The tropical weather at the 2017 Tour de Bintan last weekend didn’t spoil the enjoyment for the thousand riders who set out with the aim of qualifying for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, aka, the world amateur cycling championships.
Held on the tropical Indonesian island that gives the race its name, the iconic Tour de Bintan, one of the Southeast Asia’s premier amateur stage races, gained some extra lustre this year as the March 3-5 event became one of 19 global stops on the UCI Gran Fondo World Series (GFWS) calendar.
This meant that the opening two stages of the race – Friday’s Individual Time Trial and Saturday’s Gran Fondo Classic – were qualifying events for the world championships, which this year will take place in Albi, France from August 24-27.
GFWS status, however, brought big changes to the Tour de Bintan, as GFWS racing is based on age groups. This necessitated a move away from the “Cat 1, Cat 2, Cat 3” format that the race has traditionally followed.
The competitors, both male and female, were categorised into five-year bands, except for a wider 18-34 category for the youngsters, a nod to the fact that “masters” racing traditionally begins at 35 years of age.
To earn the precious golden tickets to the worlds, the Tour de Bintan competitors had to finish in the top 25 percent of their age groups in the ITT and/or the Gran Fondo Classic; as the ITT and road race are stand-alone events at the world championships, Tour de Bintan participants had the option of entering just one event.
Cyclists from all over the region flocked to Bintan for the weekend of racing. Big groups of riders from Singapore and Hong Kong were in attendance as usual, but the number of Indonesian riders was also noticeably higher than in previous years, perhaps attracted by the UCI status. A large contingent from Perth, Australia further enhanced the international flavour of the event.
The racing got underway on the Friday afternoon with the ITT, which started and finished at Plaza Lagoi, before heading out to the short but sharp hills of the Ria Bintan area. While dry, the race was marked by very strong winds, which presented an additional challenge, especially for those running deep-sectioned wheels.
Leading the qualifiers from the ITT was Taylor Price of the Specialized Shanghai team. Racing in the 18-34 age group, Price covered the 17km course in a time of 23 minutes and 38 seconds, which represented an average speed of 42kph.
The next fastest man at 8 seconds back from Price and racing in the 40-44 cat was former Tour de Bintan winner Pierre-Alain Scherwey (Allied World Champion System), with Luke Ellis (Dome Coffees Cycling Team) in the 35-39 bracket a further 6 seconds slower in third.
The other male winners were Ben Arnott (Specialized Mavericks) in the 45-49 group, Chris Glasby (Wormall Civil) in the 50-54 race, Bo Kratz (Project 852) in the 55-59 cat, Adrian Halkes (Project852) in the 60-64 division and Peter Skinner in the 65+ group.
The fastest woman was Amanda Nabi (Strive Cycle Training), with the 40-44 cat winner clocking up a time of 27:28. Singapore National Training Squad members Yiwei Luo and Serene Lee, both racing in the 18-34 division, were the next quickest, respectively 8 and 12 seconds behind Nabi.
The other female category winners were Kit Yee Leung (Rapha) in the 35-39 group, Mary-Ann Elkington in the 45-49s, Vicki Nicholson in the 50-54 division and Alison Carpenter in the 55-59 cat.
The winds had intensified and brought along a full-on tropical downpour for good measure when the riders awoke for their pre-dawn breakfast on Saturday morning ahead of the Tour de Bintan’s queen stage, the newly branded Gran Fondo Classic. While the storm had subsided to a mere sprinkle by the time the combined Women’s field kicked off the action at 7:30am, the threat of rain hung around all day and duly dumped down on the riders for the last few hours of racing.
While wet roads and high speeds makes for challenging conditions, at least the precipitation curtailed the normally oppressive Bintan heat.
The 140km course, which takes the riders on a scenic tour of northern and eastern Bintan, is marked by constantly rolling hills. While none of the slopes reaches as high as 100 metres in elevation, the accumulated effect has been known to shatter the best of riders.
