March 26, 2018
At the conclusion of three days of thrilling action on Sunday, the Tour de Bintan crowned 14 general classification champions, awarded 14 UCI jerseys and sent over 200 racers home with hard-earned tickets to the 2018 world amateur cycling championships.
While the 2018 edition marked the eighth running of the Tour de Bintan, it was just the second time that Southeast Asia’s premier amateur cycling tour also incorporated two qualifying races for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, a.k.a., those world amateur championships. The move by race organisers MetaSport to join the UCI Gran Fondo World Series (GFWS) in 2017 appears to have been an unqualified success, with vastly increased participatory numbers for the Tour de Bintan last year and then another boost in numbers for the just-concluded race
Indeed, the 2018 edition saw 1,200 registrations, a rise of 15 percent from last year, and within that number more than 100 different teams and clubs and 49 nationalities were represented, drawn not just from Southeast Asia, but from all 30 countries around the world.
And who can blame them for coming to Bintan. Just an hour’s ferry ride from the easy accessible travel hub of Singapore, the island offers an idyllic setting for three days of challenging racing that takes place on well-paved, traffic-light roads that cut through the spectacular countryside and stunning coastal sections of the tropical Indonesian island. And when not being wowed by the lush greenery and golden beaches, the series of small towns and villages that dot the race courses offer the racers a glimpse of rural life in Bintan, complete with the unforgettably enthusiastic screaming of the school kids that throng the roads.
And that’s just the racing. The Tour de Bintan is a true destination event, headquartered as it is in the luxurious Nirwana Gardens Resort, which along with the plethora of other beachside hotels in the special Bintan Resorts zone, make the tour the perfect race to bring along non-cycling family and friends for a relaxing holiday
The Tour de Bintan still features its traditional three stages and crowns overall champions after the three days of racing, but with GFWS status, the first two stages are also stand-alone events: the Gran Fondo Individual Time Trial and the Gran Fondo Classic. Both of these races reward the top 25 percent of finishers in each age group with coveted tickets to the world championships, which this year take place in the Italian city of Varese from August 30 to September 2.
GFWS events are raced in five-year-band age groups, except for the youngest competitors, where the age range is 19 to 34 years. This is a nod to the fact that the world amateur championships were traditionally for Masters racers, i.e., riders 35 years and above, the vast majority of whom are too old to compete at an elite level.
The Tour de Bintan is one of 21 qualifying races for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, and one of only three in Asia, alongside the Niseko Classic in Japan and the Dubai First Gran Fondo. But such has been the immediate success of the Tour de Bintan as a GFWS race, it’s already under consideration as a future site for the world amateur championships, according to GFWS manager Erwin Vervecken, who was guest of honour at the Tour be Bintan gala dinner on Saturday night
The world champs are currently held in Europe three years out of every four, but Vervecken said that such is the global growth in road racing as an amateur sport, that the frequency of non-European locations for the finals will increase.
The lure of world championship qualification is far from the only attraction of the Tour de Bintan, though. Both weekend days of the 2018 event offered non-competitive rides featuring shorter versions of the main events, with the idea being to give newcomers a taste of the Tour de Bintan experience and perhaps a stepping stone to the competitive races in future years.
Saturday saw the 82km-long Gran Fondo Challenge, while on Sunday it was the Gran Fondo Discovery, which tasked its riders to complete 55km. A full 28 percent of the 2018 Tour de Bintan’s total participatory numbers came from these two rides. Cyclists had the option of signing up for either of the shorter rides or both.
Making the non-competitive rides even more accessible was the fact they could be done on a day-trip-from-Singapore basis, with all transport logistics taken care of; 130 riders took up this option. Buses brought the Gran Fondo Challenge riders to and from the Simpang Lagoi start/finish area, but for the Gran Fondo Discovery ride, things were made even easier it started from the ferry terminal grounds. It finished at Nirwana Gardens, allowing its 160 participants to join in the full post-tour celebrations.
The action in the 2018 Tour de Bintan began with the Gran Fondo ITT on the Friday afternoon at Plaza Lagoi, a hotel/tourism hub at the centre of the Bintan Resorts zone.
With the vast majority of competitors using ferry and/or plane connections to get to the race, the Tour de Bintan has always restricted the ITT to normal road bikes to make for easier logistics. Disc wheels, clip-on aerobars and aero helmets are also banned. This makes the Bintan time trial a real race of truth, with lungs and legs at a premium over fancy equipment.
Dionne Wang was the first rider to roll of the start ramp at 1:45pm, and some 350 cyclists, who were set off at 30-second intervals, followed her. The racers faced a twisting and turning 16.7km course, further marked by a series of short but sharp hills. Thrown into the mix were swirling winds that prevailed for the duration of the afternoon.
The first Tour de Bintan ITT champion to be crowned last Friday was Jessica Rhodes-Jones (Beacon Roads CC), which was no surprise really considering that Rhodes-Jones is the reigning world champion in the 19-34 age group! She wasn’t the fastest female on the day, however, that honour went to Sarah Schneider (Matador Racing). Racing in the 40-44 division, Schneider covered the 16.7km in a time of 27 minutes and 10 seconds, which was a full 7 seconds faster than Rhodes-Jones. The third-fastest lady overall was Alison Dyson from the 50-54 category. The other age group champions to take the top step on the podium and receive the coveted GWFS rainbow jerseys were Julie Pickler (35-39), Nathalie Laurendeau (45-49) and Vicki Nicholson of Spectrum Racing (55-59).
The male racers followed the women onto the course, and Konstantin Samsonkin (Team Fast) set the early mark for the men, his time of 24:21 giving him a clear victory in the 19-34 age group. The Russian’s time was, however, only the 11th best of the day. The fastest man in the competition was his suitably named compatriot Konstantin Fast (Roojai.com). Racing in the 40-44 category, the long-time regional powerhouse covered the 16.7km distance in a scintillating 23 minutes and 19 seconds. Spare a thought for the second-fastest man overall, Pierre Alain Scherwey (Allied World Kemp Technologies). Not only did he miss out by just 1 second to Fast, but he was racing in the same division. Another Russian, Dimity Murashko set the third-best mark, the 45-49 champ finishing some 10 seconds slower than Fast.
The other male age group champions were Keita Iwashima (Mivro) in the 35-39 category, Chris Glasby in the 50-54 division, Claude Perzo (T2 Cycling Open) in the 55-59 age group, Stephen Stinton (MWCC) in the 60-64 cat and Phil Fillimore (Anza Cycling) in the 65+.
Saturday morning saw Stage 2 of the 2018 Tour de Bintan, the Gran Fondo Classic, a 144km road race through the northern and western parts of the island. A variation of this route has been used for all eight editions of the Tour de Bintan and is an established classic, hence the stage’s name. It features over 1,200 metres of accumulated elevation, yet none of the climbs are over 70m in height; aside from a 24km section of road that hugs the east coast of the island in the first third of the race, the terrain features a non-stop series of rolling hills, some sharper than others.
Including the 200+ participants in the shorter Gran Fondo Challenge event (82km), over a thousand riders gathered at the town of Simpang Lagoi for the traditional flag-off, complete with cultural music, dance and local dignitaries. The racers were sent off in six pelotons at 10-minute gaps, with the combined Women’s bunch kicking things off at 7:30am. The first four male age groups each had their individual pelotons, while the 50-54, 55-59, 60-64 and 65+ cats formed one bunch.
The 60-strong ladies bunch splintered fairly early in the race, and the attrition rate continued throughout the day underneath the sweltering sun, so that by the time the race reached its closing stages, there were just three women contesting the finale back at Simpang Lagoi. Amanda Nabi (Strive Cycle Training) proved the strongest in the sprint, beating ITT winner and 40-44 category rival Schneider into second place. Monica Torres, a pro triathlete making her bike-racing debut, was the third rider in the lead group; she took the 19-34 crown for her efforts. Nabi’s winning time was 4 hours, 1 minute and 43 seconds.
