Sabah remains an unpolished gem of a destination. Situated at the northern tip of Borneo, it is a place of contrasts. The Rapha Prestige Sabah starts off in Kota Kinabalu. A city of 5-star hotels and glitzy malls but also of houses on stilts and people living off what the tide brings in. The incongruousness of it feels about right – it reflects what happens on the bike.
The first rays of light from the early Kota Kinabalu sunrise mark our start time. We ride northwards to Sepanggar. The first gravel climb is as an interesting diversion from the paved road we had been on. My team mate Iqmal breaks his chain negotiating the cruel mixture of loose rocks and upward gradients. Prepared, he quickly remedies it with a chain tool at the roadside. The commotion attracts a herd of horned buffalos; I wonder if they would stampede if spooked by us. I try to pedal quietly.
Now out of the city, the traffic all but disappears. The road starts to climb as we reach Kota Belud along a fast flowing river, Sungai Kadamaian, or ‘River of Peace’. It could not be more aptly named. Looming through the clouds in the distance is the Crocker Range of mountains and the peak of the formidable Mount Kinabalu prominent amongst them.
We climb further onwards and the gradient starts to ramp up. Steep as it may be, the hard parts are interspersed with gentler slopes, offering an exercise in counting your blessings no matter how sparse they may be. More climbing follows a steep descent to Tamparuli. The life of a cyclist is cruel – the downhill sections are always over too early.
We make haste on our way back into Kota Kinabalu as the last rays of light fade like our remaining reserves of energy. Treated to a magnificent sunset over the bay as we ride in amongst the evening traffic, we bear witness to yet another contrast on this ride.
Not my first Prestige and definitely not my last.