Tour of Friendship R1: What Is It?
After the 13th Asian Games in 1998 in Bangkok, Titaree Tanakorn decided to organize a new cycling tour with support of 40 commissaries. First named the “Anti Drug Tour Thailand” and “Tour of EGAT” the name later changed to “Tour of Friendship”. Famed for its friendly and fun atmosphere, the event grew every year by 60-80 riders and this year the organizer expects around 200 foreign riders to compete. The “Tour of Friendship” is neither about professional racing nor money – it is all about the love for cycling and to connect cyclists from all over the world.
The tour is well organised, with a dedicated staff of 120 to take care of the roads and to support the cyclists on their ride. The entry fee of THB16,900 covers the race fee, hotels, food and transfer to and from the airport – more or less all expenses. The trophy will be different each year and it resembles a spare bike part.
TOF: How We Got Here!
Last year three of my teammates from Spectrum Racing, Arvind Bhateja, Vivek Batheja and Rajesh Nair, participated in Tour of Friendship 2016. They came back completely battered but immensely impressed with the race and the way it was organized.
According to them, the terrain was tough, the field was tougher and the weather was the toughest. The terrain was rolling, peppered with short but steep hills, the field consisted of some of the strongest amateur riders from around the world across all age categories, the weather was hot as hell(40-45 C) and extremely humid adding to the overall challenge.
They suffered and only one out of three(Arvind) was able to complete all the 5 stages. But they had no doubt in their minds that they wanted to go back and do it again in 2017. That is the thing about challenging events and masochistic cyclists. The tougher the event, the more they go back asking for more.
My skipper, Arvind, went one step ahead and made sure that it would not just be himself and his teammates that would suffer this year. He started spreading the word about the race and soon the interest to take part in the race grew from 3-4 guys from Spectrum Racing and Bangalore to 20-25 people from all over the country, within months. He took time out of his busy schedule to help coordinate a lot of information and logistics for the riders who showed interest. He did not stop there. He put some of his own funds to ensure that some of the good riders from the community are able to make it to the start line so that they can gain experience and exposure to an international field of competition. We are lucky to have such people in our cycling community.
22 riders from India are participating in the race from cities like Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore. It would be interesting to see how we all are going to cope with the tough race in these tough conditions but for sure this is going to be a great learning experience for all of us.
The Race Route:
Tour of Friendship is a 5 day stage race. It typically starts with an individual time trial on the first day and then has 4 stages of around 100-150km for the rest of the race. The rider with the least cumulative time will be the overall winner(General Classification, GC, winner) and the rider with the least time(who crosses the line first) for the day will be the day’s winner. The race also has age groups with riders under 30, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, Veterans(60+) and Women.
Stage 1: Prologue
The first stage starts on 29th April with an 18km time trial inside an air force base. In the previous editions of the race, the prologue used to be a 7 km race but since there was construction work going on, on the regular route, they had to find a new course just two weeks before the race. The route is a fairly flat course with some sharp turns. The tree cover on the course should help keep the temperatures slightly cooler(high 30s to low 40s). The wind conditions are going to play a role although it is a loop with the start and end points at the same spot.
This is ideal for the big guys with high absolute wattage numbers to get into the leaders yellow jersey!
Stage 2: Stage 2 Bangkok – Kanchanaburi (100 km +20 km; +174 m /-161 m)
Stage two on 30th April is going to be a 120km race from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. The first 20km from the hotel in Bangkok to get out of the city will be a neutral section and once the riders get off the highway, the race starts and continues for the next 100km to end outside Kanchanaburi.
The route is a pretty flat course and should see fairly fast pace. Although it is a sprinter’s stage of sorts, the big guys who managed to get into yellow in the first stage should be able to retain the lead in General Classification(GC) unless something dramatic happens.
It would be a real shock to a lot of people who might be spending 3-4 hours in 40+ degrees Celsius heat and humid weather at race intensity. Hydration is going to be really key. The race support is supposed to be excellent with excellent mobile water support.
