By Dave Christenson
I was fortunate to be invited by NeilPrydeâ€™s Hong Kong based cycling team to race the Tour of Bintan. The tour of Bintan is a two-day, three-stage race with the first stage coming in at 150km, the second at 73km and the third and final stage at 38km.
Bintan is a small Indonesian Island situated to the southwest of Singapore. Itâ€™s so close to Singapore that to get there you take a ferry across the Singapore Strait and arrive in Indonesia a mere 45 minutes later.
I arrived in Singapore a few days early to have some time to get over the jet lag and to get acclimated to the tropical weather. I was also really happy to be in Singapore a few days early because it gave me a chance to catch up with a couple of friends, Alan Grant and Adam Horler. Alan and Adam are two strong cyclists based in Singapore who were also riding Tour of Bintan as part of the Anza Mavericks squad.
The Mavericks were kind enough to let me train with them on their regular morning training rides in Singapore. It also gave me a chance to get to meet a few more of their squad and meet their GC hopeful, Matt Kinch. Although our rides were quite jovial and friendly there was definitely a sense of sizing up the competition on the part of the Mavericks and myself. I was quite impressed with the strength of their squad and I knew theyâ€™d be tough competition. I could also tell that Matt would be tough to beat in the GC and thus he became a marked man to watch for on the road.
Singapore by night.
â€śSingapore by nightâ€ť
Arrival of the team
I had only met one of my four teammates before Bintan. I had met my teammate, Jor Tsui, a few months prior at Interbike in Las Vegas, NV but at the time I didnâ€™t know that Iâ€™d be racing Bintan. Jor and I got on well in Vegas so I knew that if the rest of the team were anything like him itâ€™d be a great experience despite the slight language barrier.
I arrived at the ferry terminal loaded down with bike and camera gear and Jor quickly spotted me and gave me a hand with the expensive pile of technology I cart around the world with me. I met the rest of the team and tried to have a chat but there was still the language barrier and so I donâ€™t really know what the guys thought of me initially especially because I was almost immediately pointing a camera at them.
The NeilPryde team waits for the ferry to Bintan.
I knew my team was going to be very strong as a couple of them have raced UCI Asia and my teammate, Wang Yip Tang, had won the Tour of South China Sea. I have to admit I was a bit worried of how Iâ€™d go in the race as my last race had been about two months prior and with the racing wrapping up in the US it was a bit difficult to find friends who wanted to ride let alone train for racing. I was also feeling a bit cooked after a long season having done about 30 races and riding 15,000km and 500,000 ft of climbing. That compounded with the cooling weather in the states my body was definitely telling me to take a break. All that aside I still had ambitions of a top ten finish and at the very least I wanted to be there to help the team.
Our first morning in Bintan we went out for an 80km training ride and it was very hot out to say the least. All of us were definitely feeling the effects of the tropical weather. Our pace was fairly high but I was feeling good so I knew Iâ€™d most likely go well in the race.
We figured that it would be fairly hard to win the GC because we were a small team of five riders and there were several bigger teams and a fairly stacked field of pros and strong amateurs. After seeing the course profile on paper I initially thought it would be hard for a break to stay away but after the training ride and seeing the rolling terrain and narrow roads of Bintan it was actually ideal for a breakaway, especially if the right mix of riders got into a break.
That evening we went to the race briefing along with all the other riders in attendance and there was a massive turnout. I would say that between all the offered categories, cat 1 men, cat2 men, cat 3 men, cat 1 women and challenger (challenger: non-competitive), that there were around 500 participants there, quite a massive turnout.
Race briefing gets underway.
The race director goes overt he rules and key points of the race.
There was a very large international field with many riders from local areas such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, as well as a very large western contingent from many European countries as well as the US and Canada.
As the race director laid out the rules, safety hazards, neutral support and course details I could tell that the event was very well organized by the endurance sports promoter/organizer Meta Sport.
During the transfer to stage one by bus the skies started to look rather ominous and heavy rain was reported at kilometer 40. Although riding in the rain would make for cooler temperatures it is a lot more hazardous and after stage 2 of the Tour of Friendship in which we rode in a monsoon and saw a slew of crashes I was a bit sketched to say the least.
At the start area of the race there was a very festive environment with many spectators there and many VIPâ€™s from Bintan and several members of the local government to preside over the opening ceremonies. After the blessing on all the riders was said we were shuffled to the starting area.
Opening ceremonies before Stage 1.
NeilPryde rider Jor Tsui awaits the start of Stage 1.
While waiting to start I chatted with a few riders but once we got the one-minute warning all voices quieted as the riders quickly put their game faces on and a slight nervousness settled over the peloton.
