A couple of months ago, after a long stint of races, I became a bit fatigued and my race schedule had to change. I was able to take some rest back home in Australia before the Team's next big races at the Tour de Beauce in Canada and the Tour de Korea. I was scheduled for the 'easier' race, the Tour de Korea. This would be my second attempt at the race after 2011 where I crashed out on stage 3.
To be honest, we were all under the impression that Korea would be easier. Even though it only lasts for half as many days, the Tour de Beauce is know for being very lumpy and usually has a strong field of teams in the race. Korea was expected to have a few bunch sprint finishes so the team sent Andrea along, one of the team's sprinters.
Stage 1 in Korea started out in the usual fashion... crazy attacks, big open roads and no breakaways allowed to form. After around 100km, the race somehow split in half. Three of us were in the front half and continued to race on with Andrea sprinting to 10th, but strangely, the other half of the race seemed to have no interest in racing and finished a long way back. We though that this was a sign of things to come.
We were wrong.
From the race hotel, or pretty much anywhere you stand, every direction you looked seemed to have mountains in the back drop. In fact, the internet tells me that over 70% of South Korea's terrain is mountains! Not just small bumps either, but proper mountains. Check out this list of mountain peaks in Korea... You would think that this would slow the race down, especially when the stages are around 200km long, but it seemed to do the opposite. It seemed to inspire the breakaways.
Every stage started in a frenzy of attacks. The first 50-80km was done at warp speed as riders attacked and chased each other down at the front. I would try to get in the break, keen to do well but also wary of how long and difficult the stages are. After trying for the first 50km, it seemed that as soon as I sat in to rest, a small break would just roll off the front.
On a hilly stage of 200km and a chasing peloton of 110+ riders, you would think that it is extremely unlikely that the break would stay away until the end. Despite this, the break somehow managed to stay away and finish ahead of the peloton, sometimes by only a few seconds. It was mind-boggling that a group of 5 guys could out-run a peloton charging at full steam. This was frustrating as it was taking away our opportunities for our sprinter to do his thing.
Due to a couple of difficult mountain stages and breakaways stealing the win, the final stage became our last opportunity to get Andrea into the sprint. It was a relatively short and flat stage of just over 80km which meant that although we could finish fast and fresh, so could everybody else! The final km's were hectic but Andrea managed to round out the tour with another top 10 finish.
So that was the end to the 'easier', Tour de Korea. I don't think that any of us have ever been more happy to see the end of a race. With 1310km in 8 days at an average speed of 40kph and 14000m of climbing, the Tour de Korea is definitely not the 'easy' option.