Tour De Bintan 2019!

Tour of Bintan 2018 left me inspired to get better and come back stronger. I gave myself until 2020 to go back to Bintan since I already decided to join my teammates for Giro Delle Dolomiti in July 2019. From Spectrum racing, only my teammates Craig Raynes and Russell Bell signed up to be part of 2019 Tour of Bintan. Unfortunately, Craig had to drop out due to some work commitments that came up and Russell started looking for someone to join him for the tour. When he messaged me late January, if I could help him find anyone who would be interested to join him for the race, I promised to help.

I couldn’t find anybody to fill in. I checked my work calendar to see if I myself can join, although I knew my bank balance would laugh me out of the bank having just booked my tickets to Italy and registered for GDD. With the help of a dear friend in Goa, soon my thought of being there for a teammate if I could, became a possibility and I booked tickets for Bintan.

Having just started my base building for July and having very little time before Bintan, I had no illusions of any great performances for myself. But, while I hoped to help Russell through his trip, I knew it will be a great help for me by serving as a recon trip for next year with another shot at getting myself familiar with the routes and the conditions. Also, it was another chance to meet my teammates from Project 852 whom I have met and had great fun with, during December 2018 in Tour of Nilgiris.

We arrived in Bintan a couple of days before the start of the race acclimatize. It was the first trip to Bintan for Russell and he would be competing in 70+ age category. The 3 day stage race was scheduled to start on Friday 29th March with a 17km ITT on rolling terrain. Saturday 30th March was a 140km Road race and the tour comes to close with a 108km road race on Sunday. The first two days were UCI Granfondo qualifiers.

Our bikes resting during one of our recce rides on the ITT course!

I loaded my 2018 ride on to my Garmin and we did a couple of recce rides on the TT course. On Friday morning we went to pick up the race numbers and lined up at the start of the TT in the mid-day heat on Friday.

Day 1: ITT!

I started out fine but lost the rhythm midway and end up a few seconds slower than last year. I could put it down to it being windier this year and not wearing an aero helmet this time, but the power number don’t lie. I was putting out about 10 watts lesser than what I managed the year before. I wasn’t disappointed. At least, I was able to make it to the start and ride with a scare of throat infection looming large at the start of the race week. I was on Betadine gargles 2-3 times a day, through the entire week and through the tour and it seemed to have helped to keep the infection at bay. After my race, I quickly showered, changed and got ready to cheer for Russell as he was starting at the very last on the day at 5:06pm.

Russell put in an outstanding performance by passing all but one who started ahead in his category. He not only won in his category but also finished faster than anyone in a category below his(65-69). I wasn’t surprised because I could see that he left everything on the road and didn’t have anything left to give at the end.

Russell winning the ITT in style!

My Project 852 teammates did very well too with Clinton Leong finishing .4 secs behind the winner in his category(45-49) and taking second. I think it was the closest finish on the day. Chris Guns was 6 secs away from the podium and had to settle for 4th place in his category(35-39). Nick Adamus won in his category(55-59). Yannkai Oh finished 3rd in her category(35-39).

While we were satisfied with proceedings on Friday, we had to make sure that we rested and recovered for the biggest stage of the tour early Saturday morning.

Day 2: Thundering Action!

The 140km with a ton of rollers is easily the toughest of the 3 days. The weather forecast predicted thunderstorms and it became obvious the minute Russell and I started riding to the start of the race at 6:30am on Saturday. The skies were pregnant with dark clouds and they began to pour down on us even before we got to the start line. The heavy rain meant the start was delayed by an hour. It didn’t completely stop raining but it was considered safe enough to start the race. We were completely drenched and were shivering at the start line itself. It was in complete contrast to the immense heat and humidity of the day before.

As the race started, the body quickly warmed up with the pace. The splash from the wheels was getting right into the eyes without the glasses and we could hardly see anything with the glasses on. My hesitation in riding aggressively in the bunch under those conditions quickly saw me right at the back of the peloton. It was not the ideal place to be in. I would typically position myself towards the front end of the peloton to conserve as much as I can but my miniscule risk appetite on the day didn’t allow me to be right in the peloton. I was losing ground on the fast wet descents and had to scurry to get back right after. After almost every corner someone or the other was washing out due to the slippery conditions. I decided to let go of the peloton early and ride in a smaller group instead, to be safe.

