Xterra Malaysia would play host to the final of the Asia Pacific Xterra Series. In 2015 this was a 5 race series visiting the Philippines, Saipan, Guam, Australia and finishing in Malaysia. Heading into Xterra Malaysia I had completed 3 of the 4 races with one win and two 2nd place positions. Ben Allen had completed all 4 races and with two victories thus far in the series he went into the weekends race with a two point lead and no doubt the favourite for the overall title. I was happy to be the under dog. The week leading into this race was less than ideal but I was prepared to take the risk and fly in late despite having no knowledge of this new course. Just 6days prior I was racing in the Reunion islands, I arrived home midday on Tuesday and flew out to Malaysia the following day only arriving at the race hotel in Langkawi late on Thursday evening. With little more than 24hours to play with before the race I opted for a less is more strategy and went out early on Friday morning to have a look at the opening kilometres of the bike route. Out of T2 we pretty much got sent up a wall, the steepest gradient I have ever attempted. In pre riding I was able to ride the whole climb but even after changing out my front ring for a 32 tooth I lost traction during the race and had to push the remainder of the climb as remounting was not an option.
Thankfully Ben had a similar racing/traveling schedule to myself, he had traveled in from the US and only arrived in Langkawi on Friday morning so the playing field was somewhat even. The race venue had moved location from 2014 where we raced in Putrajaya and we were now racing on the island of Langkawi. Malaysia is well known for its heat and humidity but Langkawi seemed to take it to the next level. Never in my life have I experienced such a testing climate and come race day I knew hydration management would ultimately determine who won on the day. Race morning I began hydrating as soon as I woke up. I finished 4 x 750ml bottles (A combination of Nuun and Osmo Pre-hydration) before the start at 7:15am, this may have been a little excessive but I am sure it played a huge role in my victory.
As expected the swim was incredibly hot and arguably the most unpleasant as keeping cool was nearly impossible. At times it felt like I was soft stroking but still my body temperature continued to rise. Starting the second of 2 x 750m swim laps I could see I had already lost about 30-40" on Ben and I knew I was putting myself in a really difficult position if I hoped to win this race. Exiting the swim I got a split of 1'30 to Ben and although it was a big gap I still felt I was in with a chance. The run from swim to T1 was one of the wildest ones I have done to date. We were given local rubber shoes to put on for the 1km run up a river to transition. They were not the most stylish of foot wear but they were very practical for the occasion.
The bike was a course of two halves. The first took us up a wall face with some sections being so steep that pushing was the only option. The humidity was extremely high and inside the forest it almost looked misty because of the water vapour in the air, even breathing was a struggle. I felt terrible on this section of the course and although I had moved up to second place I was sure I would be losing lots of time to Ben up front. Due to the remote section of the course there were no spectators to give me updates on Ben's progress up front so I just kept pushing. Once we reached to the high point of the climb there was a steep technical descent to deal with before starting the first of two flatish laps to complete the bike course. As we entered loop #1 I got my first split and the gap had remained the same at 1'30. I was surprised as it was far from my best riding but in this heat I suppose we were all struggling and concentration seemed to be the biggest struggle. Because of my late arrival I had opted to skip a full pre ride of the course and this cost me dearly. Having no course knowledge I was having to double check each turn to ensure I was on the correct course which cost me a lot of time. Entering loop #2 I got a split of 2mins and I thought at this point the race was done. Two minutes to an athlete like Ben is huge and without him faltering or suffering a mechanical I knew it was a huge ask to close this gap. With a little more course knowledge I rode the second loop really well and closed another 30'" which gave me a little hope and the drive to keep pushing hard.
Similar to the bike start we headed up the same wall but this time it seemed even steeper! At times we were on all fours scrambling up the mountain. The forest floor was really slick and on a few of the steeper switch backs I had to find a tree or two just to pull myself up. Once we crested the high point I got a 60" split to Ben, I presumed he had taken it easy on the climb to save a little for the final few flatter faster kilometres on the way home. As with the climb the descent was just as steep and I could see Ben was struggling with traction. On most of the corners I could see he was sliding trying to take the turn. I had opted for the Faas 300 Trail which were hooking up perfectly on the slick wet forest floor.
Once exiting the forest we had about 4km of running before we would cross the line bringing an end to the Asia Pacific Xterra Tour. The gap was down to 30" and I got my first visual of Ben since exiting the swim, his body language looked fatigued and the heat had him on the back foot. Surprisingly I was feeling strong and this visual gave me a huge boost. I slowly clawed my way across the gap and settled in behind him for a couple hundred metres and built up my energy for a big surge. Once I went I didn't want him to come with me. looking back I probably didn't have to push as hard as I did but Ben is a phenomenal athlete and I was leaving nothing to chance in this final race of the series.
The final few kilometres passed quickly and soon I could see the finishing banner in the distance, just one last beach stretch and a river crossing saw me crossing the line a few minutes ahead of Ben who had now slowed dramatically due to serious heat exhaustion. I think this final race was indicative of the entire series and the constant battle between Ben and I. We pushed each other to the very end and I couldn't be more proud to have finished on top!
This final race brought an end to the Asia Pacific Series as well as an end to my racing in the East for 2015. It has been another amazing year of traveling and racing and I will certainly be back in 2016 to defend this series title. 2016 will see a few additions to the tour with the inclusion of Xterra New Zealand and Xterra Japan which will certainly make for an even more exciting series.
For me its back home to the South African winter and a few weeks of uninterrupted training before making my first appearance on the European shores. I am sad to be missing the US Tour this year but I am excited at the opportunity of some new races on my calendar and I slightly different build into Maui.
Thank you for following my progress and I look forward to bringing you more positive news in the near future!