2018 Tour de Phuket Racerapport...

Jag hittade ett reportage på nätet skrivet av Flat Spoke Media från tour de Phuket och då jag själv ligger sjuk hemma utan något spännande att skriva om så bjuder jag på detta reportage istället...

TT the key to success as Arnott wins 2018 Tour of Phuket

Photos by Flat Spoke Media and Cycosports
March 14, 2018
Ben Arnott of the Specialized Roval Mavericks claimed the elite Men’s Open title at the 2018 Tour of Phuket on Sunday at the end of three days of hard racing in southern Thailand, while Sarah Schnieder (MatadorRacing) was crowned the champion in the Women’s Open contest.

The successful pair were just two of the approximately 200 riders who took part in the third edition of the three-day race organised by the leading cycling events outfit Cycosports. Most of the cyclists flew into the renowned holiday destination that is Phuket for the race and most no doubt returned to their homes in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, other parts of Thailand and elsewhere around the region highly satisfied with their experience.

The tour was based in the far north of the island at the Phuket Gateway park, but most of the racing actually took place over the Sarasin Bridge causeway in Phang Nga province. The plethora of quiet, country roads in Phang Nga compared with the tourist-bus and truck-packed throughfares of Phuket made this a wise move by the Cycosports team.

Stage 1 of the Tour of Phuket took place on the Friday afternoon and was a prologue time trial around a 4.5km loop circumnavigating the Phuket Gateway park.

Stage 2 set the riders on a Saturday morning journey of 141km into the heart of Phang Nga. With over 800 metres of elevation, including two steep KOM climbs, and the oppressive heat and humidity, it deserved its "queen stage" moniker.

At 92km in length, Stage 3 on the Sunday was on paper an easier proposition, but with by-now much heavier legs and the same amount of elevation gain as Stage 2, including four steep climbs, it promised to be another tough test for the racers.
Women's champ Sarah Schneider launches into TT mode
Of the nearly 200 participants in the 2018 Tour of Phuket, 115 took part in the full three-day tour and were split into six competitive categories: Men’s Open, Women’s Open, Men’s Masters (35-44), Men’s Super Masters (45-54), Men’s Veterans (55+) and Men’s Sports.

The Men’s Masters riders drew the short straw and were tasked with racing Stages 2 and 3 alongside the elites of the Men’s Open, while the other four groups formed Peloton 2.

Peloton 3 was actually the biggest group and contained the Gran Fondo riders, a mixed bag of cyclists that ranged from experienced racers unable to take the Friday off work, to complete rookies dipping their toes into "racing " for the first time, and everything in between.

Stage 1
The time trial took place on a dedicated bike lane that was closed to the public for the duration of the race … although the riders had to watch out for the occasional dog and trishaw vendor wandering onto the course. The course was super smooth and lightening fast with the only technical features two 90-degree corners near the start and finish of the 4.5km loop.

In the Men’s Open, Mike Koreneff (Allied World Kemp Technologies) set an early fastest time of 5 minutes and 30 seconds and it looked like his mark was going to be the winning one as rider after rider crossed the finish line without surpassing it. But he wasn’t counting his chickens as the last two starters were last year’s overall tour champion Pavol Krizan (Nich-100Plus) and the runner-up Arnott.
The calm before the storm: Ben Arnott in the TT start gate
And sure enough it was Arnott who dashed Koreneff’s dream, beating his mark by 2 seconds with a time of 5:28.02. This represented an astonishing speed of 47.7kph. Krizan surprised almost everybody by only finishing eighth. Joining Arnott and Koreneff on the elite podium was Todd Sinclair (Berwick Cycles) with a time of 5:35.77.

Earlier, the action kicked off with the Men’s Sports, where there was an Anza Cycling 1, 2, 3, which was no surprise as the well-known Singapore club made up the entire field in the category. The winner was Ben Crouch whose time of 6:17.71 gave him a winning margin of 1 second from Roger Allingham, with Ben Johnson in third.
The Women’s Open was next and saw the tightest ever winning margin in the race’s three-year history, as Lucy Richardson’s time of 6:39.48 edged it for the Thanyapura rider by one hundredth of a second from Schneider. Sinsupa Yipmantasiri (Rpdteep Hiso Phuket) was third.

