By: Reuben Bakker
A collection of scenes and memories from a fun weekend in Chiang Mai.
[some post-race ramblings from a personal point of view…]
Scene 1: I’ll add you to the [message] group, but you have to race…
Many moons ago (mid 2016), after several months of riding with ANZA, my fitness finally allowed me to start riding with the fast Kranji bunch. With this going on for a month or two (I cannot actually remember), I got my first invite into a ‘sub-ANZA [chat] group’.
It went like this:
Frank: “Reuben, there’s a Facebook group of some of the people who ride the fast Kranji. I’ll add you to the group, but you have to race…”
Reuben: “OK” [completely unsure about racing, but completely sure about wanting to ride fast]…
Scene 2: The Sign Up
Months [or weeks] passed and the sign-up for the Masters Tour of Chiang Mai goes live. Laura posts something to the ANZA FB page.
The “FB group” comes alive – more than usual. There are a lot of maybes, some course analysis and then finally people start saying yes and actually signing up. Due to peer pressure, and the aforementioned desire to go fast on my bike, I contemplate signing up too. The calendar is checked, [family] agreements are made, SQ miles are readied and I too book. By my count, there are 8 from the “FB group” who say yes. Quite impressive from the viewpoint of this newb.
[side note: Overall, there were ~30 riders from ANZA including the AW race team. There were 6 of us from the ‘fast kranji’ group: Steven Wong, Peter McQuade, Frank Stevenaar, Ståle Nore, Sofia Behraoui and myself; joining Frank, Sofiane, Ståle and myself in the 30s were Jason Dubois and Adam Scott, both solid riders in their own right.
for event results, see: http://my4.raceresult.com/63209/?lang=en#0_941B57 ]
Scene 3: The Prep Work
Strava courses were read, again, and again and again. The 2016 race report from the ANZA blog was read, again and again and again. Through the chat group, Steven Wong doled out some great advice about the course, where time could be made (or more specifically, lost) etc…
Even more important was having the proper fitness to be able to ride strong on days 3 and 4. Weekly mileage went from 300 to 350 to 400+ in the weeks leading up to the event. Intervals were added and a 2 week intensive was also planned for the beginning of September. Luckily, the Haze never materialized for more than a couple of days. In the weeks leading into the event, I easily achieved my highest cardiovascular fitness ever.
Scene 4: Stage 1
Thursday night, I didn’t get much sleep compared to my usual 6-7 hours. I wasn’t really nervous about my first road race, the bed was fine, my room was quiet. Regardless, I woke up Friday morning, ready to go. A 5:30am breakfast followed by an emptying of the bowels and it was time to convene on the race hotel.
We had a 23+ km roll out of town at a nice steady 32kph and ended up on a small, narrow 2 lane country road. Immediately, there were 50 guys all facing the bushes emptying their bladders. I figured I might as well try too, but nothing came out. Probably too many nerves.
After 5-10 minutes, the first peloton containing open A, open B and the 30’s were off. This was my first time riding so fast in such a large peloton (there were 136 people listed over these three categories). I had once read that riding in a large peloton was a thrill close to flying. The first 15km, before the first [small] hill, we averaged 45 kph, often hitting over 50kph. This newb stayed in the middle / back of the main pack. It was thrilling.
There were some minor hills, but the main peloton stayed together. We hit the [small] KOM hill at the 32km mark and the group started to fragment. I felt good and kept going up, passing people left, right and center (note – I started the hill near the back of the main peloton). I crested the hill with only a couple of riders in front of me (plus a small breakaway) and was able to fly down the slope reaching over 70kph (see again the flying reference).
It was at this point I made my first mistake of the race. For some reason, I thought the riders I was with had put some distance on the peloton. After all, there were maybe 15 riders or so who I saw rotating around myself, throwing small, non-sustained attacks off the front. It was awesome! My error is that I didn’t know what was behind me. It was the full peloton. Full Stop. I was having lots of fun, but spending too much energy with 30+km left in the race. We hit the final hill of the day and I was fully absorbed back into the peloton.