At the sound of the gun we rolled out and although there was a 2km neutral start we all still jockeyed for position and apparently one rider attacked in the neutral zone but was quickly reigned in by race officials. As the red flag dropped after 2kms the pace quickly jumped from 32kmh to 45kmh and I could also see riders attacking off the front.
Iâ€™m often asked what its like racing in Asia as compared with the states and all I say is â€śattacksâ€ť. In races here there are constantly attacks, which makes it more fun, but also nerve wracking because you always need to be on your toes and ride near the front. Racing in the states is a bit more tactical and energies are used more sparingly with the attacks almost always coming in the later parts of the race.
As the kilometers ticked by the rain started to come down and although it wasnâ€™t the worst rain Iâ€™d seen in my racing/riding in Asia, it still made for slick conditions and eyes full of grime. I knew that a break had gotten up the road but I had no idea who was in it and no one was chasing. I had marked a Cannasia-Cannondale rider, Tim Wilkins, as one to really watch. Tim is a very good rider based in Singapore and I knew that he would definitely make an effort to break free of the peloton. After a slew of attacks I saw Tim move towards the front and he attacked and I followed but we were quickly chased down. Tim tried several more times to attack and I immediately followed but so did the rest of the peloton. Tim rolled up next to me and we had a quick chat and we decided that weâ€™d give it a go a bit later in the race.
After riding for a while through very undulating terrain I could tell a few riders were already getting tired. It seemed that Bintan was just an endless barrage of steep pitches with very little respite on the downhill sections because almost immediately you were climbing again.
As we came into a section where the sand on the sides of the road was a very brilliant red color I looked up the road to see two Anza Mavericks with a good sized gap on the rest of us and I realized it was Daisuke Yano, a friend of mine from Japan, and Matt Kinch. I quickly shot across the gap and wasnâ€™t chased, I knew the three of us working together might be able to get away from the peloton and possibly bridge up to the break that was an unknown amount of time ahead of us. Almost immediately after I got onto their wheel Matt punctured and Daisuke stayed with him as a loyal domestique so rather than push on alone I sat up and waited to be reeled in by the peloton.
After I was caught I found Tim in the bunch and told him we ought to have a go soon because we were nearing the halfway point and I was worried we wouldnâ€™t have enough road to make up time on the break. A bit later I noticed Tim being brought up to the front by one of his teammates and I got on his wheel. Timâ€™s teammate raised the pace a bit and as we came to one of Bintanâ€™s seemingly endless hills at kilometer 70. Tim attacked and I followed and as we accelerated I didnâ€™t look back but I knew we had broken free of the peloton and we worked well together over the next several kilometers. The terrain was perfect for us to get away as the undulations in the road increased and when I finally looked back we had a good gap on the rest of the field. I was confident that we could stay away the only question was could I keep this up for another 80 kilometers?
Alas, Timâ€™s time up the road with me came to an end due to a puncture. I said â€śsorry you puncturedâ€ť and he replied â€śgood luckâ€ť. I did feel sorry but I donâ€™t know if it was for Timâ€™s sake or mine? I was now alone up the road with a good gap and trying to hold off a charging peloton. Then almost on cue with trumpets blaring my teammate, LAM Kai Tsun, had bridged up to me and we began working well together and were speeding along through the Indonesian countryside. As my friend Alan Grant says: â€śbeing in the break gives you wingsâ€ť and LAM Kai Tsun and I were definitely flying.
As we made our way through the small towns we were greeted by literally thousands of cheering fans lining the roads. We were also greeted by traffic. Being somewhere between the main break of the day and the peloton we were on our own without support or police to clear the way. I began to become a bit discouraged on our chances especially when LAM Kai Tsun got past a car and I had to almost stop completely, losing his wheel and chasing back to him and burning up precious reserves.
After about 35 kilometers of riding in a NeilPryde two-man team time trial two other riders bridged up to us. It was Matt Kinch from the Anza Mavericks and a rider from Cannasia-Cannondale. Matt asked me how I was feeling and I said I was tired. I have to admit I was definitely tired but maybe not as tired as I was letting on. I was glad for the additional reinforcements and we continued to ride hard without the help of the Cannasia-Cannondale rider. He never left the back of our paceline. My thought on playing tactics is itâ€™s ok not to pull but at least roll through, donâ€™t just sit back and disrupt our paceline. It was definitely frustrating but we continued to push on.
