The Race of Surprise Packages,
5th Anti-Drug Tour of Thailand, 5th May, 2003

The 5th Edition of the Anti-Drug Tour of Thailand was contested from 1st May, 2003 to 3rd May, 2003.  This is a stage race that has been held in Thailand for the last five years.  An ex-Singapore rider, from the 50s, Mr Kwa, had helped Singapore riders to the race in the past few years.  This year, 45 riders from Singapore took part.  The Singapore National Team did extremely well at this race, with podium placings everyday.  This is my story of the Elite Category race.  I can only provide scarce details of the vet race and none of the junior one.  I can give you a story about my feelings of the race but no play-by-play.  I was too tired at the end of each day to do much interviewing...

As I waited at the bus-stop waiting for SBS Service 95 to bring me to S16, my stomach growled.  I was ravenous.  I had weird tan marks; dark arms that stopped at the shirt sleeves and two dark spots on each hand.  I smiled as I marvelled at the miracle of modern travel.  One morning waking up and breakfasting to the sound of birds singing in the Thai forests, and the next day, sniffing diesel while on my way to my job of moving magnetic bits about a metal platter.  Ah, ain't bike racing grand?  It takes you to the strangest of places that you would not consider going for a normal holiday.  This time it was to the Anti-Drug Tour of Thailand.

General area of the Tour Route 

From Kanchanaburi to almost Tong Pha Phum (I think) for the first stage.  On the second stage we re-trace our route until we cross some hilly areas and head back northwards towards the Erawan Nature Park. We race past a Valley Road that borders the river draining Sri Nakharin Dam.  On the final day, we race out the Valley onto the highway before looping back into the Valley.

The Schroder Team waiting to Check In  Loading the Broom Wagon 


The Singapore Contingent arrived in Bangkok on 30th May, 2003 on Garuda Airlines.  We were greeted at the airport by Mr Kwa and the race officials.  The logistics were excellent.  Our gear was loaded onto an Army 3-tonne truck (which would later serve as the broom wagon to which some of our riders would become intimately familiar).  The riders then piled into fully air-conditioned mini-vans for the ride to Kanchanaburi.  I had the good luck to pile into the only van with Hello Kitty stickers on the windows and whose AC was faulty.  Never mind, we agreed to open the windows all the way to Kanchanaburi and treated ourselves to the exotic road-side smells of Thailand's excellent highway system.

We had stopped at a restaurant on the way out of Bangkok.  Our hosts treated us to a lunch of Thai style fried rice, roast duck and coagulated duck blood(?!!).  Exotica.  Did not taste that bad.  We were soon on our way to Kanchanaburi.  Hello Kitty contained two Singapore vets, Lawrence Kwa (son of Mr Kwa), See Toh (my neighbor at Ghim Moh), and some expats from Malaysia.  And an Australian with salt-n-pepper hair and smiling eyes who introduced himself as Danny.  The guy next to me was a really skinny American Veteran called Gil and he had the most outrageous cycling stories - mostly about being abused by rednecks out of Seattle.  Gil kept me entertained all the way to Kanchanaburi.

Upon arrival at the River Kwai Hotel at Kanchanaburi, we were treated to flower necklaces and soft-drinks.  The friendliness and accommodation was first class!  The rooms were also very clean.  Someone had been very kind this time to absorb part of our costs - because I do not believe that S$140 can cover the hotel rooms, food and accommodation we had.  We rapidly assembled our bikes and went out for a ride before the sun-set.  The roads in this part of Thailand were good.  And clear of trash and road-kill (unlike Malaysia where you can see all the wildlife you want splayed out in 2-Dimensions on the road).  The drivers tend to be polite and give you the time of day.

Mr Kwa and Ben 

The Flower Girls at the River Kwai Hotel 

Samuel Yang, my room-mate and Singapore's Current Number 1, cut his tire on the shoulder of the road on this very first ride.  Ok, lesson learned.  No riding on road shoulders in this race!  Sam rattled all the way to the hotel on his Ksyriums while I worked out the kinks on my rear derailleur.  Dinner was followed by a race briefing.  It was pretty accurate down to the final turn and bump at 600m to go.  Like I said, excellent organization!

STAGE 1, Kanchanaburi-Viralongkorn Dam, 152km.  Surprise! Surprise!