I was still feeling great, so was riding near the front with about 20km to go. Then cramp. My right quad got stiff and ‘almost seized’. I was able to keep rotating it and due to the flying nature of the peloton I was able to sit up and just spin without being dropped. I assessed my fluid situation. I had ~ 2.3 bottles left (yes, I carried 3 bottles). I have this minor fear of running out of hydration (a story for another day), but had been feeling so good and running on adrenaline that I hadn’t properly fueled / hydrated myself over the previous hour. Luckily, I was able to prevent full cramps. I downed a bottle of liquid, finished off my gels and started feeling great again. Time to go to the front again. Both of my quads had something else to say about that. Cramps again. Time to shut it down. I sat in the back of the peloton and coasted into the finish.
I met all my pre-race goals of stage one. Have fun, not getting dropped by the main group. In fact, it was even better than that. The race winners ended up ~ 15 seconds on the peloton and all of the 30s in the peloton got the same time, 1:41:46 with an average speed of 43.9 kph. An awesome morning. Frank and Sofiane were also with the peloton and got the same time, with Sofiane even getting a podium spot (5th)! Ståle had gotten dropped and rolled in some 7+ minutes later.
Scene 5: Stage 2
I have this fear of running out of water and dehydrating. I don’t really know why this fear exists during a road race where there are motos all over the place with bottles of water available within 30 seconds or less. With that said, I left the hotel Saturday morning with 5 bottles full of liquid. My three bike bottles and two extra hotel water bottles filled with some carbo drink. We had a longer day ahead of ourselves today, a 25k roll-out and then 99km or racing with a 10+ minute KOM hill about 2/3 of the way through. I consciously drank a full bike bottle during the roll-out and then filled up the bottle with the two disposable bottles at the 10 minute rest stop before the racing began.
I rolled out with the 120+ strong peloton determined not to cramp and determined not to ride on the front before the KOM hill. Everything was going great; the first 69km was like a zone 2 ride for me (139 BPM average). I stayed protected in the peloton and expended very little energy.
The peloton rolled along at 40+ kph, down the highway and then onto a winding country road (without potholes today). We had a moto escort, but the roads were open and we still had to watch out for cars (and dogs); after all, the peloton was moving fast and took up both lanes when they were clear. I had a couple of close calls, including a left hand turn with wet pavement, but was able to stay upright. Overall, the peloton did a good job of calling out cars and taking care of itself.
Then, 57.5km in, there was a car parked on the right hand side of the road. The first half of the peloton made it through ok. I was on the right hand side of the road and when I saw what was happening decided that it was best to come to a complete stop. I safely stopped, upright, and saw a Cycosports bottle roll underneath my bike. I looked back and saw both Frank and Sofiane on the ground along with several others behind them. I picked up the bottle to hand back to Sofiane and started to say a word of encouragement; then I see his rear derailleur just hanging there on the chain. The derailleur hanger had snapped. There is nothing I can do to help. I shout to him that the hanger is snapped, hop on my bike and hammer it to get back onto the peloton. I wind it up and with a couple of minutes, I’m back onto the peloton. Frank joins me seconds later.
The KOM hill comes some 10km later. This is my second mistake of the race. Steven Wong gave specific instructions about the closing seconds of this stage. The peloton will string out over the hill and after the decent, there will be clusters of riders. What cluster you get into will determine your finishing time. In short, get over the hill ASAP, don’t crash on the decent and essentially your finishing place will be determined by the cluster you end up in. I start the hill at the back of the peloton. In the first half of the hill, I pass many people. TOO MANY PEOPLE. 11 minutes and 24 seconds after starting the ascent (according to strava), I crest the hill (side note: If I was further up in the peloton, would I have gotten into a different cluster to finish the race? maybe yes, maybe no).