The fastest riders on Saturday were again the male youngsters, with the 18-34 age group winner Jarred Anderson (Dome Coffees Cycling Team) covering the 140km in a time of 3:35:36, at a remarkable average speed of 42.6kph. The next fastest group was the 40-44s, over seven minutes slower. The winner of that division was Pavel Krizan (Nich-100plus), while the other male age group champs were Chris Reynolds of the Specialized Mavericks (35-39 cat), Specialized Roval Racing’s Regis Robert (45-49 cat), the Team 4T2 duo of David Morland (50-54 cat) and Matthew Sheriden (55-59 cat), Halkes (60-64 cat) and Skinner (65+ cat).
Leading the combined women’s field home was Lee, winning a bunch sprint contested by seven ladies having covered the course in 3:54:45. Other division winners from that lead group were Nabi, her Strive Cycle Training teammate Anke Hoskins (45-49) and Michelle Ho (35-39 cat). Further back, Nicholson and Carpenter both took their second successive wins in the 50-54 and 55-59 categories respectively.
Of course, with the top 25 percent in each age group qualifying for the world championships, there were lots of winners on the road on both Saturday and Friday.
While the spotlight was firmly on the GFWS contests for the first two days of action, the Tour de Bintan is still a stage race, and the battle for general classification honours continued on the Sunday with the 111km Gran Fondo Century.
The concluding stage of the Tour de Bintan, although 30km shorter than the queen stage, is considered by many to be the toughest test of the race, due to accumulated fatigue from the first two days of racing and a course just as hilly as the previous day’s.
Race organisers MetaSport threw in a twist for the 2017 edition by reversing the direction of the 80km loop section of the course, which traverses the northwestern sector of the island.
While the rain stayed away for the Gran Fondo Century, that meant the sun came out in its place, and it was already sweltering hot as the women rolled out at 7:30am from under the iconic Tour de Bintan start/finish banner in the Nirwana Gardens resort, the traditional headquarters for the race.
The racing was fast and hard across all the categories, with the youngsters of the 18-34 division once more the quickest group on the road. ITT champ Price took the honours again in that category, recording a time of 2:56:26 for the 111km, but he no doubt left Bintan ruing a crash on Saturday that put paid to his GC chances. The overall winner of the 18-34 cat was Anderson, who finished the Sunday stage safely in the main bunch.
Other Gran Fondo Century stage wins went to Bastian Dohling (Specialized Mavericks) in the 35-39 cat, Krizan repeating in the 40-44 division, Andre Jobmann (Specialized Roval Racing) in the 45-49 group, Igor Mironov in the 50-54s, Jeremy Snoad (Arrivo Primo Singapura) in the 55-59 cat, Halkes in the 60-64 age group, and last but certainly not least, 70-year-old Angus Agnew (International Gerbils) in the 65+ division.
Joining Anderson in being awarded the final yellow jerseys after all three days of racing were Reynolds (35-39), Scherwey (40-44), Arnott (45-49), Stephen Ames of the Specialized Mavericks (50-54), Kratz (55-59), Halkes (60-64) and Agnew (65+).
In the women’s racing, Lee broke away from the lead bunch on the notoriously difficult stretch of hills some 10km from the finish line, and she finished strongly to be the first lady home. Her stage win also saw her leapfrog her teammate Luo on the 18-34 GC standings, giving her the final yellow jersey awarded to the overall champ.
The other Gran Fondo Century stage winners were Ho (35-39), Nabi (40-44), Hoskins (45-49), Nicholson (50-54) and Carpenter (55-59.)
All of those women also won the overall Tour de Bintan titles, except for Ho. The GC champ in the 35-39 category was Leung.
The traditional post-race festivities moved this year from the traditional spot at the Nirwana Gardens bike depot, to a beachside location at the Sea Sports Centre. There the final individual honours were awarded as well as the team prizes, which went to the Specialized Mavericks (men’s) and Strive Cycle Training (women’s).
The sea of smiles and multitude of winners seemed to signify that the decision by race organisers MetaSport to change the format of what was already a successful race was a popular one among the participants. Metasport were happy with how things went too, as CEO Nathalie Marquet explained.
“The UCI label has clearly re-invigorated the event – we had a 35 percent participation growth this year. This said, we are very pleased to see that our traditional GC still has its own place in this new format. Teams and cyclists still showed a strong interest in the three-day competition. It is a bit of an unusual combination and we were unsure of what the outcome would be but it worked out very well,” Marquet said.
For full results of the 2017 Tour de Bintan go to http://www.tourdebintan.com/results/