The National Team  Some of the Guys 
Team Absolut Trio of Me, Myself and I  Samuel Yang's Weapon of Choice 

For each stage, the Juniors raced with the Elite Category.  The Veterans started later.  We started at the Governor's Office at 8am sharp.  The pistol blast was a surprise because the lead-up to it was a long line of speeches.  Fortunately, for those sitting on the top tube when the race started, there was 8km of neutralized start.  The lead car was excellent.  It was a black SUV with LED lights mounted on the top showing the temperature.  I wonder whether it showed anything else like the time gap...I was never in a break to test it out.

We rolled steadily out of the city and the minute we turned onto the Highway, the hammer fell immediately.  Within a few kilometers, Sam got away with four other riders.  Back in the peloton, I was learning how to fight for a place and maintain it.  I knew the best place in terms of draft was in the middle of the pack with the riders on both sides of you.  Trouble is, everyone else and his brother knew it.  I was learning to take drinks and eating in the peloton.  After 50km, neutral water supply started.  There was no need for me to carry two huge bottles.  Two small ones would be perfectly fine.  Too bad I only brought the big ones this time.  I spent the time following several riders I had marked out in my mind and chewing my Born Energy bars.  I tried the PowerGels but I hated them so much I never touched them again throughout the race.

After 40km, I recall the rolling terrain started.  Nagano of Schroder later told me, "No hills?!!  What do they mean no hills?  No hills my butt!!".  "No hills.  Only rolling country", was what our briefing man had said.  By 70km, I was in trouble.  A few weeks before the race I complained to a friend of fatigue and he warned me of over training.  On the flight to Bangkok, I sat beside Nick Swallow and we talked a bit of shop about race prep and he thought I was over trained too.  Boy, I was in the shitter big time.  I had no power on the climbs!  I could not find my rhythm when I stood up.  I was getting gapped on the hills and having to chase on the downhill.  I saw Cycleworx marshalling on the front with Nick and the pace lifted slightly.  They were bringing Samuel and the breakaway back.

Cycleworx actually lifted the pace sufficiently to reel in Samuel and company after two hours of racing.  Counter-attacks followed immediately and another breakaway was soon established.  Seah Teck Wee, Nick Swallow, Kale Buonerba and Samuel(again!) was in the break with a number of Thai favorites.  At about 30km to go, Teck Wee, aka Pak, attacked the break and escaped with a Thai rider. Pak then proceeded to drop Thai Guy for a solo win.  Pak is a strong, powerful rider.  Before the Tour, a local racer had told me that Pak had no chance of doing well on a hilly course like this one.  Heh  heh heh.  Surprise number one.  Surprise number two: Samuel came in fourth.  What is he up to?  Trying to be Jacky Durand?  So Team Singapore now had two guys in top five of GC.  Not bad for the runt sibling of SE Asian cycling.

Nick had extremely bad luck.  He was on the road shoulder (aha! remember Sam's cut tire?) when he had a flat and said "Shit!".  He knew his race was done.  He did not complete the stage.  Out of GC contention, he would re-focus for a stage win.

Whilst the drama was happening upfront, I and a Thai Independent called Pui, were forming a bus and collecting peloton castoffs.  I was in a pissed off state.  I knew I'd blown my prep.  This tour was not in my original training plans and I had planned to peak in late March, but I think my form came a week earlier.  Everything after that was a drag.  Pui and I kept the bus rolling.  Raj was also in the bus and every time he talked to me, I would only say "Shit!".  I was too pissed off at myself to say anything else.  We grew to about 10 guys at one point, but in the end only five of us were left.  A guy with a scar on his left cheek and in an Airforce jersey, acted like a real passenger.  Scarface even went to out sprint us at the finish - what a dork.  I'm sure it must be glorious to be #67 (out of 70+) and finishing 20 minutes down.

Peter Sharman, an Australian living in Singapore, got first place in the Vet Category.  Thai Racers are not going to be happy campers. 

