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 7: Stage 3
It is [potentially] moving day!
There were dreams of a TTT style break catching the peloton by surprise and slipping away into the morning. That did not happen.
The peloton rolled out for a short 8.5km neutral zone and then the racing started. Well, for the first bit, the only thing that happened is that the pace went from ~ 33kph to 42kph. After the neutral zone, we had 54km out back on a flat highway before turning off into the hills. There were some small break-aways, but nothing that the leaders in the peloton felt threatened enough to hunt down. The ride out was uneventful, except for the multiple construction zones including some stripped down concrete. The road was open to traffic, but we had multiple motorcycles escorting us. Just before the U-turn, the front of the peloton started screaming: STOPPING, SLOWING, WATCH-OUT, CAUTION (and probably the same in Thai). The U-turn was at a rather large intersection. There was a RED light in the direction we were approaching and it was not clear; between the peloton and a clean U-turn were approximately 10 cars and just as many motorbikes, sitting there. The peloton slowed, split between the cars and made a very slow U-turn. With 130+ riders, it was not a clean moment. At the back, riders were fully stopped waiting their turn to get through. Likely seething as they saw the front of the peloton speed off on the other side of the road. Several even dismounted and hopped the barrier, cutting the U-turn short by several 10s of meters.
The front of the peloton saw the chaos of the U-turn as a chance to drop people and the speed quickly spun up well over 50kph. Caught up in the moment, I was near the front, just behind Raoul in just in front of Victor and Adam of the AWCS team and when I heard Adam (or thought I heard Adam) yell: GO, GO, GO!!!! Raoul wound it up, I wound it up and Victor wound it up in an attempt to bridge a gap to a small group of riders up the road. Raoul peeled off, I was on the front, I probably lasted less than a minute before peeling off myself, but we were successful in getting Victor on a wheel that got him to the small break away. Out in no-mans land, I sat up and then 30 seconds later, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, I was swallowed up again.
At some point, I look over, see an ANZA jersey and wonder to myself: Who is that? After a second, I realize it is Jason Dubois. Jason is a strong rider in his own right, but over the first two days, finished well off the pace. After the stage, I see him and ask how his ride went. He said that it was no fun getting dropped by the peloton and riding solo or in a small group for the majority of the stage, so decided to go all in and stick with the peloton as long as possible. This put a smile on my face. Jason finished only 10 minutes off the pace, much better than his first two days, especially considering the climb at the end of the stage.
The peloton rolled along. Soon, there was SURPRISE and CHAOS again. We entered another construction zone, spread across the lanes of the road. This time, the ‘feature’ was multiple lane wide, 10 meter long, 30cm deep cut-outs. With loose gravel on the concrete between them. “Luckily there was at least 2 meters of space to maneuver between the cut-outs” The peloton split. Some left, Some right and made it through. Nothing like big holes in the road to keep you paying attention…
[note: These construction hazards should have been communicated at the beginning of the stage and fully neutralized. There was a rather bad crash for the second peloton of the day on these cut-outs]
75 minutes and 54km after the neutralized roll-out finished, we were back where we started; it was time for the hills – first 11.5km of very moderate rolling hills then 9.5km of real hills. Conscious of my ‘mistake’ from the previous day, I ensure I’m near the front of the peloton. Zoom, Zoom, we twist through some small villages, even seeing two elephants walking the opposite direction.
Finally, we are 4km from the finish. ONLY 4km away, but with significant elevation gains to be made. First up is a 1km KOM hill. With the leaders a minute or two up the road, everybody around just settles in to their granny gears and try to spin up the hill as fast as possible. The KOM hill is followed by 1km of relative calm and then 2km of 9+% grade to the finish. After 9+ minutes, the finish is in sight! I stop the clock at 2h01m21s, 3m01s behind the [age group] stage winner and 15th in the 30’s category.
It is time to find the water truck. Down a little laneway, it is easy to spot. Soon, I’m joined by Frank, Sofiane and Ståle. The bike is set aside, water is consumed and fist-bumps, congrats and back-slaps are doled out to any and all who have finished. It was the toughest climb I’d ever completed (though that’s not saying much – I’m new to this).
