2009 GereXC Merdeka Criterium
Sunday, 16 August 2009, Kota Damansara
report by Darren Lee / photos by Gafino Arshad

I can't say I'm terribly fond of criteriums. You see, my first ever race was a crit, and I finished --dead-- last. In fact, by the last lap the leaders were already closing down on me, and had the race lasted another lap, I would have been overtaken and disqualified. Of course, I could console myself by saying technically, since a few fellas dropped out I wasn't really last, but hey, who was I kidding but myself right?

Amazingly, I have not raced a criterium since then, doing only road races and individual time trials. Maybe it's the "psychological barrier" arising from the first race, or maybe it was the fact that most criteriums were on the day after road races, when I was too smashed up from the road race to even consider the crits. Whatever it was, apprehension gripped me when I learned that my old buddy Gafino had "more or less" registered me for the Merdeka Criterium in Kota Damansara. Eh, how's that for my first race in almost exactly 2 years? And this coming after a few weeks outstation in Perlis, gorging myself on cempedak (every day) and rich seafood (once every two days) ...

After my outstation trip I had a few days of "panic training" - not that it would help a great deal, but at least I had to do something. I found myself huffing and puffing even over the most mundane of highway ramps. And things didn't go too well when on Saturday I broke my chain while in the middle of nowhere. I have to say, I was fortunate that only the rim had a small gouge and the bike (and me) was spared. And I was also grateful to the chap who happened to have a chain tool with him. Otherwise, it was going to be a long 50km walk back ...

On the morning of the race I was having breakfast outside when I heard a "pfffftttt" ... the sound every cyclist dreads. My rear tyre went flat - great timing huh. An urgent call to Gaf and soon I was in his car back to my home to grab the training wheel.

I snuck under the "under-35" category hoping to escape the big guns who usually dominate the "Open" category. In the end the organisers announced that the under-35s and Open would ride together. Hmm, no escape then!

(Above) You know the pros often say, "it feels good to pin on a race number again" - yes it does feel good (but only the act of pinning on a number, not the suffering the comes later .... )

(Above) Gaf gets help from wife Yati.

Given my condition and the inherent nature of crits, I had only two simple objectives. Firstly, don't crash. Secondly, don't finish last.

(Above) Smile and say, 'R' U Moving?

(Above) TheDuh's bike ready for action. Note the dirty grimy handlebar tape from fixing a snapped chain by the side of the road the day before. Yes it was pretty gross.

Gaf went first for the over-35 race, and I sat by the side to watch. Time to snap some pictures then:

(Above) In this photo you can see Gaf in the cr jersey, in front of the guy in the red jersey.

He did well, finishing with the main group, although somehow the organisers snuffed things up; apparently the laps to ride were changed to 10 (from seven) at the last minute and Gaf only did eight before the race was stopped. Not an entirely satisfying ending. One lap was 2.8km long.

Soon I was on the start line for my turn, and off we go. I say a little prayer for safety.

(Above) That's me in the middle.

I took the wheel of Danny Feng, knowing that he was one of the strongest riders (he finished third) and I could do worse than follow him. However I started to wonder why was he lounging around in the middle of the pack. Maybe recalibrating things after doing the over-35 race as well. On lap 2 he and a few others made a move off the front and the main group, which I was in, settled into a steady average of 37km/h. By then we were shedding riders.

I honestly was struggling for the first three or four laps, but after that I felt pretty okay. The race remained eventful, though. I almost crashed after clipping my front wheel on someone's rear. I guess in a crit there's a fine line between holding or fighting for your position and riding recklessly. I saw the latter in many of the younger riders who would swerve around dangerously. One of these maneouvres would have serious consequences towards the end.

(Above) Me again, fourth from front.

By the eighth lap I was confident of finishing in my group (and we were still riding for fifth position), although I probably wouldn't have stood a chance in the sprint. Things were going well when suddenly a horrific accident happened RIGHT in front of me. Two kids fell and the guy in front of me literally ran over the kid's head with his front wheel. Readers, it was so gruesome. And I thought those bike crashes we see on TV were bad. Since the poor kid was lying in front me (I had stopped in time, otherwise I would've ridden over his head too), I wondered whether I should stop and help. A policeman happened to be stationed there and I heard him radio for immediate help. One final look - ok the kid was still alive - so I inched my way past and continued, although by then the pack was some distance off and try as I did, I failed to catch on back.

Soon I picked up a few other guys and together we rode a decent pace over the final two laps. We exchanged drinks and engaged in a bit of handshaking and smiling as we cruised past the finish line ... hey, why sprint for 25th placing or something like that huh?

So, I didn't crash (I was very, very fortunate not to), and I didn't finish last. Phew, objectives achieved. After a drink with Gaf and family I decide to take the long way home. Bad move, halfway through I ran out of water, bonked badly, and found myself crawling home in the mid-day sun. Quite a way to end the day huh!

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