Pak in Yellow 

Superworker Arub

Lunch after Stage 1  Our Resort on Day 1 

STAGE 2, Viralongkorn Dam-Erawan Lake Dam, 142km, 
Legendary Escapes and an Attitude Problem

Today, a sorting out was expected.  Team Singapore had the yellow jersey and would have to try and defend it.  How, was a good question.  They only had 3 guys.  Samuel and I talked tactics the afternoon before.  And we expected the Thais to start sending attacks up the road early.  This was because the main peloton was only about 3 minutes down on Teck Wee and they had numbers.  And usually, domestic teams join up to whack foreigners.  Tough, but that's bike racing.  This was confirmed later at the the National Team meeting when Raj came in and said most SACA members expected Team Singapore to be attacked into smithereens. (P.S. Just in case you are wondering, I am not in the Nat Team.  I was at the meeting only because the VP wanted all SACA sub-committee members to be present.  I am just a lowly gopher).

It was a 600m neutralized start out of the dam road onto the highway.  Then the escape fest began again.  A group of 8 juniors escaped.  Danny (remember him?  Sand-and-pepper hair and smiling eyes), later told me that he thought the break was the break of the day and he bridged.  He was too hyped up at the moment to notice the Junior number tags but when you commit, you commit.  Scott Kor of Team Singapore also bridged.  Everyone else thought it was a suicide move and let them go.

Big, big mistake!  This stage was going to be the stuff of legend!  Danny, Scott and the Juniors lasted all the way to the finish!  Danny put himself into the yellow jersey for his audacity and Scott placed himself on 2nd in GC.   Samuel came in 3rd on the stage.  I think the Thai boys must be really frustrated.  Either the Airforce Team made a tactical mistake or they were weak.  Sam said he was in the 2nd chasing pack with 5 Airforce guys and several other Thais.  With such numbers and no attempt to bridge any of their number up to the front,  their DS might have tore them a new posterior opening!  Samuel would not work against his team-mate Scott and he simply rotated through until the 5km to go mark when he put in his first big attack, shattering the group.  At the 1km to go mark, he attacked up the steepest part of the slope.  "I put on the magic today!!!", he told me in his goofy grin that afternoon.  He put into his light gears and spun away from the survivors of his first attack.  Way to go Samuel.  Who says Singapore got no climbers?!!  But major kudos to Danny.  If I only ever win a race, that's how I'd want to win it.  Attacking at Km 1 and lasting all the way.  What audacity!!!

I knew the peloton was letting breaks go all day because the speed was fast-slow-fast-slow-fast-slow as escapes kept disappearing up the road and the peloton dwindled to number about 30 guys.  I was very depressed on Day 2 after Day 1's performance so I just sat at the back for the first 40km, sucking Born Isotonic, chewing Born Muesli and looking at the scenery.  I saw Number 47, Team AirForce, goes by the name of Vishuk, attack on the right side of the road.  He went right past me and if I was in a different mood I would have been on his wheel in an instant.  Not today though.  I watched Nick jump after 47 and a whole chain of people disappeared.  Unluckily, Maillot Jaune Pak, was blocked and could not react.

By this time all the GC contenders had left.  The kamikaze first wave had not yet been caught.  Those remaining in the peloton were tired after Day 1.  And me?  I was depressed and kept chewing my bars.  I even had the luxury to time myself and remind myself to eat and drink at regular intervals.  Luckily Kale came by and shook me out of my stupor.

"Hey, Alex, Pak is having to do the pace-setting all by himself", he said.  "Isn't there any other guys from Singapore to help him?"  "I think Sam and Scott are in the breakaway", I replied.  I could see Desmond, the Junior Nat Rider also.  Kale again: "Its kinda hard for him to work all by himself, no?"  "Why, you wanna help him?", I asked back.  Kale shrugged and smiled.

Ah, what the hell, I said to myself.  Maybe it was because Pak was a nice guy.  Or maybe because I had nothing to lose and I was damned pissed off after Day 1.  Or maybe I was damned bored.  Yeah, I think that was it.  I had nothing better to do and I never was one to sit idle.  I would not make it as a stage racer.

I sprinted to the front and asked Pak "Want some help?".  "Are you open?", he replied.  "Open to what?", I wondered.  Never mind.  I offered him my wheel and made myself useful.  I started bringing up the pace.  I was pleasantly surprised to be joined by some dudes from Cycleworx.  John Clark chipped in and he told me would help raise the pace but not bring back the break.  Fine.  I'm not interested in bringing back breaks.  I just wanted to get a workout.  We started a pretty smooth pace-line.  Some Airforce guy thought we wanted to reel in the break and worked his way in but I pushed him out again.

