We've covered this race before but we thought we'd get a Womens perspective from our Brand Ambassador Sarah Schneider who raced the Elite Women category in 2019...
SPOKEN: Before we get into the Tour of Phuket (ToP), can you tell us a bit about yourself, let’s start with, how long have you been cycling and what got you started?
SS: I’ve been cycling about 12 years, I was a runner first like so many of us. I tried a triathlon after my sister persuaded me to do so. I did not really enjoy the swim but loved the bike leg so I promptly bought the road bike from the friend that I borrowed it from. I then found a local club and it took off from there.
SPOKEN: How long have you been riding competitively or racing bikes?
SS: I was competitive in South Africa with road and mountain biking for a few years and was part of an amateur team sponsored by MTN and was lucky enough to win the SA champs in my final year of racing in SA. We then moved to Kenya where I continued mountain biking quite seriously, but then 3 kids came along (and a move to Germany) and cycling took a back seat for about 7 years! We then moved to Singapore where I had quite serious surgery but after recovering from that I got back into cycling again, which was about 1.5 years ago. So I’d say about 5 years of racing in total.
Above: Rider from the Women Elite Peloton
SPOKEN: With that kind of background it's not surprising you're competitive in Asia... You must have a busy home life being a mother and wife, how do you manage to keep your bike fitness and strength at such a high level?
SS: Well, it's always a juggle of course but I prioritise the kids first, exercise second, then come the other areas (with house work last!) I work remotely for a Swiss company so my work hours are flexible but it does mean a lot of working during evenings due the time difference. I try to get an hour or two either of cycling, running, or yoga in during the day and longer rides on weekends, it's quite manageable really as long as there are no extra demands!
SPOKEN: That's definitely a busy home life. Moving on to ToP, I know you’ve done this race before, what made you want to return for the second year?
SS: Ha ha because I won it last year! Actually, with us now living in Sydney, we (my husband and I) agreed to just do one race in Asia this year. Tour of Phuket was an easy choice based on destination, organisation and the course. Plus we knew that a lot of our Singapore friends and MatadorRacing teammates would be doing it.
Above: Female elite riders accompanied by water support
SPOKEN: Given you won the race last year, did you have any expectations leading into the race regarding your desired result – did you go there to win again?
SS: I was hoping for a top 5 finish, knowing that there was going to a lot more females than last year, and stiffer competition but I felt the pressure which is not something I enjoy!
SPOKEN: In terms of the female field, did you have a good view of who you’d be racing against, it must be hard racing offshore and not recognising a lot of the rider names or knowing who they are? <or maybe winning or placing well wasn’t your focus>
SS: I knew about 1/3 of the names on the start list. And most of those were my team mates! I thought that the BG cycling girls (about 5 of them) would be strong as I’ve seen them in action before. And I knew that the girl who came second to me last year, Lucy, was doing it again. We have become friends and follow each other Strava which can be intimidating as I see her form!
SPOKEN: As far as event organisation goes, did you notice any differences between this year and last year regarding logistics and event support?
SS: Last year was great. This year was even better. Kent, along with Unfound.cc really raised the bar and everything was on a bigger scale, a bigger podium, a spacious start and finish venue, more volunteers, and more competitors. It was great to see the event growing. Also with the sponsorship from Singha the atmosphere was always 'merry'. As far as I know, all cyclists rode the correct route (which is not always a given in Asia!) and there were no major mishaps. We were all briefed and well informed of all of the race details each day which made everything run pretty smoothly.
Above: The team from Unfound.cc who promoted the event
SPOKEN: Leading up to the race, what kind of training volumes and types of training were you doing?
SS: We flew my mum over for 6 weeks straight after Christmas and that was our major training block - thanks mum! I squeezed as many long hilly rides in as possible into that time so riding around 300km per week. During February, it was less but more just a case of keeping up the strength and fitness by grabbing rides whenever possible.
