A few weeks ago our Social Media feed was clogged with the heroics and shenanigans of the Tour de Bintan. A group of SPRouleurs (in Strive Cycle Training mode) headed across SE Asia in pursuit of a UCI Gran Fondo World Championships qualification for Varese, Italy later this year. Here are the Race Reports from Vanessa Johnson and Cameron Dawson.
Vanessa Johnson – Tour de Bintan, de Force, de Silver
Stage 1: 16km. ITT
Only two items of interest from Stage 1 (because ITTs are painful and boring even when they are hilly) – Amanda had a rear wheel flat on the way to the race which required some sharp teamwork to leave us both time for a warm up, and there were monkeys on the side of the road (not changing tyres). I finished 3rd in my 50-54 age category – Perth rider Alison Dyson had a magnificent win, only just shy of the fastest female time.
Stage 2: 144km. UCI Grand Fondo (Queen Stage)
The women were first off and it was clear that the tactic was to ride easy and wait for the first group of men (18-34). A group of strong Perth riders tried to lift the pace on the front, enthusiastically contesting the first sprint point, but there was little enthusiasm for work from the rest of the bunch. I was relieved to get through last year’s ‘crash corner’ without incident. Despite the lackluster pace (~32km/hr), the catch didn’t happen until after 50km. SPR Chicks Amanda, Laurensia & myself were comfortable in the group – this was a doddle compared to SPR Thursday! Kath had unfortunately punctured at 10km and despite a quick wheel change had not ridden across to us with the men.
My main focus was to stay in the front third of the pack and draft wherever possible, and I was managing to do this, sitting comfortably in the mixed bunch and staying with the lead women at the second sprint point. By now we were riding through villages on tight, winding roads, hemmed in on either side by cheering children. The peloton was being squeezed like a tube of toothpaste and there was a crash a few riders ahead of me – I eyed the gravel ditch on my right nervously, thanked my lucky stars we had practiced ‘slow racing’ and was forced to almost track stand to snake through a tiny gap. I had been shuffled to the back half of the bunch and the fight for position was becoming desperate: riders were dropping in on corners and shouts of “hold your line” punctuated the clamour of sirens. It was difficult to eat and drink in the tight and unpredictable pack. The back of the bunch is no place to be on an undulating course and I was dropped around 107km. Low on water, I grabbed a bottle from the commissaire’s car which kept me going until the feed at 112km. With stomach cramps and dead legs I loaded myself with gels and water.
By 120km I had company and by 10km to go we were a small group. At 5km to go the reliable wheel I had been clinging to unfortunately and spectacularly put his derailleur through his rear spokes: I dodged right and avoided the debris – the rider on my left was not so fortunate. I had just enough legs left to sprint under the finishing arch for 2nd in my age category.
Stage 3: 110km. Wet & crashtastic
With a large time gap between 1st and 2nd in my age category, an overall win for the tour was not likely, but my legs felt good and I was keen to try for a stage win. It had rained steadily through the night and the peloton was twitchy. The tactic again was to wait for the 18-34 men, and this time the catch happened sooner, just after 20km. The bunch was moving faster than on Stage 2, and the speed increased further as the lead 35-40 men made the catch. There was jostling for position and it was a treat to see one rider shoot out to the gravel on the left and go CX style at 45+km/hr, then pop back into the bunch without so much as a squeak of surprise.
I was sitting comfortably near the front of the bunch, finding time to talk to Amanda, and Laurensia was close by too. As the 46km feed station approached I tried to position myself for a pick-up, but there was no chivalry in the pack and a solid wall of men blocked me (no-one wants to follow a small wheel). I made the mistake of drifting back in search of a gap, but alas, I was too slow at the pick-up: the pack was gone, and so was the top step. The air turned blue around me as I fought to bridge the gap for a few kilometres, but it was futile. I cycled lonely as a cloud, only interrupted by locals on mopeds making the most of an opportunity to practice their English – making small talk really was the last thing I felt like doing. I was relieved to be joined by another rider at 61km as we approached the hilly jungle section – a smooth wheel who was happy for me to tag along and I gladly sucked his wheel spray. We dodged stray dogs, saw the aftermath of quite a few crashes, and the village children were still enthusiastically chasing discarded bottles despite the rain. From 90km we could hear the sirens of the 40-44 men’s convoy, but managed to stay clear to reach the next sprint point at 94km without interference. The 40-44 men gathered us up with shouts of “stay left” but when they smacked it through the technical check point zone into the hills at 15km out I was dropped, despite my new buddy’s shouts of encouragement.
I rolled across the finish line without a group, not caught by any women after I was dropped at 46km, and happy to have survived unscathed through the slippery conditions. Done. Second both on the final stage and overall for my age category.
Cameron Dawson – Tour de Bintan, de First-Timer, de Birthday
A multi stage race is a wonderful thing. Months of lead up training, too many early mornings, too much time away from the family, all in the allusive pursuit of ‘doing your best’, with only your fantastic training buddies to keep you going when it gets tough, and at some point it will.
But we got there. With a quick stop over in Singapore to celebrate my 40th birthday (and a new age group) we were on the ferry to Bin Tan. Its always important to have a good roomie (thanks Jeremy) but just as important to volunteer for the small bed. How can you pass up waking to a view like this?
After a short recee for the ITT route (should have taken a photo of the monkeys), what followed was three days of sweat. The first was a time trial, where I witnessed what I think was a squirrel, perish in an oncoming riders spokes. The second was the main event, the UCI qualifier. I didn’t qualify but couldn’t have done more.
Then, an hour or two after I arrived when we’re just about to leave and this guy turns up. I don’t know how long it took him, or even who he is, but kudos to finishing 144km missing half a leg.
The final day was fun, but then it was over. All accept the return trip. Clearing customs in Singapore someone (from Perth!!) took my bike bag by mistake and didn’t realise until he had reached the airport. Happily, just as I was starting to panic (and pick which new bike the insurance money would cover) he returned with my bike unharmed. Next time my name will be across the top of the Scicon back in BIG letters.
A multi stage race is a wonderful thing – once you’re home again!