The road to Genting Highlands, the climb of the Queen stage of Le Tour de Langkawi, is one of the toughest bike rides on earth. Steve Thomas shares what it is like to tackle the Malaysian beast.
Like some kind of dragon, there it was, rising up from nowhere in a rage, and determined to severely punish anybody who had the audacity to attempt to ride a bike along its backbone.
It’s easy to be flippant when talking about tackling a serious climb by bike, especially when its from behind the safety of a computer screen. But armchair bravery counts for little.
The climb to Genting Highlands is the mother of the highway to hell, a climb that is so cruel that it’s hard to imagine anybody sane choosing to ride up it. It is a climb I personally rank as one of the toughest of all climbs. But despite its cruelness it holds an unparalleled allure when it comes to cycling in Malaysia - it is without a doubt Malaysia’s biggest two-wheeled challenge.
It was around 14 years ago that I first encountered Genting, while following the Tour de Langkawi. I’d heard the talk, but after being up just about everything the Alps and Pyrenees had to offer, I did not think that anything like this could live in the jungles of the east. But sure enough, like some kind of dragon, there it was, rising up from nowhere in a rage, and determined to severely punish anybody who had the audacity to attempt to ride a bike along its backbone.
I remember watching as the riders hit the base of the climb, it was as if they’d ridden into a vat of melted toffee. Their wheels almost came to a halt, sticking to road, while the field shredded to bits.
In the big European races the final climb is usually reached after a long softening up, but not with Genting, it’s one great final all-out slap in the face, a full-on free-for-all race to the top – or in most cases, a mere battle for survival.
Witnessing such an act of cruelty was painful, even from the sympathy seat of a car, as the climb cracked every cyclist.
But this is without a doubt the toughest climb in Malaysia, and something to test the climbing skills and fitness of any cyclist, professional racers or weekend riders alike.
It may be a cruel test, but once conquered it’s one seriously rewarding achievement. It is something to tick off the must-do challenge list, but be prepared to suffer like never before.
I have ridden this climb, or rather suffered up this climb, a few times now. The challenge is so alluring that every now and then you find yourself wanting to test your mettle against it’s wicked slopes.
There are two ways to approach the climb, both equally long and similarly tough, but slightly different in their lashing. The most popular approach is from the direction of Rawang, which is steep and punishingly hot from the start.
The other approach is from Gombak, which offers a much friendlier lead-in to the climb. It is not too harsh on the legs to begin with, limbering them up before the real climb starts, which begins after crossing the highway at Genting Sempah.
The best thing about the Gombak approach is that the initial steep section is a lot shorter than from Rawang; leaving you in slightly better condition by the time you reach the Awana Hotel. The hotel marks the final eight kilometres of the climb, the serious ruthless part!
Weaving its way through the trees the road jerks so steeply through hairpin bends it’s tough enough to stay upright, let alone get any kind of momentum going. It’s tearful wishing so hard for more gears, or maybe even a let up – just a few seconds? But no, it just gets worse, and then, even worse. As things get so steep there should be steps, a huge Chinese arch appears to the right.
Rounding the hairpin on the limit, the road opens up and disappears off the horizon. It is so steep and straight that you just want to get off and cry. It is five whole kilometres of this horrible gradient to the summit - there’s no option but to sit and grind, eyes glued to your front wheel and mind somewhere a whole lot more pleasant.
The meters tick by so slowly, and every kilometre is marked by a cartoon character placard that you just want to punch them for laughing at you. Cars full of city gamblers strain to pass, honking and gazing in a puzzled manner as they pass you.
Two more hairpins and you enter the resort, the air is cool and chilled, and it’s just one final slog through the resort and you’re done. The toughest climb in Malaysia, conquered!
Distance - 25 kilometres
Altitude – from just above sea level to 1629 meters
Gradient – damn steep, up to 23 percent in places
Category – hors
No matter how you look at it, and whatever level of fitness you have – Genting is a serious challenge. Even the pro riders use gears like 39 x 27, I would go for a compact and a 28 or triple.
NB – Although locals do still sometimes manage to ride Genting much of the time you will be stopped at the check point and turned back by security – it seems cyclists riding up here are not great business for the casino and theme parks at the top, so it’s only worth a special trip if you can get permission in advance.