Tour of Friendship, or ToF as it's more commonly known, is a multi-stage road race based in the heart of Thailand. ToF is largely a hidden gem with knowledge of the race being limited to cyclists residing in South East Asia and who are also part of the regions amateur race scene.
We have been fortunate enough to have raced ToF on three occasions most recently in 2019 and can testify that this race is truely unique and one of the best amateur multi-stage races on offer in Thailand.
Following the 1998 Asian Games which were based in Bangkok, Madame Titaree Tanakorn decided to organise a new cycling tour with support of 40 commissaries. First named the Anti Drug Tour Thailand, and Tour of EGAT, the name later changed to Tour of Friendship R1. Famed for its friendly and fun atmosphere, the event grew to over 200 riders from around the globe.
ToF does not target professional riders (although it's not uncommon to find ex-pros on the start line, including former Ironman world champions), nor does it offer prize money, it's all about the love of cycling and connecting with riders from all parts of the world.
Above: Open/Elite category at the start line.
ToFR1 tends to alternate its location and course profiles but is typically accessible via Bangkok airport. Of the 3 tours we've ridden two were based in Kanchanaburi, and one in the province of Saraburi both within 150km of Bangkok making for easy access via BKK or DMK airports.
Above; Supalai Pasak Resort Hotel & Spa. Race accomodation in 2019.
The race itself is normally 5 stages which includes a 17.8km Individual Time Trial usually around a pan flat course and it will likely be very hot! Like any multi-stage race, it’s not always won or lost with an ITT but if the time-trial is your strength and the GC gaps are small, then this is the opportunity to move up the overall rankings.
There are multiple classifications or grades in-which to enter including; Open (Men and Women) and Age Groups - 30 - 39, 40 - 49, 50 - 59. The entry fee is THB 26,500 per rider which includes airport transfers, accomodation (includes breakfast and dinner) and rider numbers are normally limited dependant on the location of the race that year.
Whilst there's no prize money up for grabs there are some very cool trophies for the top 5 riders within each category following each stage. Another great thing about this race is that you are still eligible for a podium even if you cannot finish any of the previous days stages although you'll obviously be out of GC contention.
Above: Collection of trophies up for grabs at the end of each stage.
Despite the lack of prize money the racing is fast and the riders are normally seasoned racers which also makes for some great tactical racing. Riders who live in the South East Asia region are typically acclimatised to racing in hot conditions (temperatures at ToF can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius) which means they know how to keep themselves cool and hydrated. There's little other advantage over riders who don't live in the region so if you're travelling from afar get used to riding in heat if you can, and practice your nutrition.
Above: Picture from our onboard camera inside the Open/Elite category
Race accomodation (which doubles as race HQ) remains the same throughout the tour regardless of which province you're in. Each stage will start from race headquarters but finish in different locations. If you're part of a team of more than 5 riders you will have an option to rent a team van for $15,000 THB plus Gasoline and Tips, this will take you to and from each stage and also assist with on-road support if you need it. Alternately you can also use race transport which will move you and your bike back to race headquarters following each stage.
TIP: We highly recommend getting a team van for the tour if you have more than 5 riders, these can be organised with ease when registering. The vans will transport you and your bikes back to race accomodation after each stage. The other advantage of having a van is you can get to local restaurants, supermarkets and tourist attractions. The alternative is to use the tour bus which will transport you and your bikes back to race accomodation after each stage, but you'll need to wait for the last rider to finish each stage which can make for a long day.
The racing itself is quite tactical due to the high volume of teams being present so if you're racing as an individual stay alert, and find the right wheels to follow. Another advantage of being a solo rider is you're more likely to get into an early breakaway if that's your style of riding, the teams won't see you as a threat and if you're lucky they'll play a game of 'wait and see who chases the break down' which will give you some valuable minutes or seconds.
Above; Riders from the Open/Elite Category during Stage 2
If you are entering as a team, rest assured you'll be in for some great tactical racing against a quality field. Aside from ITT the stages have tough, rolling terrain and the temperatures can reach above 40 degrees celsius so you'll need to manage your energy outputs and have a good race plan so you use your energy at the right times.
Above: Pic from the onboard camera - Navigating a bad section of road, thankfully there aren't too many of these sections to deal with.
The roads are surprisingly smooth and fast, but as with any South East Asia country there are some bad patches which may have lacked their fair share of maintenance over the years, but all-in-all the road surface is good.
As with all stages in this tour the water support is second to none and there's up to a dozen motorbikes roaming the roads with water bottles. Tip: The bikes are refilling from a truck parked somewhere on the course, if you want cold water you can distinguish between the warm and cold bottles by the condensation on the outside of the bottle, these are the cold ones!
Above; Riders in the 30s and 40s category with refuelling taking place mid-peloton
Aside from water support, there are motorbikes clearing the roads ahead to keep riders safe, and also support vehicles at the rear to deal with mechanicals and to act as sag wagons.
TOFR1 is definitely a must for the bucket list, you’ll make long lasting memories and see some great parts of Thailand, particularly if you take the time out for some ‘tourist activities’.
Don’t be put off by the lack of web presence or slick marketing, this is a very well run race with good on-road and logistical support.
If you're travelling from outside of South East Asia why not meet the family in Phuket and make a holiday of it. Sitting on a Thai beach with the family after a tough multi-stage tour with your mates is the stuff dreams are made of.
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