Friday, July 19, 2013

Ascending Fraser's Hill with the JoyRiders - A ride of the Power Meters

Fraser's Hill 19-21 July 2013

Cycling overseas could be rather addictive.
After we did Pengerang, Cameron Highlands, OCBC Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan 160km, we still had plenty of courage to do Fraser''s Hill with the JoyRiders.

Seng Keong, David, Richard, Serene
5am gathered at Newton Imperial

Sarawak mee at Kedai Kai Sing, Gelang Patah
A lot of training on the trainer for myself, and (definitely) more training on the roads with the group have certainly put us in a better state for this trip as compared with our virgin tour up Cameron Highlands.  We have learned to respect the mountains.  We have upgraded our bikes, changed new wheels, re-done our bike fits properly, added in power meters.. in general, made our set up more efficient.

Day One

David & Mah getting their last minute carbo loading
5am at Newton Imperial.  The standard meeting time.
A few overseas ride under our belts still didn't quell the excitement in our hearts.
Joyce planned for a three day tour of Fraser's Hill, and on the second day, an 180km ride including a (not so legal) ascend up to Genting Highlands.  That was supposed to be the really tough one.  We scrutinised previous year's JoyRiders tour on Strava and our only conclusions, after multiple discussions among ourselves, was, this second day was an epic one.

Bikes all nicely stacked up under the coach
The girls act cute - Serene & Joyce
A standard stop at Gelang Patah at Kedai Kai Sing for breakfast, and off we went towards the North-South Highway.
The delicious Nasi Lemak restaurant at Petaling Jaya seemed more standard now.  But still no less enticing to the group.   The boys and girls were more seasoned now.  Shoes and nutritional preparations were well underway even before we arrived.

"Ok, we will get down at this Rest Point to change," instructed Joyce.
All changed.  Some of us bought a few big bottles of water.  Others eased our bowels and bladders.  The atmosphere was jovial.  Even Serene seemed very ready for the day one's climb.

Day one's climb was about 53km, the first 15km a non-stop upslope.
Patrick, Joyce, Serene, Seng Keong, David, Gerard, Kc Tng
enjoying their Petaling Jaya Nasi Lemak

Richard the Power
ready for the climb
Joyce caught me with my
jersey half-open.
"Ok, Hwa," I explained to Serene. "You have trained well.  And you are very ready for this ride. For today's ride all I ask of you is to take it really easy the first 15km of climb.  And conserve your energy.  I will ride with you all the way.  You don't need to worry about the others.  Let them cheong ahead."
As I studied the route for the first day, I saw that the first 15km climb was going to be averaging a gradient of about 4-5%. I was aiming for about one and a half hours to complete that 15km with Serene. That was pretty realistic.  She recently had her full bike fitting done, and she was using Edwin's biek temporary while waiting for her bike to be shipped.  This bike was so much more appropriate for her, and she certainly felt very comfortable.  No longer had she those hand and feet numbness, nor the aches on the arms and the shoulders that was so prominent with her previous bike. 
Patrick all readied.
And her confidence has grown.  Compared with our first ride to Cameron Highlands, she had matured so much in both her pedalling technique and her understanding of bike handling.

Seng Keong just
can't wait
Around noon we arrived at our starting point.  For once, our starting point wasn't at a petrol station but by the side of a quiet road.

Stage One - 53km

Richard, Gerard, David, Patrick, Kc Tng, Seng Keong, Mah Mun Kong, and all the JoyRiders members were off like Jack Rabbits right from the gun.
Thomas & Mah happily smiling away
The weather was kind to us on this day.  And right from the start we already found ourselves gliding smoothing on good roads, with plenty of greenery on both sides.  The last time I remembered Fraser's Hill was really many years ago when I came as a teenager.  And it was with renewed interest that I now cycled up her roads.  The environment hadn't changed. It was still as quiet, a serene and as green as it was.
Little did Serene know
she would do very well
for this first stage.
Somehow, I felt that there was quite a lot of difference between Fraser's Hill and Cameron Highlands.  If Cameron were a harsh elder sister, Fraser's would be her gentler younger sister, much more reserved, and more appealing.
A group shot before setting off
Photo: Joyce

Roll Off! Richard piang right from the start.

