact mountain biking has on the environment in Malaysia.

 

Photo: Geoff Waugh, "Smile"

Thanks to everyone who helped me to archive the win. Special thanks to Marzio for taking it all the way to the end. This old Fox won this time, now to relax.

 
“Aussie Physio Team…”

 

“As promised MONKEYS!”
 Pictures by Geoff Waugh, www.waughphotos.com