Battling under the scorching sun, some fifty riders were cresting a small climb when I heard, ‘Focus on the racing Scott.’ These were wise words from one of Singapore’s most experienced cyclists; Stephen Ames of the Specialized Mavericks, words more applicable than he may have intended. We were just kilometres from the first major climb of the day. I would later find myself repeating Stephen’s words in my head several times throughout the tour, as the mind bounced between various thoughts. Some positive, some distracting. Stephen’s comments were referring to me pulling out my camera to snap the feature photo of this post. Not an ideal way to safely race, my mistake. This was Tour de Phuket.
The stunning terrain of Phuket would be the battle ground for the inaugural Tour de Phuket, hosted at the state of the art Thanyapura Sports Resort. I’ve holidayed in Phuket dozens of times, but this would be my first time visiting with a bike. Past holidays tended to focus on the beaches, this time I would focus on the roads.
The tour is made of of three stages in the roads surrounding Thanyapura:
- 5.7 km ITT Prologue
- 113km Road Stage
- 86km Finale
In my previous post, I covered the epic ITT Prologue start to the tour, that saw me finish eighth in category two. I started day two feeling strong, fresh off some great encouragement from other competitors that have seen me progress over the past year. But stage two’s 113 kilometre route would be very different. We’d face hours in the heat, two big climbs and the very likely scenario of having to ride solo if dropped.
The peloton stuck together for the first forty kilometres, where the route moved from the main highway onto the smaller village roads. This made for a welcome change of scenery, as traffic was replaced with stunning rolling roads through Thailand’s rural villages. With most the field from Singapore, this is a pleasant change from the usual motorways, sky scrappers and heavy traffic.
Sitting on the front of the peloton at the 61 km mark, a few of us looked at each other to say ‘where’s the climb?’ But then it hit us, a tight right hand bend pointed us up the start of the climb out of Khok Kloi up into the tree line in the distance. Knowing I may not be as strong on the climb, I moved to the front and pushed myself ahead of the peloton. The aim being, once my legs tired and I drifted back, I would still be in touch with the main bunch at the summit. Half way up the climb I was still first wheel, but then everyone started passing me. Much to my surprise, I had hang onto the top fifteen riders, and with the helped of SwiftCarbon Virgin Active’s Dan Smith I attempted to bridge the gap back to the leaders.
Something wasn’t right. My body felt completely drained, my legs didn’t want to work. I couldn’t chase with Dan. What was wrong? Hydration was fine. I just couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t until later that realised my rookie mistake. I had misjudged the grade of the climb, and came unprepared with an 11-25 cassette, which resulted in my legs burning through all their energy on the first climb. I had nothing left.
Now off the back of the main pack, I found myself soul searching. Facing a possible solo ride for the final 60 kms. Luckily, help wasn’t far away, as the second pack joined me. Giving me a new lease on life. But even that was short lived. I quickly realized that the impact to my body had further implications, this time cramps. Again I was alone, facing just under 50km to the finish. My second mistake was not preparing salt tablets. I could correct both of these mistakes for tomorrow, I just had to minimize the time lose.
Crossing from the mainland back onto Phuket brought some relief, as I managed to claw back a few places. At the end of the stage, I had lost just over six minutes on the stage winner Matt Hodge, and three minutes on the second pack. In the general classification,I had dropped from 8th to 31st. Stage one ITT winner, James Clark had held onto the race lead by the narrowest of margins. While David Wei of GRCC had dominated the climbs, taking full points in both King of the Mountains classifications.
Returning to Thanyapura, I heard that I hadn’t had the worst day. Others had endured mechanical failures, huge solo sufferfests, and a few scraps and near misses. Sean Hogan had to head off to the local bike shop to fix his rear mech, and generously offered to pick me up an 11-28 cassette. Then over to Valley Cycles‘ Stephen Ames, who was also racing in Category two, to have it fitted. Thanks Sean & Stephen, the new cassette would be my saviour on stage three.
On the Saturday evening, between stages two and three, CycoSports and Thanyapura hosted the tour dinner. A feast of seafood to fill the stomachs of hungry cyclists. Topped off with the live broadcast of the Milan to San Remo race, not that anyone had the energy to stay up for the finish. The food at Thanyapura was amazing, both the Booster Cafe and the DeVine Restaurant served up a great selection of food, designed for athletes. Although there were also a few cheeky beers going around.
Stage three, known at the camel back, would be two laps of a 40km route. We’d twice go over a pair of climbs much steeper than stage two. The first time at kilometre twenty-six, and the second time at kilometre sixty-six. I was surely going to need that new cassette.
The stage would be a show down between between Singapore’s two big teams, the Specialized Mavericks andSwiftCarbon Virgin Active. KD Cycling Team from Perth, Australia, were also in the hunt, as they had ridden strong and put Tim Harris within six seconds of the lead.
The peloton chose to take it easy for the first fifty kilometres, or so I thought they did. As I had managed to stick with the lead group over the climbs, even managed roughly fifteenth place on the first KOM as I found myself next to Dan Smith again. Thanks Dan, two days in a row with words of encouragement in tough moments.
On the second time over the climbs I felt a small piece of satisfaction as I past race leader James Clark up the climb. He was having a tough day at the office.
The fourth and final climb was where the main guys attacked, opening a gap on the field. A gap that I couldn’t manage to close on the descent. I ended up working with the boys from KD Cycling to get back within a couple hundred metres of the main group. Close enough to see the final sprint. I crossed the line in 22nd for the stage, and had lifted my GC to 25th. Taking some redemption for the mistakes of stage 2.
Tim Harris of KD had taken the stage win, sending everyone to the calculators to try figure out who won the overall. Michael Neart ofSwiftCarbon Virgin Active had clinched the win by just 1.7 seconds from Tim, followed by Stephen Ames of the Specialized Mavericks. A closely fought battle.
video by Peter McQuade
Apologies my story is bias towards my own category, 2. In category one Allied World- CCN showed their strength by taking first and third on podium. While category 3 saw Darryl Tok bravely individually take on the KGB Team. Darryl conceded the win to Roy Widhijanto after his amazing solo break away from the thirty kilometre mark on stage 2. In the ladies, Serene Lee continued her success taking all three stages and the overall win.
Wrapping up the tour with presentations and beers made for an epic weekend. This may have been CycoSports first go at Phuket, and there would be some tweaks for future years, but the event had shown why CycoSports‘ races continue to be popular. The partnership between Thanyapura and CycoSports had worked brilliantly. Expect the Tour de Phuket to rise in profile next year.
The best word to summarize the weekend was epic. I’ll definitely be back next year.