With around 17 kilometers to go several riders bridged up to us including my teammate Jor Tsui. We were now a group of around 15-20 riders but the main peloton was still around 40 seconds back. This larger group made it certain that we would finish ahead of the main peloton but now I had several more to contest the sprint with. With 10 kilometers to go a CCCamp rider attacked and he was quickly reeled in but the chase up to him had taken its final toll and several riders popped off the back. As we approached the fast downhill finish the sprinters moved up to contest the minor placingâ€™s and I just followed them crossing the line in 14th place, 1minute 41seconds down on GC and 30 seconds ahead of the peloton.
This first stage was pretty tough especially because I had been chasing the break for over half the race. Although the temperatures never really got as hot as they could have the heat was still a factor and I felt pretty drained after the race. I was glad to find out that my teammate, TANG Wang Yip, had made the decisive break of the day and had taken third in the sprint but after a Cycloworx rider racing under a false name was disqualified, it put Yip into second on GC.
After the stage we went down to the beaches of Bintan to have a look and to relax and recover before the next dayâ€™s stage.
NeilPryde team riders LAM Kai Tsun and LAM Ting Pong on the beaches in Bintan.
Over breakfast I felt like I had recovered pretty well from stage oneâ€™s efforts and I was ready to help protect TANG Wang Yipâ€™s place on GC and maybe get into a break early in the race.
As we rolled out there was a definite fatigue in the bunch as we crawled through the 2km neutral zone, every rider just spinning the legs to wake them up. Just as in stage one as soon as the flag went down after the neutral zone the speed kicked up and riders were already attacking off the front. I figured that the early breaks would most likely be swept up so I just made sure to be near the front until after the KOM. Once we were on the KOM I made my way up to the front of the peloton and was marked by several riders. Once we were through the KOM a pair of Pico Bikelabz riders shot off the front and I didnâ€™t chase initially but once I saw they had a decent gap I realized this could be a dangerous move so I chased them. It took me a while to bridge up to them and I was given several encouraging shouts from Mark Cook, a strong rider from the SIRs squad who was on my wheel. Once we had gotten up to them I looked around to see if we had gotten away from the peloton and we had. Not only did we have a healthy gap, but also the group consisted of myself, Mark Cook, Tim Wilkins, Matt Kinch, an Eddy Hollands rider and the two Malaysian pros from Pico Bikelabz. I knew that this group had the firepower to stay away and we quickly got into a good rotation apart from the Pico Bikelabz riders. I do have to say that their pulls were not much help as they were obviously saving it for the sprint if we managed to stay away.
A few minutes later saw the arrival of another rider, Kurt Stocks, into our break. The Malaysia based Australian was riding without a team and must have had to put in a pretty massive dig to bridge up to us. It was impressive to see him get to our group but it also meant we had one more strong rider to help in the break so I was already starting to think of how I could outfox the sprinters which would be tough to say the least, what I wouldnâ€™t give to have a 5km climb to attack on, but not to be found here on Bintan.
As we sped along the roads narrowed and there were several technical sections on very narrow roads that were a bit sketchy at times and it made me glad that I was negotiating these sections in a smaller group and not in an 80 strong peloton.
The group continued to work well as we made our way through several small towns and even a stretch along the water, which was nice. Only the Eddy Hollands rider and the Pico Bikelabz riders contested the sprints and the rest of us were happy to let them go for sprint points. Then we got to the second KOM of the day and I have to admit it was the first time I had ever seen what happened there, as we got to 500 meters to go on the KOM a Pico Bikelabz rider made the jump to go for the KOM. When the Eddy Hollands rider went to chase the second Pico Bikelabz rider grabbed onto the Eddy Hollands rider impeding his sprint for the KOM, a few slaps and swats were thrown at each other as well as a few words. The rest of us didnâ€™t know what to think as we had all just had a front row seat to the odd event. Mark Cook did roll up to the Pico rider who had instigated the incident and gave him an ear full, which was definitely deserved by the Pico rider. I was just happy that after the descent from the KOM that we quickly got back into a rhythm keeping the pace going to hopefully stay away until the finish.
With about 20km to go we were informed of our gap to the peloton by a race official, the gap was one minute 50 seconds to the peloton, which meant that myself, Matt Kinch and at least one other rider were now GC on the road. We rolled along and Tim Wilkins came up to me and we chatted and we decided that to protect our teammates positions on GC that we wouldnâ€™t drive the pace and try to let our gap come back down.
With about 10km to go I knew that we would stay away and we continued to roll through the kampung of Bintan towards the inevitable sprint to the line. I was in a bit of a conundrum as there were several strong sprinters and nowhere for me to attack so I knew my chances werenâ€™t great to take the win so I just continued on. At this point the Pico riders were barely contributing saving everything for the line. They would have the benefit of a two-pronged attack in the final.
