Feeling good

Race day jitters and three hours in oppressive heat wasn't enough to stop bob smith from having a great day at the action Asia tai lam reservoir enduro

Iam standing on the start line of the AAE Tai Lam MTB race, nervous energy is building up, already sweating. Adrenalin is running through my veins, the heart rate is high. I have been here before and I know the pain to come. Am I ready? Will my training pay off? Do I have enough water? I look around to see the faces of the other racers, some look nervous, others make jokes to diffuse the tension, but most look like they are in deep thought, asking the same questions I am asking myself. Do I have what it takes to throw myself into three hours of pain and agony that is the hot cauldron of a mountain bike race and come out with a strong solid race?
Bob Smith
One thing an experienced racer goes through before every race is not being fully sure how their performance will go when they are standing on the start line. Some times you feel good at the start but end up crawling to the finish or visa versa, the legs are stiff and wooden only to come to life long into the race.

I had trained hard for this race, after a dismal performance in my last AAE event I was determined to make amends. A week prior to race day I tapered my training and began to hydrate.

The biggest danger we would all face on the day wasn't the rocks, or cars on the road or the other riders crashing in front of you, but the stifling oppressive heat and humidity. If not prepared properly a racer can easily find themselves in big trouble and dropping out of the race. Heat exhaustion or heat stroke is only too real for a competitive event in this kind of weather. So I had my water stores organized at the transition area, iced water for drinking plus additional water to cool my overheating body.

Then suddenly all tension evaporates, we are off, free, legs pumping hard, battling for position and trying to drop in to the pace line behind the lead riders. The first and most difficult climb came right at the beginning on the road and every time up it was a test on the legs. Certainly the first time I went up the climb, side by side with the other lead racers, the legs were screaming in protest, I worried that this was going to be a long painful day. But the good news was I got into the single-track section after the road in about the top 20th position.

I wasn't very far into the dirt section when I recognized that I was riding strong and the legs felt good. Maybe just maybe I was going to have a good race. But hey this was just the start and there was a lot of ground still to cover. I had to force myself to pull back a little bit, knowing that I was going too hard and needed to conserve my energy for the entire race. The intense fast start was behind me and there was no value in going this hard this early.

So I pulled back about 10% and started to crank out a nice, smooth flowing pace, through the sharp turns, loose dirt corners and over the rocks and steps. I pulled air deep into my lungs, took long draws from the cold water in my camelbak and settled in to a steady rhythm. I had already caught and passed a few of the guys who got into the woods before me. I was feeling good!

By the time I reached the end of the first lap I was feeling confident but, in spite of all my efforts I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat. I was on the edge of overheating. At the transition my support staff (my wife) doused me with ice-cold water gave me a fresh camel back and sent me on my way. I could immediately feel the difference in my body as I cooled down a few degrees. It was like a jolt of energy, renewed strength.

The second lap was more of the same as I settled in. Continuing to pass riders and feeling more and more confident on the bike, riding everything the course threw at me both up and down.

But even on the best of days riding a mountain bike there are always perils. I was on the dirt section into the second lap, riding with my friend Cosmo, both of us setting a blistering pace and really feeding off of each other's effort. Well, I tried to go around him to steal the lead when suddenly I caught his bars with mine, taking both of us down in a heap of dust, sweat and blood. I had mistakenly gone out too fast and tried to pass on a section that was way too narrow.

We were completely twisted in our bikes in the middle of the trail having a hard time untangling ourselves from the human and metal knot the crash had created. We finally peeled ourselves up, got back on the bikes and back into the race. But the damage was done. We had probably lost 20-30 seconds plus our rhythm, worse still for me my shifting was now way off and continued to bother me the remainder of the race.

By the time I got to the water dumping station at the falls that HKMBA was supporting I was feeling better and the big splash of water certainly helped tremendously.
Back in action and feeling really strong I approached the end of the second lap I was feeling very confident that I had plenty of gas left to finish the third lap strong and possibly a fourth?

At the transition area my pit crew (yes my wife) changed out the tires, filled the tank up with petrol, washed the windshield and I was off.