Ready to go!
Photo: Joyce
I looked back at Serene constantly.  She was doing good speed so far, averaging about 10-11km/hr on the slopes.  The Glucolin mix in her Camelback kept her well hydrated and surprisingly she didn't complain at all. 
"How? Are you chuan?" I shouted at her from in front.
"Ok.  A little bit.  My heart rate is about 150," replied her.
"That's not bad ah.  We keep a steady pace."
Following the road as it curved left and right, we watched our heart rates.
Serene doing well, keeping a steady pace
& a steady heart rate... right behind me.

The nice, cool mountain road of Fraser's Hill.
Taken as I rode.
I watched my power on the Garmin.  So far so good.  I hadn't needed to breach my FTP.  This round, as I begun to understand the power meter more, I was able to harness the benefits of this wonderful piece of eqjuipment.

For weeks at home, Serene and I had been training on our trainers, me on my Power2Max power meter and her on her Cycleops G3 power meter.  Sufferfest videos and TrainerRoad programs were our weekly companions, in addition to our weekend rides.
Nice, cool stretch of road.
Photo: Joyce

The thing about Functional Threshold Power was, despite my pushing myself, my FTP gain was really pathetic.
"It's like that one ah," explained Gerard. "It's really hard to increase your FTP.  Even as you work hard, it will only increase a little bit, and slowly."
Bo bian.  Whatever little bit of improvement would go a long way in helping our ascend.

I looked at the distance.  It said 10km.  About one hour had passed.  Remembering Joyce's instruction right at the start 'to look out for a sign right at the top, and go straight down, and NOT turn right at the junction', I was on the look out for such a junction.
Jiaklat it was because the boys and girls were way ahead already.
Serene and I took a short rest to gulp our gels and have a few sips.
So far still so good.  I could see in her face that she was beginning to tire, but her conditioning was not bad.  Albeit slow, she could still definitely make if up to to the top.

Some cyclists like to take in the atmosphere and the fresh air around them as they ride, while others need some form of entertainment.  Serene belonged to the latter.  Her MP3 player kept her energy going with her favourite music.  Until she dropped it half way.  Strangely she didn't even remember where she dropped it.  It must be her tiredness that distracted her for the sudden loss of music from the player.

Our new bikes and the new wheels were living up to their names.  And the smoothness was so much more appreciated.  "Wah, the wheels are very good ah," panted Serene. "I can feel the smooth rolling."
And as we spoke, we engaged a rise and there we were, the T junction.

"Shit. Is this the one?" I asked out loud.
The Big McDonalds before the descend.
Photo: Joyce
"You better call the boys and check," suggested Serene, visibly relieved to be at the end of the climb.
My phone strangely couldn't connect.  Calls to Gerard and Joyce didn't get through.
"Ok lah, I think it should be correct to go straight lah."
And we carried on forward.  The road started to slope downwards.  Serene hated downslopes, because she always complained that she feared not being able to pull hard on her brakes and not being able to stop should her speed downwards be too fast.  In my mind, this was a psychological barrier which could only be breached with more training.

Half way through our descend, my phone rang. The signal returned.  It was Gerard.
"Hey, we are all waiting for you at McDonalds.  You just cycle straight down.  Just keep going, and you will see us at McDonalds."  What a reassurance.
Indeed a few kilometres down we came to a huge carpark and a big McDonalds.
Joyce and the fast boys and girls have left much earlier, leaving Gerard, Richard, KC Tng, David, Seng Keong and Patrick waiting for us.
Very happy to have married up with our guys, Serene and I followed them down.

Kc Tng was very good. Jaga the rear all the way down
From this point onwards it was downhill all the way.
The boys were very fast.  They really were enjoying themselves on this ride.  I could see the smiles on their faces.  All their hard works have paid off, and they were reaping the rewards.  I was with Serene at the back again.  And this time, we were very honoured to have Kc Tng with us.
He was leisurely cycling behind Serene, keeping an eye on her as I led the small peloton of us three.

Finally! At the end of Stage one.
Fraser's Hill really had a paucity of vehicles on her roads.  The occasional cars and trucks rolled pass us.  Even as they over took us, the drivers gave us wide berth.  Such tolerant motorists the Malaysians were.  The descend saw slightly rougher roads with some pot holes.  But none as bad as the old Road down from Cameron Highlands a few months back.