In the Veteran’s, Kjell Olsen (Team 8848 Altitude) emerged as the winner with a split of 6:02.28. It was another tight contest as the runner-up Paul Douglas( 4T2) was just a second slower than Olsen. Stephen Wong (Anza Cycling) rounded out the podium in third.

In the Super Masters, Matt LeCornu (Specialized Roval Mavericks) sat in the metaphorical hot seat for a long time with his split of 5:43.22, until the last man out, Tim Carter (Virgin Active), unseated him with a scintillating time of 5:37.12. This was the fourth-fastest time across all cats. Daniel Amby (Thanyapura) took third place.

David Strooper (MatadorRacing) won the Masters with a time of 5:43.94. This gave him a winning margin of just under 3 seconds from Julian Doyle (Unfound CC), with his Matador teammate Edo Bawono in third place.
Peloton 1 crosses the Sarasin Bridge into Phang Nga province
Stage 2
The riders returned to the Phuket Gateway early the next morning for the start of Stage 2. With not a cloud in a deep blue sky, the stunning countryside of  Phang Nga province was about to be showcased in its finest glory, but the heat promised to make the 141km stage a mixture of pain and pleasure.

The first 6km of the stage was neutralised to allow the riders to safely cross the busy Sarasin Bridge into Phang Nga. The rest of the stage, including the finish, would be raced on the mainland.

The main features of the stage were the two KOMs, which came at the 67km and 108km marks. Neither were especially long, but they both included very steep ramps, and so were expected to cause some damage.

Arnott had four Specialized Roval Mavericks teammates to help him defend the "yellow jersey" (strangely there were no leader’s jerseys in this year's Tour of Phuket), but they were under no illusion of how tough their task would be in the face of strong opposition from the Matadors, Berwick Cycles, Allied World Kemp Technologies, Roojai.com and Unfound CC.

The inclusion of the Masters riders added another dimension to the Open race as some of the teams, such as the Matadors and Unfound CC, also had strong representation in that field.

Indeed the most significant move of the first half of the stage happened when two Matadors, Benedikt Schneider (racing in Open) and Bawono (racing in Masters) escaped up the road in the approaches to the first KOM.

As that duo tackled the climb, including its ramp of 500m at 17 percent, the chasing bunch behind were somehow led off course and missed the climb altogether. The organisers eventually got the peloton back on course but decided not to have them double back to the climb. So while Schneider and Bawono were out riding the full course, the rest of the combined Open/Masters bunch continued racing ahead of them, with an interesting decision awaiting the organisers at the end of the stage.
Schneider and Bawono on their fateful breakaway
The big group stayed mostly intact despite a lot of attacks from the various teams, but that changed with the arrival of the second KOM. It and the final 30km to the finish were raced at a furious pace. Amid the madness, the major figure of Koreneff was lost to a crash on the descent of the KOM. The frenetic action saw Arnott lose all but one of his teammates as the bunch was reduced to just 23 riders for the sprint finish that unfolded.

Roojai.com proved the strongest and cleverest team in the sprint, setting up their man Yi Peng Teoh perfectly for the Singapore national rider to win by a clear margin.

When the dust settled from having two races cross the line at the same time, it emerged that Teoh’s teammate Pichet Puengrang was second in Open, with Rick Dumpleton (MatadorRacing) in third.

Arnott finished safely in the bunch to retain his lead, but with bonuses of 6 seconds, 4  seconds and 2 seconds awarded to the place getters, Teoh moved into third place on the GC, 8 seconds back, with Sinclair sitting between Teoh and Arnott.

James Sutton (Unfound CC) won the Masters sprint, beating Strooper into second place, with another Unfound rider, Steven Baker, in third. Strooper retained the race lead.

Post-race back at the Phuket Gateway HQ, after a pow-wow involving Cycosports and the Peloton 1 teams, it was decided that as the riders in the main bunch were led off course through no fault of their own, the results would stand from the main group finish. The two unlucky Matadors riders Schneider and Bawono were given the bunch time of 3 hours, 31 minutes and 11 seconds, and awarded the respective KOM jerseys for their categories.

In the Super Masters race, Carter took the honours for the second day in a row and consolidated his GC lead, after he outfoxed his partners from a 100km breakaway, the Specialized Roval Mavericks duo of LeCornu and Alan Grant.
Men's Veterans star Kiell Olsen at the front of the action
The Veterans also had the same winner as Stage 1, with Olsen pipping Wong on the line for the win. Jean Perrin (Siam Bike Tours) took third place. Olsen duly extended  his GC lead due to the bonus seconds.

