A UCI Surprise in Bintan

Over the weekend was the 2017 running of Tour de Bintan, In its 7th year, the event is Asia’s premier cycling challenge and attracts over 1100 cyclists from all around Asia. Bintan is easily accessible from Singapore or Jakarta. Making it a regional favourite. I was returning for my 2nd attempt at the hit out in the heat. In 2016, while wearing the grey and pink of Rapha RCC a faced a challenging weekend haunted by a double leg cramp that saw me end up in the back of an ambulance on Stage 1.

For 2017, my race preparation was very than ideal. Recent work travel had kept me away from my regular training schedule. Add to that a ten day visit to Vegas, and my body was no where near the form I carried into 2016.

The boat ride over on the Friday knocked everyone around, as a significant number of passengers made a dash for the toilet. Once settle into the hotel, after a nightmare checkin, most headed for the bike depot to prepare for the afternoon’s Individual Time Trial. My roll of time was 14:55, leaving me ample time for a quick lunch. Something I’d regret later, as the flavors resurfaced during the ITT.

Just being back in Bintan again brought a huge sense of peace after a hectic start to the year. Nothing beats having the freedom to ride, away from a hustle of a busy city. No traffic lights, no crazy schedules. Just me and my bike.

I came to Bintan with zero expectations. I was just there to get some solid rides, in a hope of getting my performances back on track. Standing on the pedals at the start of the ITT, I reminded myself to enjoy the ride. There is a certain isolate peace that comes over you as you roll down the ramp, and push those first few strokes. The legs start to pump as the speed climbs, I capped my acceleration, aiming to stay under 400 watts to save my legs.

Experience on the circuit in 2016 meant I was vaguely familiar with the turns, climbs and pacing. The course had only been slightly modified, added a longer climb up around Club Med. Ten kilometres into the course, my legs felt fresh, my cadence and average power were strong, I couldn’t ask for more. My average pace read 37.5km/hr, putting me on track for a time in the low 27 minutes. I had caught not only my minute man, but the guy in front of him. Rider 263 hadn’t started, putting Rider 262 off the start 1 minute a head on the road, and ride 261; 1:30 ahead.

The final two kilometres goes by fast as you push over a couple of crests and down the descent back towards Lagoi Bay. Crossing the line, I stopped my Garmin showing I’d gone under 27 minutes. A happy moment. Wouldn’t light up the field, but a solid effort. I later found out my time of 26:59 was good enough for 18th.

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Taking full advantage of staying at the resort, I chose to head to bed early. Resting my head just after 8:30pm 🙂

Saturday was an early start, rising at 5:45 to join everyone for breakfast. Fuelling our bodies as we consider the daunting task that lay ahead of us, 140km around the harsh terrain of Bintan Island. The situation wasn’t made any easier by the storms that poured rain down on the resort outside.

I joined a few of the Specialized Mavericks for the rolling ride down to the start, we talked through the task that lay ahead of us. Reflecting on past experiences, likely strategies and joy of doing what we love… ride our bikes. Stage one included the infamous red road, coastal cruise, and a long day in sun. Something that was turned on its head as the heaven opened up several times to drench us in showers. It made for a refreshing change from the head of 2016, but made corners nervous and edgy.

My plan was to just stay with the lead pack for as long as possible, which forced me to push in a few moments as the field of 100+ rider split into groups. Eventually the lead group reduced to roughly 35 riders in a crucial move by the lead riders to attack at a feed station. I felt of Rauiri Brown, as he stocked up on bottles for his team mates, they attacked. Forcing him to dig deep for the next 20km to rejoin the group. Ouch!

In the first sprint of the day I saw an opportunistic moment to chase the Matadors Kelvin Khoo in the kilometre approaching the sprint points, grasping for myself 3rd, and boosting my confidence amongst the peloton. The plan was to repeat this feat at the second sprint, but that was quickly shut down as I came around the bend in the final kilometre to see a wall. A literal wall, at this point I knew the sprint would be won by a climber.

Shortly after we crossed the 100km mark, and my legs started to fade. Faced with a tough battle, I chose to drop and survive to the finish line. Hoping to avoid a repeat of the cramps from 2016. I was soon caught by the 40s group, giving me a chance to sit in for 15km, pushing me closer to the finish. But my legs weren’t done yet, soon they were starting to show early signs of cramps, my worst nightmare. Let no choice, I had to drop back a few gears, and just survive. The final 20 kilometres I rode with a few of the girls, including Lizzie Hodges, where I settled into a rotation that edged me within the final 5 kilometres.

As I covered the final 500 metres, a fortunate downhill roll to the finish line, a reflected on the long day in the saddle. I was content, happy to make it to the end. The impending cramps had cost me 20 minutes, but I’d hung onto 24th place of 99 finishers. Which I’d later learn was good enough to qualify for the worlds in France later in the year. A satisfying moment.

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