Stage 1 – Stage one was destined to be a sprinters stage however with the 30s riding in the same peloton as the Open A and Open B categories I was fearful that the one climb of the day to pick up the KOM points may result in me going straight out the back with some pretty stiff competition fighting for the climbers jersey.
The stage started with a 23km neutral Zone out of Chiang Mai in to the green countryside at a very nice 32-35kmh pace. There was talk of ex Pros ripping up the peloton and the first 15km would be off from the gun on twisty narrow roads. When the gun did go of it was a fairly quick pace however the peloton was pretty well behaved and incident free. For me the most decisive moment was as expected at the KOM climb but not due to my lack of climbing ability. We had been told the KOM was at 69km and was just short of 2 km. At the 62 km mark Raoul and myself found ourselves having a chit chat and a drink at the back in preparation for the climb when the road went up hill. Immediately there were splits all over the place and the Peloton were down to around 25 over the top and I was off the back chasing to get on. The immediate pace was quick however I managed to get on promptly and was happy that the peloton was down to a smaller numbers. Unfortunately the open A guys never kept the pace that high and large groups were able to get back across and the peloton swelled before hitting the flat open 15km section before the finish.
Once on the open highway the impressive Singha team headed up the peloton and we never dropped below 48kmh on the 15km run for the line. It was obvious that the correct wheel to follow was Singaporean rider Vincent Ang however every man in the peloton was fighting to be within jumping distance and realistically with him in the open A Cat and me in the 30s I opted to not fight too much and try keeping a good distance back to get a safe finish. Hoops came past and offered a wheel to follow and did a great job keeping us up there however the young development team from Malaysia came past me with a train and were looking strong so I gave him a shout to jump on and take a tow. They pulled for probably around 1.5 km and we made the turn and I saw what I thought was the finish line and decided to move up and pick up a few places and hope to get a podium. After passing Hoops it was apparent it was the line (we had passed a motorbike saying 2km to the finish only a few hundred meters ago…) and I had managed to be the first 30s rider over the line with Hoops being just pushed in to 3rd place.
Unbelievable start to the race with 3 Anza riders finishing in the Peloton with a 43kmh average speed over 75km. Hoops decided that he hadn’t raced enough or never saw the finish and decided to carry on riding and missed the presentation. If you want a laugh at his navigation skills check out his strava route home….
Stage 2 – After a pretty restless night I was keen to get started and on the road as soon as possible. There was 1 climb for the day and realistically if I got over it would probably mean I would have the ability to stay in yellow with a long flat run in. No pressure then.
Thankfully with Vincent in yellow in the Open group his team were happy to control the peloton and right from the start and I was in the perfect position at the front of the peloton and our team weren’t expected to be up there doing any work.
As we approached the climb there was much more fighting for position and around 5km out it started to get twistier and a rider next to me appeared to not see the corner and went straight in to the rider alongside and took them both off in what looked like a nasty crash.
As we turned to start the climb I was still positioned well but not right up the front as I had been earlier with the real climbers looking to pick up more points I had been pushed back. Once we headed round the bend it went straight in to a steep ramp and I was immediately in trouble as the pace was just too much for me and I started heading backwards. The climb consisted of 3 ramps of around 750m with around 200m respite (or not) so all in all I had it in my head I needed to suffer for around 3km. On the second ramp Raoul noticed I was in trouble and sat up to pace me to the top and kept motivating by saying only 200m to the top. Even as we passed the 1km to the KOM sign….. Apparently it was working as I kept coming back towards him however at the time the 1km felt like a hammer blow.
As I came over the top we had to negotiate what had been described as a very technical decent before the ramp eased up a little and was pretty much a downhill run to the line. I immediately set about pulling back time and made a mistake by taking a drink in to the first switchback and went off road and with Raoul behind me. Luckily we both got away with this however we were up against it and I set off as hard as I dared after Raoul signalled to go on alone. I pushed past a number of riders and took quite a few risks to keep the pace up and get back in to contention. I was gaining on one group up ahead after chasing for some time however with the gap down to around 150m I was tiring and struggling to close anymore when they lifted their pace to over my 44kmh and started pulling away. Damn
At this point I could see another group had formed and were also chasing me down containing Raoul and decided to sit up and try work with them to get to the line quicker. On joining the group we started working quite well with a paceline however it soon broke down as many of the riders were tired and speeds were fluctuating vastly depending who was on the front.
