Some of you who followed my blog last year will remember my Rapha China cycling adventures. This year, I still managed to do many of the similar rides but did not take as many photos – simply because if I did, I would have been taking photos of the same places. This year, I also acted as an ‘impromtu’ commentator on the Rapha Festive 500 Challenge as it unfolded. Some very competitive people out there who are dead serious about clocking up the mega-miles! My personal goal for this year’s Rapha Festive 500 was to surpass my 2010 total of 726kms while clocking up some quality miles for my upcoming New Zealand summer holiday. Where I had the opportunity to take interesting photos, I did and my final day’s ride of 2011 was an epic 145kms that included some lonely mountain roads out West of Hangzhou.
This year the Rapha Challenge has been somewhat easier in terms of the weather conditions. Last year, I had sub-zero temperatures, rain and snow to contend with while this time, there was no snow or rain to contend with. In fact I was quite over-dressed at times in my winter Mavic & Rapha gear. The coldest this year got was only three degrees. The final ride was five degrees and late in the day, so when I reached the mountains my nuts were freezing on the descents and by the time I got back to the main ‘country highway’ it was pitch black. I should have brought along my Hope Light I won from the Rapha Challenge last year, it would have helped make it less hair raising! I had reflective clothing and flashing lights but not enough to light the road in front of me. I was constantly being blinded by oncoming traffic and then seeing utter darkness for a few seconds while my eyes re-adjusted. To help solve this issue, I would try and speed up to follow cars that passed me to use them for guides and lower the chances of getting blinded.
There is a whole network of these roads waiting to be explored in the East Sky Mountain region (Dongtian Shan) and I am looking forward to spending an epic day or two just exploring and perhaps finding some guest house to stay overnight. Otherwise, it would be a big 250-300km day with a lot of climbing. This ride brought my final Rapha Festive 500 tally to 818kms, surpassing my previous year total by almost 100kms. Mission accomplished. This was my poster from 2010.
- Taking part in China’s first ever 29er MTB event and placing second. I also finished 5th in the elite 26″ category in the afternoon.
- Exploring some dense lush green forests just outside of Mega-city Guangzhou – I saw very few people and no cars! The abundance of ferns reminded me of New Zealand.
- Doing my first double century ride for 2011 that took me seven hours. The last time I did double century rides was when I rode from Adelaide to Melbourne in 5 days in 2004 (1000kms) with the biggest day doing 315km. The seven hour ride took me onto new unexplored roads.
- Enjoying high class Buffet food at the Hyatt such as French lamb chops and plenty of toffee ice-cream. Riding more miles gives you the right appetite and you enjoy food that much more. On the last night of the Challenge, I enjoyed a massive dinner at a Chinese restaurant followed by ice-cream from Dairy Queen in time to watch the fireworks display over one of the West Lake Ancient Pagodas.
- Seeing the bewildered looks on Chinese faces as I enter shops to refuel. To them, I must have looked like an alien from outer-space and then to open my mouth and speak Mandarin causes them to gasp even more.
That was the 2011 Rapha Festive 500 Challenge for me. I believe what defines your challenge is extending your boundaries in terms of unexplored roads and territory. For many of my rides, I was in exploratory mode, trying to find new routes and seeing new places. Yes, I wanted to achieve more miles and got pleasure in seeing my name appear high up on the Strava Leaderboard throughout the challenge. But ultimately, it was all about the experience while getting the quality base miles you need to launch a successful winter training campaign.
Rapha will be pleased to know that I was wearing the Rapha Merino Wool base layer for most of my rides. I found this item of clothing to be my favorite to wear both on and off the bike. I would often come back from my long Rapha Challenge rides and feel nice and dry inside. I would agree with Kristian House, who said “Despite having so much cool Rapha clothing to choose from, my absolute favourite is the merino wool undervest. I practically live in those things. Whether it’s training, sleeping or just chilling out around the house.” Kristian is the rider who clocked up the most miles during this year’s Rapha Challenge with his imposing total of 1,424kms. I also wore the Rapha merino socks, although they seem to be a little on the thin side, I found them very comfortable to wear inside my cycling shoes and coupled with my booties, I was toasty warm. My feet never got freezing cold.
Unfortunately I did not have any Rapha Winter gear to wear for Challenge, so I wore my Mavic winter gear which was excellent. The Inferno Winter Jacket was my favorite – it is designed for extreme cold with its -15 degree rating and it kept me toasty warm the whole time on the bike and has some strategically placed vents you can open if you get over-heated. This year’s Rapha Challenge was not as cold as last year, so I was actually too warm sometimes! You can read my review of this jacket on Cyclingnewsasia. On top of my Rapha Merino base layer I wore the Soigneur Le Cannibal Retro Jersey, which was also worn during the 2010 Rapha Challenge. For the tights, I wore the Mavic Echappe Bib, which is essential for comfortable winter riding.While I did not have the ultimate Deep Winter Rapha Bundle, I did have the pleasure to put on a fresh Rapha base layer and slip on some sexy Rapha merino boxers, don the classy Merino roll neck jersey and Rapha trousers complete with the Rapha socks. I was Rapha-nized off the bike… and they became my favorite items of clothing to wear during this Hangzhou cold wintertime! (disclaimer: I did pay for these items which were shipped to me all the way from London!).