Back to Barelang

Learning from past mistakes, I set about ensuring my preparation for the 2017 installment of the Tour de Barelang (AKA, Batam 6 Bridges) was stronger than past years. One of the challenges to being somewhat of a ‘newbie’ amongst the South East Asian peloton, is I don’t have years of experience at the regions races. Many of my fellow competitors arrive at races knowing their way around the race schedule, key travel needs, and most importantly, the course itself.

Over the past two years, my experience has grown a long list of do’s and don’t. But there is a common thread of regret from simple mistakes, like positioning or course knowledge that would have vastly helped my race results. Keen to improve, I set about a task of improving my preparation for the May 13th event, by completing a recce ride. But with my hectic travel schedule, life as a Father to three crazy monkeys, plus supporting the Wife in her half-ironman pursuit, finding the time was always going to be tough. Resulting in a scheduled solo attempt on Wednesday May 3rd, one day before I flew with the Wife to Perth for the Busselton Ironman Festival.

On paper, Barelang is a 128km course from Batam City south along the Barelang Road to the turn around point (75km point) in the island’s far south. Before heading back to the stunning and challenging finish at the crest of Barelang bridge number one. Completing a solo recce seemed achievable, but faced some tough elements, include the isolating exposure to Batam’s heat. 

I caught the first Batam Fast ferry of the day at 7:40am, stocked with water, waffles and the route installed in my Garmin. Arriving in Batam, I was quickly through immigration and out on the crazy roads. Other groups had chosen to get the ferry to the quieter port of Sepakang, but I had chosen the race location of Batam City. This meant facing the flow of cars, trucks and motorbikes during Batam’s morning peak hour. Surprisingly, the chaos seemed more fun than crazy, as I weaved through the waves of cars, lined up at the lights with motorbikes and observed as the Indonesians looked at the funny white guy on his bicycle.

Once I turned left onto the Barelang road, the traffic thins and I found I had most of the road to myself, encountering only twenty to thirty cars for the one hundred kilometres I was on the road. The journey south seemed fast, and for good reason. The wind was in my favour and the temperatures were still reasonable. By the end of the second hour, I had managed to maintain a healthy 35km/hr average. An average that reduced as I faced the heavy rolling hills during the final ten kilometres to the turn around point. Based on the pacing, and terrain, it’s my guess that all pelotons will remain fairly tight for the first 70km (including the neutral zone). There will be some natural attrition, but weather permitting and race strategies aside, I’d expect very few big moves by the favourites prior to the turn around at 75km.
With just over 50km to the finish, it will be easy for one to feel complacent on what lies ahead. But if race day is anything like my recce day, the challenge of the course lies in the finish. With the wind now slightly against me, my average speed dropped to around 30km/hr, often below that. Add to the mix the rising temperatures, and racers are in for a battle. 

The situation is likely to be made tougher, as breakaway specialists like Specialized Mavericks’ Ben Arnott look to break the souls of their competitors early. Attacks and breakaway are likely in most pelotons, as riders feeling strong look to boost their chances, and reduce numbers in the lead groups. Immediately after the turn around is a two of the toughest climbs of the day. Long grinds that will likely see most of the field in the small ring, and gaps start to build. Those amongst us that start to feel the burn, the extra effort to stay with the group will be well worth it. Staying with the pack until the 109km mark is certain boost your result.

Then comes the hard part, from the 109 km mark to the finish, all the descents you did at the start become climbs. By this time your legs are tired, and you’re surviving on gels and thoughts of a cold beer at the end. Mentally the finish seems so close, but the hardest parts are yet to come. This is where we’ll need to dig deep, and yell ‘shut up legs’. It’s likely the pace will go up a level from this point, as riders start the long games of positioning, attacks and for some, conserve for the final sprint. With each bridge crossing comes a further challenge, or a lengthy climb haunted by the anticipation of the finish. The 2016 Cat 1 race was decided in a breakaway, where riders pushed themselves to the limit to shed numbers. It was only in the final fifteen kilometres that gaps started to open.

Roughly two kilometres from the finish, you’ll get your first glimpse of the final bridges’ massive towers over to the left. Just the sight of this is likely to wake up the field, and raise the pace for the run home. Which is a constant incline that ramps up for the finale on the bridge, which will make for a battle royale as either the sprinters take over, or a breakaway group rolls over the line.

Either way, it’s set to be an epic day of racing.

The road surfaces of Barelang are smooth, with rare pockets of dirt from trucks. With wide open spaces the key risk areas are the start as the peloton roll through the city, neutralised. Or through the small villages that line the road closer to finish. So be wary, or children, animals and debris. 

If it’s your first Tour de Barelang, the best idea is to go conservative for the first 100 kilometres. Stay close to the peloton, even if that means pushing hard to get back in the group at times. Drink plenty of water, as conditions can get harsh. And make sure you carry enough fuel to get you through.

The reward at the end of the day is a huge celebration as a Cycling community enjoys a big lunch, and a few beers.

If you have any addition tips for the race, throw it into the comments below.

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