Tour of Friendship 2017: Stage 4: Brutal Climbs In Brutal Heat! 

The Most Brutal Day Yet!

The Erawan National park loop today was cut short by 30 km. It was supposed to be an out and back ride with a hill in the middle that would be climbed from each side. The route remained the same but the U-turn points were cut short by 15 km due to dangerous road conditions, making it a 100 km stage with about 1700 m of climbing. The climbs are supposed to be steep with a lot of rolling terrain. The lean climbers were itching to go as it is the stage that is likely to determine the overall winners.

The Breakaway And The Crawl!

Right out of the hotel, when we got to the main road, Spectrum Racing’s Arvind Bhateja found himself in a group of 5 riders at the front away from the peloton. Rajesh Nair joined him and they were a couple of hundred meters away from the bunch. There was a bit of looking back from the group and the 5 of them decided to go while Arvind fell back to the peloton.

The break had a rider from Matador Racing, one from CCN, one from Project 852(Philippe Altherr), one from Specialized Mavericks(Liam Winston) and Rajesh from Spectrum Racing. That sort of composition meant, all the major teams in the peloton were represented and hence no one were chasing. Only the team of current leader in the category, Pavol Krizal’s Nich didn’t have anybody in the break. But, they were not willing to chase. So, the peloton began to roll at 30-33 kmph. For someone sitting in the bunch that’s like a morning recovery ride. A couple of attempts by others to bridge up to the break were not allowed to go by Matador riders who were patrolling the front and controlling the pace. Around 35 km mark, the 30-39 and 50-59 group which started 10 mins behind us, caught and went past us. None of us interfered with their group and continued to ride at the same sedate pace.

The KOM Segment:

At the front, the 5 breakaway riders kept working smoothly and hit the climb at 40 km mark. The 4 km 7.5% climb offered a KOM jersey and bonus seconds. They had a lead of about 6 mins on the Peleton. The peloton hit the climb together and quickly broke into pieces. It was every man to himself on the climb except for a few riders who were climbing as a group. I quickly dropped to my granny gear and started to ride it at my own pace.

As you hit the climb, you could immediately feel the heat. 42 C is no joke. When you are riding on flats with the wind helping you cool down, it might still be bearable. But on the climb, the effort combined with the slow pace and very little wind means that the body heats up really quickly. I kept taking water from the support bikes and kept drinking some and dumping the rest over my head to cool down.

Even in those conditions, the fastest riders rode the 4km 7.5% KOM section in just under 13:xx mins at a brutal pace.

The Brutal Kickers!

After the KOM segment, the climb continues further with a few flat sections and descents in between. The climbing sections are regularly over 10-12% with a couple of 20 %ers thrown in to good measure. It was brutal to tackle those in that heat. My front wheel kept flying off the road and it was a struggle keeping a straight line.

There were many sign posts indicating the gradients and encouraging us to use low gear. I didn’t need any encouragement. The granny gear I had was not enough and I was grinding up those kickers at a crawling pace. After the climb, the ride around the hill in the valley also brought some insanely steep sections. I don’t remember seeing any flat portion of the road for the entire duration. It was either going straight down or straight up! The heat, the humidity, those gradients that kept coming at you continuously one after the other like sick jokes. It was one of the toughest days on the bike for me!

As I was descending into the valley roads, I saw a few riders from various age groups riding back up. Some lean guys were climbing smoothly but most of them were grinding up those steep hills. Looking at those painful expressions I could tell what lies ahead for me on the return.

I saw Rajesh on the other side of the road with a puncture waiting for a spare wheel. What tough luck. He was doing well in the break and had good gap to the peleton when he punctured and had to wait for 40mins for the support van to arrive. Support vans are usually close by but today they were not allowed to continue on to the climb from 40km to avoid any incidents with riders riding fast on both sides. His race was done. But he finished it after he got the spare wheel.

Only one rider from his breakaway group survived ended up being 1st(Philippe Altherr of Project 852) for the day while all others got caught and finished a bit back. Racing needs a bit of luck along with the strength on the bike.

The Master’s, Women and Junior riders took a U-turn at 53 km mark while the rest of us had U-turn at 68km. After the U-turn, all those steep fast descents became scary steep slow ascents. It was a matter of just putting one pedal stroke ahead of the other and keep moving.

