by Andrea Ferschl
After missing the Masters Tour of Chiang Mai last October due to injuries I was keen on competing in another multi-day race. Since I don`t like Bintan ( I don`t know why), Phuket seems to be the perfect choice: not too long, I knew a few roads, and, for me, the best one, it is hilly!
So I signed upand was very happy that a big ANZA group, especially from my weekly Kranji 35, had also decided to race TdP. We did a few great training rides like Phil’s Hills ATI/ Southern Bumps/ RRR and I tried to train regularly on Faber to get at least a few meters of altitude.
So after all the preparations and packing the bikes, arranging the temporary accommodations of our daughters and being petrified to run out of gels Martin and I started off on a great weekend.
TdP Prologue, 5km ITT
After arriving at the Race Hotel and building up the bikes we had just enough time to grab some food before heading off on the 8km to the start line at Phuket Gateway. We weren`t in a hurry and so the whole Cat 3 group did a slower course recce all together. As we left the Gateway and turned right to the first and longest straight, I felt the wind and was very pleased to have my clip-on bars on. The course was great (besides the wind), there were only two turns slowing you down, and to the finish line you had a little “climb“ up, so it was perfect for me.
Now the waiting for the starts began, and that`s when my heart rate usually reaches the top (yes, I`m absolutely sure, my heart rate during a race will never be as high as before!). I wished Martin good luck, who started 20 min before me, and tried to calm down, but since I had never done an ITT before, it wasn`t very successful. I wanted to be very fast, as fast as I can, but how fast will this be? And is it faster than the other women?
At 15:02 my time had come, and I started not too fast to make sure I did a safe right turn. Heading down the long straight road I quickly found my “triathlon” rhythm, so I just had to remind myself to go as fast as I could and not to save energy for a run afterwards. Soon I passed the woman who started 1min before me, so I was sure I was not too slow. At the two tricky turns I may have lost a few seconds, but my priority was to stay ON my bike, so I didn`t care about that. In the last meters I pushed myself a little bit more, and after 6 minutes, 42.1 seconds I crossed the finish line.
Surprisingly, my time put me in 1st place of the women´s Cat (even 9 seconds faster than Luo Yiwei from the SCF Team, but later she decided to get in Cat 2 and didn`t count any more for the women´s Cat), and was 7th fastest in Cat 3 overall! I was very happy to get my first yellow jersey, but additionally I was very very proud of my fast hubby, who finished 3rd and got his podium, too!
After the podium ceremony we slowly rolled back to hotel, grabbed one, two or some even three ice cream on the way and the evening ended with a lot of food and beer (and for most of us with a lot of waiting for food and beer) in the hotel restaurant.
TdP Stage 2
The second day started with an early and nervous breakfast at 6am, and although I wanted to get enough calories for the day. Starting in yellow wasn`t good for my stomach and so I ended up with a little bowl of muesli and a half of a little muffin. At 6:30 we all rolled down to Phuket Gateway again, and after some photo shots and with the ominous feeling of doing poorly because of my tiny breakfast the 140km stage started with a 7.4 km neutral roll-out.
Then, after maybe 20km, the pace picked up and some riders started half hearted attempts to break-away, but nothing serious happened and the peloton stayed together until we reached the first KOM at the 69km mark. In the kilometers before I had managed to get into second position, and after a lot of rolling hills the KOM started. I pushed and pushed, and I saw Tim and Phil right beside me, and suddenly and much earlier than expected I saw the line on the road and realized- that was it. That was it? This steep but short climb?? Ok, don`t complain about it, still 70km to go!
On the bottom of the hill we were a nice little group with only one other woman, Jaqueline from the Matadors (a Suisse woman who got 2nd in the ITT, only 25s behind me). Unfortunately shortly after this downhill ride we were misdirected, and the others were able to close the gap. That`s when I got the news, that Ian unfortunately crashed on the way down and also one of the other women came off her bike, but nobody knew if they were injured or why they fell.
The next 40km was a nice steady pace with the temperature rising, but I still felt very confident and my plan, just to stay with the other women and therefore in yellow, seemed to work. At 109km the second KOM starts, and this one was longer, steeper and at the end I was first woman, but I didn`t manage to catch up with the bunch of guys in front of me, including Tim and Phil. That was my biggest mistake of the day, because behind me were only Jaqueline and another rider and then, as long as I could see, nobody else. Soon we were a tiny group of 3, still 30km to go, the sun was burning down, and also my biggest rival was with me. And Jaqueline obviously had fresher legs, because she pushed from the moment they had caught me.
