Stage 2: Race From Natamburi To Kanchanaburi: Sprinter’s Delight!
Today’s stage was a 120 km dead flat stage with the first 20 km being a rolling start to get out of the city. The race was started in waves with 3 separate starts so that the roads won’t end up cluttered with 300 odd riders at one go. Open category along with Women and Master’s riders started first at 8:10 am. Then 40-49 category started at 8:20 am. After that, the final wave was of 30-39 and 50-59 categories starting at 8:30 am.
Rajesh Nair, Arvind Bhateja, Mohan Kumar and myself from Spectrum Racing along with Mahesh Iyer from Pune Wolfpacks are all in 40-49 category. We started exactly at 8:20 am and eased out of the city with the pace controlled by lead vehicle. After 20k, a horn was blown to signal the end of the neutral section.
There wasn’t any immediate action right after 20k, but the change in pace was immediately perceivable. Quite a few teams were at the front bunch dictating the pace. Matador Racing, Project 852 seemed to have the strength in numbers while Specialized Mavericks, Team Nich, CCN a few others have 2-3 riders each in the category. Spectrum Racing had 4 and an ally in Mahesh. Mohan and I were on domestique duties for Rajesh and Arvind.
The plan was to stay at the front of the bunch as much as possible while not actually pulling the peloton. We wanted to see if Rajesh or Arvind were able to get into a break. In case of a sprint finish, which we knew is a likely outcome on a flat stage like this, we wanted to set up Arvind for a sprint.
Road Racing 101:Positioning!
Positioning is very critical in road racing. Being on the front few wheels provides us a chance to respond to attacks, cover them when they happen or initiate attacks ourselves. Just wanting to be in the front bunch is not enough. You should be able to ride assertively to claim your position or you will find yourself right at the back within minutes.
If you don’t want to bother yourself with responding to attacks etc, you got to drop to a few more wheels back to mid pack. It will offer you a bit more cushion while the front pack absorbs the see-saw action. Riding all the way back at the tail end of the peloton is not necessarily easier and can be tougher than riding at the front, due to rubber-band effect.
The peloton can be like a flooding river with ferocious dynamic waves of attacks and counter attacks. Some propel themselves ahead catching the right wave or creating one, while, some get swallowed whole and chucked out the back mercilessly. Positioning yourself well and riding smartly determines where you end up more than how strong you actually are in absolute numbers.
Almost Spit Out The Back!
Rajesh and Mohan were constantly riding 2-3 wheels down from the front while I kept surveying the peloton moving from the front to mid pack where Arvind was riding. Around 50 km mark, after crossing the Tha Chin river and entering the Bang Len district, I was with Arvind in the middle of the pack, and we had to go through a traffic jam. The front group made it past the traffic jam squeezing through the vehicles and turned left to get on the highway again. By the time we turned left, I could see that the big bunch was almost a couple of hundred meters away.
I knew if we were to miss getting back now, we would never catch them again. I decided to burn whatever matches I had to ensure that I get Arvind back to the bunch. I got to the front, got aero and began to drill it. It felt like an eternity but I managed to bridge up to the bunch in a couple of minutes. Once, we got back, the bunch speed dropped a bit and I was able to regain my composure.
Break! Break!! Catch it!!!
The action at the front was hot most of the times with the riders from Matador racing and Project 852 along with a few other riders, constantly attacking to get away and form breakaways. But, the peloton was not in a mood to let anyone go. As soon as the gap goes to about 100 meters, the peloton would get nervous and start to react and reel them in. As soon as one attack gets reeled in, another bunch would try to go. This constant quest for getting away meant, the effort was constantly up and down and a lot of attentive watching of each other.
With around 50 km more to go, I decided to try my luck as well by trying to get into a break. I jumped the wheel of a couple of riders going away. Three of us began to take strong turns and I felt there was a chance that we could stay away for a bit. But, as I looked to get back after my pull, I could see that the peloton was right on our tails. Well, that didn’t last long! I calmly went back to about 5 wheels back and sat to watch the action.