I actually enjoyed myself on Day 2.  I imagined myself being a domestique to some yellow jersey.  I am Ekimov!  I am Hincapie!  I just kept a steady pace on the front for long hauls then rotated back for a drink and a break and then went to the front again for more work.  I was in a real "Gimme more!" mood that day.  We soon hit a stretch of rough bitumen road.  I was really in the zone then.  I kept the pace steady in the high 30s (that was already KM90), and didn't even notice a smooth patch on my right until Pak yelled at me.  I like rough roads;  reminds of the dirt roads in Brunei.

Soon we turned into the road paralleling Erawan Lake.  Here, the hills began.  My work was done.  Another Australian in Number 17 started attacking the peloton to get away and kept getting chased down.  All too quickly we reached the 10km to go mark.  Then it was 5km to go.  Then it was 1km and a steep but stepped climb.  I took my time easily, enjoying the view, knowing I had helped Pak a bit and confirmed something I suspected.  I often getter better on Day 2.  I just need an Attitude Adjustment.  Numbers 17 and 35(?) commented that I rode like a nut after the stage.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Whatever.  When you have dug yourself into a hole by over training, you are not obliged to "race" anymore.  Since I was already in Thailand I might as well enjoy riding as hard as I could.

Peter Sharman again won the stage.  The officials definitely did not plan on a humongous trackie making it to the top of the GC and Peter had to squeeze into a tiny yellow jersey.  I think if they had zipped up the jersey, it would have torn at the seams!

The Audacious One and other podium makers 

Well Done Guys!!!

Stage 3, Back and Out Course, 144km, Vietnam Again!

The previous day, they gave us lodgings at a very classy resort at the top of a hill.  We had to cycle down from the dam and pedal slowly to the top again!  But the lodgings were very good, if the mattresses were a bit too soft for my liking.

I had an inkling of food poisoning on Day 2 morning.  I had been very careful not to eat roadside foods/fruits and to keep myself hydrated with bottle water.  So what was causing this bout of stomach seismic activity?  I was not the only guy to get the shits.  Several other guys got it too. I'm beginning to suspect the bottled water in most countries.  Next time its chlorine tablets first, drinking second.  The eve of Stage 3 was a nightmare, a living deja vu of Vietnam.  Constant Stomach Seismic Rumbles.  Visits to the Porcelain Throne.  Delirious dreams.  I did not enter deep sleep for a minute that night.  I envied Samuel for snoring like a toad!

We assembled at the top of the dam for the final duel.  I was not nervous.  I was even more pissed off, accentuated by my living hell the night before.  I did not really bother to warm up as I thought I would find out soon enough if my legs had anything in them.  It was just as well.  The officials gave us a rolling start.  We went down the hill individually to the 5km to go mark for the real start.  I took the opportunity with half the peloton to drain our lizards against the ditch.  Hmmm.  I wonder if the ditch fed into the dam and if the bottled water came from the dam.

Nagano gave the peloton a laugh at the bottom of the hill as he chose to lose weight while everyone else was clipped in and raring to go.  Bang.  The pistol is off and like bullets from a machine gun, guys are flying left, right and centre.  The final day and everyone and his little brother want a go.  What the hell.  Team Absolut's trio (me, myself and I) was going to have a go too!  The pace was flying at 40+ on the rolling terrain beside the lake.  The Juniors were getting tired.  I could tell.  There were a couple of near misses.  At KM25, John Clark and I were next to each other and he told me that Desmond had gone down heavily, trashing his wheels.  I hope he was sponsored.  I was on the front, chasing attack, counter-attacking and having a blast.  The legs were good.  There was massive confusion as guys were marking me even when I wasn't a GC threat.  Everybody was marking everyone.

I set myself a target of KM50.  If no breakaways had gone, I would sit in and wait for the climb.  No one broke away.  I could always see the lead car.  We turned onto a rural lane like I always see in the pictures of Paris-Roubaix.  Tree lined, rough, patchy bitumen with holes that looked like they would swallow your bike.  They could not of course.  But 45kph does lend that effect.  For sound effects, I gave a curse at some of the bigger holes just to rattle the guys around me.  I am a dork.  I know.

