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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

EGAT 2008 through the eyes of a Champion by Eric Carandang

EGAT Through the Eyes of a ChampionMay 15, '08 8:12 PM
for everyone

Eric Carandang won the General Classification for the 30-39 years old age group at the recent Tour of Egat in Thailand. His write-up is quite a good read and I am re-posting it below. Congratulations, Eric! And congratulations to the rest of the Egat finishers!


Hi Guys! Many thanks for all your messages!

Medyo late ang post ko as I had to first deal with the pile of work that accumulated while we were in Thailand for a week... also attached some pics to give everyone a better flavor or our Tour of EGAT experience :-)

Just to echo what Raymond, Vekvek, Enald, Tiboy, Saul and Joel mentioned in their posts, our experience in this year's Tour of EGAT was nothing short of AMAZING! For us Lance Armstrong wannabe's, EGAT was the real deal... the closest we'll ever get to riding a real Tour -- imagine, racing on foreign soil against riders of different nationalities... British, German, Spanish, French, Aussies, Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Laotian, Thaïs, etc... All determined to bring home some glory either as race winners or as finishers. While it's true that racing the Tour of EGAT requires a lot of hard training miles and tenacity during the race to achieve the results, EGAT is actually a lot more than just racing... EGAT is also about the discovering new places, enjoying extraordinary food and making new friends. I'm sure all my EGAT buddies would agree that it was well worth the time and money we spent. The race logistics was superb; especially the water supply... water was available on demand! All we needed to do was raise our hand or shout "NAM" (Thai for water) and a motorcycle will hand you a bottle of water.

Stage 1 started with a 30 kilometer "parade" from the EGAT headquarters in Bangkok to the official starting point where the 95km race began. As we were cruising at around 38kph near the starting line, a loud explosion at the back caught the peloton's attention... Raffy Ocampo's front tubulars exploded - the first of a string of mechanical problems he encountered in EGAT, which included a broken chain and a shattered front derailleur... luckily, it happened during the neutral ride so he was able to get a spare wheel before the race started. Immediately after the 30-39 cat was released, attack after attack was launched by different riders, including our very own Bicolor Express Enald Tan and Singha beer fanatics Jojo Baterna and Vekvek Viray! The pace remained high for the next hour - rarely going below 42kph - until a group of around 9 riders escaped the clutches of the peloton... Vekvek and I were able to sneak into this group which proved to be the winning break! The group worked well together and steadily pulled away from the peloton... Vekvek helped policed the ranks and discouraged wheel suckers by shouting: "SOMEONE'S NOT WORKING"! until the free loaders got embarrassed and started doing their share in front. Vek was super strong during the flats and never missed a turn in front until we approached the 1.5km uphill finish... true to his claim of being allergic to climbs, he stared at the "wall" facing us and whispered: "Bahala ka na sa ahon Eric, kaya mo na yan"... with that, I went in front and started driving the pace until it was just me and 2 Thai riders... one of the Thai riders attacked with 1 kilometer to go but cramped before the 500m mark, setting the stage for a 2-man uphill sprint finish between myself and rider #301 - the super strong 32 y.o. Thai rider who made me understand the true meaning of pain throughout the Tour of EGAT... luckily, I timed my acceleration well and won the stage! Vekvek came in 5th for another podium finish! We were both ecstatic with our podium finishes and told each other: "mission accomplished... hindi na tayo uuwi ng walang baon!" I went to EGAT this year knowing that at 37, I’ll be one of the older riders in the 30-39 cat so my definition of a successful EGAT was just a stage win... everything on top of a stage win would just a bonus :-)

Stage 2 was an 8.5km ITT... very straight forward -- 4.25kms out and 4.25kms back... at the starting line, there was a ramp where each of us was set off (parang TDF) and a big digital clock displaying the time... ganda ng set-up! while a lot of the Thai riders were in full aero set-up, our 30-39 contingent was not well equipped... in fact, ako na ang pinaka aero ang set-up and all I had was a mini clip-on... not even an aero helmet... after Enald bought us a round of Pepsi in a nearby store, off we went one by one... I gave it all I got from from beginning to end, clocking 11:51 for an average speed of 43kph -- but still 10 seconds slower than the Thai rider #301... effectively putting him in the yellow jersey... malakas talaga!

