Putrajaya is a popular venue for sporting events. Duathlons and triathlons are regularly held in Putrajaya because of the wide and rolling roads, and the easily accessible man-made lake. So it was no surprise to see the announcement of the first Putrajaya century bike ride.
Putrajaya is a visually impressive location. It is only twenty years since construction started on this planned city, which serves as the administrative capital of Malaysia. Buildings are still going up, in a variety of architectural styles.
The ride would start and finish near the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque, also known as the Iron Mosque.
The first kilometer of the ride would be over the Seri Wawasan Bridge.
Less than three kilometers later riders would recross Putrajaya Lake, this time over the Seri Saujana Bridge.
Then over the lake again via the Seri Gemilang Bridge. The lake has a surface area of 650 hectares / 1,606 acres. There are eight major bridges and one pedestrian bridge that cross Putrajaya Lake.
Which is the main approach to the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.
All this in the space of just over 6 km / 4 mi. It should have been a great event.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight the postponement of this event just nine days before it was scheduled to run, was an omen. Then came a very late change to the route. This route map was published in March.
A very different route map was confirmed two days before the event took place.
Instead of a simple figure-of-eight route that would take us to the coast (and ais kacang) and back, the revised route stayed north of the KL International Airport, and crossed over itself a number of times as it wound around Putrajaya.
Again, hindsight is 20:20, but all this should have been an omen that all was not well behind-the-scenes.
Everything started well though. The collection of jerseys and ride numbers was quick and relatively efficient. Although I do think that matching your itinerary number to the appropriate collection desk would not have been so easy in the afternoon, when lots of people would have been there, all pushing to look at the same sheets of paper tacked on the door.
Nine Flipsiders were at the start the following morning.
The ride started bang on time.
Kudos to the organizers for getting the pre-ride briefing out of the way, and ensuring that the VIP was ready to flag us off by 7.00am.
This gentleman deserves a medal just for turning up on an ElliptiGO, let alone trying to cover 160km on one..
We always start at the back of the pack, because a) we aren’t interested in recording fast times, and b) we want to stay out of the way of those who are in it to win it. So we don’t get the benefit of an escort throughout the ride.
Which is usually not an issue, but we don’t normally have courses as complicated as this one was. The marshalls had their work cut out for them, trying to keep all of us on course.
The Flipsiders were still in a group, and feeling relaxed as we spun though Putrajaya.
The weather forecast 12 hours before the ride showed a high chance of rain by noon. As the sky brightened it looked highly unlikely that we would see any rain. Probably because I had packed some rain gear.
Though the sun was still low in the sky and casting long shadows on the road, the temperature was rising steadily.
None of us believed the course elevation published by the organizers. 1,955 meters / 6,414 feet of climbing was overstated. We did climb more than I had anticipated. Lots of short climbs over bridges and overpasses, and the steeper stuff in the middle of the ride, do add up. By the end of the ride we had climbed about 1,200 meters / 3,937 feet.
We had one mechanical between us. Marco hit a pothole after about 25km / 15.5 mi. And a cumulative 250 meters / 820 feet of climbing. I think we were all secretly pleased at the opportunity to catch our breath.
After Marco had fixed his pinch flat, Liang decided that we needed to speed things up a bit. And proceeded to pull us along in the high 30s / low 40s kph for twenty minutes.
We were riding too fast to stop at the first water station at 35km / 21mi. Then we realised that we were near our regular nasi lemak and roti canai stall in Dengkil. Everyone was ready for that break.
Liang stayed at the front of the group when we got going again, though thankfully limiting his pace to the mid 30s kph. By the second water station at 70km / 43.5mi we were hot, and we had climbed 566 meters / 1,857 feet. To get there we had been on a jaunt toward the KL International Airport and through Bandar Baru Salak Tinggi. We needed a short rest and to refill bidons.
The third water station at 105km / 65mi was in Cyberjaya, with Putrajaya to the east, on the other side of the lake. Not only did that station still have water and cold isotonic drinks, there was also a fire engine spraying a mist of water on us as we approached the stop. That felt good. I was sorely tempted to ride back through the spray a second time. Instead I made do with emptying a bottle of water over myself to cool down a bit more. I probably should have sat down for a while, like this gentleman was doing
Did I mention that it was hot? It was very hot. 2 kilometers after that third water station we came upon Shaftsbury Square. Shaftsbury Square is a commercial and residential development in Cyberjaya.
Of interest to Alvin, Liang and I because amongst its many shops at ground level is a 7-Eleven. Which equals cold drinks and air-conditioning. And a place where we could sit while we guzzled our drinks.
By the time we got to the 7-Eleven we had separated from the other Flipsiders. The three of us headed back out into the sun for the last third of the ride. One disadvantage of wide roads with generous sidewalks or motorcycle paths is that there is no shade on the roads themselves. So we slow-roasted.
Things really went pear-shaped for Alvin, Liang, and I at 120km / 74.5mi. What marshalls there had been on the course had long beaten a retreat out of the scorching sun. Without anyone to point us in the right direction, we were relying on the yellow arrows at intersections to stay on course.
Well, either there wasn’t an arrow there, or all three of us didn’t see it. We should have stayed to the right side of the intersection and taken the ramp that looped round and onto the Damansara – Puchong Highway (or LDP) heading south. Instead, we took the ramp to the left that dropped us onto the Damansara – Puchong Highway going north west, i.e. the wrong way.
After we had ridden past three highway off ramps without seeing a yellow arrow, I knew we were in trouble. We were in Puchong, and we were supposed to be in Putrajaya.
It was hot and we were getting tired. Once we realised we were off course we lost interest in getting back onto the route. We just wanted to get back to the finish line in the shortest possible distance.
Waze to the rescue. That app gave us the most direct route back to the finish line. In those final 18km / 11mi we passed many a rider who had also missed a turn and ridden off the course. If I had known this was waiting at the finish line I might have ridden faster.
We ended up riding toward the finish line from the wrong direction. Which sums up the day that many participants had. The official Facebook page for this event is now full of complaints from people who got lost, or got to water stations that had run out of water, or felt short-changed because the length of the ride, even for those who didn’t get lost, was less than 160km.
Others complained that there were no freebies, like a power bar, or a magazine, or a drink, in the event goodie bag. In other words, there wasn’t a goodie bag. The upside of no freebies is that the event jersey does not have any sponsor logos on it. Just a simple graphic of the Seri Wawasan Bridge. Which makes a nice change from the logo-laden jerseys handed out at other century rides.
Apart from getting lost, I had fun. I wasn’t up for complaining. All I wanted to do at the finish was get into the shade, like these folk. Even if it meant standing in the hedges. By the time I got to the finish the fire engine shower had lost its appeal.
Oh, and I had to collect my finisher’s medal.
All nine Flipsiders made it back to the finish line, albeit via varying routes. Leslie was the only one who stayed on course and rode the full route.
Despite the heat and the fact that eight of us got lost, everyone was in pretty good spirits. If nothing else, the challenges of the morning gave us a lot to talk, and laugh, about.
Any day that includes a bike ride with good friends, and ends with yummy food and a nap is a good day!