Curious little piece of info over on Sporza: the Thai office of Tourism (TAT) is lobbying ASO to bring the 2016 Tour de France to Thailand for a Grand Depart. As someone who loves tourism in Thailand and the Tour de France, this combination is about as delicious as a bowl of coconut soup (hint: completely delicious). ASO have already dismissed it out of hand, but a few thoughts...
- First, kudos to the TAT for opening with a strong hand. Everybody in Thailand knows that you don't open negotiations with your actual price. If they want a smaller ASO-sponsored race, this is a good way to get ASO to "bargain you down" to the race you were hoping for all along.
- A smaller race in Thailand? This shouldn't be a big stretch. We already have the precedent of the Tour de Langkawi, which runs in late February and is coming up on its 20th anniversary in a couple years. Little should be done to destabilize that race; any race happening in Thailand should work around Langkawi's dates. But beyond that, a second southeast-Asian race seems like an interesting idea. It could help teams stay in that part of the globe longer after the TDU, giving riders a bigger bang for their traveling buck. Team logistics too.
- Riders would trip over themselves to attend, no? At least the younger Dutch, German, Scandinavian and French guys, who have to ignore their friends' instagram accounts the first day of training (early November) until the season's end (late October) if they don't want to be driven mad with jealousy. Going to Malaysia helps, but Thailand is a less restrictive culture, and besides, having the two races with maybe a week between them guarantees riders a chance to hang around a beach (re: go clubbing) for at least part of a few days. Come to think of it, the team managers would probably freak out over that plan.
- Wait, but where would they do this? Thailand isn't famous for its great country roads -- they exist, but not in huge quantities, and not without plenty of cars and trucks. My guess is they'd do a criterium in Bangkok, then work their way up to Chiang Mai, where you have decent roads and legit mountains. Stage finishes in Kanchanaburi and Sukhothai would be beyond awesome. Assuming they have the right roads. Given the discord in Thailand I don't see the government spending much money on new roads.
- So what about Le Tour? I personally think ASO should start a Tour in every country that was once considered part of the French Colonial Empire. Call it the Apology/Let's Be Friends Anyway Tour. With stops in Quebec, North Africa, New Orleans, Tahiti, Guyana, and of course French Indochina -- but that was what we call Cambodia and Vietnam, not Thailand. Thailand is about 20 percent further from Paris than New York, so if riders were gonna bitch and moan about an American Grand Depart, you can bet it would be worse to have it in southeast Asia. Add in bad weather (July is monsoon season) and inexperience with massive logistics for such a race, and I think we can put this in the Hell Freezes Over category.
OK, well that was fun. I think until further notice we shouldn't expect the Tour to get this creative. Their idea of a "wild adventure" is Yorkshire. I suppose everything has its price, but I can't see a Thai government agency doing anything so lavish as purchasing the start of the Tour. Alas... a stage sprint in front of the Royal Palace would be super cool, and Bangkok's wide boulevards have been shut down often enough, one Sunday of bike racing won't make traffic any worse than it already is.