With 3km to go one of the Pico riders rode off the front. I wouldnâ€™t say it was an attack he just rode off and we all looked at each other to chase but no one did and he continued to get a gap on us. We increased the pace a bit and started to close in on him but it wasnâ€™t a real chase. With about 2km to go I decided that I ought to try something so I put in a small attack but was immediately chased so I shut it down once I got through the cobbled section leading into Nirwana Gardens where the finish was. The pace was very high as we made are way through the final 2km but not quite fast enough to get back to the Pico rider who we all knew would get the stage win but we were still content to fight it out for second place.
In the sprint I was in a decent position but the Eddy Hollands rider and Tim Wilkins were just too fast for me to come around. Mark Cook also managed to just squeeze by me in the end too. This put me in 5th for the stage and after receiving one bonus second for my 5th place finish it put me in 6th on GC one second ahead of Matt Kinch who was in 7th. This also put Pico BikeLabz rider, Saiful Anwar Aziz, in 1st on GC because of the 15-second time bonus for finishing first for the stage. There were a few losers on the day as well, most of the GC riders who werenâ€™t in the break moved down one position on GC, including my teammate TANG Wang Yip, who was now in 3rd on GC.
It had been a good day in the break and I was glad to now be in 6th on GC but I was also a bit sorry that Yip had been pushed down from 2nd to 3rd on GC. We didnâ€™t say much about it but it was better that I had made it into the break rather than the team have no one in there.
Thereâ€™s not much to say about stage three other than it was fast and furious from the gun. At only 38km the stage was simply too short for a break to get away. Not for lack of trying though. Several riders attacked in the beginning but they were marked immediately. Not to go down without a fight the ever-attacking Alan Grant was a protagonist early in the stage causing several accelerations in the peloton to chase him down.
Stage three was all about staying near the front but everyone had the same idea. The bunch was nervous and fatigued after two stages of hard racing in the legs. Another factor was the several speed bumps we flew over at near 50kmh. There was even one leading into a 90-degree right hand corner. Another near miss came when the road widened and then bottlenecked leaving me running out of road quickly. It was very sketchy to say the least. As we flew through the only sprint point on the day it was very fast as riders who cared to go for points jockeyed for position.
The stage was coming to a close as we entered back into Nirwana Gardens via the cobbled roundabout about 2.5km from the finish. As the group negotiated the tight turn it was a testament to bike handling skills and as soon as we were through the speed jumped up quickly and everyone was fighting for a good position in the sprint.
My goal for the stage was to watch Matt Kinch in the finale and make sure he didnâ€™t get a time bonus and leapfrog me on GC. As his teammate Adam Horler accelerated I immediately followed and so did Matt. We were near the front, which was just where I wanted to be although I had no plans of sprinting for the stage win. With the short rise up and over to the finish it was enough to get rid of several riders and as we sped past the lead-out from Adam Horler we came into the last 500 meters and I saw Matt go to the right and I just continued on my line. I wasnâ€™t contesting the sprint but I was sprinting to finish ahead of Matt for safetyâ€™s sake as he was a mere 1 second behind me on GC. As I came across the line I knew I had come across before Matt securing my 6th on GC and taking 13th on the stage. It was relieving to have finished a really tough two days of racing and a nervous final stage.
With our teamâ€™s consistent riding and the fact that four of our five riders were in the top 15 on GC we had secured the team classification. I was really proud that we were able to take out the team classification because not only were we a smaller team with five riders, the four NeilPryde regulars had let me integrate into their team and we worked and raced well together. It was a really great experience racing with these guys and hopefully I can race with them again one day.
Iâ€™d highly recommend this race if youâ€™re looking for a destination race with good competition and beautiful surroundings along with great local support for the race. Honestly, there were times I felt like I was riding the Tour de France with the screaming fans along the roadside.
If there were any suggestions for the race Iâ€™d say make it a three-day race and extend the second and third stageâ€™s distances. This would make each stage count that much more for the GC. Also possibly adding a short prologue TT might be interesting? That being said Iâ€™ll definitely be back regardless of changes to the race or not. Also, did I mention the beaches? Bintan is a resort island so you could definitely bring the wife and kids along as there is a lot for them to do while youâ€™re off racing your bike, and what better way to recover than on the beach after the racing has wrapped up? This was a great race to finish up my season and thanks to all the riders and organizers who contributed to the success of the event.
Did I mention the beaches in Bintan!
Tour de Bintan Strava info: