Marco Polo diary index
By Tim Vincent
It was great to fly back into Kuala Lumpur again. I had great memories from the five weeks I spent racing in Malaysia last year and I was looking forward to catching up with all the riders that would be back this year.
I was only in the airport a minute when I was swamped by a frenzied mob of taxi drivers and bus company workers. They all wanted me to pay them RM90 for a ticket to KL City (70km away) but I knew better after last year. By time I'd finished with them I had a ticket to Kangar (500km away) for just RM35. Kangar was the main city in the northern state Perlis where the Perlis Open was starting in three days time.
Last year the Marco Polo teams' toughest competition came from the Uzbekistan team. After arriving and settling into the Putra Palace hotel it seemed as if the two Russian teams would keep us on our toes this time. Andy Reid had been training with them. After warming up for 60km they did team time trial practice for 70km. Andy could keep up with the junior team, which could keep up with the senior team by drafting behind the manager's car. The time trial practice finished when they came back past the hotel. Andy pulled off and went for lunch but they did a 40k warm down. They had to wake Andy up later in the afternoon to see if he wanted to come, they were going training again!!
The Perlis Open stage race was a UCI category 2.5 stage race being held from October 17 to 20. Marco Polo's Indonesian rider Tonton Susanto was in great form and became 2nd overall behind Australian Kristjan Snorrason.
The most common road kill in Malaysia is squashed snakes but during the race the bunch came across a live one, and he was big. The bunch was treated to a real road-side wildlife show during the Perlis Open race. The bunch even slowed down to look, as we passed by monkeys, cattle, wild dogs and water buffalo. You should have seen it split like the Red Sea when we came across a big snake sitting in the middle of the road.
There was an optional Mountain bike race in Perlis and four of the Marco Polo team were experienced mountain bikers, but none had mountain bikes with them. I won the mountain bike race last year so decided to go to the race and try to borrow a mountain bike. After much pleading I finally managed to borrow a 13 kg city bike with fat tyres and a 16" frame (I am 6'5" tall).
A few minutes after I fitted my road pedals I was on the start line and ready. The start was almost as fast as a World Cup and I quickly lost any hope of defending my title as I dropped out of the top ten before the end of the first lap. I kept at it though, climbed back up to third place by the finish.
After Perlis Open Nathan Dahlberg caught a plane to Burkina Faso while the rest of the team drank duty-free vodka to help pass the 14 hour bus ride from Kangar to Kuantan for the start of the Pahang International Cycle Challenge.
The Pahang International Cycle Challenge turned out to be a real adventure, even before it started! The hotel and food wasn't up to scratch so some of the teams found their own hotels. The organiser found us another hotel, but staying there was a real challenge for a cycling team! Before the start of the first stage, some teams decided that it was time to cash the money from the year before. They had still not been paid their prize money so they went on strike, sitting on the start line until the organiser 'found' some money.
In the first stage a group of 15 riders broke free including three Marco Polo riders, Indonesian Tonton Susanto and the Estonian riders Peep Mikli and Algus Maasikmets. It was clear the tour winner would come from that breakaway as it rode to a 10 minute lead. Peep Mikli won this stage and got the leader's jersey. The Russians gave us a hard time but because of the strong teamwork the leader's jersey of Peep was never in danger.
In the general classification Tonton moved up to a third position which meant two riders on the podium and of course the team classification was won by the Marco Polo Cycling Club.
Note: one day later Marco Polo rider Joost Legtenberg won the first stage of the Tour du Faso in Africa, he wore the leader jersey until the end of this 12 day stage race. See Marco Polo Tour du Faso Diary.
For a complete report with photos and results of the races in Malaysia: www.worldwidecycling.com/malaysia2001.htm