Our man on track ... for roadkill

Matthew Chung braves the summer heat to cycle around the Yas Marina circuit.

ABU DHABI // My colleagues had laughed at the thought of me cycling in the summer heat. But I reckoned that 100 people riding and running at Yas Marina Circuit could not be wrong. So I acquired a bike for the day from Shahriar Khodjestah's Ride Bike Shop in Dubai and by 5.30pm was pedalling a racing bicycle gently under the Yas Hotel, the 36°C temperature offset by a breeze, enjoying a saddle-eye view of the circuit.

Perhaps I should have settled for one look, rather than asking Stewart Howison, who was kindly pedalling beside me at my pace, to time my next lap. "What speed do the top guys usually get up to?" I asked Mr Howison, the race director of this December's 92-kilometre race in Dubai. "About 50kph" was the response that rang in my ears as I switched into a higher gear and cranked the pedals. I was on the bike, ostensibly, to experience what the cyclists around me were experiencing, and to record the track from a camera strapped to my handlebars.

But secretly I wanted to know how fast I could go. It was a race course, after all. "I'm just like Andy Schleck," I announced to Mr Howison, referring to last year's Tour de France runner-up from Luxembourg, as I stood up in the saddle to attempt to power up the incline of the track near the pit exit. I was truly enjoying my first time on a bike in many months. But within a few short minutes, I was feeling more like roadkill than a road bike champion.

The last time I rode a bike, when I decided to take a friend's mountain bike to the Corniche last October, my excursion was disrupted by cars honking as they raced past. Now, I had only to watch out for faster-moving cyclists, of whom there were many, and the occasional jogger. "Boy, I'm tired," I told Mr Howison somewhere near the hairpin turn for the North Grandstand, still in the early stages of my second 5.55-km lap.

The lovely breeze was now a fierce crosswind buffeting my tired body. All that was left to do was finish. In Lewis Hamilton's pole-setting lap at the circuit last year he covered the distance in 1 minute 40.948 seconds. The quickest cyclists on Tuesday night were clocking a lap in under eight minutes. "Let's see if you can get in under 12 minutes," Mr Howison challenged me as we hit the start-finish straight. "You have 20 seconds."

I had averaged 22kph. Back in the support pit, I stood on rubber legs in a lane usually reserved for mechanics, thirstily sucking from a water bottle but feeling exhilarated. My 22kph had been respectable, Mr Howison kindly told me. I just wanted to know one thing. "Do you think they could leave this bike here for me for next week?" mchung@thenational.ae