SPOKEN: Definitely good having grandma looking after the kids during big training blocks, we do the same... It’s always hot in Phuket, did you do anything special in an attempt to acclimatise to the heat you were going to encounter?
SS: The heat wasn’t the problem, Sydney had been hot too so that helped I think, it was the humidity that made it hard. One forgets how much all that sweating takes it out of you. On Saturdays 4 hour ride I went through 6 bottles of water. Nothing can prepare you for the humidity except living in it I think?
Above: Female riders captured in the jungle
SPOKEN: We hear you, humidity and the density of the air definitely takes a toll on the body but it's the same for everyone. You travelled from Sydney, Australia to ToP, did you arrive early to settle in to the heat or did you arrive on race day?
SS: We arrived on Wednesday night and the race started on Friday so we had plenty of time to recover from the long (10 hours in total) flight. Its always nerve racking travelling with your bike, so I was relieved to re-assemble my bike with no problems - in fact, I didn't have any bike issues at all - phew.
SPOKEN: How was race morning, can you describe it for our readers?
SS: I had been nervous for the ITT for a month! This was because I thought it would be the deciding factor for the race. It turned out not to be but a good ITT can set you up nicely. We rode the course a few times that morning and I got some tips from my teammates (we have a stat master on our team who filled my head with numbers and goals which helped). My start time was 15:30 and the waiting around all day was just horrible as there's so much time to dwell on the outcome! We (the MatadorRacing ladies) all did our warm up together at about 14:45 and I was chatting and joking with them before the start really helped me relax. The short 4.7km ITT went well in the end, I took the corners faster than I had before and just focused on making sure I was constantly in pain! I recently got a power meter so I was also watching my power output the whole time. The head wind was strong on 2 sections, but then everyone faced that so I just had to deal with it. I improved on last years’ time by 3 seconds and most people’s times were slower so that gave me a confidence boost.
But wow, so much build up for just a 6.33min effort!
Above: Sarah checking the ITT times - fastest female!
SPOKEN: You won the ITT putting you in the overall lead for Elite Women, did you feel under pressure going into stage 2 or were you just focused on having some fun combined with some hard racing?
SS: I was very surprised but very happy with the win in the ITT. I knew the 4 second and 7 second gaps on 2nd and 3rd meant that nothing was certain, especially as there were time bonuses for 1st, 2nd and 3rd on Stage 2 and 3. My position felt good and I was suddenly focusing on winning, not just a top 5 finish. So game on for a hard day of cycling and I always have fun racing - so I was up for it!
SPOKEN: We should have asked you this sooner, but did your children travel with you?
SS: We locked them in a cupboard at home for 5 days with some food and water, kidding! My parents in law planned their holiday around our race and looked after our kids at home for us. They did a great job and the kids loved being spoilt by their German Oma and Opa. So it was all planned way in advance which is also why we can’t do this kind of thing very often.
SPOKEN: Wow, another set of grandparents to cover the racing as well, you've definitely got a good setup there... Men’s racing can be quite intensive amongst the GC contenders, what’s the atmosphere like in the Women’s peloton amongst the top 5 riders, is it reasonably relaxed or competitively intense?
SS: Depends which woman you ask! I would say that it's overall less intense purely because there is less competition. Typically in these races you get 3-5 woman who are serious and going for the podium, the rest are there just to ride and enjoy themselves. The male numbers are much higher so there is way more competition. But we do take the race seriously and I would say it's a friendly yet competitive atmosphere amongst us females.
Above: Sarah in action with the Masters Mens peloton and shadowed by her competition (Chelsea)
SPOKEN: You started each day with the Super Masters Peloton, what was this like, did you get help or was it just a matter of following wheels?
SS: This is always a tough call, it would have been a more honest race between us women if we rode in our own peloton but with only a handful of strong woman there would have been a lot of negative racing which is never fun. Riding with the Super masters and vets means that yes, we mostly just sat in - making sure to always stay near the front though.