I kept looking back at Serene.  She was very funny as she kept shouting 'Mother Mother Mother..' when the downhill became steeper.  Kc Tng kept at her back.  Good fellow, him.

One hour more, and we found ourselves at the foot of the mountain, coming side by side with Ah Yeo the driver and the coach that was parked at the side.
"I did it!!!" a jubilant Serene.
"Ok now you all see that row of shop houses across the road?" pointed Ah Yeo. "Go there and have a bowl of ice kacang.  They are all there."

Wow. Ice kacang at the end of a good ride! Certainly morale boosting.
"Hwa, you did very well today!" I gave her the encouragement.  Her big smile belied her joy in completing Stage 1 of the Tour de Fraser's Hill.  In my heart, I was overjoyed too, for her success was as much hers as it was mine.

Walking to our resort rooms.

A Jubilant Serene.

The resort that we spent the night was a quaint little one.  Quiet and simple, with slightly erratic air conditioning.  Dinner was also nice local fare in one of the small road side restaurant.  Trust Joyce to bring us to delightful little local restaurants for our meals.
The boys and girls were in high spirits.  And sleep came easy that night.

The boys and girl in very high spirit going for dinner


Here is the Strava for Stage one (Day one)

Tour De Fraser's Stage 1 

Day two
We woke up and gathered just at the front courtyard of our resort at 5:30am.  In the pitch darkness, we got ready for the real challenge of the Tour.  Serene completed her Stage 1, and her job was done for this trip.  And on this day, she was the soigneur for the team.

Kc Tng knows all his months of training
boils down to this.
Richard getting his tyres pumped up
in anticipation of a tough ride.

We rolled off from the resort and turned left downwards.  Wow, the guys and girls were fast right out this morning.  Turned left, then turned right and then turned left again.. the peloton stayed very tight.  I really didn't know where we were heading towards.  But the front cyclist knew and I just needed to follow.  The coach followed close behind.
As dawn broke, the first light showed our path.  We were passing through small towns in the coldness of the morning.  From behind, I could see the few Ang Mohs pulling the peloton. 
We did about 20km.
Joyce directed the peloton.  "Look for a petrol station to give ourselves a little rest," she instructed.  And the front boys found a petrol station and we had a toilet break and a makan break.  Someone was lagging a little behind the main peloton, and we waited for a while.

Ang Moh 1 a powerful rider.
The boys ready to ROLL!
Patrick & I trying to grow some palm trees.
Joyce launched the peloton into another blazing speed after the rest.  I looked at the speed.  It was averaging 30+km/h. 
"Wow, so fast." I thought to myself.
Richard, David, Gerard, Kc Tng were all in front and I was pushing hard to keep up.  The road right after the petrol station toilet break was flat thus far.  It would lead us another 40km to another rest point.

60km mark
We came to a T junction and there was a small road that turned left from the main one.  Right at this turn, our coach was awaiting.  I rolled into the side and could see some of the boys were already getting themselves readied for the next stretch, topping up bottles, pumping up tyres, taking a leak at the side bushes.

"From here, it will be a short 10km of straight road followed by a 30km of non-stop uphill climb," Ah Yeo informed us.
Readied, the peloton moved out again.  By now all the thighs were warmed up sufficiently and energies replenished adequately.  And boy, did the peloton sped again!
Almost arriving to the petrol station the rest point.

"Wah lau eh.. they are siao one ah!" I remember thinking to myself as I panted.
Right from the word go, the peloton split into two.  The very fast Pinoys and Ang Mohs were right in front, sucking Joyce and Gerard with them.
The second train saw myself, David, Kc Tng and Patrick trying our hardest to keep the front train in sight, albeit not very successfully because very soon we lost them.
Piang! Right from the start after
the petrol station.
At this point, the road became a little rolling.  We could sense that it was a prelude to the climb up to Fraser's Hill proper.  The road was literally empty of motor vehicles, and we had the whole tarmac to ourselves.
The left turn into the road proper going
up Fraser's Hill. A rest for top ups.
Soon I found myself cycling together with David and Kc Tng, with Patrick a short distance just behind us.
"Wah they all so fast in front," said David.
And off we went speeding up to Fraser's Hill.
Really, they were too fast already.  My instinct told me I really had to conserve.  I could not afford to chase, for if I did, I would hit the wall before even hitting the midway up.
The three of us mounted a rise, and as we descended, I saw a long long downward slope.
I shouted to Kc Tng and David as I cheonged passed them: "Don't free wheel as we go downhill, continue pedalling to gain the momentum to catch up..."
David: "Gerard said one ah...?"
Me: "Yeah, he said one..."
And off I went pedalling non-stop as I descended, keeping an eye on my power, maintaining a figure of about 130W-150W as I descended.  The strategy of using the power on such a rolling terrain was to keep one's power at 120% of FTP as one climbs, and to maintain 80% FTP as one descends.  This was critical in not over-expanding one's energy.

Me cycling with Kc Tng and David.

I was delighted to see Gerard in the distance as I crested another roll.  The sun had risen higher and I could see plantations on either side of the road.  But being botanically naive, I couldn't tell what trees those were.  A few children were running along the road side just outside their houses.  The sleepy small town was just beginning to wake up.  Gerard had just returned from a trip overseas, and he wasn't in his peak form.  That was certainly the reason why I was catching up with him on this day, about 68km into the ride.

Gerard and I enjoying a romantic ride.

He just can't get enough of shooting me.

I rode alongside him after a few more rolls.
"Hey Gerard!" I called out.
"Hey," replied the man. "Wow, I am so glad to see you.  It was kind of getting lonely cycling here on my own."
Yah, I am sure it was.  I remembered his words exactly because it struck me as very true on that morning, as he cycled alone along that long road.  Well, we might as well stick to each other for the rest of the ride.
Fraser's Hill revealed her innermost character from this point onwards.  On her quiet roads, she provided a much-welcomed shade with her abundant trees forming a canopy above the riders.  The crickets announcing our arrival from their hiding on the sides of the road, the freshness of the mountain air, the quietness of the surrounding, all made for a very very pleasant ride.
I stole a glance at the altimeter reading.  It said 100m.  I made a mental note.

I have never ridden on any other more pleasant roads.  And I was enjoying every moment of it.  Had Gerard been a beautiful young lady, it would have made it a perfect romantic ride.  But alas, he wasn't.  But that didn't make the ride any less enjoyable, for we started chit chatting as the gradient picked up.  We finally started our ascent.  The mountain dished out gradients of around 3-6%, not that bad, but unlike Cameron, Fraser's slopes were unrelenting, presenting no straight flats on this continuous 30km of climb.
Ok we have arrived here. Another 8km more to go.
I was looking carefully at my power meter readings, and was trying to keep my power around 170-180W.  I was sure Gerard was looking carefully at his power too.  We started chatting about our childhood visits to Fraser's Hill, and times of old, and laughing away. 
"Wow, this ride is quite comfortable.  My heart rate is not high at all," remarked Gerard.
"Yah, mine too.  It's around 150/min." said me.  Well, 150/min for myself was quite a comfortable tempo zone.
Mountain climbing on a bike was like this.  One had to get into a rhythm. And once you were in the rhythm, you just kept moving.  Some coaches recommend changing muscle groups once in a while by cycling out of saddle.  Others recommend sitting upright, with hands on the handle bar instead of the hood, to engage the bigger muscle groups, namely the gluteus.
Joyce and the fast boys rolling off towards Genting...
while we still attempt to engage Fraser's Hill
All I knew was, on this morning, I had had one of the most comfortable climbs.

We were talking when somewhere into the climb, David came zooming from behind us.
"Wow! David is so fast!" exclaimed Gerard.
"Yah, wow.. Hello, David!" I called out.  David acknowledged and continued speeding up the slope.  This David really is not called King Of Mountain for nothing.  His ideal weight and FTP/weight ratio made him a very good climber.
Before long we were caught up by Kc Tng and Patrick.
"Hello!" we called out.
And they waved back.  I was sure they were enjoying this climb as much as us.