The other female champions earning their UCI GFWS jerseys were Santia Tri Kusuma (Matador Racing) in the 35-39 group, Laurendeau in the 45-49 cat, Christina Hudson (Project 852) in the 50-54 division and Nicholson in the 55-59 category.
Despite enjoying a 10-minute lead start, the men’s 19-34 age group was caught midway through the race by a three-man breakaway from the 35-39 division. The trio, Gabriel Tan (Team Next Stage), Petr Lukosz (Fitness First Triathlon Team) and Ben Farnsworth (Matador Racing), then sat in with the younger riders for the rest of the race before contesting a combined sprint, where Singapore national rider Tan proved the strongest. Tan also took the yellow jersey in the 35-39 race, after previous leader Iwashima had missed the decisive break.
Among the 19-34 riders, it was former Singapore junior national champion Firoz Loh (TWC Racing Team) who took the stage win from teammate and fellow Singaporean Yi Peng Teoh and Jonathan Hooper (Specialized Roval Mavericks). Samsonkin kept the yellow jersey but his lead over Teoh was down to 2 seconds after the former snapped up 16 of the 20 bonus seconds available from the two sprint primes.
The 40-44 contest also ended in a sprint, but this one was a two-up affair between Fast and Andreas Ostern (Specialized Roval Mavericks). The Norwegian Ostern edged it but Fast increased his GC lead as Scherwey finished in the small chasing group 12 seconds back. Chris Reynolds (Specialized Roval Mavericks) took third on the day.
It was another two-up sprint in the 45-49, as Michael Anthes (Specialized Roval Racing) pipped the yellow jersey of Murashko, who had the consolation of increasing his GC lead. The chase group finished over a minute later, with Todd Sinclair (Berwick Cycles) escaping from that reduced bunch to grab third place.
Youcef Paul Cummings won the 50-54 division from a long-range breakaway, where he was accompanied by Tim Carter (Matador Racing). Fellow Matador David Strooper won the bunch sprint for third.
A late dash for the line saw Perzo win the 55-59 race and extend his lead by 17 seconds. Stephen Wong (Anza Cycling) and Matt Sheridan (4T2) took the podium places. Walter Crowley took the 60-64 title, but as he didn’t race in the ITT, third-place finisher Adrian Halkes (Project 852) assumed the GC race lead. Michael Waresh (Greyhounds) was second on the day. Eddie McLean (Geiling Cycling Team) won the 65+ race from Fillimore and Peter Taylor. Fillimore retained his yellow jersey.
The tour concluded with Stage 3, the Gran Fondo Century, which had its traditional start under the Tour de Bintan arch in Nirwana Gardens. Ahead lay a 111km trip that explored the coastal flats and twisting roads of the western segment of the island. There were also more hills; not as many as in Stage 2, but some of them were longer and steeper, including the climbs of the 9km-long “Checkpoint Charlie” stretch, an iconic sector that connects the Bintan Resorts zone to the rest of Bintan. A huge contrast to Stage 2, though, was the weather, with the scorching sun of Saturday replaced by a steady drizzle for most of the morning; this definitely added an extra edge to the racing.
The ladies started first again, and straight from the gun Torres attacked. Who knows how the long-distance triathlete might have fared had she been left to battle the other women racers on her own, but the 19-34 men’s peloton caught the main women’s bunch fairly early and pulled the other leading ladies across to Torres around the 30km mark. About a dozen of the female racers hung with the youngest men for a good portion of the race, but eventually the attrition started until only two women remained with the men. That pair was Nabi and Sarah Chi and they went onto take their respective 40-44 and 19-34 age groups wins, with Nabi the first over the line in a time of 3:01.25. Torres pulled away from a small group of chasers in the Nirwana Gardens finish for third overall women on the day. Nabi’s and Torres’ performances clinched the respective 40-44 and 19-34 GC titles for them.
Yukari Blest (Integrated Riding Racing Team) won the women’s 35-39 Stage 3 race, while Laurendeau made it a clean sweep of victories in the 45-49 category and with it the overall title. Hudson made it two wins in a row in the 50-54, a feat that also saw her crowned GC champion. Nicholson also took her third stage win in the 55-59 category to clinch the overall.
