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  • Writer's pictureBen Farnsworth

Masters Tour of Chiang Mai 2016 Race Report

Masters Tour of Chang Mai is 4 day stage race has become a favourite for Singaporean based riders with large teams being sent by my team SwiftCarbon Virgin Active as well as Allied World, Specialised Mavericks and ANZA and smaller representation from Team Integrated Riding, APS, cycletrainingasia and Team 4T2.  

It also attracts top riders and teams from Asia including a couple of people just back from the Rio Olympics so competition is always hard!

Stage 1

Super excited for my second ever stage race and my first race with the team especially after travelling all the way to Lombok for the GFNY and getting food poisoning.

Stage 1's course was 74.5 kms with 420 vertical climbing but is mainly flat with some rolling hills.

It was a nice easy ride to where the peloton split into two and I made sure I kept to the front to avoid some of the riders who didn’t look too peloton safe.  I made the mistake of stopping for a call of nature too far from the start line and ended up at the back of the peloton for the start.  

I ended up on the thin ‘country’ lanes at the back of the peloton not able to make it to the front.  The road were in really bad shape and there were potholes everywhere.  I was unable to avoid 4 or 5 of the larger ones (and managed to avoid a couple by bunny hopping).  I hit one so hard my Garmin mount broke and I had to put my Garmin in my jersey pocket.

Everything else seemed fine so managed to get to the front when we hit the main road.  I was eager to get into the action so sat near Mike K at the front.  I chased down a mini break which came back into the peloton and then sat on TimTam’s (Specialised Mavericks) wheel as he looked like he was about to go for a break.  He did - just before the start of the KOM and it was when I got out of the saddle to chase that I realised my rear wheel was all over the place.

I pulled over and realised the spokes were loose and then had to wait for the broom wagon for 45 minutes!  We stopped for a coffee but I opted for a beer to drown my sorrows.

Not the start to my Matadors racing career I was looking for.

Stage 2

I finished today so that was a massive bonus! Stage 2's course was 93.5 kms with 730 vertical climb.  The big test is 25kms from the end with a 3 km climb, 200 m vertical at 6.5% average which will certainly split the field. There is then a technical descent followed by a a 20km flat straight road to the end. I decided that today I would not leave the front 10-20 riders as there was no way I was going to hit another pothole and I was determined to finish the stage.  As it turns out the start today was nothing like yesterday and even if I had have started near the back it was easy to make your way to the front as there were three lanes and a hard shoulder. With any scant dreams of GC over I spent the first 45 minutes doing a probably a little too much work on the front  of the peloton but enjoyed going with a lot of the breakaway attempts and then just sitting on the last wheel much to the annoyance of everyone in the breaks.  I still have a lot to learn on tactics though as at one point Michael N shouted what I thought was "go off’ so I prompted chased another breakaway that Mike was already sat at the back off - apparently this means come off the front of the pack! When we came off the Highway Craig went off the front and told me to come with him so we worked hard for 4/5 minutes and managed to get a gap off 200m or so but apparently one of the GC contenders (someone told me this) tried to bridge the gap and the peloton chased back hard so we decided to sit up to conserve energy (I didn’t have much to conserve at this point).  I had been averaging over 315 watts and over 176 HR so I’m not sure how much further I’d have managed to go before I’d have cracked anyway. Up until the pre climb there were a couple of people going off the front but nothing looked to dangerous - what was far more dangerous was the oncoming cars and I was inches away twice from hitting them so decided to come of the right of the peloton and get myself back on the pace line on the front. We hit what I presumed was the foot of the hill (it turned out to be the pre hill) and was happy to find myself pedalling within myself in 3rd wheel behind TimTam but then when we started going down realised this was just the warm up.  Minutes later I we hit the actual hill and I very quickly dropped from 3rd to maybe 50th place with all the early work catching up with me. One by one I shouted encourage as most of my team mates passed me? Thankfully I got the top and started the descent cautiously as I didn’t trust my squealing rear wheel - I managed to pass one person, Donald M (Allied World) who is the slowest descender I’ve seen, but got passed by another 10 people or so.  One School of Iran rider flew pass me and then went off the road on the next corner.  7/8 corners later he flew past me again and was on the ground with 2 other people corners down the road… Idiot. I got the the bottom and there was no one near me behind and but could see 3 riders including Colin M 200/300 metres up the road so chased hard so I wouldn’t have to do the final 20km on my own.  Got into a decent pace line with myself and Colin doing the most work and was glad to be caught by a larger group from behind which included Didi and Frank and Stale (ANZA) so about 6/7 of us pulled the group of 20 or so riders to the end.  Great that it felt that I did my part for the team just gutted that I didn’t have anything to race for myself.  We definitely dominated the peloton until the hill - maybe we did too much again.  With no one in the top 5 it will be good to be able to sit in tomorrow so I can hit the hill relatively fresh.   I hope the 30’s don’t have to do the switchbacks tomorrow as I’m not confident that my rear wheel will last. Bring on Stage 3!!!

