When I first heard of the Tour of Friendship, the thought of racing through Thailand didn’t really appeal to me. I would have prefered to have simply ride through Thailand and take the time to smell the roses. After experiencing this week however, I’ve definitely changed my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun at a bike race.

Stage 5 looked like a relatively easy day on paper but there were a lot of riders who wanted to finish off their tour with a win. We covered 95km in just over 2hrs with more kamikaze attacks at every opportunity. It’s called the “3 punch” over here. Attack, attack and then attack again. They must have nicknamed me the Caucasian Punching Bag. With 25km remaining I bridged to a move that stuck. The worry however was that we were gaining some serious time and 2nd, 3rd and 4th in GC were all in the break. If we were to gain more than 4 minutes our man Sean would loose GC. With such uncertain distances every day we really didn’t know how long the stage was. The finish was preceeded by a 2km climb and I was surrounded by guys less than 60kg. Team Excellent Noodles has a ripper of a mountain goat who was in every breakaway but always drifted 10m off the back (and also wore armwarmers in 38C heat). He saw his opportunity for a win and punched it hard right from the beginning. Needless to say, yours truly dropped the wheel and came in 6th with my head slumped between my shoulders. I was absolutely spent. Team NeilPryde won the overall GC in the Open Category, so mission accomplished.

A few things I’ve never experienced before while racing over here in Thailand:

1. Calling out “elephant up!” and “monkey left!”.

2. Racing through the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced. A day I’ll never forget.

3. Thai street food waiting for you at the end of every stage. Sensational!

4. Some serious hours racked up on the massage GC. Where else can you get a 3hr massage for $10? I’m virtually on par with riding time versus massage time.

5. Ice cream scooter selling popsicles while in the breakaway. This guy could have charged anything for one of those things. Next time I’ll bring money with me during the race.

6. Such a competitive bunch of riders who are racing for the Asian Expat World Championships. I loved the passion and assertive racing out of every single rider. If it had been easy it wouldn’t have been any fun.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Tour of Friendship evolves over the next few years. From what I’m told, for the past ten years it’s been a bunch of enthusiastic cyclists who put their hand in their pocket and came for a fun bike race. It’s been slowly growing over the past decade, but as these things progress there are more and more teams and sponsors getting involved. This means that people are coming all this way for a “bike race” and expectations naturally grow and results become much more important. I think this growth will mean great things for this race but I hope it keeps it’s charm and doesn’t get too serious. It’s not sanctioned by the UCI right now, and it would be good if it stayed that way.

There are a couple of people I want to thank. First and foremost, NeilPryde bikes for sponsoring the event, inviting me over, and letting me race a Diablo for the week. I took some photos of it while it was still clean and I’ll post a review on it shortly. I certainly rode it hard and put it through the ringer, so I have a very good idea of it’s riding characteristics.

Secondly, thanks to Rapha for supplying two sets of Pro Team jersey and knicks to all of us. This stuff was outstanding in the heat and the chamois was excellent over 5 big days of riding.

Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Stuart Morgan for secretly coaching me over the past 6 weeks leading up to the Tour of Friendship. I had been creeping badly since after Christmas and was getting dropped from the easiest of races. Stuart put me back on track and got my form back to where it needed to be so I could be at the pointy end of this race. (Stuart also coached Darren Lapthorne to his Australian Road Championship in 2007).

Mrs CT and I are going to take a few days off on the beaches of Thailand and put the legs up and relax. I might even read a book that has nothing to do with cycling. I’ll resume posts next week when the Giro d’Friendship starts.

Stage 5 Photos

Sean Smith held on to take the overall win in the Open category

These are the guys who imposed marshall law at every street corner to keep us safe on the roads during the race.

This little guy’s name is Shimano (seriously). From what we could tell, his brother’s name is something like “Spare Parts”. I might be misunderstanding this though…

Nice trophies for the podium winners!

Fredrik Croneborg, a Swedish triathlete living in Shanghai snags a podium finish. What a gutsy little rider!

The race went up to Khun Dan Dam where we took a nice long dip in Bangkok’s drinking water.

Simon Kessler, a former pro from South Africa (check out his coaching and bike tours websites), Clive de Sousa who owns Glory Cycles, and Dave Christenson, a talented film maker (check out his 2010 film reel – awesome!). I was privileged to ride with all these guys and felt like I made some great new mates throughout the week.

The two NeilPryde cycling teams

The Day After…

After a tough week in the saddle it was a real treat to be able kick back and tour around Bangkok today.

That’s all for me for the next few days. Mrs CT and I are officially out of the office!