In the Women’s Open, Schneider made amends for losing out on the Stage 1 win by powering away from Richardson in the run-in to triumph by 10 seconds. Janne Oldager rounded out the Stage 2 podium. Schneider moved into the overall race lead.

The Men’s Sports saw a change in the GC lead too, after Allingham escaped from Peloton 2's main bunch with Super Masters rider Stephen Ames (Specialized Roval Mavericks) in the closing stages of the race. Allingham won by a minute from Johnson, with Philip Galbraith third on the day a few minutes further back.

Stage 3
It was back to the Phuket Gateway on Sunday morning for the concluding Stage 3. The riders were greeted with another scorching day, with gusty winds thrown into the meteorological mix.

Ahead lay 92km of riding (although it turned out to be 97km) and 900 metres of climbing. The first 6km was a carbon copy of Stage 2, but whereas the Saturday race headed straight north after crossing the Sarasin Bridge, Stage 3 veered east for two laps of what the organisers termed the "Phang Nga Bay loop". The loop contained two main climbs; the first one, the official KOM, was a 700m ramp at 10 percent average gradient, that came at the 34km and 73km marks on the course. The second climb was of a similar length and tackled after 42km and 81km, but if anything it was steeper than the KOM.
The racers were blessed with smooth roads and stunning surroundings
Aside from the key climbs, the course could best be described as rolling, providing plenty of opportunities for attacks.
Sure enough, in the Open/Masters race the pace was all out from the gun as the other teams applied the pressure on Arnott and the Mavericks. The non-stop attacks worked to a certain degree, as while the race leader’s domestiques managed to cover all of the early breaks, their efforts came at a cost and Arnott began to lose men.

The pace up the two climbs on the second lap was especially vicious and by the time the leaders regrouped at the bottom of the last climb of the day, the bunch was down to about 12 men, and Arnott was alone and isolated for the run-in.

In the lead group were four riders from Roojai and two from Berwick Cycles, including the two main GC threats Teoh and Sinclair. However, help came for Arnott in the form of his teammate Jon Curry and another 10 or so riders, who rejoined the bunch with just 2.5km to go. This turned what could have been a dangerous game of cat and mouse into an all-out sprint, which suited Arnott just fine.

In that sprint, it was the Berwick Cycles rider Boon Kiak Yeo who prevailed to take the stage win and the 6 bonus seconds. Stage 2 winner Teoh was the runner-up, with Pichet third. Arnott finished safely in 7th place to earn the bunch time and with it the overall victory.

Teoh’s 4 bonus seconds saw him leapfrog Sinclair into the GC runners-up spot, but the Berwick Cycles rider should still be happy with a strong third place.
All smiles atop the Men's Open Stage 3 podium
Six Masters riders remained in the lead group for the sprint, and it was Strooper who proved the strongest, outlasting Sutton for the win. Marc Tzivelekas (4T2) was third.

It was a Matadors 1, 2 on the overall Masters podium, as Strooper’s  two stage wins and a second place saw him take the title ahead of Bawono. Sutton stood in third place on the GC podium.

Post-race, the Englishman Arnott was obviously delighted with the GC win, especially after finishing second the year before.

"It’s immensely satisfying to win this race. Not only the final GC result but also the way we rode as a team and executed our race plan," Arnott said. "Being told I was the fastest guy on the TT course when I crossed the line was a great moment. It immediately put me in a commanding position and getting an early stage victory gave me a lot of confidence for the subsequent stages."

"However, I was mentally prepared that the leader’s jersey might not be on my back after the second stage, as after all, the jersey changed hands three times in the previous year’s race. Had that happened, my plan was to take it back on day three in the hills. But thanks to the efforts of my teammates, who absolutely buried themselves to defend the lead, I never lost the jersey."

Arnott says he’ll be back next year to defend his title at what he considers to be one of the best races in the region.

"It’s a really great tour and Cycosports should be commended for turning it into a major regional event with the level of support and organisation that befits its status. The roads are fantastic and the course would be a challenge for any rider," he said.