Stage 3

This is another day of racing that can I chalk up as a learning experience.  

Stage 3's course is 83.5 km with 630 m vertical climbing, all of which coming in the final 20km.   There are several consecutive shorter climbs followed by the final climb of 7km with 450m of vertical climbing with gradients of over 15% 

After receiving the good news that we were again starting on the highway and not needing to follow breaks today I took the decision to conserve energy and sit near the rear of the peloton until after the U-turn to conserve energy in preparation for the mountain top finish of todays stage.  

Everything pointed to it being a great decision as we had a headwind and the peloton was going at a rather sedate pace (other than a couple of surges) so I reached the turn around point with my HR averaging 135.

What I was not expecting was the pandemonium that would occur at the U-turn.  With the police not getting to the junction in time to properly stop the traffic the front of the peloton managed to sneak around before halting the back of the peloton.  I had to completely clip out wait the police to let us through again.  There were about 20 riders who got off their bikes and ran/jumped over the middle reservation so not to lose too much time.  By the time I got through the U-turn and looked up the road the peloton was single file and the rear was approx 300m down the road with 20 or so riders in 1's or 2's between.  I later found out that this was Mike and a couple of people attacking off the front.

I had little choice but to put the hammer down and chase the rear of the peloton as I didn't know if I'd ever be able to catch it again if I tried to slowly work my way back.  Unfortunately the only other people stuck behind didn't have the power to help me TT back on. I later found that I got the KOM for this 10km section which was 3 seconds quicker than Hugo who was in the break at the front.

After getting back on I decided to sit near the front of the peloton so not to get caught out again.  A couple of breaks went and came back in and TimTam went to the front and did a couple of big pulls so I sat on his wheel. Every time he peeled off I also sat up much to his annoyance.  :)  With no 30's up the road I thought I'd help Mike (now I knew he was up the road) by slowing the peloton.  Another 2 man break went and I slowly accelerated and sat on the second rider. They both did their turns but I said I wasn't going to work - I looked behind and saw that we'd somehow got a gap of 150m or so.  At the point I thought why not have a go and try to give myself a buffer going into the hill.  We worked well together but I realised I was putting in far too much effort but with the hill approaching I thought I may as well commit.

At one point we closed the gap to the group in front to a minute and the peloton behind was 45 sec according to the motorbike with the time splits.  As soon as we hit the rollers though the peloton gained on us we were quickly swallowed up.  

We then hit the hills and I have never been so scared in a peloton. The whole peloton was going around blind corners on the wrong side of the road at 45kph + with cars coming the other way.  As I was on the outside I was pushed all the way to the right so decided that this was suicidal (and I have no GC placing to protect) so dropped to the back of the peloton so I could keep on the correct side of the road.

This pushed me to the back for the start of the hill but much better than hitting a car front on.

I have only run out of gears once on a climb and that was on my TT in Ironman Wales so to run out of gears 1km into a 7km climb I knew it was going to be a tough climb.  Damian came flying past me early on and I managed to stick on his wheel for 3/4kms and I yo-yo 'ed with Kelvin for a while but we were unable to give each other any encouragement as we were both breathing hard!  I also passed Didi somewhere early on (poor bugger having to do it twice) and Craig who was cheating in prep for the ITT tomorrow.

I crossed the line and don't think I have ever been so happy to see a can of coke before!

Lessons learned:

1:  I need to stick at the front of the peloton no matter what to avoid mishaps like Day 1 and today.

2:  In hindsight it wasn't the cleverest move to work in the break (and definitely wasn't planned) but this is bike racing and it's much more fun giving it a go and failing than just sitting in the peloton.

3:  I don't think I'm built for climbing.  I've never raced in mountains before and I am much more suited to flatter courses.

Another hard but fun day of racing with plenty of lessons being learnt in 2nd stage race.

Stage 4

The final stage is a 10.5km ITT with a vertical climb 620m.

With nothing to fight for today and no team orders I was able to push myself over this tough finale.

As per usual I didn't pace myself well (surely as a Ironman athlete I should be better at this) and tried to hold my pre-injury FTP wattage for the first 5 minutes but this soon faded to my actual FTP.  With the end near I managed to push my limit and finish strongly until the last 300m which pitch up steeply and I clearly hadn't studied the route beforehand as had nothing left for this section,

Pretty happy with my result and actually set a new post-injury FTP but still way off where I was pre-injury.

It was a great 4 days of racing and I'm already looking forward to heading back out there next year! I realise that I have a lot to learn about bike racing and especially Stage Racing!


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