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Southern Criterium Phuket, by Paolo Bravini

When you leave for a long trip, especially a sport one, you never know what it’s going to happen.

I left for Thailand with my beloved Vigorelli and a great intention to do well and, after an 18 hours flight a hot and torrid weather welcomed me in Phuket.  It was so hot that almost put me down. To be able to adapt to that important weather change and at the same time to be competitive in an international race it was not so simple.

Luckily the Asian organization is awesome and in a blink of an eye a super air conditioning van came to pick us up at the airport, it brought us to Saphan Hin to see the race course and then straight to eat some delicious Thai food with the whole Bangkok Criterium crew.

The next day I tried to adapt to the weather, had a glorious breakfast and trained hard under the full sun. But cycle on this island is so great! Just after you leave the main road you are in the wild surrounded by the jungle. You can spot a Buddhist temple as well as some monkeys. Amazing landscapes, Rocky Mountains, Indian Ocean with never-ending white beaches. That’s Phuket.

Nevertheless cycling here is not simple. After every curve there’s usually a climb and not an easy one. A slope of 15-18% is usual here. The streets follow perfectly the course of the natural roads and to ride with a road bike can be very difficult, especially downhill. But cycling is part of the game and, finally it is a great experience, not to be missed.

In Asia there’s a big curiosity about European riders. During the afternoon of my second day I got interviewed by Cycling Plus Thailand magazine. What I noticed is that they are not only interested about the races but they highlighted the human side of a rider. I think that’s because there is a very big cultural gap between European and Asian people and the different way we approach cycling.

Obviously the reason of my trip here is not only cycling. I had time to relax and drink a beer with my Asian friends. Hospitality is the most important thing to them and they make you feel like you’ve known each other for years even if, in fact, you met just some minutes before.

Finally race day arrived, in fact two races awaited me: a fixed gear first and then a road bike one. I really have to thank Free Life Sport who gave me the possibility to take part in the road bike race. I didn’t have my own bike with me and with such a short notice the guys were able to provide me a Cinelli Experience who flew directly from Bangkok the day of the race.

Comparing to my last racing experience in Thailand, the Phuket Criterium organization has improved a lot. Everything went away smoothly and there were no delays even if there were at least ten different races during that same day.

The organization provided to every rider a meal, fresh water and free drink supplements the whole day. The rider area was covered (a must to get away from the hot Thailand sun) with different stands of local food and sponsors.

The course was very well planned with two fast parts and a very technical one where your driving skills could make the difference, and it was wide enough to avoid any dangers. All the roads were closed to traffic and constantly supervised by volunteers and police.

Talking about rider’s level in Thailand I could notice that it is constantly growing. The ones who started cycling with the fixed gear bike now, they moved from road bike and they are very strong. There were a lot of young riders who had a hard time to follow my wheel last time and now, instead, animated the race.

There were about 30 riders on the start line. They thought that at least ten riders would come!

It was a very intense 25km race with the Thai guys leading the bunch from the first minute. Other Asian riders tried to attack and kept the racing pace very high. With half race gone I decided to try an attack which led me in front of the bunch with at least 30 seconds of advantage from the rest of the chasing riders. I ran solo until the end where I lost some of my advantage time due to the increasing fatigue but it was enough for me anyway to cross the finish line with my hands up. My team mate Faz finished second, a great team result and we couldn’t be happier.

My cheering didn’t last long however. In a few minutes I had to take off my pedals to put them on the road bike and then I was again on the start line ready to race in the Elite Road Race. 80 riders were next to me, a lot of Under 23 and pro riders’ continental category both Asian and European.

The race was fast with an average speed of 48km/h on the same course of the fixed race.

Pro riders’ level was very high and I found difficult to keep the pace of the front group due to the numerous sprints all through the race.

When I finally heard the bell announcing the last lap I was still in the first group with a little advantage from the chasing riders. I pushed as hard as I could and I happily crossed the finish line in 9th position.

We waited for the podium and the racing awards. The mood was very friendly and a lot of spectators and riders asked me to take a picture with them. I didn’t expect that and I was very pleased with. I think that in Europe and especially in Italy sometimes a natural and healthy race become unhealthy and it lasts even when the race has ended.

I would really like to thank the organization for creating such an extraordinary and high level event with its meticulous attention to every detail.

Thanks also to Free Life Sport who helped me during my travel, personal side and during the race.

Thanks to all my sponsors who made this awesome experience possible.

And last but not least, thanks to Silvia Galliani who always supports me wherever I go and captures on photos every moment of our travel (she shot all the pics you can see), it wouldn’t be so much fun without her.

Until next time.

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