Stage 3 - wasn't feeling super before the race as I didn't get much sleep with Jon's snoring! My teammate and good friend turned out to be the roommate from hell! hahaha! I braced myself for a serious sufferfest on this stage because I knew that rider #301 will make his move on this stage... being the strongest rider, this was the perfect opportunity for him to end the GC race by dropping everyone on the climbs... However, Vekvek, Enald, Jojo, Raffy and I had other things in mind... Without really discussing a clear race strategy, we rode the first part of the stage perfectly... barely a kilometer into the race, Vekvek launched attack after attack that saw rider #301 scampering for his wheel and using up valuable energy before the climb started on km 45... Enald and Jojo also followed up Verve’s gallant effort with a few more attacks that further softened rider #301... it was quite touching to see how my newfound teammates were burying themselves to soften the Thai rider and improve my chances of not being dropped on the climbs... as we entered the wildlife reserve park, the roads started pointing north... as if on queue, Vekvek signaled for me to go ahead and finish the work they started... a few minutes later, rider #301 started the fireworks and launched attack, after attack, after attack... his accelerations on the climbs were brutal as he would drop me by about 100 meters before I start clawing myself back on his wheel... while I didn't have his fast acceleration on the climbs, I did have the wattage and steady rhythm to reel him in... at one point, I realized that if I keep chasing #301, I risk blowing up and throwing away even my chances of placing 2nd on the GC... it became a real dilemma... do I keep on chasing this beast or do I just hold back and just protect my 2nd place GC standing? what the hell, let's go all the way! Patay na kung patay! hahaha! the risk paid off and it boiled down to a sprint finish... the European rider from Singapore who had the luxury of staying at the back while I chased the Thai riders went for broke with 1 kilometer to go... no one checked and he got the stage... I sprinted to take 2nd and rider #301 took 4th... our race strategy to wear down the Thai rider before the climb worked and my good placing on this stage kept my GC hopes alive... a lot of credit goes to Vekvek, Enald and Jojo for the sacrifices they did during the flat sections of the stage!

Stage 4 - this stage, although mostly rolling with only a short steep section for the KOM race, was actually the toughest! it was very long (150kms + the 14km neutral ride to the starting line) and our legs were beginning to show signs of fatigue from the previous 2 days of intense racing... anticipating a long day on the saddle, all of us were practically force-feeding ourselves during breakfast to make sure that we had enough fuel in our bodies. about 10 kilometers into the race, Vekvek and Jojo (having downed about 2 liters of Singha each the night before!) made a suicide attack... this time, the peloton let them and a couple of other riders escape, given that we still had 140kms ahead of us... as we reached the first climb, I saw Jojo in front with his jersey fully unzipped and struggling on the hill... payback time for all the Singha he drank the previous night... hahaha! one by one, the peloton caught up with the riders in front with Vekvek being the last one caught... the funny thing was no one saw Vekvek as we passed him because I heard the guys telling each other that #345 from the Philippines was still in front! I just kept quiet and stayed at the back while the Thai and Singaporean riders chased Vekvek who was actually behind our group already! hahaha! as we reached the climbs where the KOM was to be contested, all the riders started jockeying for position... the Thai riders were already marking me and rode behind me, waiting for the right time to attack... I pulled the group but was vigilantly watching the back for any attacks... with about 500 meters to go to the KOM line, a Thai rider #320 attacks... I latch on his wheel and pass him with about 50 meter to go... I took the KOM race! parang hindi bagay as i'm 168lbs and at least 20lbs heavier than the other KOM winners from other age groups! at the 100km mark, rider #301 starts unleashing his flurry of attacks again -- often timing it while I was drinking water!!! hahaha! when he realized that he didn't have enough punch to breakaway, he approached me and said that we should work together to finish 1-2... he added that today, I should make him win and he will return the favor the following day - wise guy! obviously, I didn't agree and just wished him luck on the sprint! with about 3 kms remaining, riders started to aggressively jockey for position, resulting to the crash of the HK rider directly in front of me (before starting a race, I always pray for 2 things - no crashes and no flats)... I really thought that it was the end of the stage and possibly the GC for me but for some strange and freaky reason, I managed to swerve right and avoid the fallen rider in front of me... I clawed myself back to the front of the group and sprinted for 2nd place... rider 301 finished 3rd... with the bonus time on my podium finish and the KOM, technically, I was already 3 seconds ahead of rider #301 - that is if the race officials would accurately give me the time bonuses...