Back in the second group, the finale in the Super Masters race again came down to a battle between Carter, LeCornu and Grant. For the second day in a row, though, the Virgin Active man Carter bested the two Mavericks riders, but this time by just the width of a tyre from LeCornu.
Carter pips LeCornu for Super Masters glory in Stage 3
With the grand slam of wins, Carter was a clear GC champion, from LeCornu and Grant in second and third. Spare a thought for Ames, who finished just off the podium in fourth on all three stages.

Interestingly, both the Open champ Arnott, 47, and Masters winner Strooper, 50, could have raced in the Super Masters category. It seems cyclists just get better with age.

In the Veterans race, Olsen also claimed the grand slam of stage wins, again pipping Wong in the sprint, with Douglas third. The final GC order was also Olsen, Wong and Douglas.

Schneider took her second consecutive win in the Women’s Open, but this time it was a close sprint finish victory over Richardson on the line. Oldager was there for the sprint this time too, but had to settle for another third place.

Schneider was crowned the Women’s GC champion, with Richardson and Oldager second and third.

In the Men’s Sports race, Allingham took his second stage win as he pulled away from Johnson in the run-in. Crouch finished third a few seconds further back.
The Women's Open GC podium

The stage win clinched the overall Sports title for Allingham, and he was again joined on the GC podium by Johnson and Crouch.

The Tour of Phuket also awards team prizes, which are calculated on the basis of combining the best three times for each team on each stage.

In the Men’s Open, MatadorRacing took the title by just 4 seconds from Roojai.com, with the Specialized Roval Mavericks in third.

The Matadors also triumphed in the Masters category, but this time by a much more comfortable margin over Unfound CC, with 4T2 in third.

In the Super Masters, the Specialized Roval Mavericks walked away with the team prize, with Anza Cycling in second and Bike Centre Phuket Team in third.

Gran Fondo
While the competitive riders grabbed the headlines at the 2018 Tour of Phuket, a big part of the event’s success was down to the huge numbers of riders who signed up for the Gran Fondo events. In total 73 riders (50 male, 23 female) took part in the Gran Fondo. While there was no pressure on the riders to complete both stages, most did. The biggest presence in the Gran Fondo group was from Singapore’s Anza Cycling.

Indeed, across the Gran Fondo and competitive categories, Anza provided 55 riders, over a quarter of the total. Anza Cycling president Megan Kinder was among the 55 and provided some insight as to why the Tour of Phuket was such a pull for the club.

"We sent our largest ever contingent of club members to an offshore racing event, and as far as regional events go, choosing Tour of Phuket was a no-brainer for its easy logistics, family friendly location and the good value that Thailand offers," Kinder said.

"Plus we wanted to support Cycosports as it does so much for the Singapore cycling community. So we hope that by supporting their current events it will help them continue to come up with more exciting events," she added.

"Our members overwhelmingly enjoyed the Tour of Phuket. Even though many were participating in the non-competitive Gran Fondo event, a good number achieved beyond their expectations given the comparatively hot and hilly riding. This was attributed to the scenic race route, excellent support and phenomenal camaraderie, both within our team and with the other clubs. All in all it was a fantastic weekend away for the club," Kinder said.
The well known racer Lizzie Hodges took part in the Gran Fondo to help sheppard many of her Anza clubmates
Cycosports chief Kent McCallum was also pleased with how the tour unfolded, but he also acknowledged there were a few logistical problems.

"We were extremely happy overall with the event and we're already planning for next year. We hope to widen our net by bringing in teams from the likes of China and the Middle East, and perhaps even Europe," he said.

On the mix-up that affected Stage 2, McCallum said: "The Stage 2 deviation was unfortunate but thankfully the riders still enjoyed a good race and collectively agreed on an approach that kept the excitement in the race for day three and the overall GC standings."

"It's great to have a community that enjoys racing and the spirit of racing," he added.

Cycosports usually runs such a tight ship, so it was a shame that a few hiccups took some of the shine from the 2018 Tour of Phuket's success. The presence of a commissaries car for both of the competitive pelotons and an increased number of properly briefed motorbike marshals with experience of working in cycling events would probably have prevented the Stage 2 "deviation". Other issues, like the lack of water support for breakaways and an attack in the neutralised zone, might also have been nipped in the bud.

Still, the 2018 race was undoubtedly a success, and if past experience is any measure, then Cycosports will ensure that the 2019 edition of the Tour of Phuket will be bigger and better than ever before.


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