Global pandemic but bike racing in Asia?
Cycling race in Thailand during a global pandemic? 16 days of quarantine in a hotel in Bangkok? Many people already said we were crazy, but we wouldn't be team BIKE AID if we didn't approach certain things differently than others do. In mid-September, Charles from Uganda, Adne, Daniel, Jesse, Niko, Lucas and Simone started their way to Thailand. A country, famous for beautiful sand beaches, sceneries well-know from Hollywood blockbusters, short: nearly paradise on earth. But bike racing? For professionals? Yes, and we will come back later to that.
One problem left to solve before entering the quarantine hote: we need a sports director for the race. Why?
Well, the situation was very difficult and the 14 days quarantine before the race had to be respected with a hell load of paperwork before entering the country. Our nominated sports director for the race failed with some paperwork and the travel was done for him. But we weren’t BIKE AID either if there wouldn’t be a solution to that: The Dutchman Lex Nederlof, who lives in Thailand and we know for many years (as he is a legend on the bike), got convinced by Adne to work as the sporting director at the race for BIKE AID. Two weeks of quarantine - lots of time for books, right?
Arrived in Bangkok, it like in the Monopoly game: Go to jail and don’t collect money! - and the guys were locked away. Arrested in a hotel, in quarantine and everyone for himself – in the middle of Bangkok. For 2 weeks they only met at a safe distance and for only 45 minutes a day. The rest of the time was spent in a single room and trained on the roller. Never before our boys have been more excited for a race and, above all, to be released from their cells.
Tour of Thailand - an event with lots of enthusiasm
The Tour of Thailand has been held since 2006 and a three-day women's tour takes place right after the six-day men's race. Cycling is a very popular sport in Thailand and the tour is broadcasted daily in full length on public television. But especially during such bizarre times, the focus even more on the "foreigners": the arrival of BIKE AID team in Thailand was already spread in the media and the release from the quarantine hotel was even accompanied by reporters and journalists.
The musketeers from Thailand
As the only foreign team, BIKE AID was generally seen as the favorites. The local continental team - after all a very successful one in the UCI Asia Tour - started with a full team. But as is always is the case with the home team: actually there were 13 riders just in different jerseys and following the musketeer’s motto: "All for one".
On the first stage, the stage win went to Thailand Continental Team and sprinter Lucas Carstensen in particular was deeply disappointed, because there was more to it and the guys had expected much more in the sprint. With a lot of, the guys from Team BIKE AID had big plans for the coming days and shouldn't be disappointed. Not just two stage wins by Lucas Carstensen were added, no, especially Nikodemus Holler had taken over the overall leader's jersey after a generally disappointing year 2019 for him.
So it came to the showdown on the last stage and the last race day of the "epidemic year 2020" should be a very special one.
The loyal Daniel and his last "labour day"
Even before the start, the team BIKE AID was very emotional, because after 8 years in the team it was the last race for Daniel Bichlmann in the BIKE AID jersey. As a loyal domestique, Daniel also spent his last day in the front of the pack. The finale had again some hills and Niko wasn't feeling well.
The burden of the leader’s jersey was huge and a major attack by the Thai team was announced in all media beforehand. Charles, Jesse and Daniel held the bunch grouped and prevented any attacks by the Thailand Continental Team. A final ascent was waiting for the last 3 km. The three kilometer rule did not apply and the roads were slippery. Lucas and Adne always secured Niko from behind so that they could hand over their bike in case of emergency. Despite bad legs, Niko remained safe in the group of the favorites but the Tour ended bad for Charles.
While the other BIKE AID riders were already hugging each other at the finish, 200m before the finish line he crashed after his work was done and Daniel ended his BIKE AID career by pushing his bleeding teammate over the finish line. Fortunately, no serious injuries were diagnosed at the hospital and Charles was back with his teammates for the after party. There was a lot to celebrate, because with a victory in the overall classification, two stage wins and three more riders in the top 10 in the GC you can end a year quite well and deserved!
We will be back
All riders and supervisors were happy to have taken the hardships of the quarantine and agreed: It was worth it. A perfectly organized tour, enthusiastic spectators and a beautiful country. We will be back!