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 Tour de Bintan will return from March 22-24, 2019. For full results of the 2018 race, visit www.tourebintan.com/race-results.