The four of us cycled together for a short while.  And then I began to sense Gerard upping the pace.
"See Da Bor," I though to myself. "Why suddenly increase speed?"
I sense a wicked smile on his face, and increased my power to cycled after him.  I looked back and saw Kc Tng and Patrick steadily pulling each other.
Very soon, we came to David.  "Hello, David." we call out again.
"How far more to go ah?" asked David.
"Erm.. about 30km." hazarded Gerard.
"HUH!?!?" exclaimed the panting KOM.
This Gerard ah, really naughty.  He was really pulling David's leg here.  Another wicked smile on his face.
Our speed was around 15-17km/hr now.  And we maintained that for the whole stretch. Up and up and up we went.  The altimeter reading rose from 300m, to 500m to 700m.  I kept calling out the altitude to Gerard as we continued.
The right way to the top.
And then the 30km ended.  We reached an open stretch with the words 'FRASER'S HILL' at the side of the mountain, and Serene, Ah Yeo and our coach parked right there.
The several Ang Mohs, that China boy, and the Pinoys had already cycled all the way to the top of Fraser's Hill and had come right back down, ready to continue their journey to Genting Highlands.
Ang Moh number 2 came to us.  "Wow! This last part is the REAL stuff!" he shouted in exhilaration.

"How, Joyce, can we go to the top?" asked Gerard.
The last stretch up to Fraser's Hill ~ one way lane.
"Yeah, you can. But you must try to catch up with us because we are moving forward already," a worried Joyce instructed.

Half way through the last stretch, we
rested our machines while we ease
our own thighcramps.

Me: "So how, Gerard? We go up or not?"
Gerard: "Of course lah. We came all the way here, must go up mah, right?"
Indeed.  But we still had an even tougher climb ahead, which was Genting Highlands.  We just got to conserve.

The sign pointed right to the road to the top.  It was to be a 9km climb all the way up.
"Let's go!' cried Ah Tan.  And we went.

One more km left.
Yours truly on the last stretch.
Photo: Gerard Tan.
The road up became much more narrow as it merged into a single lane.  Oldish stone markers on the left indicated the distances remaining to the top.  There wasn't any noise apart from the crickets and the squeaking of our bikes.  It was just that - silence.  Broken only by the occasional car driving up.  the altimeter continued climbing - 900m, 1000m... and we took turns pulling, not so much for the drafting effect, but more so for the encouragement of having someone lead in front.  This stretch was definitely more demanding.  And our speed slowed to a crawl at 6-7km/hr.
You shoot me and I shoot you.
Photo: Gerard Tan.
Half way through, we rested at the side for a breather.
'Wah lau.. I am really out of conditioning," said Gerard.
"Haha.. you? Out of conditioning?" I laughed in disbelief.  Actually he was right. In better form he would have burnt rubber along these climbs.  But today, I was fortunate to be able to follow closely behind.

Me at the top of Fraser's.
Photo: Gerard.
1km left, announced the road marker.
A sharp right turn and a painfully slow grind up a steep part, and the small township open up in front of us.  Finally, we have arrived! At 1100m altitude, the air was cold.  Houses of a distinct European flavour lined the road, and Victorian street lamps

and a town centre clock stood proudly announcing our destination.  There were ladies in hats and families strolling leisurely, enjoying the famous landmark.  We tried calling Serene to let her know that we have touched the top and will be coming down soon.  But again, the phone signals failed us.
The 11km back down to where 'FRASER'S HILL' was, was pure adrenaline.  I should have known.  Mr Yellow Jersey gave no chance for me to slacken and we chased all the way down hairpins and some pot holes at breakneck speed.
By the time we came back down.  Every one was gone, even the coach.

"We need to catch up with them."
"Ok, let's give Serene a call again to let them know that we will be coming from behind."
The two bicycles up on Fraser's Hill top.

Trying to call Serene..
but no signal
The next 20km saw us chasing the main body along typical downslope hairpins of uneven road surfaces.  The wind tore at us.  And my hands were cramp from constant braking.  It was exciting.  We came to the small town at the foot of Fraser's.
"Hey, I think we missed a turn just now," declared Gerard.
"Huh? A turn? How do you know?" I asked.
"Yeah, because Joyce said we got to turn left to meet at a road side restaurant ah."