The water support guys would appear like angels with cold water bottles from time to time. Without them, dealing with this heat in this terrain is just impossible. I must have taken around 10 bottles overall.

After the climbs, the descent was a god send. The steep long straight descent meant that for the first time I saw 70 kmph on my Garmin. After we descend down to the start of the climb, we had to take a left to head towards Srinakarin Dam which is 5km away. There was some climbing to be done towards the finish as well and it took all my reserves to get it done and cross the finish line.

Perfect way to cool down after a hard race! Agree? 🙂

While the terrain and the weather conditions make it one of the toughest days, the route itself was amazingly beautiful. The valley views, the rivers, the reservoirs, the dams, the incredible greenery of the national parks, these are some of the most verdant and most beautiful parts of the country. If only it was some 10-15 C cooler and less lumpy, it would have been perfect. Well, if it wasn’t challenging enough, we wouldn’t be here, would we?

Results:

In our Indian contingent, the stick figure climber, Muralidhar, put his weight to power ratio to good use and rode a superb race. He finished 19th for the day and moved to 27th in GC.  Naveen Raj and Anubhav rode another good race and finished 26th and 31st for the day. Naveen has the best GC position for us in Open at 22nd while Anubhav is at 28th in GC, just behind Murali.

In 40-49 category, Rajesh was riding a brilliant race before he had a flat that took the chances of success out for the day.

In 50-59 category, Craing Raynes suffered on the steep hills and finished 12th for the day. He also lost his 5th spot on the GC. The terrain today didn’t agree with his weight. Let’s see what tomorrow’s final stage brings for him.

In Master’s category, Russell Bell finished 4th on the day and stays in 4th position in GC as well. He continues to impress with his determination.

As expected, Stage 4 saw major shake up of GC across all the categories.

In Open Category, Taylor Price dropped down to 8th from the top of GC leader board. Jean Lou Paiani took the top spot in GC with a brilliant win on the day. Paolo Caputo finished 2nd on the stage and also has 2nd in GC. Again the top 5 riders are within 44 seconds of each other. Tomorrow’s stage is likely to finish in a bunch and unlikely to change things up.

In Women’s category, Natalie Brooks took a fantastic win and moved up to 3rd in GC. Chiho Miura took the learder’s jersey in GC while Carina Newman moved down to the 2nd spot.

In Master’s category, Adrian Halkes is way ahead of the rest. Melfi Gerard is in second spot, Satrah in 3rd with Russell at 4th. Things might remain the same after last stage too.

In 30-39 category, Taro Komura took the stage win and it propelled him from 12th in GC to 3rd spot. Chatchai finished 2nd on the day and moved to 4th from 9th spot in GC. Romain Barbier and David Lloyd are still one and two respectively.

In 40-49 category, Philippe Altherr(Project 852) rode in the breakaway the entire race and took the win by about 5 mins and took the win in the GC. Superb race from him. Michael Naert(Matador racing) finished just 5 secs ahead of Martin Lieberz(Project 852). Project 852 had 3 guys on the podium today with Philippe Cosentino finishing 4th. Edo Bawono(KGB) rode a brilliant race and finished 5th for the day and moved to 5th in GC from 14th.

The leader from the first 3 days, Pavol Krizal(NICH) didn’t finish the race. He is a big guy and he tried keeping up with the climbers up the first climb and blown. He decided to throw in the towel for the day. Will he come back and make everyone pay for it on a relatively flatter stage tomorrow? Let’s see!

In 50-59 category, Ralph Sigg won the stage and moved from 2nd to top step in GC. Tim Carter finished 7th on the day and lost his first position in GC. Jens Ostergaard moved from 3rd to 2nd with a second place in the stage. It was anti-fat boy course to the core and the results showed.

The Junior podium remains the same.

You can see the complete results here.

What’s Next:

Tomorrow is the final stage of the race. It is a 90km relatively flat stage with a few rolling hills. It has about 650m of elevation still. There is a chance of some action to shake things up on the rollers. The racing will still be aggressive with riders close timings in GC trying to change their positions, riders without podiums going for glory one last time. Let’s see how it peters out.

 

 

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