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Steve Thomas' own Tour de Langkawi, part III
By Steve Thomas
Mr T meets 'The Beast of the East'
Well, this is the one you've been waiting for - or should I say I've been waiting for. Actually waiting for is perhaps the wrong terminology; it's the one I've been dreading, yet have some how felt a compulsion to tackle.
What am I on about? Genting Highlands of course, otherwise known as the 'Beast of The East'. Several times during the past couple of years I'd been up this climb, but thankfully never on a bike. In last year's coverage for Cyclingnews I termed it 'one mother of a highway to hell' which was really no understatement.
I asked Sean Yates if he'd ridden it, and with a look of horror he responded 'NO! And I don't ever want to'. Wise words indeed. But I figured in the name of research that I really should experience it for myself.
Without fail this is the deciding stage of the race, every year. It's a 25 kilometre climb that can pit its mettle against anything the Alps or the Pyrenees have to offer. Sure, there are longer climbs on earth, and even a few steeper - but I have yet to find one that has all of the combined horrors of Genting, and I can now say that through personal experience!
Riding out from the town of Rawang and it wasn't too long before I hit the foot of the beast. This first section is a long wide open grind through the trees. It's totally soul destroying. The intense humidity and heat work together with the trees and the gradient to suck every last molecule of oxygen from the air. It really was like suffocating in your own sweat.
The very thought of a whole 25 kilometres of this was not even worth thinking about. After just three or four, or at the most five kilometres, I was ready to quit, turn around, and head for home. But no, every kilometre I said to myself 'Just one more'. Those just one mores eventually took me past half way point, and although I was absolutely dripping wet I was somehow almost settled into things.
For a very brief time, towards the Awana Hotel, the gradient eases some. This really is the calm before the storm. Unfortunately I'd seen it too many times before, and knew that the trouble was only just beginning. From here the gradient steepens and the gears drop some. My earlier rhythm had gone out of the window by now, and I had to adapt to the cruelty of a new steeper and improved beast.
It was getting late in the day, and local game park and gambling fans from KL were heading up the two lane highway for a weekend of fun. Here even the cars struggle, but each and every one managed a bemused toot and cheer. I guess the sight of a white guy on a bike riding up this dead end highway must seem quite strange, even pointless, and I guess it is.
But just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it does, tenfold! Twisting under the huge Chinese arch and the road opens up like a great wall. It really does not do to look at it. It's so damn steep, wide open and long.
The kilometre signs start their slowing countdown from here, all marked by irritating cartoon animal characters, and I'm sure they were laughing at me. This is the section that puts the Beast into the East, and with one huge, great B.
I was riding my mountain bike, and was way down on the gears, grasping at my wet bars with sticky hands like a greased ferret. It's crazy, but knowing that I was almost there meant that I had to make it in one. The last kilometre is even worse. It's unfairly steep, like some kind of cyclist defence mechanism.
Just as it drew dark I stuttered my way through to the chill of the falling cloud and into the calm serenity of Starbucks, for one huge great latte and a pile of chocolate cookies, job done!
Must do's in Genting and through the final stages
Steve Thomas' own Tour de Langkawi