Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kuantan Century Ride 2014

... of Great Food, Superb Hospitality, Inspiring Company... but still of Suffering for me, for being outta action for two months!

31st May 2014
"Those of you who don't want to have your bicycles stacked in the spare luggage compartment, please arrive early," instructed GTravel boss.
That was the instruction given that prompted the whole group of 27 of us to gather in the carpark at West Coast McDonalds at before 5am on this morning.  Our coach was already waiting for us, as was the driver who stood one side rooted to the ground while evoLV members busied themselves stacking the 22 bicycles.
Darric and Mah doing their best in squeezing the 22 bicycles into the luggage compartment.

This was the second time the group of us participated in the annual Kuantan Century Ride.  It was very encouraging to see not only cyclists from last year, but also new cyclists who were taking to the Kuantan roads for the very first time.

Mike Ho very excited about going back to Hometown.

Moo Kwang beaming for he had his wifey support for his
very first attempt at the Kuantan Century.
Almeric's reputation preceded him.. a most powerful rider.

The specialty of GTravel was that it was always well-supported with food at every point of the tour,  feasts in restaurants, and upon special requests, durian party pre-event day. These were all the highlights.  Of course, this tour company's boss Mr G Tan, being a medical doctor, always ensured that each departure was fully equipped with a complete medical support team.
Serene woke up at 3am this morning to make sure all her pies were nicely heated up.
With a weighted Average power of 190W, Darric was really
happy to have food, food and more food.
Deserving of special mention, were the mini cupcakes baked by Celia and carried by Alex.  No wonder thumbs-ups abound in the coach on this early morning.

"Ok, we are making good time," announced Gerard. "In a while's time we will be arriving at Gelang Patah for our customary breakfast stop."

Breakfast at Gelang Patah
Kedai Kai Sing (probably an investment by one of our esteemed members, KS) was ready to fill up our stomachs this morning.  But sadly, the stall owners of Sarawak Mee and one more stall next to it were not working that morning, perhaps they were participating in the Kuantan Century Ride too.  We were very happy to meet up with our JoyRiders friends - Sean, and Ang Moh one and Ang Moh two at Gelang Patah, and some of the West Coast Riders.

The Boss of GTravel seemed somwehat pre-occupied. Maybe he was
longing for the Sarawak mee, but ended up with dark Chai-Tow-Kuay instead.

Monster Cheah doing his carbo-loading with Darric & Jeral. Maybe Jeral
should have ordered one more plate here to ensure sufficient nutrition.

The 1.25 train here.  But that Classic Megawatt pose still must belong to
Mdm Celia Seow.

 "The Boss of the coach company asked the driver to go by the old road up to Mersing instead of the Highway," remarked Gerard earlier.
This was probably good as we arrived at Mersing very early. To be exact, at 9:30am in the morning.
Mersing! Too bad we weren't going to fish here but merely passing through.
Our guide gave us a toilet break here.  And we all ended up queuing up for a single toilet at the petrol station.  Aside from the highlight of this break, which was for bladder decompression, who could forget the fact that Ann Kheen started the whole chain reaction of Magnum frenzy.  Especially when Mah said that a S$4 Magnum ice cream cost only RM4 here.... half the price!  Thus even for one who was not into ice cream, I bought a couple each for myself and Serene.
Some of us who couldn't tahan their full bladders, attempted the impossible by venturing to the back of the petrol station...
Monster Cheah Wai Kit was already aiming zhun zhun at his FTP even before the ride started.
While most of us waited for our turns to pee, some of our more patient members entertained our tour guide who turned out to be quite a historian cum geographic expert cum war-time expert cum urban development specialist cum... the list went on and on.

... a talent that extended from off-the-bus to on-the-bus... much to our delight.
... and we were so impressed by our Big Time Officer's familiarity with everything related to durians and fishing...
No durian trees could escape the sharp eyes of Chris Soh.
 And as we approached our destination, Gerard made a most apt remark about the group...

Rompin.. and finally Kuantan!

We arrived at Rompin at 12:20pm. 
And about 50 minutes later, we drew into the city of Kuantan passing through the famous Kuantan bridge... and found ourselves smack right in the middle of the noon-time traffic.  The heat of the noon already started beating down on us, palpable even through the air-conditioning of the coach.  We were left wondering how tomorrow would feel when we would be exposed to the elements without cover, and suffering from exhaustion.

Collecting the Race Kit & Briefing at MS Garden Hotel
"So how ah?" wondered the Tour Boss. "Shall we go for lunch first then collect the race kits? Or go collect and attend the briefing first?"
In the end we went collecting first.  It was sheer nostalgia walking up the sloping road to MS Garden.  It felt like it was only yesterday when we blur blur walked up the same road last year, only to suffer the heat the next day.
Mah, Seng Keong, Ann Kheen and Alan enjoying the midday sun in Kuantan.

And who came out welcoming us but our very own Chef Francis!  While KC Tng went queuing up for our race tags, Francis organised the collection of our race packs and jerseys.
... this year, the guys were so well-organised. I only turned around for a minute or so, and the packs were already being distributed.
Alex looked like he was telling David: "Please don't go too fast tomorrow. Remember to wait for us..." LOL...
This year's jersey was really nice - a combination of blue and yellow.

... and the sisterly-love shone through with the big sister reminding the young brother on the do's and dont's...  Not sure if the younger sibling really remembered to apply sun-block all over the exposed parts of his body or not...

Pre-Event Briefing
We were lucky.  The next briefing was at 2pm, just a few tens of minutes away.  Vincent must have been really hungry for he trotted down to the cafe in the hotel for his lunch.  The rest of us just loitered around, looking for T-shirts, bibs, memorabilia to buy.

"The Race Briefing is very important," said Gerard. "They will usually give you instructions, and warnings about road conditions, as well as some details of the ride."
Wai Kit very very good. He had already planned out his strategy.
The lovely couple Alex and Celia just couldn't wait for the briefing to start.

Doing the Classic 'Celia Seow' pose.
This year, the briefing was conducted just beside the pack-collection area.  Much more convenient than the previous year.  And the whole Team  evoLV just plonked ourselves onto the empty seats and we literally filled up the whole place.

The boys were all eagerly awaiting the reportedly highly-entertaining briefing.

Out of a sudden, the speaker appeared on the stage.. and started giving advice.

Finally, Dr Jamal, the official organiser, emerges to give yet another most entertaining briefings in the cycling world... certainly much much more entertaining than the one at Tour de Bintan.  This Dr Jamal has lost so much weight since we last saw him in June 2013.  He must have done the Kuantan Century many times in preparation for this yearly event.

"This is the EASIEST Kuantan Century Ride... Ever!" he said. "The slopes? They are nothing. Really.  You must believe me. We rode them a few times and they were really nothing.  Remember, this is not a race, although those riders in front may not believe so."

I forgotten how much I enjoyed his humorous speech.  Time and again, he made us laugh our a** off, while constantly punching through the take home message, which was to be careful at all times, and follow the traffic lights.  Briefings like these were indeed important as he would point out the couple of road hazards.
The humorous Dr Jamal and Team evoLV.
[Photo: permission from Cycling Malaysia Magazine]

I studied the Mapometer map of the route for this year and compared with that of the previous year, and I agreed with Dr Jamal that this year's ride was really tame in terms of hill.  In fact, looking at the map, there wasn't even a KOM this year, while last year our poor Serene had to grind her way up TWO KOM's!

Click on the map above, and Enlarge it further to see it in better details.

Lunch in the MegaMall next door...

Again and again, I noticed that the Bianchi boys have a affinity for anything that is Celeste in colour.. Bike, helmet, socks, jerseys, T-shits, handphone covers, wrist bands.. underwears... They are really a very artsy bunch of fellows...
Very clever lah, this Chris... he has got no RM. So he ordered and we all tampa him with RM16 per person and he became loaded with Malaysian Ringgit! LOL...!!!
And we all enjoyed a nice Ayam Penyet lunch with drinks of various colours.

En route to hotel...
Our hotel is not far from MS Garden Hotel.. about 5km to be exact.
"Guys, just remember tomorrow when we finished our ride we will all end up here at the Pandang near MS Garden.  All you need to do is look for the road Jalan Bukit Ubi, and cycle all the way straight up.  You will reach our hotel, 5km up the slope.. haha!"
Haha.. a twinkle of evil smile in his eye as he said that.  GTravel was really boleh ah.  Even after the 162km, we all had to push our tired bodies up-slope 5km to the hotel.
Anyway, we were in boleh town, we were basked in the boleh-ness of the atmosphere.  A look out of the bus showed how boleh even the local licence plates were... as I blinked my eyes and looked again to confirm I didn't see wrongly.
Wow.. semuah Boleh!

