By Steve Thomas
On February 19, some 5,600 blurry-eyed cyclists from all over Thailand (and way beyond too) were combing the roadside stalls for pre-dawn treats and carbs as they prepared to take on a 47-kilometre monster of an uphill race. Starting in the small town of Chom Thong, they were headed for the summit of Doi Inthanon. At 2,595m, it is the highest point in all of Thailand, with a road going just a couple of metres shy of the very top.
As the sun rose behind them, one of the biggest pelotons in Asia set off on what for many was the challenge of a lifetime. A huge range of abilities and aspirations were soon strung out along the road. From small wheelers to fat bikes to top regional racers, every sort of rider was there, and for the majority, the challenge of reaching the summit would prove just about attainable.
The climb starts gently enough, but a couple of short ramps early on soon fragment the field, leaving only the serious contenders at the business head. Much of the route is tree-shaded and runs through a canyon, part of the Doi Inthanon National Park, and this at least makes for a scenic suffer-fest.
After the first steep section, two lead groups of around a dozen riders each had formed, and they stayed ahead and fairly intact until the final third of the race, when the last killer ks really shattered the field.
As with so many big climbs, the worse is saved for last, with several kilometres at grades touching 23%. These pitches are positively brutal, especially at such a late stage of the ride, and at over 2,000m altitude.
There was to be a twist hidden in those final curvaceous hairpins to the finish line as well, with the first rider across the line not destined to be the eventual winner. A Brit, Adrian Pringle, who had started way down the grid, would prove fastest man on the mountain. Retrospectively, he was declared race winner on time (2.18.52) – as measured from when his timing chip crossed the start line, and not on who crossed the finish line first.
“I rode the race two years ago, with a 39×25 gearing set up. It was almost impossible, so this year I came with a 34×32, which was much easier,” he said after the finish, still unaware that he had actually won.
Although it’s crushing for the first rider over the line, the system offers a fair chance to all riders regardless of how far back they start in the field. For the majority of riders though, a few seconds here or there wouldn’t matter as they ground it out, the lion’s share of them managing to conquer their mountain.
First published in May/Jun 2017 issue.