A little bit further the guy dropped, and suddenly I lost all my confidence; my legs hurt and began to cramp, it was too hot for me and the never ending rolling hills were killing me. Jaqueline went off, and soon there was a 50-100m gap was between us. I became really desperate, but forced myself to drink and eat to get rid of the cramps. I started thinking: did I ride 110km in this heat to loose my yellow jersey in the last 20km, even without a struggle? And, additionally, will I really go 20km to the finish line on my own?? NO, NO,NO! So in an act of black despair I pushed all-out to close the gap, and then, after another “climb” and a fast downhill ride, I caught her. She didn`t look strong any more, so we decided to help each other to finish. A bit later we passed Tim, but when I asked him for help, his short and exhausted answer was “Can not“, so we rolled on. Then, with maybe 10km to go, suddenly Apinya (a young Thai woman, 4th in the prologue) appeared from nowhere and tried to pass us, and from that point on we had no fun at all. And just when I thought it couldn`t get worse, the race changed to a TTT, but with the difference that Apinya, in front, was surging ahead and Jaqueline and I were trying to slow her down. The only good thing was that Apinyas mobile drink support supported us too. Thanks a lot to these nice and gentle guys!
The last kilometres hurt like hell, and since I saw the 140km mark on my Garmin, I was hoping for the sign-posted last 1km, but it didn`t show up! Apinya gets faster and faster, we were struggling hard to stick with her, and then, after 147km, we finally reached the sign.
Now the sprinting and chasing started, but the moment I stood up my legs cramped almost everywhere and I knew there’s no chance for me. I just tried to loose as little time as possible, and then I crossed the finish line as 3rd, totally spent and cramping.
In the end I lost only 3 seconds and was still first woman overall, Apinya won the stage after a fantastic chase and I got the blue jersey for winning all KOMs, but I wasn`t sure how I could survive day 3.
After showering and a nice (for me) and painful (for Martin) massage I regained my confidence and planned, to win at least the first KOM the next day to get the blue jersey, the rest will come (or not).
TdP, Stage 3
The third day started no better than the second, it was much to early to eat and my stomach revolted again and even though it was a kind of routine I was even more nervous than the day before.
Rolling down to Phuket Gateway, my legs surprisingly didn`t feel too bad, and after a short briefing we started again with a 7km neutral roll-out. Until the first KOM at the 34km mark our reduced Cat 3 Team (the luckily not injured Ian had left us the evening before because of his broken fork and TC didn`t feel well) did very good work for Tim and me (big thanks especially to Cam and Martin!), so we reached the KOM in good condition and could both win our category.
Afterwards, the Peloton split into two bigger groups and a few smaller, but Apinya and Jaqueline were still in the first group with me. Now 50km rolling hills were waiting for us, and sooner than the day before I reached my „no-more-power“-point, as we had to ride a hilly and curvy road with a rough surface and a lot of big potholes. I struggled with getting dropped, and Jaqueline and Apinya were still on the front, looking strong. A few kilometres before the second KOM, though, I suddenly felt better and told myself to push on, and I made it back to the front. The second KOM was the first one in reverse, and it appeared to be much steeper and even longer than in the other direction! Reaching the top as first woman I could hardly breathe any more, and therefore I didn’t look back to the others, instead I struggled very hard to stay with the first guys. Then, maybe 800m after the KOM, another very long and steep hill nearly killed my legs and lungs again, but somehow I managed to stay in my group, above all because I was afraid of being caught by the other women by going on my own.
The last 20 km to the finish line we picked up a few guys from Cat 2 and some others dropped, but I felt much better than the day before (maybe because I knew it`s soon over;-)) and just rotated in our little group. Phil did a great break away, but unfortunately about 500m before crossing the finish line we passed him – sorry Phil, but I could not slow them down in time!
After crossing the finish line, we took some fast drinks at a little shop and rolled slowly back to Phuket Gateway, where the Award ceremony started. There we had to celebrate quite a lot of overwhelming results for Cat 3: Tim and I were the KOMs of the day, the KOMs overall and I won the stage and overall. And, additionally, we won the Team result overall!
After the ceremony we had to head back to the hotel, pack the bikes and could only take a short shower before leaving the rooms for check-out. Some of us had a later flight, so we gathered again at the restaurant, eat, drank and had some fun in the waterpark!
Thus ended this great weekend of pain, luck (especially for Ian), fun, relaxing, eating delicious Thai food, and happiness! For me my first multi-stage race was a wonderful experience, and I had to admit, in the beginning I was very afraid of riding in a big peloton again and especially of falling again, but it was a lot of fun and during the race I never felt uncomfortable or was afraid of something (or someone;-)). I can only recommend it, and hopefully in the future more women will seize the chance to race. Furthermore I want to thank Cycosport for doing a great job once again, and last but not least biggest thanks to all the ANZA guys racing with me:
YOU´RE ABSOLUTELY AWESOME (and I´ll definitely miss you!!)!!