Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tour of Friendship part 2

Breakfast in Thailand can either be incredibly awesome, or sorely lacking depending on your requirements. Stir fried spicy noodles? Check. Fried Doughy things, perhaps similar to a donut? Check. Steamed rice and various types of stews to sample? Check. Coffee? Check. Cereal? Nope... Milk? Nope... No granola or muesli meant I was on the hunt. I eventually found a grocery down the road where I bought two pounds of muesli, and a half gallon of milk for less than what a quart of milk costs in the States.

Above, my first breakfast, was more likely than this:

Food requirements solved, it was time to prepare for the first stage. Day 1 was a slightly less than 10km time trial on a wide, flat road with two speed bumps (small elevation gains) in the middle and near the end. The road was lined with hundreds of tall, green lamp posts with golden dragons perched atop the pole on both sides. It was hot and sunny and humid. What's hot? Probably around 35C by the time I finished my TT a little after 9am.

Teammates Clive de Sousa and Simon Kessler on the TT course

The majority of the guys had regular road bikes with clip-on aero bars. Most had deep dish tubular wheels. A few had full on TT bikes. I had aero bars and an aero helmet, but was using shallow aluminum clinchers.

getting pinned before the start by Dave Christenson

note I'm nowhere near the line awaiting my start

My TT started off a bit bumpy. There was supposed to be a ghost rider in front of me because a team member did not arrive on time, and the guy starting everyone seemed to agree so I lagged a bit behind the start line awaiting my start time. A few seconds after the ghost rider went others started yelling for me to go. I was pushed from behind so decided I should probably go! I lost about 7 seconds at the start. Otherwise the TT went very smooth. I nailed my target wattage, and felt strong from start to finish. Afterwards, I went to the organizers and tried to clarify what happened and they said I'd have the proper time, but it turns out I did not. I ended up in 4th place overall. My teammate Simon Kessler finished a few seconds back in 5th place. Overall, Neil Pryde epic riders had a number of finishers in the top ten. With my correct time I would've had first place by three seconds. I did not press the issue since the queen 4th stage with the big climb at the end would easily trump the few seconds lost in the TT.

With the TT over, the Neil Pryde crew decided to pedal back to the hotel. About 50km on the highway, we motor paced behind our hired van in the late morning heat. A quick shower and it was time to find some food. With nearly a full day still remaining, I hooked up with the guys from the Champion System Asian team, and one Neil Pryde team member, Rob Gitelis, all who I became good friends with, and headed to Bangkok on the water taxi.

(I'm embarrassed to say I did not have my camera or even cell phone for this trip.  Originally I thought we were just walking to get some food near the hotel!)

The taxi was the international color of yellow paint. It's quite long and holds perhaps 100 people comfortably with benches for two lining both sides. The driver sits up front and passengers disembark in the rear. Another hired gun manages the rear, whose main qualification is a superior ability to whistle above the engine noise. Using the shrill noise to alert the driver when passengers are settled, it's a rather efficient system.

The taxi was relaxing and offered a relatively refreshing brief respite from the sweltering heat. It meanders from port to port along the river offering great views of the city. It's super cheap, maybe 50 cents to ride the route's entirety, and I'd highly recommend it if you are visiting Bangkok.

Buddhist temples in all their gold mosaic glory sparkle alongside the river amongst grand looking palaces, modern high rise glass condos, dilapidated looking unevenly strung together shacks, and the odd single family home. Kids and dogs were swimming and splashing in the water at various intervals.

We hopped off the water taxi at one point when we spotted a outdoor riverside restaurant, and had a great traditional Thai meal in a gazebo before heading further downtown.

Finally, Bangkok: Crowded streets with vendors hawking every imaginable knock off consumer good. Scooters darting in every direction. Chaos. Mangy looking flea-ridden mutts hiding from the afternoon sun. Refreshing neon colored fresh squeezed orange juice. Salted fish that looked like they put up quite the fight. Innumerable unknown foods, some tantalizing others horrifying to my Western palate. What an amazing place!

We strolled along a street that specialized in stainless steel jewelry, beads, stones, and custom leather footwear. One of us purchased some snazzy looking high quality Thai made wingtips for an embarrassingly low price.

Our time quickly ran out, and we we had 15 minutes to make it back to the hotel for the awards ceremony of which we were the majority of the podium placers! A quick calculation was made, and we knew we'd never make it in time unless we hired a direct water taxi to the port near the hotel. We wandered past a Buddhist temple down a side street that smelled of elephant dung, and made our desperate attempt to hire a ride. The boat operator insisted on taking us for a tour before depositing us at our destination. We offered double the money for no tour. No luck. Lost in translation, we gave up and resigned ourselves to the hour long water taxi ride to our hotel.

Night rides on the water are a must when in Bangkok. The palaces and temples take on a new life as the sun sets. Their gold mosaics reflect the lights of the city beautifully appearing to be artificially lit as they sparkle from every angle.

Fortunately for us, the director decided to hold the awards ceremony the following day at the next hotel which was far better suited for presentations.  For 4th place in the TT I received this:

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