SPOKEN: It's fairly common having females in the masters peloton's these days which is kind of cool (speaking from experience). Can you tell us a bit about the actual racing and course including road surface
SS: With 3 categories in one peloton there was always action. The climbs stripped the group down on both days which made the racing safer. There were some tight corners on steep descents with some individual crashes, as to be expected but mostly good bunch riding and interesting racing. Chelsea (Singapore national champ) and I finished with the second bunch on stage 2, and with the main bunch on stage 3. Multiple cats sprinting at the same time can be messy and stage 3 was just that. The road condition was mostly good (except for a gravel section due to road works) and the scenery was lovely - when we could take the time to look left or right!
SPOKEN: Doesn't sound like much time to chat but we'll ask anyway; Is there much conversation in the Peloton amongst the Women during the riding?
SS: There is some yes, when the riding is slightly easier. It’s great to catch up with those that you only ever see at overseas races, we are all pretty friendly with each other except when there is littering, then I get cross!
SPOKEN: We know how much you care about the environment Sarah which is awesome. Your main competitor is a national champion of Singapore but the level of riding is not as strong there as Australia where you’re based. Did her reputation worry you at all?
SS: I have never raced against Chelsea before but knew her from our time in Singapore. I knew she was young, strong, on the National team, and rides full time but had no idea how she raced. Turns out she is an aggressive (I mean that in a nice way) and determined racer and has a mean sprint!
Above: Sarah on her way to the start of Stage 3
SPOKEN: You narrowly lost your lead on Stage 3 were you disappointed or was being away and riding your bike gratifying enough?
SS: I was still in the lead heading into the 3rd and final stage, but only by 2 seconds. With Chelsea’s sprint wins on both stages 2 and 3, even though we had very close finishing times, she'd crept ahead of me due to the time bonuses. A bit frustrating to lose my 7 second lead from the ITT in that way, but that’s what the time bonuses are designed for - to keep the race open until the very last meter. I was disappointed to come second overall, yes, after leading right up until the last few meters. We had different strengths Chelsea and I, but it was the sprinting that counted in the end and she was way better than me in that!
Above: Final Elite Podium with Sarah taking 2nd place
SPOKEN: It's frustrating loosing a GC lead due to sprinting, lesson for next year, go long, don't wait for the sprint... What were you doing after each stage, did you have a beach or swimming pool to chill out beside and relax?
SS: Saturday was the only real afternoon to chill, I had a massage and tried to sleep but couldn’t as the 4 hour time difference, although small, played havoc with our sleeping rhythm unfortunately. But overall Phuket is a great place for a bike race, it has awesome food, massage parlours on every corner and lovely hotels.
SPOKEN: Yes, there are definitely a lot of massage parlours in Phuket... How was the general organisation of the event, was it well run with good on-road and medical support?
SS: Very good organisation and a very well run event in nearly every regard. What I particularly thought was great was the #ditchdisposable initiative where we could hand our empty bottles over to a guy on a motorbike who rode next to the peloton. We received a (ToP branded) camelbak in return, full of water. So no plastic bottles wasted and a great memento to take home.
Above: Sarah making use of on-road water support and staying hydrated
SPOKEN: That bottle exchange is a great initiative! Is there anything you’d recommend for our female readers who maybe considering doing this tour?
SS: Just do it, and do it in a team if you can. There is a team prize at the end of the event, if you just have 3 female riders that complete the race you'll have a good chance of standing on the podium. We definitely need more female riders in general on all levels. And the super masters and vets are great to ride with as they're experienced and not too hectic!
Above: Sarah with her team mates from MatadorRACING
SPOKEN: Yes, SuperMasters are generally more relaxed 'most of the time'. What’s next for you bike wise, any interesting events coming up?
SS: Seeing as we’re pretty new to Sydney we are still learning the race scene, so no big plans yet. I like doing the monthly West Head races and the local crits (well, I don’t really enjoy those but force myself to do them). Later this year we hope to do the Tour of Bright in Victoria and possibly some TT’s in between. We just have to try not to hibernate too much through the winter months - they are a shock after the heat Singapore!
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