After hydrating and consuming my recovery drink, somebody mentions about going back to the finish line to cheer on finishing riders, both of peloton 2 (finishing the same route as the 30s) and the open A and open B categories who had some extra hills to do. We lined the road, clapped and cheered people to the finish. Surprisingly, watching people slowly pedal uphill to a finish line, one by one, can be quite exhilarating.
For those keeping score, I’m now 5 minutes off the pace with a single stage to go.
Scene 8: Stage 4
Stage 4 is an ITT. Uphill at a relatively steady 6% grade. Prior to coming to Chiang Mai, I figured it to be a 35+ minute climb.
The night before stage 4, I’m scenario planning inside my head. What should be goal for the final stage? I look at the standings. I’m somewhere in the mid-teens. I decide that a realistic, but tough goal would be an overall top 10 finish in the GC and predict that I would need a 33 minute stage to get there. To the bikecalculator.com website I go. If I put out 400 watts average, I should be able to get 33 minutes. Is that a realistic wattage output for me? I don’t know. How am I going to pace myself? I don’t have a power meter. After 5 minutes of thinking, I remember this thing called ‘average speed’ and a speedometer on my garmin. If I have an average speed of 20kph before the final 600m where the road pitches up, I should be able to hit 33minutes.
The morning of the stage, I have a slow, rolling warm-up and the make my way over to the start-line. I wish those around me good luck and tell the guy behind me (30 seconds start time difference) not to pass me. Soon it is my turn.
After the count down and rolling down a ramp off a platform (just like the PROs), the hill starts immediately. After the first km, I look down and see my average speed is 22 kph. I’m in good shape. My heart rate is a steady 170 or so and now it’s just 30 minutes of putting in the work; something I’ve done before (on the viaduct, but never 30 minutes of straight climbing). By the 3km mark, reality sets in. My average speed drops below 20kph. So much for my 33 minute time. Perhaps I can do 34 minutes…
The minutes count up and the km left on my garmin count down; slowly. I can see the rider in front of me, but never get close. I seem to alternate between putting down some good power and then having interludes where I’m just spinning. This pattern repeats again and again. I start looking forward to the dip in the road. The strava segment shows a “relief section” including a significant down hill. The 7km mark goes by, it doesn’t come. The 8km mark goes by, it doesn’t come. My average speed keeps dropping. I have the energy to keep going, but not any faster. At some point, I get passed. I try to keep up without getting into the ‘drafting box’ but cannot. Soon, another rider passes also. Lucky for me, the rider immediately behind me doesn’t pass.
The 9km mark comes and I’ve given up hope for any downhill section. My average is 18.7kph, not too bad, but not my goal either. I settle in for what I know is coming in the final stretch where the road pitches up. The final 400meters are a 10% grade. I should drop the hammer, but I only slow down and grind through; there is no power in my legs. Sign-boards are on the side of the road telling me how far it is to the finish. I see a 100m sign and am dejected. In a moment of unclear thought, I think that there is 100m of elevation to go. That seems like a lot, but on the other hand, it’s only a bit more than one Faber. After a second, I snap out of it and realize I’m 100m to the finish line. There is no energy to speed up. I grind on, cross the finish line and stop the clock in 35m25s. I’ve missed my goal time. After getting a push to a place to safely dismount, I lean over the bike trying to catch my breath and take a long swig from my too full water bottle.
Catching my breath; the most sweat I’ve ever dripped on my bike…
Photocredit: Amanda Bakker
We wait around the finish line, cheering others through the finish and then go down the hill several km to a look-out for the final award ceremony. After watching the awards ceremony and consuming some packet lunches, it’s time to go back down the hill to the hotel. I take it easy while many others zip past.
At the hotel, we see the final GC results. I end up in 16th place, 8m56.92s behind the 30s winner (If I had hit my 33m goal time for stage 4, I would have ended up 12th overall).
In one way, the end is a bit anti-climatic. I didn’t win anything. ANZA got several minor stage podiums but nothing in the GC; despite this, I have a rather strong sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I rode well; many of us from ANZA rode well. It wasn’t perfect, but the extended weekend went about as good as I could have expected coming into Chiang Mai.
[note: A special thanks to #gordonsgetaways for keeping everybody on the up and up; pre-trip; during the trip and post-trip].
[for a video of scenes from the first three stages, please check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRg9Ql5jum8 ]