Stage 3: Ride up to Vachiralongkorn Dam (129 km ; +891 m/-781m)
First of the 2 super hard stages from Kanchanaburi is the race to the top of Vachiralongkorn Dam. It is a hill finish of sorts finishing on top of the steep approach to the dam. The route is peppered with many short and steep hills, with the first of the day’s selection likely to happen at 40 km mark on a 2.5 km steep kicker. Then another couple of steep ramps at 50 and 60 km into the race would mean that the action is not going to ease off even after the initial selection.
The winner would likely to emerge from a short section of break away riders with the most powerful kick up the steep ramp up to the Dam. This is the day where GC positions from the first two days could see a major change.
Stage 4 Erawan National Park Loop Ride Class Open, 30-39, 40-49 (129.2 km +1989 -1865 m)
This is the queen stage of the race with around 2000 meters of cumulative elevation gain over a distance of 130 km. The 130 km route is only for Open, 30-39 and 40-49 categories. Other categories will have a shorter race on the day. This is the stage that will most likely determine the overall winner in the GC.
Again the breaking point is going to be around 40 km into the race where the first climb of the day starts but the winners are going to be determined by the strongest of the lot in the climb on the return where we are going to climb the same hill on the other side on the return back to the finish line.
The guys who are able to keep their wits about themselves in the days leading upto this tough day and stay strong are going to be able to do well on this day. If history is anything to go by, not many riders will be able to complete this day’s stage.
Stage 4 Erawan National Park Loop Class Junior, Lady, 50-59, Men Master (83.3 km +1379 m -1253 m)
Stage 4 is going be slightly shorter for 50-59, 60+ and women category riders. They will take a U-turn much before the riders of other categories to finish the race about 5o km earlier. Shorter race means a bit of less time for these categories in the heat but it will still be a hard race that is going to determine the overall winner.
Stage 5 Sai Yok Loop (89.6 km +638 m -630 m)
The last stage of the race is a 90 km loop with no major climbs. The day is likely to be about consolidation of your position in the GC. By this day, the podium is most likely determined for most categories and the race might not see a whole lot of action. Everyone’s focus might be to finish the stage without incident.
The Indian Contingent And Our Chances:
There are some really good rider from our group of 22 riders from India. The current Indian National champion, Rahul Singh, is racing in the open category. Naveen Raj, multiple time Karnataka stage time trial champion will be riding as well. Anubhav Karmakar, the powerful package in a tiny frame from Hyderabad is in great shape and is likely to do well. Muralidhar, the skinny climber from Bangalore, made it to the start line thanks to the contributions from the cycling community, and is likely to do well. Rajat Subrata Roy from Pune is in the same category. These are the guys with good chance to do well in open category. A few riders like Rajani, Venky Keyframe etc., who belong to age category 30-39 chose to ride in Open category so that they could help these riders if needed.
To be honest, our chances of getting on the podium in this category are very slim. The reasons being the lack of experience in riding in these conditions as well as the depth of the field itself. Best chances will be if all of the riders in this category put their resources to work for one or two riders. I didn’t see Rahul race much but you don’t win the National championship race by fluke. I know Naveen Raj and Anubhav and they both have the best chance being good punchy climbers. Among the two though, Naveen has much more road racing experience but Anubhav might be better at the punchy climbs and stronger in the watts per kilo department currently. It will surely be interesting to see how it unfolds in the category.
Rushit is the only guy from our contingent riding in 30-39 category. He is constantly improving and it will be a great learning experience for him to ride in fast groups.
In 40-49 age group, Arvind, Mohan, Rajesh Nair and BikeyVenky(your’s truly) from Spectrum Racing are joined by Mahesh Iyer from Pune. Rajesh is the best climber of the lot and with most experience in stage racing. We are going to put our resources to try and work for him.
In 50-59 category, we have Craig Raynes from Spectrum Racing. He has good chance of making a mark in the category both in ITT as well as the other less lumpy stages.
In Master’s category(60+), we have our 71 years youngster from Goa, Russell Bell. He is a great rider with amazingly positive approach. I’m sure he will do well.
There is a race briefing later today along with race bib collection. I’m really looking forward to checking out all the fancy bikes and gear that I’m going to get to see over the next week. The strong legs that are going to ride those fancy bikes and the suffering that they are going to unleash is part of the package deal we signed up for.