We turned onto the highway and two Airforce guys escaped.  Cycleworx decided that it was better to have one of their number win than some individual stage win (Danny was in Cycleworx kit), so they put themselves on the front and kept tempo.  They kept tempo for about two hours!  John Clark later said it was the hardest thing he had ever to do in his life.  Yeah, I think it must have been kinda tough.  At about km90, Cycleworx had enough.  I saw Samuel trying to rally the front with some non-Airforce Thais but number 47 was on the front applying diplomatic pressure at the same time.  The Super Powers were trying to sway the midgets on the Security Council.  Drama-mama.  You just have to love bike racing, don't you?

By this point, the stomach activity was getting to me.  I had not been able to eat or drink much so far.  Every bit of liquid I took seemed to want to go no further than my stomach.  My intestines were posting "No Entry!" signs and securing the hatches.  Bloat Time.  Mega Bloat Time.  I was starting to lose position in the peloton.  Drifting back as I fought the nauseous feeling of water trying to come back up the esophagus.  A few acquaintances in the peloton, Numbers 17 and 30-something would ask me "Hey, dude, still ok?".  Answering in proper words would take too much effort.  I just grunted.  When John Clark passed by and asked, I was not even in caveman mode; I was mute and merely shook my head.

Then on one of the final climbs, I totally lost it.  My legs just gave way and my back muscles went on strike.  It was km 120.  Only about 20 to go.  I was so far gone, I could not recognize fellow Singapore members in the broom wagon or team vehicles that offered me water.  I just kept numbly pushing the pedals.  Arif (the Geylang Coach) later told me he could see I was putting 100% effort into the climbs.  Wow, if that was 100% effort, then I must have been really depleted.  I floundered along the road, like a fish flapping out of water, for another 15 minutes before I saw a team car coming out of a petrol station.  I waved desperately and Thank God! they stopped and helped me!  They were really kind.  Team Suan Thong I think.  Their juniors were very good and had high GC standings.  Their support crew offered me water and bananas.  Very nice people.

More wonderful news at the top.  Pak came in first again on the stage!  Colin Pearson came in 2nd.  Who says Pak is only a sprinter?  Samuel was Mr Consistent with another fourth ("I had butt cramp all day, siah!", he complained later.  "No magic today!").  Scott surprised everyone with a #2 on GC.  They will be talking about his Durandesque move for years.  Smiley Danny maintained his #1 on GC (with help from his buddies at Cycleworx).  Peter Sharman maintained his #1 position in the Vets again.

Stage Podium on Day 3 


This was my first stage race.  I had not planned to take part in any stage races this year.  It was a gift chance that fell in my lap.  But like a Greek gift, it brought along its troubles of trying to fit into a training plan that was to stop in mid-April.  I had trouble training for it.  It was worth it though.  I learned a lot of things about the stuff that goes into preparing for a race.   And I made a lot of good friends.  The guys from Cycleworx and Schroder were funny dudes.  The veterans and their stories; you gotta hear them.

I think the Nat boys are getting better.  For the last couple of years, the Nat boys had some trouble getting consistently good results.  This might be the first sign that the teething troubles are over.  I think a lot of Singapore cyclists are going to sit up.  I definitely hope the Singapore Sports Council sits up.  I know the amount of work some of the boys are putting in and they deserve the support.  Coverage of the race was shown on Thai television nightly.  I only wished SACA had the foresight to contact Channel News Asia, the most cycling friendly channel in Singapore, to ask for coverage.  Action must be taken.  There is a Surabaya stage race at the end of the month with stronger competition.  I hope CNA will cover it at least a bit.

Special thanks goes out to Mr Kwa who helped make this all possible.  Also to wonderful Thai organizers who made sure we were comfortable and  looked after.  Although it was not said, I suspected they subsidized our trip a lot.  That makes me extra thankful.  Thailand IS the Land of a Thousand Smiles.  Beautiful Country.  Wonderful Food.  The racing dudes were very disciplined and not very sketchy.  Their juniors are very steady riders.  So different from my experience with Malaysian Juniors.  They have a good feeder program  there and are bringing the kids along nicely.  Proof of this is in the Kamikaze break on Stage 2 that was 80% Juniors.  They came in far ahead of a lot of Elite Category riders.

I would return for a race any day.

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