The first mountain climb in the distance
Stage 4. The queen stage. A little less than 160km. A very long false flat leading in to the first big climb then the rollers we did the day before in reverse followed by a 15km climb up a mountain through a beautiful jungle-covered mountainous national park featuring large, noisy monkeys and the odd elephant. It's probably not necessary to state once again, but it was flippin' hot and humid and sunny. Before we even started I was dumping sweat at 8am, and downing bottles of water in a desperate attempt to stay hydrated. The night before I was given a yellow jersey as the overall GC leader for the elite category. I had a little over one minute time advantage on 5 riders directly behind me, and quite a bit over the remaining riders. Today was when the overall winner would most likely be decided.
before the race with Dave Christenson
Today all I had to do was stick with the guys near me on GC, and respond to any attacks on the last climb. The pace started out slow and easy on the highway. We hit the first of two big climbs, and a strong rider named Fredrik Croneborg led the way. He set a tough pace, and quickly dropped everyone but about 10 riders. One guy was up the road from the Racing Force team, and he had two guys in my group, and eventually John Tonks from CS Racing and Fredrik went up the road to join him. So that left me with the other 3 from CS Racing, the two Racing Force guys, and a few others that I'd later learn had no incentive to help take some pulls in the front. I had one teammate with me, Wade Wallace.
Wade and I had different opinions on what was needed to be done given the current situation, but since I wasn't confident in my own assessment, I didn't press the matter for the time being. He did not want to do any work up front, and was content to let the break get away. Personally, regardless of the situation, I couldn't blame him for not wanting to break the wind. It was ridiculously hot, and very difficult to work up the motivation to do any work. It was clear no one else in the break was going to offer any help so that left it up to me. For my part, I decided I'd not do any work either, but on occasion did pick up the pace when we got down to an embarrassingly low speed. And then things got interesting.
We were cruising along leisurely with the break a little over a minute ahead, when my rear spoke popped. I was borrowing some fancy carbon clincher wheels for the day from my teammate Rob Gitelis, and they were nearly brand new! My teammate in the break, I learned after the race, without my consultation, decided I'd get a wheel change quickly so continued on with the group. I was left alone on a nice and warm country road surrounded by mountains, basking in the late morning sun with no wheel in sight. I stood there for a few minutes frustrated, and finally the scooter with the wheels arrived. The rules for this race allowed motor pacing back to the group you were in when the incident occurred, but the scooter disappeared and offered no help.
Now even more frustrated, I continued on, but not at a very hard pace, resigned to let the group behind me catch me, or perhaps a scooter would show up to pull me back to the lead group. I was feeling sorry for myself, but I was also ticked off that my teammate did not stop to offer help. I also think my expectations were set a bit too high for this race. It's not like I'm used to being catered too when I race, but my team in the States this year has gone out of their way to make sure I keep pedaling my bike.
After about 10km, a new scooter appeared and started to help me. How he knew I belonged in the lead group I'll never know, but I was grateful for the push, and after a few minutes at 70km/hr I quickly rejoined the group. Back to the game of who's going to do some work. I had decided I was not doing any GC be damned. So I rode with my hands off the bars at about 20km/hr talking with my buddy Darren Benson from CS Racing. The two CannAsia guys in the break finally decided they needed to do some work to maintain their GC position so the pace picked up. And right before the climb I got another flat, and to make matters worse the CS Racing team had just attacked.
This time my teammate stopped, and gave me his wheel. It should be noted he apologized profusely after the first incident, and clearly felt terrible for what had transpired. Wade saved the day this time, and I'd probably not have finished as I did had he not been there! Everything went as smooth as could be for a wheel change as the scooter stuck around this time and returned me to the lead group. Back in the group, the guys remaining were thinking their work was done for the day so that left me to do all the work. Left with no other options but to ride hard, I picked up the pace. Finally the park and the climb.
The hill quickly whittled away the group. The pace I set dropped everyone besides one CS Racing rider named Simon. He was the one I was most worried about throughout this stage race. A pro continental rider for Champion Systems Asian team, he's short and skinny, and I could only assume he was their climber. The road kept getting steeper, and he blasted by me during one of the switchback sections. I basically waved good bye. There was no way I could keep that pace. I went around a few more switchbacks by myself, and to my surprise there Simon was with the rest of the leaders.
one of the steeper sections of the final climb
I joined the group, and recovered for a few minutes, and debated just riding with them since that was all I really needed to do to maintain my overall lead. But I just can't do that. I moved to the front and started going hard. I pulled away from them, and no one tried to come with me. I was really surprised Simon did not tag along, but I ended up gaining nearly 7 minutes on him by the finish. I never saw the group again, and finished solo with a gap of nearly 2 minutes on 2nd place! At some point I registered the jungle sounded incredibly alive. Chirps, screams, and howls were all around me. Later, riders told me they saw large monkeys in the trees, and huge piles of elephant dung on the road, something I definitely missed, and also a sign warning of their potential crossing. Maybe next time!
The effort required for the climb completely wasted me. My feet were tingling numb and what feeling remained felt like fire, and I was overheating big time. I jumped off my bike as fast as possible, tossed off my shoes, helmet and jersey, and called out for some cold water. It took a few minutes, but it came, and it was oh so nice. With the GC clinched baring any major mishap, it was time to relax and enjoy Thailand! Only one short stage remained, and it was completely flat with a small 2km climb at the finish.
after the finish