Pearl of the Orient: Rapha Prestige Penang

Penang is a tiny island off the western coast of the Malaysian peninsula, famed for its fusion of east and west, new and old. In addition to its fascinating culture, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’s’ natural topography lends itself perfectly to exploration by bike. Its sweeping coastlines are dotted with rock formations and a forested inland area is punctuated by vicious hills and ridges.

And so it was that the latest Rapha Prestige ride took almost 80 cyclists on an 115km journey up and over 3,400 metres of elevation gain. It was a lot of climbing to fit into such a short distance and many of the riders were oblivious to the steep difficulties that lay ahead, but Rapha Prestiges, unsupported, unsanctioned, and unmarshalled adventures, aren’t supposed to be as simple as a local club ride.

The day began with an anti-clockwise tour of Penang’s circumference, with gentle gradients and expansive ocean views, before turning inland towards the rainforested heart of the island. A cool breeze accompanied the riders and cloud cover meant that they were spared the usual oppressive power of the equatorial sun.

The deeper inland, the more remote and narrower the roads became. Steep pitches cut across forgotten plantation routes and majestic colonial estates. Penang is famous for its durian fruits, which are regarded by many in southeast Asia as the ‘king of fruits’, and its strong aroma hung in the air.

The first proper climb of the day, after 60km, was an unnamed 2km long monster with a 13% average gradient. Groups of riders scattered like falling leaves. In immediate succession were two other steep climbs, the Three Towers and Temple, and this brutal 35km stretch took some teams up to three hours to complete.

Nursing sore legs on the weary run back to the finish, riders were rewarded with a celebratory atmosphere at the Vistana Hotel. The suffering is quickly forgotten when off the road and sitting down, beer in hand.