With 1.5 km to the line Raoul hit the front and led me in to easily take the sprint. Hoops had fared very well over the climb and just missed out on another podium while sprinting for the line in the second bunch.
I had lost the yellow jersey for sure however I had given all I could to stay with the guys on the climb and unfortunately it was just not enough with the standard of riders we were up against.
Stage 3 – This was pretty much a flat 70km then a 15km hill climb to the finish. As Hoops was the top GC contender we aimed to work together and keep him near the pointy end so when the hill started he was in good a position to stay in contention. As a team I think this was our best riding of the weekend as we kept a presence in the top 15 the whole way til the fireworks started. Once the climb started I decided I wasn’t going to go in to the red to stay with the top guys and immediately tried to get in to a pace that I was comfortable to hold to the top and watched Hoops and Raoul head up the mountain. I slowly started to catch a few riders that had been dropped and as I neared the last 3 km I could see I was pulling in Raoul slowly.
With around 2 km I managed to head up the road but wasn’t able to sustain when the road pitched more on the corners and Raoul and Seb from the Joyriders were on my wheel again. With some crafty riding Raoul decided to let my wheel go with 200m to go in order to put some time between us and then attacked Seb to just manage to take the line before I got there and we gained a few more second on those behind. Hoops had managed to hold the pace again but had a touch of wheels while climbing and had to unclip and lost a little time and had to chase back on. With some pacing from Vincent he kept a high speed to the line and was still able to get in the top 10 and would be starting the final stage in 8th position overall. Remarkable when you consider the big Kiwi was dropped from Cat 3 to the Grand Fondo less than 1 year ago.
Stage 4: A Mountain individual Time Trial 10.5km ride with over 600m of elevation all out. Not the type of stage suited to me however I was strangely looking forward to getting out there. Having not ridden the route I had to try and get some details on how hard to push and when. From the profile and picking up what I could from others it looked pretty much a constant gradient up until the last km where it flattened out before kicking up very steep the last 500m. I was starting 30 seconds behind Raoul who was sitting 10 seconds behind me in the GC and Hoops was going to go a few mins after me and had pretty much sewn up his top ten finish unless there was any spectacular blow ups.
After setting off pretty hard the first 500m I soon found a gear that kept my Cadence around 95 rpm and settled in to a tempo in an effort not to drop my 10 seconds to Raoul. Within 2 km I was passing the man that had started 1 min ahead of me however there was no sign of the French man. At around 5km the rider that started 30 seconds behind me caught and I tried to follow at his pace for a few hundred meters. The pace was just too much and I made the decision to hold my pace and pull off a little rather than pop and risk dropping a lot more time.
The road eased up a little and I had my first glimpse of Raoul who was negotiating a pass on Michael from the Matadors. I pushed on and used as much of the road as possible in the corners to make sure I was not wasting any speed I had managed to find carrying it in to the final ramp of 500 meters to the finish. After the last 10km of climbing the finish was brutal there is no other word for it however I could see Raoul and I knew I was on target to keep my position if I kept the tempo up. I remember it was steep however can’t recall much else as I was pushing to my limit and was only focused on the line and getting over it as soon as possible. I crossed the line and with a friendly push from the organisers managed to stop at the side and regain some vision before seeing big Hoops come over the line in what looked to be an equal amount of pain.
Hoops had a great weekend and managed to take 8th place in the GC with myself and Raoul picking up 16th and 17th. For me I went in to this competition with an open mind and was treating it as a training ride for Bintan with the recent bad conditions for riding in Singapore. There for to come away in the top 20 and a stage win I’m over the moon. It will take a lot of riding to forget the feeling of riding out in the yellow jersey on stage 2 behind the Singha team and was pretty special for me.
There is some serious competition at the event but would highly recommend the event for anyone looking for more racing in the region even as a beginner. The stages are much shorter than others in the region which encouraged exciting fast riding and if you were dropped its not as though you have a 100km solo trek back to civilisation which often puts people off entering events.