Sri Manja Hotel
Straight up Jalan Bukit Ubi, past the Petronas Station and further down, McDonalds, and turning right and then left, brought us to a familiar sight, the Sri Manja.
"Welcome to Sri Manja," said our Historian-turned-guide, Mr Wong Fei Hong. "Manja in Malay means pamper."

Pampering or not, we wouldn't know until later.  Now the most important thing was to get our bikes out of the bus.
While the rest of the boys busied themselves extracting the bikes from the coach, Gerard and Vincent dutifully tried to arrange for the rooms...
Well, the bosses weren't exactly having an easy time.
Meanwhile, for the first time I finally witnessed our driver attempting to get his hands dirtied trying to clear some bikes.. but ended up toppling over the barrier on the front porch of the hotel with a loud bang, startling our good Richard in front of him...
I think that was the first and the last time the driver went near the bicycles.

Pushing our bikes up to our rooms... hey, did anybody see any security stopping us from doing that?
Happily, we rolled our machines one by one up into the hotel lobby.  Hey, it's the annual cycling event in Kuantan, you know!  And as Kuantan celebrated the festive event, we were sure every single hotel was in unison with the local government in their celebration.  A warm welcome to all cyclists from all over the world! Or wasn't it.....?
 [Sorry I tried to capture everybody here.. But I may have inevitably missed out some of our guys and their bikes.  My apologies in advance.]
The Mightiest of Gohs, and his Colnago.

Senthil and his Boardman.

Richard and his temporary F8-to-be.

Darric and his firey Willier.. all on fire.

David and his one-and-only Celeste Oltre.

Lee Hsien Loong Alex and his Champion Dog.
Calvin Seow and his well-hidden bike, so well-hidden
some have been saying that he is going to change bike
very very soon.

Our Specialized man, Thio Seng Keong!
Mike Ho and his Titanium Seven!

Moo Kwang and his Infinito, all decked in Celeste!
Almeric and his custom-painted specially-ordered
Titanium Baum!

Monster Wai Kit and his Trek Madone.. all rock solid!
Alan and his All-black Parlee-Enve, with decorated
golden handle bar & cable!

KC Tng and most probably his last international ride
on his power-horse Quattro!
Our Ironman Ann Kheen and his BMC!

Makan in Kuantan
Of course, Kuantan was famous for her makan.  And I kinda began to suspect that most of us were there for the makan more than for the century ride.  And thus, as Gerard announced the time for dinner, excitement began to build up...

Last year, Francis and Chris out done themselves by arranging for a feast in one of the local restaurants.  And this year, we all were eagerly awaiting what surprises that laid ahead for us.

Dinner at Hai Tian Lou (Sri Pantai) 海天楼
Ooooo hoooo..!
Dinner here we came!
Someone let off an exclaimation:
"There they are! Francis and Chris!"
 True enough.  The couple was already waiting for us impatiently at the restaurant.  The restaurant had a last minute booking of another 80 tables on this night.  So we were very lucky to have out four tables securely reserved.  Many thanks to Francis's Father, Mr Chia Senior.
There they were!
"欢迎欢迎!" Chris couldn't wait for us to be off the bus.

And Francis couldn't wait to lead us to our tables.

And the ever-hospitable Mr Chia Senior was there to welcome us and make sure we were well-fed.

I was really convinced that the highlight of this trip was the feasting.  Last year, Steven Cheng, Kai Sing, David Low, Joshua Ngo and everybody were so impressed by the food we walloped the dishes as quickly as they came.
This year, I was originally hoping for a leisurely meal.  But alas, it was a total repeat of history.  The boys (and girls) were so taken by the Kuantan food that they just couldn't help themselves.
They literally swept them off the table, the minute the dishes landed!
I was busy taking photos when Serene nudged me and said:
"Hey if you don't stop taking photo, you will end up having nothing to eat!"
That was quite quite true ah!
And the Boss of the Tour company was even more candid.  Here was his remarks, verbatim.
Of course not every table was full of hungry dogs and cats...