Orange Monkeys at the Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge

Orange Monkey Pro Team headed out for a rumble in the jungle at this year’s Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge, here’s how they got on… 

Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge

As the plane glides seemingly over the Indian ocean and dips beneath the cloud you are suddenly wowed by the tremendous scenery beneath you – no high rises, no smog and no traffic… instead it’s a sparkling blue sea, white sandy beaches and a deep jungle… It must be Langkawi!

When we were offered the opportunity to work with Human Voyage, the promoter of LIMBC we were overjoyed not just at the prospect of helping market this up and coming event but also at taking the team to compete in what turned out to be one of the toughest races they have ever done.

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On arriving you are presented with a wall of humidity, a heat none of us had experienced before but once the body acclimatizes its not so bad.  It’s a beautiful island an hour flight from mainland Malaysia and we were excited to get the race underway.

Before the main stage race there was the “small” matter of the UCI World Marathon Series event, which was being set on the same course they would use for Stage 4 of the event.  This was an ideal opportunity to check out the course, not to mention qualify for the World Marathon Championship in 2014.

Dave had felt sick after the flight from China so decided to skip the race and concentrate on the main event meanwhile Mariske and Ben were hyped and ready for the mud and leeches that the humid jungle had to offer!

Mariske went in all guns blazing and it wasn’t long before she was sitting on the wheel of top 10 World Cup rider, Adelheid Morath.  After holding on for over a lap the elastic finally snapped but the damage had been done and Mariske came home to a 2nd place finish in arguably one of the best results of her career!  The exhaustion all to evident after a race of the extremes.

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Ben started slow and steady with a plan, that plan began to show wise as the race progressed with riders suffering badly over the 3-lap race.  The heat was a big problem soaring at times to well in excess of 35 degrees.  By lap 3 Ben was riding in the top 10 and looking in control and comfortable, which was a rare sight in this race!  A jubilant Ben crossed the line in 8th position giving him a career highlight and a place in the UCI World Marathon Championships in South Africa next year.

After two days rest it was time for LIMBC!  We had been preparing for this race for some time and were so excited to get started.

The night before the race disaster struck!  A midnight phone call from Mariske in severe pain meant a quick rush to hospital.  It turned out the Marathon two days ago had taken there toll and she was suffering from severe exhaustion and dehydration coupled with food poisoning.  Some medication and she was back in the hotel room but we knew that her race might be over before it had even begun.

To our surprise, Mariske strolled down to breakfast kitted up and ready to go, this girl has unbelievable strength in character but we were sure to issue clear instructions of an easy ride!

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The Prologue was a short 2.4km course set next to the beachfront, twisting in and out of the trees, up steps and through sand.  A late downpour of rain had soaked the course and made that bit more interesting, a theme that would become all too familiar.  All three riders had a great start to the race keeping things “safe” as we had discussed the night before.

Stage 1 was the first real test, a 65km Marathon loop on a muddy wet course.  It was some spectacle as the riders left on the neutralized ride to the start surrounded by the sound of police sirens on a rolling escort.  Once the race was underway it seemed like things weren’t quite going to go our way as Dave came into the first tech zone with a front flat.  He had ridden it for 9km and it was remarkable he hadn’t lost more time than he did, after the change he got his game face on and finished 32nd.  Ben finished a strong 35th putting in a good ride.  Mariske showed no signs of illness as she stormed to a 6th place finish riding with the worlds best for most of the day giving her a fantastic opportunity to gun for a top 5 overall in the coming days.

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Stage 2 was a 45km point to point across the island and it belonged to Ben; he had found a rhythm for the long stages and looked remarkably controlled no matter what was thrown up by the elements.  He crossed the line in 18th moving him up to 19th overall!  Dave seemed to be suffering in the heat and after getting some nasty looking blisters on stage 1 the running was agony.  He finished downbeat in 29th and needing something special to get back in contention.  Mariske had her worst day of the race with a 7th but if that were to be the worst then it would be some achievement!  All three riders finished the stage exhausted with Mariske unable to stand such was the level of effort.  This race was getting gruesome!

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Stage 3 would be a re-run of the World Marathon Series course from last week, which was a big advantage for Ben and Mariske, but they knew what was coming… a very hard day on the bike!  Despite all odds Dave pulled himself together, cut, bruised and sore he battled back up the GC with a fantastic 11th place finish showing real determination and strength even after a heavy crash had left him dazed for a good few minutes on the floor.  For Ben it was heartbreak as a small crash had snapped his rear brake lever clean off meaning he only had one brake!  He finished an amazing 45th with no brakes after the pads had worn through completely on his one good brake.  It was remarkable Ben had finished at all but he had lost the time on GC he had been steadily building.  To top the day Mariske arrived with a snapped rail on her saddle but somehow in 5th position!  Our riders were pulling out performances against all odds.

Describing the conditions is difficult, when the rain comes down it is torrential, when the wind blows it is gale force and when the sun comes out it is like a fire breathing dragon!  The riders were going through a set of brake pads a day and breaking equipment for fun… the race is brutal but addictive!  Only the strongest characters make it to the end.

Stage 4 was the last big day and the riders were on their last legs, but it was what they know, a cross-country race!  It wasn’t to be their day though and both Dave and Ben despite there hard fight managed just 21st and 25th respectively, not quite what they were hoping for.  However on reviewing the time on GC it had actually worked out quite well and both riders were now inside the points and in a position to move up on the final day!  Mariske finished 7th, again completely spent with not even the strength to stand but she had (barring a big problem on the final day) secured 5th place overall.

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Stage 5 was pretty much a formality, unless you had a technical issue and then it could change everything.  It was 30mins flat out along a 1.4km course beach side!  It had rained on and off all week but today… it rained… and rained!  The course was flooded and the start time delayed but Mariske was keen to get it started and when the gun went for the final time she did everything right to come round a secure an overall position of 5th.  To think she had been lying on a hospital bed the night before the Prologue it was a special moment and a special result!  Ben had a good ride to secure his overall position riding to 31st and the same position overall, if only for stage 3 maybe things could have been different!  David Fletcher is a world-class bike rider, that there is little doubt – the racing gods were not quite on his side for this one but he showed us a glimpse of what we know is there on the final stage with a 9th place finish just 26 seconds off the win and giving him an overall position of 17th.

Finally the race had come to an end and now it was time to relax and take in the beauty of the island, the leaders jersey’s were dropped in by parachute (not something you see everyday) and the ex-president was in attendance.  Its not just a bike race in Langkawi, it’s a spectacle that brings together a community.  We took some time out to tour the island on scooters before a boat trip to Payer Island for some snorkeling… after event activities like that just don’t happen anywhere else in the world!

The race? It had everything.  From blood sucking leeches to swinging monkeys!  Our riders gave us everything.  Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge is what it says… a challenge.  It pushes the athlete above and beyond but leaves them wanting to come back and do it all over again!

We had a fantastic time, until next year…..

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