2016 Tour of Friendship

After the March furnace of Bintan, Indonesia, it was with some trepidation the 23 riders for Project 852 arrived in Thailand for the 2016 Tour of Friendship. For many it was their first race.

Possibly the finest hotel in all of Thailand, the Nonthaburi Palace was waiting in all it’s splendour for the 252 riders to trickle in before Saturday’s Prologue. Unfortunately for late arrivals, 6 of the team received the Bethlehem treatment and were sent to an undisclosed location for the night. Unfortunately for early arrivals, there was a Karaoke festival cranking on the 8th floor until the wee hours.

The Prologue was the usual 7km hot dog circuit. With storm clouds brewing and lightning cracking down in the distance everyone was hoping for a dry road to belt out a quick time and test the legs. Sitting on the start line, dry as a bone, it was looking good. That was until you reached the first turnaround, which was somehow soaking wet. As was the one at the other end of the circuit. I’m still not completely sure how this weather phenomenon was possible, but it meant a slower than normal TT. The stage passed without incident, other than for Henrik who suffered an electro-mechanical and rode the stage on the latest Single Speed Di2 from Shimano. Mike Fiechtner rode to a solid second place in the 30’s and Ralph Sigg kicked off his title defence in style, taking the 50’s by 3 seconds over his nemesis Jurgen Zäck.

Stage 2 kicked off under sunny skies for a flat 100km stage. Which is actually a 118km stage. Not sure why the neutralised zone isn’t counted. Thailand….Anyway….

For a neutralised section, it seemed to be be moving rather quickly, with speeds getting up over 40km/h off the bat. At least no one attacked and broke away this year….

The 30’s and 50’s group were certainly flying and caught the Opens and Women towards the end of the stage. This led to an enormous group of riders heading for the line. Unsurprisingly, there was carnage in the bunch with numerous crashes, one of which took Mike out with 4 km to go in the 30’s. A touch of wheels in the 40’s had James and Leon heading for the pavement at the U-turn. An adrenalin and profanity powered return to the bunch ensued with not much time lost. Philippe and Ralph took third in their respective age groups. Without doubt, the hero of the day was Clark. After binning himself into a pothole inside the neutral zone and trying to remove as much skin as possible, he was then led astray by the Moto support to the tune of an extra 30 km. Finishing nearly half an hour behind the main bunch and looking like he’d been an extra on the Saw 2 set, it was going to require a fair effort to ride the next day.

Stage 3, the Queen stage of the Tour is a monster. 130km and ~1700m of climbing makes it a test for any rider. With the KOM Jersey up for grabs 42km in, the pace is not too frenetic to start with. Around the 38km mark however, everything explodes and large gaps appear. In the 30’s Mike found himself in a break away with the time trial specialists of the Matador’s and Mavericks and started the ascent to the KOM clear of the chasing pack but was caught in the last 500m of the climb. Once again Ralph took the honours in the 50’s and Philippe captured the jersey for the 40’s. another 40 km in the stage and after some solid chasing back disaster struck and Mike’s chain snapped and meant after a 7 km scooter ride with his bike shouldered he was relegated to team services (together with Adam who punctured earlier) in the bus providing nutrition and motivation for a chase to the line for Scott. The eventual stage winner went away quickly and put a solid five minutes into the first chasing group and another ten on top of that into James’s group. Bill “The Tractor” was towing the rest of the field another 10 minutes back again. #431 would discover that sitting in on The Tractor all day then sprinting past him at the line was not a great plan.

Although the broken chain put an end to Mike’s race but it did at least present an opportunity to go and find whether Kanchanaburi bike shops knew the difference between 10 and 11 speed. Hint: they don’t.

Stage 4, finishing at that damn dam was remarkably uneventful across the team. Tony had his first DNF, but we cut him some slack given the intestinal issues he’d been plagued with since Stage 1. Coughing up blood wasn’t the look we were going for. Mike was on team duty protecting Ralph’s 1st and Oleksiy’s 3rd place by chasing down every break away and found himself in a breakaway with 18 km to go. It seemed that the breakaway was going to last but an unwillingness (or rather lack of remaining power) of the group of 5 meant only 3 were left attacking the climb up the dam. Mike made his move with 99.5 km on the clock thinking the finish was over the edge at the 100 km mark but was surprised to find that the stage was actually 103 km which meant he was again caught inside the last km by the chasing pack so it was after all a day for the climbers who were flying past the breakaway.

Another Stage win to Ralph, 3rd for Philippe in the 40’s and 6th for Oleksiy kept their GC positions intact.

The final day, or rather night, took it’s toll on the team. Those who had foolishly partaken of the “Chicken Strogonoff” paid the price. It had certainly gone off. Non starters for the day left the hotel early and headed back to Hong Kong. Photos of Rozzo the Magnificent scamming his way into Business Class were just what we needed to lighten the mood.

It’s a 90km dead flat stage. 60km if you’re old. With GC basically decided in 30’s and 40’s it was down to Ralph to hang on to his slender lead over Jurgen to seal back to back victories. 19 seconds in the end for a great win. Oleksiy held onto 3rd place in the 30’s and Philippe the same for the 40’s to add to the collection of trophies for the Tour. Henrik finally had some luck and claimed 5th place in the stage. Obviously the highlight of the day, because he’s writing this race report, was James’s first stage win. Sneaking away from the bunch with 50km to go in an attempt to bridge to the early breakaway, James was joined by The Tractor with around 30km remaining. Collecting the 3 remaining riders one at a time.

In summary it was a great P852 outing with solid efforts, great team spirit and good banter all along. Bring on (the slightly hillier) 2017.

© 2017 Roojai