In the men’s racing, the leaders in the 35-39 category again caught the 19-34 bunch, but this time it was a much bigger group of riders who made the junction. With the top men from two pelotons now together it made for some fast and furious racing on the wet roads. Two 19-34s riders, Teoh and Dave Baar (Greyhounds) launched a big attack with 40km to go as the course left the highway section into a narrow, twisty section. They stayed away until 5km from the finish, when another duo, Bastian Dohling (Specialized Roval Mavericks) and Wilfred Diepeveen (Greyhounds), caught them after attacking the big bunch on the last and toughest of the Checkpoint Charlie climbs.
The quartet worked together in the finale and held off the hard-charging bunch by just 10 seconds, with Teoh taking the sprint from Baar and Diepeveen for the 1, 2, 3 in the 19-34 division. Dohling was the sole man from the 35-39 cat in the lead quartet so he clinched the Stage 3 crown in his category. Controversy followed, however, as Teoh was given a penalty for a feed zone infraction, which resulted in him losing the stage win.
Teoh still won the overall 19-34 Tour de Bintan title, though, from Samsonkin and Baar. In the 35-39s GC, yellow-jersey wearer Tan finished safely in the Stage 3 lead bunch and so took the overall victory. Farnsworth was the runner-up, with Lukosz taking the final spot on the podium.
There was another coming together of the age groups when a six-man move from the 45-49s, including race leaser Murashko, caught the 40-44 bunch relatively early in the race. Many attacks out of this combined group followed as pressure was applied to the two yellow jerseys, but none stuck and so it came down to a big bunch sprint up the last hill to the Nirwana Gardens finish line. When the dust had settled, it emerged that Tim Wilcox had taken the stage win in the 40-44s from Ostern and Fast. David Creegan (Roojai.com) triumphed from the 45-49 category with a day’s fastest time of 2:48.44, pipping Mark Jansen (4T2) and Ben Arnott (Specialized Roval Mavericks) in the sprint.
In the final 40-44 GC standings, Fast triumphed from Scherwey and Ostern. Murashko was the overall champ in the 45-49s, from Arnott and Clinton Leong (Project 852).
The final Stage 3 peloton featuring the combined 50+ riders also saw plenty of attacking, but nothing stuck until the final Checkpoint Charlie climb, when a group of 11 finally broke the elastic. Perzo was the only man from the 55-59 cat to make that selection and he duly took his third straight win. The other 10 were all from the 50-54 division including yellow jersey man Carter. The 10 battled it out for stage honours in the punishing Nirwana Gardens finale, with Strooper, Trent Illife (Specialized Roval Mavericks) and Cummings claiming the 1, 2, 3 in that order from the sprint.
From the chasing group, Wong took his second consecutive runner’s-up spot in the 55-59 cat, with Lok Boon Chia in third. Walter Crowley was in that second group too, and as the only member of the 60-64 division, he took the stage win. Halkes was second, with David Lewnes third. Finnimore quite literally outlasted his rivals in the 65+ group as he was the only man to finish the race. He also won the overall GC title.
Carter’s presence in the lead group saw him clinch the 50-54 overall title from Cummings and Strooper. Peter Williamson (Anza Cycling) was the GC runner-up to Perzo in the 55-59 category, with Chia in third. Halkes was crowned the overall tour winner in the 60-64 division, with Ben Tang in second and Heinz Iten in third.
The Gran Fondo Century and GC prizes were awarded at a beachside festival zone in Nirwana Gardens, where the riders swapped tales of glory and woe over a sumptuous feast of local delights and refreshing cold drinks. The final prizes awarded in the competitive portion of the 2018 Tour de Bintan were to crown the overall team winners. These competitions were decided on a points basis, with points heavily weighted towards the first five finishers in each stage for each age group category.
There was a tie for the Women’s Team Champions trophy between Strive Cycle Training and Integrated Riding Racing Team, with Project 852 finished third. The Men’s Team Champions were the Specialized Roval Mavericks, with Anza Cycling in second and Matador Racing third.