back at the hotel, the logic gate guys - Vek, Quinn and Jojo were already gassing up on their favorite recovery drink - SINGHA! Tiboy, Enald Joel, myself, Jon and Raffy Ocampo joined the session as Jojo called the pretty waitress for another round! it took a lot of discipline but I just drank 1 glass... it tasted really GOOD :-)

Stage 5 - before we started the 115km stage, the organizers released the GC standings and was surprised to see that instead of being 3 seconds ahead of #301, I was 4 seconds behind him! I went to the organizers to clarify this and like they always say, they will double check the time bonuses and "fix the problem"... while I gave them the benefit of doubt, I thought that the best way to secure the GC was to just win the stage... at the starting line, Coach Pong rounded up everyone in 30-39 cat and discussed the race strategy... the main objective was to get the overall and as such, everyone will have to play a role... Vekvek and Enald will help me chase the attacks while Jojo and Raffy will stay behind me to assist if I encounter any mechanical problem...Vekvek and I also had a side agreement for him to take it easy on the last 20 kilometers so that he can recover and contest the sprint. everyone committed to the plan and executed it to perfection! this stage was a good example of how a shared objective can unite a group of cyclists -- even those who normally compete against each other... it was beautiful! from the gun, attacks were launched left and right... a group composed of 5 riders who did not post an immediate threat to the GC broke away and was allowed by the peloton to escape... the lazy peloton started to take things easy just cruising at a "leisurely" pace of 38kph... the lead steadily grew... 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes and at one point ballooned to 4 minutes which put one of the riders in the breakaway in the virtual yellow jersey! with 40 kilometers left, Vekvek, Enald, Jojo and I went to work... hayop ang trangko ni Vekvek... he was maintaining 44kph on a headwind! the Singha really did wonders for him! hahaha! I also talked to the strong Thai rider (Nu, the bikeshop owner who rode the kick-ass red Ducati road bike) and the European rider from the Singapore (both of whom I have befriended over the previous days) to help salvage our GC standings... they agreed and also started talking to other people and before we knew it, we had a group of riders working together to catch the breakaway group that has been given too much freedom in front... it never fails to amaze me how competing riders temporarily become allies when their interests match! just like a well-timed chase in the TDF, we started catching the remnants of the breakaway during the last kilometer... the remaining two were already within sight but was too far for us to catch so it was a battle for 3rd place --- and more importantly, the 4 second bonus! as we primed up for the final dash to the line, rider"#301 was glued behind me, followed by Vekvek and a couple of other riders... I knew that this sprint for 3rd could determine the overall race so I mustered up all the energy I had left for the final dash to the line... I opened up my sprint with exactly 200 meters to go, dug really deep and never looked back... I took 3rd and Vekvek outsprinted #301 for 4th!!

It was a fairytale ending for team Philippines with me taking the overall in the 30-39, Jon Urrutia placing 2nd overall in the 40-49 and coach Ponga taking 3rd overall in the 50-59 cat (despite multi-tasking as a racer, coach, domestique and mechanic! we all take our hats off to him!) and Vekvek taking 2 podium finishes! The ladies also did very well and created quite a stir among the male cyclists :-) Special thanks to the following people: Dante Valdez for being everything to everybody! He fixed our bikes, carried our bikes and gave us massages... a real asset to the team! To the Mrs. Marge See for being our official photographer... To Cristy and Beng Chua for supplying us with all those food!

That's my EGAT experience folks... truly unforgettable!

Best regards and see you guys on the road soon!

Eric Carandang

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