The weather wasn’t as hot as we feared it would be but we still had to constantly hydrate ourselves. Whenever we stretched a hand asking for water, a motor bike with a crate of water bottles tied to the back would come and hand over a bottle for us. We would drink some and pour some over our heads to cool us down. They were a godsend. The water support bikes would ride on the right side of the peloton acting as traffic guardians as well as ensuring that we don’t ride into the right line of the road that is free for normal traffic.
The Hectic Finish:
While we kept dealing with the continuous attacks, the distance kept ticking quickly and after 107 km, we had to take an U-turn for the last 10 km to the finish. There was a bit of confusion as some of the riders couldn’t slow down enough for taking the turn. But eventually everyone made the turn safely and began to prepare for the dash for the line. While there were quite a few potholes right trough the route, the road towards the finish offered a little more excitement. I almost flew off a small raised bump of gravel on the road twice in quick succession. I quickly moved onto the shoulder which was a little smoother with lesser potholes. With 5km to go, a big patch of what looked like broken beer bottles welcomed us. Frantic shouts followed and a couple of km later, a couple of loud tire blasts ensued. One such puncture in the final 2km, took out yesterday’s winner, the Slovanian track sprinter, Pavol Krizan, out of the sprint contest.
I had to politely remind a rider who was on Rajesh’s wheel as we approached the last 2km that it was my wheel and I got on his wheel. The last km saw a few more attacks that disrupted the sprint trains that were being formed. It went all haywire and before we knew it, the line was with in 50 meters of us. There was no arch or anything to indicate the finish line except the yellow band on the road. It took us by surprise and Richard Dumpleton of Matador racing took the win with a strong sprint. Rajesh finished 13th and I finished 16th for the day. Arvind and Mahesh finished a few bike lengths behind us as well.
It was a really satisfying race where we rode well as a cohesive unit and finished strong with whatever limited resources we had. A couple of guys from other teams came and appreciated the way we rode at the front today. Feels good. Hope to keep it going for the remaining 3 days .
In the Open category, Pichet Puengrang of Team Roojai-Ch. Numchai Interbike, took the sprint win! Yesterday’s winner, Taylor Price safely finished with the bunch and retained his 7 secs lead in GC after stage 2. There is no change in the GC positions after this race. It will be interesting to see how the minute gaps in the GC will change after a bit more lumpy stage 3.
In Women’s category, Carina Newman of Saint Cloud Racing and Chiho Miura managed to finish with the open category bunch and gained a big gap over the rest of the women field. Does it mean they have the top two spots for themselves already with 3 more stages remaining? Let’s see how this unfolds over the next 3 days.
All the three junior riders managed to finish with the Open category bunch and the top 3 didn’t change. The gaps are not that big between 2 and and 3rd spots and it could very well be a fight between these two spots for the remaining three days.
In 30-39 category the results remain same for GC while, Taro Komura of Wave One Swift Carbon team took the sprint win.
In our category of 40-49, Pavol Krizan lost only 17 seconds despite a puncture in the last 2 km. He still holds 21 sec lead for GC.
GC for 50-59 didn’t change again with Tim Carter leading the charts. My teammate, Craig still is on the 5th spot on the podium.
In Master’s category, Russell Bell lost a ton of time today and lost his 4th spot on the podium. I’m sure he will keep fighting to crawl back up the rankings. Adrian Halkes has over a minute lead at the top spot of the podium.
Results for the day can be found here.
Tomorrow is a 120 km race on a rolling route. The weather this side of Thailand is supposed to be much hotter. It is going to be a challenging race. Hopefully, the aching body is able to cope up with the next two days of difficult racing.
Ride On My Friend!
Back home, a friend, a fellow cyclist and runner, Ashok Kumar, had lost his life in an unfortunate accident. May his family find strength to deal with this tragic loss. It is a sad reminder of the ephemeral nature of this life. You will be missed, Ashok!
All of us on this tour will pay homage to your passion by giving our best on the bike like you always did! Ride on, buddy!