Cyclists rules the day on Lekas for Shimano Highway Challenge
Cycling on a closed-off highway was more fun than I had expected, with throngs of other cyclists in yet another fellowship on two wheels.
Thick black clouds hovering above the starting line of the Kajang Selatan Toll Plaza of the Lekas Highway threatened to dampened the exuberance, just as morning greetings were being exchanged.
Throngs of cycling enthusiasts had gathered with their lightest and fastest road bicycles, while some others brought their mountain bikes, surprisingly out-numbered by the sheer number of foldies (aka foldable bicycles).
The countdown trickled down and we rolled off after a self-seeding start where you rank yourself based on how quickly you will finish the ride. Inadvertently, I found myself in the 3-4hour pen. Oh well, it’s going to be a fun ride anyway. The ones racing to the finish line had taken off some 10 minutes ahead of us.
The ride started on a decline slope which added to the exhilaration right from the start. It was quite a thrill to cycle through the ‘Smart Tag’ lanes at the toll plazas, which you would usually only be able to do in a car.
As this was the more ‘relaxed’ group of cyclists, the morning salutations and greetings continued amongst friends reuniting at this unique cycling event of the year held on the Lekas highway which plies from Kajang to Seremban. Indeed, with 40 kilometers of road cordoned off from all other vehicles, cyclists were free to ride on all three lanes without fear.
It was heartening to observe, that most cyclists chose to ride on the left and middle lanes, leaving the right lane open to other cyclists overtaking. I have not driven on this highway before much less cycle, therefore the route will definitely be a surprise.
The weather gods blew the dark clouds away and blessed us with a beautiful sunrise over Nilai town as we cycled past this misty morning. The entire highway beckoned with undulating slopes which took a toll before the ‘King of Mountain’ section even began. Relentlessly, the slopes seemed unending and the chatting soon turned to huffing and puffing.
Finally, as we took our final bow with the King of the Mountain at the crest, we were rewarded with an extremely long downhill section coasting at speeds of 60-70km/h effortlessly pass Mantin town. It was sheer bliss!
Not far from the mid-way point, we saw the first trio of the racing pack on the opposite side of the highway as they had made the U-turn. The other chasing pelotons were a good distance further behind them.
At this point, I turned to a fellow cyclist beside me and revealed my sneaky plan of prematurely ending this ride to cut short all the hills we’ve had to ride through.
“Now I can safely fake a puncture, carry my bike across the highway, continue riding on the other side for a short-cut and beat everyone to the Satay buffet”, I said jokingly.
In this event, I was most apprehensive about was the U-turn section at the mid-way point. Pelotons riding at racing speeds would be at the greatest risk of crashes. In view of this, the organisers showed good organising skills when they had placed the U-turn beyond the Ampangan exit at an uphill slope which meant all riders would have to slow down automatically.
Just as I had found my rhythm and settled into a sweet spot, I wasn’t tempted to stop at the water station after the U-turn. With beautiful overcast skies overhead blessing us with cool temperatures the entire morning, it was indeed a joy to ride on despite knowing that we had to climb the same hills we had just descended on. Just put the metal to the pedal as we soldier on, with a liberating feeling on two wheels.
As I passed a fellow cyclist whom stopped to grab a bite under an overhead bridge, suddenly he reminded me that I did’t pack breakfast on-the-go. Hunger kept knocking at my mental barrier doors and drained my energy tanks. Sneakily, I slipped into the streams of passing cyclists to draft behind them and conserve some energy. Some guys were even gracious enough to search their pockets only to offer me their power gels. Desperate as I was, I had to decline the idea of slime for breakfast.
Not having cycled solo at an event for a long while now, it made me miss the company of my loyal domestique, Richard whom had to play the role of support for me today. Oh, how the tide has changed. I’m sure he’d have pack a surprise breakfast on the go for me at this point.
The ’10km to go’ signboard gave us false hopes when we really had 13km to go and I could’ve sued it in a pretentious Court of Liars. I entertained all sorts of mind games while trying to keep myself from fainting from fading energy levels.
Within the next 5 kilometers, I met a fellow cyclist whom was also tiring. We tried to encourage each other when another cyclist rode passed us on a foldie. We both hung our heads in shame but tried as we could, we could not muster enough energy to give chase. The volunteers marshalling were still full of energy and cheered us on and I rode pass thanking them for sacrificing their Sunday morning.
Remembering we enjoyed a downhill slope at the start, unfortunately this translated to a slight uphill slope to the finish line. As the distance trickled down to mere hundreds, I gave everything for that one last shot to the finish line at 78 kilometers.
The carnival at the finish line was abuzz with officials, family and friends of the 2137 cyclists whom had showed up for support. The prize presentation was underway and a lucky draw soon followed, as I made a beeline for the Milo van to claim my coveted ‘prize’ of the day.
In a nutshell, the event was a resounding success with signage well placed, energetic marshalls, a bountiful buffet spread of Satay Kajang, ice cream, fruits and Milo at the carnival. I was most impressed to see a mobile medical personnel on a motorbike, plying the route, ready to respond should the need arise. Sponsors Shimano had a technical booth providing neutral bike service the day before the event, while Polygon and other sponsor brands also displayed their latest products. I’m already looking forward to the next edition in yet another fellowship on two wheels.