Tour of Friendship Thailand – 2016

My second go at this race – 5 stages over 5 days. The first day was a 7km time trial followed by 4 road stages; flat, hilly, flat with a hilly finish and flat. It always starts in Bangkok and this year went from Bangkok to Kanchanburi (NW Thailand – Bridge over the River Kwai territory) on the 2nd day, and the next 3 stages were all round Kanchanburi

Trying not get psyched out by all the bling on display

The first stage was more of a prologue, and involved going up and down a 3.5km stretch of (closed) road on the outskirts of Bangkok. It should have been simple but there were some rainstorms circling and somehow the start/finish line remained dry whilst the 180 degree bends at both ends of the course were rained on. This meant that I, and about 20 other riders, crashed in the first bend (what else would you expect of me in a race?). It was some very slippery concrete, but no real damage apart from a bit of skin off my shin/calf and a bent rear hanger, I probably only lost one minute over what I would have completed the course in. But it did result in Dan Isaacs (formerly of Bike Culture) and I taking over a Bangkok bike shop for half an hour to straighten the hanger and re-tune the gears. I fell way more in love with Di2, right then – the hanger was far from perfectly straight (but we didn’t want to risk snapping it), but the gears never missed a beat for the rest of the tour.

..and we’re underway – note the 3fidi shorts, and Bleeksie designed jersey…

The 2nd day was about 110km from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, and was hot – around 40C (as was every other day). The first 20km out of Bangkok was supposedly neutralised (but still about 35-40 km/h). The rest was fairly fast as well, but a small break got away. Most of them came back, but 3 survived to the end. Dan, my teammate and I tried a small break and were off the front of the main pack for about 5km or so, but couldn’t get away. In the last few kms a few solo breaks from the main bunch were tried (with the 3 riders still away), I jumped reeled in a solo break and went again and nearly made it, but got caught by the main peloton about 50m from the line. Hard work, but fun having a go..I found out later that the guy (100kg gorilla would be a more apt description) who reeled me in was a former cyclocross before he put on the pounds, as was his teammate, Pascal, who was still much closer to his racing weight.

The 3rd day was the big one – 130km, with a pretty stiff 6 or 7km climb about 40km into the race. This totally split the field up so everyone was coming over the top in 1s and 2s. I was about 15-20th over the top in my category, and being a fairly big and fairly bossy I descended pretty quickly, caught a few other solo riders on the way down and organised a group of 7 us to work together for the next 80km. That was probably the hottest day, and there were no flat roads, it was constantly rolling terrain. Suffice to say it is one of the toughest days I’ve had on a bike. The group mainly stayed together, although I felt like letting go a few times I still raised a sprint at the end. There were some pretty big time gaps – Dan was only about 45 seconds behind me coming over the climb but didn’t have any luck forming a group, so lost about 20 minutes compared to our group. I also found out that Pascal had broken away on the hill and ridden solo to put 5 minutes into a chase bunch of 8, who were more than 10 minutes ahead of us.

Coming over the top of the hill

The 4th day was largely flat with a shortish (3km) steep climb up to a dam at the end. Again a small break was let go by the group (one team from Singapore was dominating, and one of their riders was in the break). He managed to stay away solo to the end and the rest of us hit the final climb pretty hard. I was happy to just be hanging off the back of the lead group of 10 or 12 up the climb, and was only 1 of 2 guys around 80kg able to that. Felt strong, but was never going to podium on a steep climb like that. By this time I’d moved up to 16th overall (in the over 40s category)

The 5th and final day was 90km and fairly flat – with rolling terrain for the first 30km and then largely big flat straight highways for the rest. We set off fast as there was still a lot of attacking going on as the places 2-7 were only separated by about 90 seconds. They were all worried about each other so about 15km into the stage I rolled away from the front of the group on a downhill section (one advantage of being one of the heavier riders) and when I looked back I had 20 or 30 meters on the pack so I kept rolling and was joined by two other riders. Luckily they were; another guy from a small team who was no danger to the overall placings, and a rider from the dominant team, the Singapore Matadors, who also wasn’t highly placed overall, so no immediate chase. We worked well as a group for the next 35-40km, going a bit too hard for my fitness, averaging around 40km/h+. After an hour of that I was feeling the pace so dropped off on a small climb. The other two broke apart soon after so all three of us were riding solo about 55km into the stage. After rolling for a few km to replenish food and water I could see one of the other riders ahead and stared working to catch him. Luckily two other riders who had broken away from the pack caught me, and by the time we’d reached 65 or 70km we were 4 riders working together again. The two that joined us reckoned we had a 2 minute lead, so it seemed worth seeing if we could hold on for the next 20km. In the end we caught the one remaining breakaway rider with about 5km to go and all worked really well together to stay away. Out of the break, three of us gave it the best sprint finish we could muster and were only separated by a wheel, unfortunately I was the 3rd of the 3, but had probably done the least work and had definitely been suffering the most in the last 20km. The podium presentations are for 5 in these races though so all of us in the break got on the podium – two from Hong kong, one from Singapore, one from Bangkok and me. The pack came in about a minute behind us.

Podium time

The race is really well organised – there are motorbike support riders constantly alongside the bunch marshalling traffic and handing you water, and the road closures are well managed. It is also attracts a pretty high standard of riders – two of the field in the over 40s (including the winner) were former european cyclocross professionals and there were also a former Sydney Swan in our group who managed to knock out the 7km time trial in 9 minutes flat, as well as top level triathletes etc. To get a podium out of a field like that felt good and finishing 15th on general classification from a field of about 65 felt pretty good as well. It was also the kind of race where Dan and I could have a go at making things happen, and didn’t just have to sit in the pack the whole time. Eventually all the trying paid off.

Having a chat with former Sydney Swan, David Strooper

One thought on “Tour of Friendship Thailand – 2016”

  1. Awesome effort getting a place Matt. I was riding in the heat in VN at the same time and for those not there, it’s hard to describe…

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