Think Melbourne – Warrnambool in monsoon rains with crosswinds in the suburbs of Bangkok with traffic. Or just think the Hell Ride on a rainy day. Take your pick. However, when I say monsoon rains, I literally mean that it was raining so hard out that it was comical. Guys were launching attacks only to be stopped by puddles up to their hubs. Semi trucks would pass in the opposite direction splashing us at tsunami proportions. Lightning struck a telephone pole 20m away from the peloton (I’m not kidding). It was absolutely ridiculous.
We were told that the stage was supposed to be 150km of mostly flat roads with a 15km climb to the finish. Right from the start the race was as agressive as any A grade race I’ve every done. I was actually quite surprised that these guys were going so hard in the first road stage straight off the gun. Two of the top riders on the NeilPryde team had managed to break away along with a few others at about 20km, but the pace never let up. Every time lightning would strike the pace would lift.
At 70km into the race the break was a few minutes up the road but the guy in the yellow jersey (John Tonks, Champion Systems) was still in the main bunch. The wind started to pick up and so did the rain, so it was a perfect time to try and bridge. It took some work, but the elastic finally snapped in the crosswinds and 5 of us were away, including the yellow jersey.
The thought had crossed my mind that we still have three big stages left after this and I was wasting a lot of energy for no real good reason. But after we turned onto a road which I had mistaken for a lake, I knew that being away from that peloton was a wise decision. I’m not sure what was covering the road, but it was like a skating rink. Everyone’s rear tyres were sliding out from underneath them and we all thought we were riding with punctures. From what I hear, it was mayhem in the main bunch. The only saving grace was that when you crashed, you simply slid for 20m and didn’t ever tear your knicks.
Just as we got into the final climb we saw the lead bunch turn around and ride past us the other direction. The race had been called off??? No one understood what was going on because it was being communicated by some guy on a scooter who hardly looked like a race official and didn’t speak English. We kept on riding at a moderate pace since we weren’t quite sure what was going on and we didn’t want to make the mistake of pulling the pin if this guy was incorrect. After the remainder of the lead bunch had all passed us we decided that there was probably some truth to it and we turned around to ride to the hotel too.
It was a strange decision to call off the race seeing as we were almost at the finish. I would have thought that the main peloton would have been neutralised and the leaders could go for it. In any case, this was their decision and there’s not much use arguing. As these things go, there were endless heated discussions with the commisaires as to what should have happened, what time gaps should be awarded, etc. Come on guys…it’s the Tour of Friendship! Winning the Hell Ride sprint carries more accolades than this. As commenter MickyD said in the last post “The race has a great atmosphere but the organisation of the race is also pretty ‘relaxed’. Don’t get too stressed about your timing or placing and you will enjoy the race even more.” This was my expectation from the start. In any case, Masters will be Masters…
Stage 3 tomorrow. Forecast – Heavy Rain. 35C.
Neutral support – Thai style
In the evenings the organisers put on a dinner and had footage from the race. A nice little touch.