It is time for the decent. We were warned by the race organizers, multiple times, to descend cautiously. I’m in a group of ~ 10 guys and I yell out, at nobody in particular, “BE SAFE”, “RIDE SMART”, “LET’S GET DOWN TOGETHER”. The hairpin turn filled decent begins. I think things are going well. Then, about half way down, I see a guy in front of me have his rear wheel lose contact with the ground. He stays upright. A couple of turns later, he loses control and goes over the handlebars and into the ditch. Two guys (I assume watching him and not their own lines on the road) follow him in. The decent continues. One of the Thai guys I’m with yells at a support truck at the bottom of the hill and they spring into action going up to check on the riders.
[side note: see this video; it is a rear-seat camera of the second guy in the crash – all three who crashed are able to get up – just before the crash, you can see me make an appearance].
After the twisties, the downhill straightens out and it is time to hammer to try to catch any riders in front of us before it is too late. I find myself in a group of ~ 10+ guys including some locals. We finish out the decent with 2km at a -5% grade and a speed of 60kph. Again, AWESOME!
We even have our own support scooter. I’ll suggest that it was a bit more than a water bottle and wheel scooter as there appears to be a bit of drafting going on. Not exactly moto pacing, but there was a brief stretch where there were probably less than 5 meters between the scooter and the front of our cluster. This didn’t last too long.
We see a small cluster in front of us. I’m feeling really good at this moment. Nobody else in the group seems like wanting to do a big pull. Screw it. I’m at the front, ramp it up and we soon catch the small group in front of us. I get a pat on the back from a fellow rider. It’s a smaller group and we likely would have caught them anyways, but it feels great to have been the one pulling our group into the next one.
We have ~ 15km to go. Overall, there are 20+ riders in our group. We cannot see the group in front. So, we settle into a pace. I’m not cramping, and did I mention that I was feeling great, so I’m happy to repeat my mistake from yesterday and rotate around the front with a handful of other guys while the rest hang on.
At this point, nobody has any idea on how many people are in front of us. So, the tactics begin, with some hope that podium spots are still available. The group slows down, the group speeds up. People are left on the front too long, people next in line don’t rotate through, there are a couple of half hearted attacks but nothing sticks. With 5k to go, it ramps up then settles down. Same thing with 3k. With 1k to go, I find myself on the front again. MISTAKE. We are just kind of coasting (as much as you can use that word when you’re going over 45kph). At 500m, I’m still on the front. I won’t be able to follow any wheel in for sprint finish glory. OK then, with no other options in my head, I decide to sprint from the front and hope I’m stronger than the rest. I stick it in the 11t and ramp it up to 56kph and try to hold on. For the most part, I do hold on, but believe I’m edged by 1/4 of a wheel or so going over the finish.
We finished strong, but are 2 minutes and 1 second behind our age group stage winners (12 people in the 30s finished with a faster time). We are the 4th cluster to the finish line.
Overall, the 99km stage is completed in 2h31m05s with an average speed of 39.4kph. Of the two minutes lost on the age group leaders, approximately one minute is on the climb and one minute is on the decent.
Frank and Ståle come in with the next cluster, less then 2 minutes later. Sofiane joins soon after in the broom wagon.
Scene 6: Scenario Planning for Stage 3
There are two stages left, but with the last stage being an uphill, stage 3 was going to be moving day (if there was any moving to be done). Overall, there were 9 ANZA riders in our peloton including the Allied World guys in Open A and Scott Leadbetter, racing Open B (sub 30 year olds). Stage 3 was profiled as: 62km of FLAT, out and back on a highway followed by 11.5km of a very moderate incline and then 9+km of hills, including 3km of straight up to the finish (the open A and B got a special set of hills after that as well).
To put things succinctly, the goal of any planning would be to get riders with any sort of hope in the GC to the hills with fresh legs, possibly several minutes up on the peloton. I’ll leave things there. We decided to sleep on it. I spend way too much time scenario planning in my head while slowing getting my kit ready for the next morning and go to bed way too late.
stay tuned next week for part two…