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    Winter Without Thermals

    Tired of the cold and dark? Bored with Majorca? Try wintering in Thailand, says Ian Franklin.
    Words
    Ian Franklin

I wake up in the morning, decide to do the hills, go out with the flatlanders or down to the velodrome. Everyday I have that choice and most days the sun shines. I have no snow, ice, cold winds or inclement weather to stop me. Just occasionally, during the rainy season, a deluge keeps me at home on the turbo trainer.

My riding colleagues here in Thailand share this idyllic life though some still have to work. They arrive here from a variety of countries. In the past couple of years I’ve ridden with people from all over the world, as well as a Frenchman who masquerades as Francis Moreau, although we all know that he is in fact Tony.

Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand attracts all kinds of rider and most of us have some kind of eccentricity that led us away from our grown-up children in farangland to live in a country where the riding opportunities are limitless but the racing limited.

Here I can’t time trial or ride LVRC events but I have learnt to road race on a mountain bike. There are occasional events for the 55-plus riders (sometimes 60-plus). Last month I rode such a race over 17km that headed straight up a mountain.

Twenty-five riders aged dwindled to a mere half dozen after 5 kms and then down to two – just a Thai rider and me. The last kilometre went around a few hairpins and soared into the sky whereupon the Thai just took off. I was left nursing second place. I could never do mountains.

The Thais know how to organise and the podium presentation saw two attractive girls handing out the trophies in the manner of the Grand Tours. Free food, free water, music and dancing rounded off the event which, with the various categories (elite, over 85kgs, juniors and so on), attracted some 250 riders.

One local bike shop owner – a former SEA Games champion – organises events on a fairly grand scale. Last week he promoted the three-day Masters Tour of Chiang Mai consisting of an 88km hilly road race, a 40km circuit race and a mass start of all 150 riders who pelted up and down a dual carriageway at close on 50km per hour, then finished up the same treacherous mountain that ruined my chances a couple of weeks before.

I didn’t ride.  ‘Masters’ included elites and juniors… Vets were categorised up to the age of 50-plus and at 63 I was not prepared to test my legs against super-fit 50-year-olds. 

The second day hosted some MTB circuit races that I competed in, finishing second again in a field of over-55s. Organisation was impeccable, with police outriders, more dancing girls, a mass of trophies and lunch at the famed Chiang Mai Night Safari.

There are no formal clubs and Thailand Cycling Association does not seem to understand cycle sport. Here, at the local 333m velodrome, we recently watched the national junior track championships and suffered the painful sight of 14-year-olds riding a 70-lap points race in 34-degree heat. Everything has to be outsized, huge and challenging.

Life as a cyclist out here in Thailand is always full on. Mondays we ride 120km in the hills; Tuesday evenings it’s a bash with the Thai chaingang of 40 riders who tear up and down the Canal Road; Wednesdays it’s the velodrome for three hours; Thursday morning and I’m out with the flatlanders quietly spinning  for a couple of hours, readying for an assault on the local 11km mountain in the early evening.

Fridays it’s back for an easy ride with the local expat groups in preparation for Saturday’s hard 150km. Sundays? I stay in bed.

There may be floods, riots and general mayhem in Thailand but at least I don’t have to suffer the British winter and have long since discarded my wardrobe of Roubaix thermals and overshoes.  

Any retired cyclist could do worse than winter out here in Chiang Mai. The weather is pleasant, there are many riders to join up with and, most importantly, the cost of living (food, rent, massage) is cheap.

You could probably live here for three months for the cost of your heating bills in the UK. Worth thinking about on your chilly ride tomorrow...

 

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