Somehow his sense of direction was perfect.  And a couple of hundred metres into the turn we saw our coach parked at the side and Richard, Seng Keong, Kc Tng, Patrick, David and Serene seated at the kopi tiam, waiting for their food and drinks to arrive.
The Ang Mohs, the Pinoys and the China boy had gone off earlier towards Genting Highlands.

The kopi tiam where Exercise was
called cut.
"Oh! Exercise cut liao leh!!!"
It was 3pm already.  And we had another 20km more to go.  And all were beginning to show signs of tiring.  I dared not think of the last leg.  And then suddenly Joyce came and called for Exercise Cut.

"Huh? Exercise cut?" wondered David.
"Alamak, like that we should have done that last 8km up to the top of Fraser's, had we known that we would cut exercise here.  Haiyah.. now I have unfinished business at Fraser's Hill liao, hahaha.." laughed David.

And it was later that we learned that the three powerful Pinoys were the only ones who managed to out-smart and out-run the Police at the two guard post up the road to Genting Highlands to make it to the top.  Genting Highlands was notoriously one of the toughest mountain to cycle up in Asia.  And they did it with such ease.  These guys were truly power horses.

Our room
Thus, a slightly truncated Stage 2 of Tour de Fraser's ended.  Retiring to our rooms that night, I could feel the aches and strain on my thigh muscles.  Man, this day had taken a toll on me.   But I was glad I did it.
Lesson learn for this day?
When it comes to mountain climbing, do not speed and do not over-run your power threshold.  Keep a close watch on your power, and try to develop a rhythm as early as possible.  And enjoy the climb.

Here is my Strava for the second day:
Strava for Stage Two

Day 3
This was the last stage and another short 50km ride.
On this day, Joyce gave us the reward in a reverse manner by bringing us for a nice breakfast down in town first before we started.

Group photo before the start of Stage 3
Photo: Joyce

Our starting point was back at the Ice Kacang store on the first day, as today's route was a total reverse of the first day's.
The peloton set off at a breakneck speed (again!) and Constance was among the leaders.
Kc Tng nice and full after breakfast.
Mee for breakfast.
"Very fast.  In fact too fast," I kao-beh kao-boo-ed inside my heart.  No matter how I pushed I simply couldn't catch up with the front train yet again.  On this day, Richard, Seng Keong, Kc Tng, Patrick and I were closely cycling together.  Very soon we started the long climb up.  On this day, it seemed that the boys had realised the importance of their power meter and had gained some realisation on how to use them, for every one was watching his power like a hawk!
And today we all did very well, steadily climbing, and finding ourselves in so much better a state as compared with the day before.

In the reverse direction, we came to the McDonalds at the 35km mark.
And we took a rest just beside our coach parked just there.
Trying to fix my chainring
Photo: Joyce
At this point in time my front chainring got jammed.  It was stuck in the smaller (lighter) chainring and could not be shifted.  Jiaklat.  An attempt to fix it failed.
But thankfully it was suitable for the climb.  But when it came to the downhill later, I would not have the luxury of pedalling but had to free wheel down.  

Yours truly at the waterfall.
Shot by Gerard Tan.
Joyce said to all: "Ok, from here we have one last climb about 500m.  But it's the steepest. You all will hit about 11% and more along this stretch, but climb steadily. After that it will be downhill all the way."
Gingerly we set out.  And we huffed and puffed that last steep stretch to the top.
At McDonalds.. ready for the
last climb.
Downhill came and I free-wheeled down, trying to follow closely behind Richard.  But this Richard was too fast for me.  In cycling, there were strong climbers and there were strong descenders.  Richard was both.  When he descends, he really flew.  And nothing I could do could bring me a step closer.
In the end I gave up, and simply took my time to come down.
Soon, the 15km of descent petered out and we found ourselves beside our coach again.
And this time round, the exercise ended. For real.

A nice three-stage tour of Fraser's Hill ended on a high note.

We all learned so much on this trip.  Not only did we consolidate our understanding of mountain climbing, particularly on tackling rolling hills, we had also reinforced the importance of keeping our power in check when it came to climbing.  And we understood that in cycling up mountains, it had to be a slow and steady process.   Speeding up mountains was probably only meant for professional competitors and for those who were really powerful.

click on the following for my Strava...
My Strava for Stage 3