Today was exactly what I hoped racing in Thailand would be like. Quiet back roads, beautiful scenery, lots of hills, agressive racing, and best of all – sunshine and blue skys. I wish I could have taken photos but filling up my waterbottles and covering attacks kept me busy for the 150km stage in 37C heat.
Before coming here I had no grand expectations of how well organised this race was going to be. I gotta say though, it’s been pretty excellent. Sure there have been some hiccups along the way, but as the Thai’s say “Mi mi payha!” (no problem!). As far as safety goes, it’s probably as safe as racing on the roads in Australia. Every corner is marshalled by half the of the Royal Thai Army and most of the roads are a rolling closure that’s quite secure.
After a couple stages I’m starting to get the hang of the style of racing here. There are lots of Australians here and I pretty much know what to expect from them. The Asians are quite different however. Many of them are excellent climbers and completely insane. They’ll launch kamikaze attack after attack with still 100km remaining in the smelting heat for no apparent reason. However, our NeilPryde team has a guy (Sean Smith from the US) sitting on first in GC, so we’re constatly on the front trying to control the race. Needless to say, the locals are making it very difficult for us. Talk about panache. The all ride like Philippe Gilbert!
Today’s stage was a difficult one. Five kilometers into the race and the climbs began. Ten kilometers in and the race was split to pieces on a longer climb. There were about 20 of us up at the front with a gap that would never be closed. Under normal circumstances I’d expect the group to roll smoothly together for the next 100km. I mean, really…we’re a bunch of 30+ year olds who ride bikes in our spare time. I know my limits and it was nearly 40C outside! But nope – it was kamikaze time. These guys would attack as if there were 10km remaining for the next 130km. I gotta hand it to them – they’ve got balls the size of Thai elephants.
To make a long story short, our bunch at the front got whittled down to about ten riders and it came to a bunch kick up a 700m climb that must have been 15%. At 500m to go I latched onto John Tonks’ (an old pro from the UK now riding with Champion Systems) wheel thinking that this couldn’t be any more perfect. He started his sprint too early and I was sitting comfortably behind him. But at 450m remaining, KABOOM – he completely stopped. Let me tell you, 450m up a climb like that is a long way to be out in front! Needless to say, I got swarmed and held on for 4th. I was happy enough with that and Sean held on to the GC lead.
Tomorrow is another 150km stage with a 7km climb at 60km and then a 15km climb at 130km. It’s gonna be another scorcher out. I just hope these guys have tired themselves out enough to make it a gentle roll until the first climb!