My riding buddies and I had been looking forward to this ride ever since it was announced. The full length of the Kajang – Seremban Highway (LEKAS Highway) would be closed for the morning so that 1,500 cyclists could ride from the Kajang South toll plaza to the Ampangan toll plaza and back again. As far as I know this was the first time in Malaysia that an entire expressway has been closed for a cycling event.
We drove to the Kajang South toll plaza on Saturday, after our usual morning ride, to pick up our race packs. You could tell that there were some major sponsors involved. Apart from a jersey and bib and bike numbers, our race packs were loaded with goodies.
We got a Tacx bottle. We also got a personalized Touch ‘n Go card. This is a prepaid smart card that can be used as a mode of payment for highway tolls, public transport fares and parking charges. Shimano provided a medical identification card. Ford contributed an annual planner. That Rudy Project 25% discount voucher is already burning a hole in my pocket.
One sign of a well-organized event is the quality of information provided to participants. It was very clear what you could ride in the event, and what you could not.
I’m not sure if it was purely coincidental that Shimano were displaying some of these yellow Di2 demonstration bikes. Perhaps just in case someone thought that only yellow bikes would be allowed.
We were very impressed that the organizers expected to see the winning riders at the finish ninety minutes after that event started. That would require an average speed of a mere 49.3 kph / 30.6 mph.
We started gathering at the parking area behind the Kajang South toll plaza at 5.30am on Sunday morning. Takeaway breakfasts and coffee were consumed while we pulled on jerseys and cycling shoes. At 6.30am we rolled down to the start. Shahfiq, Chris and Mark made up a third of our group.
Shahfiq, Marco (behind Chris’ right shoulder, Chris, Mark (behind Chris’ left shoulder, Raj and I rolling under the start gantry and out on to the course.
Photograph courtesy of Cycling Malaysia Magazine
We headed north from the start at the Kajang South toll plaza to the Kajang South interchange. We looped around the cloverleaf to get to the southbound lanes for the first half of the course.
We had the entire highway to ourselves, but I suppose force of habit kept riders largely on the left side of the road.
Photograph courtesy of Shimano Highway Challenge
We positioned ourselves at the back of the pack to stay out of the way of the elite riders and anyone else who was in the event to race. Once we had a few kilometers under our wheels the pack had thinned out and we had plenty of space. It helps to have three lanes of roadway to play with. It was a gently rolling course, so we were able to keep our speed fairly high.
Except for on the King of the Mountain section, which was a three kilometer climb with about 120 meters / 394 feet of elevation. The payoff was a near 70 kph / 43 mph blast down the other side of the hill.
There was a water stop on the northbound side of the Ampangan toll plaza, just after the midpoint U-turn. We ran into Chean Kye at the stop. He is more of a runner than a cyclist. As you can probably tell by his shoes.
Photograph courtesy of Chean Kye
After regrouping and catching our breath we headed back up the Gunung Mantin-Seremban hill to the Setul toll plaza, which is the highest toll plaza in Malaysia.
From the Setul toll plaza it was another dash down the hill and then over the rolling terrain of the last 20 km / 12 mi or so to the finish.
The weather had been kind to us for most of the morning, staying overcast and relatively cool. The sun did come out toward the end of the ride, raising the temperature. So I was very glad to see this van amongst the tents in the finishing area.
Photo courtesy of Openskies
This brought back memories of my primary and secondary school days, when the Milo van was a fixture at school sports meets. The Milo served this morning was as cold, sweet and thick as I remember. And it still comes in small paper cups. I had ten of them.
Which meant that I was then too full to sample the satay, ice cream and whatever else was on offer in the finishing area.
After guzzling down all that Milo I made my way to the shade of the toll plaza, where the early finishers amongst us waited for the rest of the group. I took advantage of the closed highway and had a bit of a rest on one of the concrete barriers that protects the toll booths from being run into by wayward vehicles.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim
Here is the full crew at the toll plaza after the finish, minus one. Griffin, Chris, Marco, Mark, Raj, Gary, Shahfiq and I.
Photograph courtesy of Shahfiq Abdul Manap
We were missing Azlan, whom we didn’t connect with until after all the photographs had been taken.
Photograph courtesy of Cycling Malaysia Magazine
Shimano, the other sponsors and the organizer, High Velocity Events Sdn. Bhd., put on a fabulous Highway Challenge. Everything from the start to the finish of the event was well thought through and flawlessly executed. A new standard has been set for other cycling event sponsors and organizers.
We all hope that there will be a 2014 edition of the Highway Challenge.