I was still fresh and feeling strong. After riding a few km of riding on my own in a steady tempo, I joined a smaller group who were going at a strong pace. We kept rotating and were going at a good clip. The pace line in a smaller group was more predictable and felt way safer. As we kept going, we came across many riders who were being attended to by the road side almost at every corner. About 90k into the race, the two riders at the head of our group washed out on a corner. The rest of us managed to avoid and kept going as there were volunteers that jumped in to attend to the fallen riders.

As we got to the sharp end of the race riders began to tire and kept dropping off one by one. I managed to jump into the 55+ group at around 100k mark and rode the rest of the race with them to the finish. There was only one other guy from my age group who managed to stay with the group and finish along with me from the group of 15 we started out with. What I was pleased about was that I managed to pace myself well through the race and finish strong by taking care of the hydration and nutrition regularly. Although the rain might have played a big part, I managed to stay cramp free through the race.

Russell managed to extend his lead in Yellow and made it his own with another brilliant ride following his amazing ITT the previous day. He was completely exhausted by the time he finished the 140km. It is so inspiring to see him giving everything he had on each of the days. He holds nothing back!

In 35-39 category, Project 852 Chris Guns rode a brilliant race by going into a breakaway with 60 km to go with another 5 guys. The break managed to stay away and he took the overall lead and got into yellow by 49 secs. In 45-49, Clinton Leong hoped to close that less than 1 sec gap he had from the leader in his category. But, Michael Anthes of Roval Racing proved too strong and rode away from the peloton after relent less attacks. He managed to build more than 1:30 lead on a group of 8 chasers. Nick Adamus kept his yellow and Yannkai Oh moved to 2nd in GC.

Day 3: More Rain Doesn’t Dampen Spirits!

The last day was 108km ride through more rolling terrain. The forecast predicted more rain for the day. It was dry when we started but it started pouring down within the first 30mins into the race. We could hardly see anything in the unrelenting downpour. The downpour was accompanied by loud thunders and lightening. A couple of times, the lightening hit the ground a bit too close to the group. All of us were so worried about our safety that our group(40-44) decided to stop the race at the 36km mark and take shelter under a roof. The race was restarted after the thunderstorms subsided a bit. After seeing multitude of crashes the day before in rain, I decided to stick to a smaller group again and let the peloton go. Going home without incident took precedence over any GC placings.

Enjoyed the ride with a smaller group of riders. One of them came next to me after my turn at the front and complimented my bike, the Chapter 2 TERE. I said thanks and instinctively looked down to check out his bike. It was a TERE as well. Only, it was black. We smiled and winked at each other immediately bonding over our common love for the beautiful bike.

After about 70k, a bigger group was passing by and we joined them. The pace was quick but everyone was careful to stay safe. The finishing circuit went over the Ria loop that is part of the ITT circuit of the first day before it reached Bintan Lagoon for finish. It tested the tired legs but it was immensely satisfying to finish the tour safe and sound under testing conditions. I managed to move up a few positions on the last day but what mattered most was keeping the rubber side down and finishing with a smile on the last day.

Russell started and finished the day with his Irish friend Eddy who was the yellow jersey for 65-59 group. He comfortably kept his own yellow jersey overall in his category. It was tremendous performance by him in his maiden tour here. He earned 2 UCI qualification jerseys and 3 yellow jerseys.

My friend and Project 852 teammate, Chris Guns was well on his way to defend his yellow when his crank arm broke with 20km still to go. That meant he had to DNF and lose his yellow. Clinton retained his 2nd spot on the 45-49 podium. Nick Adamus retained his yellow in 55-59 while Adrian Halkes rode a strong race on the last day to move into 3rd in GC in his category(60-64). YannKai Oh took the yellow in her category by constantly chipping away at the seconds taking intermediate sprints and Cora Van Laer finished 5th. Inspiring performances from all of them. What a pleasure riding alongside them and spending some fun times during the tour.

I’m looking forward to coming back next year to this awesome tour!

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