There comes a point in every race when you know you have nailed it. Short of a flat or breaking a chain you know the day is yours. It was at this point in the race that I knew I could really push to the finish. I went over the dam, up the road and hit the climb hard. I had it in my mind that I was going to go all out on the road section. From the initial climbs, the modulating flats to the steep, fast down hills. I put my head down shifted up a few gears and just grind out the climbs the flats and then simply bombed the down hill section picking off a few racers on my way.

By the time I got to the trailhead entry I knew that I had the reserve to hammer through every technical section left in the race. There was a Chinese racer in front of me, in my category, who was riding strong on the flat sections but slowed around the corners and over the obstacles. I knew I could take him and knew there was no way he would be able to hang with me on the more difficult sections were I would be able to ride where he walked. So I announced myself, "rider on the left" and passed with authority trying to discourage any counter attack with a demoralizing blast of speed as I went around.
Ahhh, back over the falls and the good folks at HKMBA once again doused me in cool water.

The race 85% complete, the time to drop the jet fuel is at hand. I realize I won't make the cut off for the 4th lap so decide to make a move to catch the few riders that are out in front of me. I really don't know where I am position wise but I do know I probably have a good chance for the podium.

In every race that you do there is always the question if it makes more sense to walk your bike over obstacles or try to ride them. Well there are certainly times in Hong Kong were you simply don't have a choice, but for me I hate to get off the bike and will usually try to ride it all, especially in a race when adrenalin is rushing and chances are taken. So the last bit up the technical climb was a fun and satisfying endeavor as I cleaned every section for the third lap in a row.

With the hills all behind me I dropped a gear and raced to the finish line.

I had the feeling every racer loves, independent of were you place in the standings. I had raced a tough, long race in very hot weather and was able to go strong the entire time. I hammered from beginning to end. I worked hard to prepare for the race, I executed my plan, I rode strong and I finished. It was a good day! I am a mountain bike racer!!!!

Bob Smith the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association Chairman made the podium with a third place finish in his category and eleventh overall for solo riders.


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Steve left, Pedro right

Pedro Pinto Ribeiro Placed second with Steve Coward in the team catagory

What a great day on Sunday! Words can't express how much I missed racing. After all, it was my first competition this year. That explains why some people almost thought it was a mirage when they saw me. From my side, it was definitely great to see again all those familiar faces.

The entry fee was definitely value for money. The volunteers were very friendly and helpful. The course was challenging, testing one's road,
climbing and off-road skills. Good overall organization. Lots of different drinks, something I don't see often at races. One less positive note: from my 1st to my 2nd lap (hence, 1st and 3rd of the team), I came across 10 to 15 gels abandoned on the trail. That MUST
NOT happen!

The weather conditions couldn't be worse. Fortunately, nothing
happened, but I regret to inform that there was a 1200m open water swim race at Hac Sa beach (where "Fernando" restaurant is) on that morning here in Macau and 2 men died. Not because they drowned. Beats me, but the race started at 12h30! Both men collapsed after reaching the beach. One died right there and the other on the way to the hospital. Apologies for the sad story, but the lesson to learn is that we must all know our limits and don't demand from our body more thanit can give us.

Hats off to the winner! Until further notice, he's clearly in a class of his own, but that should give us extra motivation to train harder/smarter to give him some competition next time.

Steve was a great relay partner. Our splits were very similar and that's what a balanced team is all about. The exception is my 2nd lap,but a puncture is the explanation.

Happy rides, all!

Brandon Kirk thoughts on the race


The race started fast, especially considering that we had nearly three hours to go, with the rider right in front of me literally bouncing his rear tire from side to side he was spinning so fast. The road-bikers and fitness freaks dominated the first half of the lap which was on the service road, while the more technically-skilled riders gained some ground around the relatively flat reservoir trail. There were quite a few places where riders needed to dismount, whether to climb steep flights of stairs or slip between metal poles placed across the path by park managers to keep motocross riders out.

All told, the course was more like a hilly cyclocross route with some technical terrain thrown in than a true cross-country mountain bike venue, yet the event still had an adventure race 'feel' to it. Great turnout, punishing workout, especially given the heat, and a lot of fun.



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