The 2016 Ford Tour of Samoa (TOS) is a week-long cycling event held on the Pacific Islands of Samoa.
The event is organised by Samoa International Events (http://www.samoaevents.com/tour-of-samoa.html) and is run by Samoan local, Seti Afoa.
Samoa International Events run a range of Cycling, Run, Swim and Triathlon events across NZ and the Pacific.
The TOS is now in its third year. Participation numbers have increased quickly since its genesis in 2014, when 2 Samoan locals and 2 New Zealanders took to the roads to test the viability of the concept. It was proved and in 2015, 11 riders contested the new event. In 2016, 22 men and women lined up to ride the tour.
Samoa sits in the middle of the Pacific and is approximately 5 hours flying time from Australia. It is served with direct flights by Virgin Australia.
Samoa’s climate is tropical, daytime temps are in the 30’s with high humidity. The TOS stages are completed in the morning to avoid the worst heat of the day.
The TOS covers approximately 400 km with 1.5 days of timed riding on the smaller more populated Island of Upolu and 3.5 days on the larger but less populated Island of Savai’i.
I was introduced to the event by a NZ friend in 2015. Following a brief discussion with my Samoan born wife Ailao, we were booked and planning.
The TOS offers a package of accommodation including resorts and beach Fales. All options are excellent. Riders pre pay, arrange to get themselves and their bikes to Samoa, are met by Seti at the Airport and away they go.
Road quality in Samoa is variable. Many pot holes and course chip across Upolo make going tough. Better conditions are found in Savai’i which has the best roads of the tour. Drivers are courteous, cars travel slowly and road users are becoming more used to seeing cyclists. Five years ago, there were basically no bikes on the roads in Samoa. Wildlife requires riders to be on their guard as do some local cultural idiosyncrasies.
The TOS attracts riders of all ages and abilities and as the numbers have increased there is a definite split across the levels of competency but that ultimately does not distract from the comradery of the event.
I am 50 years old, married with 4 adult children. My work sees me living half my life in Melbourne and half my life in Sydney. I am a member of the Footscray Cycling Club, a famous and proud Melbourne West Suburbs club who run a tough winter road race program and a fast competitive summer criterion program. When in Sydney I race with Waratah Masters and Manly Warringah Clubs. I am a reasonable B grade racer who every now and then jags a rare placing.
Placing 4th in the 2015 TOS, I was pragmatic about my possible result in 2016 with the men’s TOS dominated by Christian Wengler of NZ in 2015 and returning to defend his title 2016. The 2016 TOS looked done and dusted, with Christian commanding a significant lead. Christian is a quality rider and was choosing to put time easily into everyone where and when he wanted. Christian unfortunately crashed out on day 3. With Christian out, the race for 2nd then became the race for 1st.
The race proved ultimately very close with some good riders who but for some bad mechanical luck could have gone on to contest. For me it was a case of protecting my lead and I was able with the help of mates in the bunch to hang on to win the 2016 TOS title.
Training for the TOS needs to be serious. The course is hilly with elevations to approx. 500 meters, some short 12 – 14 % grades, 100 + km stages with intense heat and humidity.
My training program started in earnest 2 months out building to a 400 km week, 3 weeks out and a taper week 1 week out. Whilst in Melbourne, training consisted of Kinglake loops, fast Beach Road runs and Footscray Club races. When in Sydney I trained in and around Ku-ring-gai with plenty of hill repeats and raced with Waratah Masters weekends. I also did a 160 lap track session on Wednesday nights at Dunc Gray with Bankstown Sports Cycling Club. This track training made all the difference to my riding this year. I noticed I was able to hold high cadence for extended periods and quite literally watched my competitors melt away in the Samoa heat whilst I was able to keep spinning.
Nutrition is very important due to the volume of fluid lost each stage. With the help of my daughter Sanonu, a recent Science graduate in Nutrition we nailed it. Good ride drinking/feeding, post ride protein, salts and electrolyte was essential. Breakfast posed a challenge so consideration to your own morning feed support is important. We also all consumed plenty of nature’s own perfect post-race supplements, green drinking coconuts.
Being a gun shy of baggage handlers, I left my Colnago C59 at home and chose to take my training bike an entry level Colnago ACR specked with Ultegra 10 speed running gear, 28/11T rear and 39/53T front, C50 Dura Ace wheelset, 25mm tyres and alloy seat post and bars. This set up was rock solid. Others brought bikes of higher and lower spec and with the help of our TOS mechanic, problems were limited.
Punctures were over represented at this year’s TOS. Conti 4000’s didn’t handle the heat/roads well and this year was quite wet and chip cuts were a real problem. Last year I used Conti Race and whilst a lower spec tyre I think the compound ultimately handled the sharps and heat better.
I bought new La Passione summer kit for the tour, two sets and this was comfortable all the time in the heat. I wear a Giro Air Attack helmet. Airflow is not an issue and it is so hot anyway you don’t really notice. Shimano RP9 shoes were flawless with Sako7socks and Northwave long cuff mitts completed the kit.
I cannot recommend this event highly enough for anyone looking for something a little different. The organisation is excellent, the riding and competition as tough as you want it to be and the country and people breathtakingly beautiful.
It is truly a privilege to have been able to ride across such a stunning country.
Photo credit: http://www.scottiet.com/sports.html