April 5, 2016
Race report by Jack McPherson
The Tour de Bintan returned last weekend with a new slot on the calendar, some new courses and a new winner in the shape of Kyosuke Takei. The popular Japanese rider’s victory in the elite men’s Cat 1 contest was made more noteworthy by the fact that he was competing solo against a number of very strong teams. The Women’s crown went to another solo cyclist, Serene Lee (SwiftCarbon Works), with the Singaporean’s dominating victory her second to go with the Tour de Bintan title she won back in 2010.
The latest edition of one of Asia’s premier amateur stage races took place in April for the first time, the 2015 event having been postponed from its traditional November slot as a result of the extended haze problem that plagued much of Southeast Asia last year.
Also new was the course for the Prologue, the individual time trial format returning as the opening leg of the tour after being replaced by a criterium in 2014. At 11.8km, the new Prologue route was roughly the same distance as in previous editions of the race, but it was generally regarded as a tougher test than the old course. The out-and-back loop started and finished at the Plaza Lagoi, a new lifestyle and resort development on the Indonesian island of Bintan that gives the race its name. At 10km from the tour’s Nirwana Garden headquarters, the ride out was a perfect warm-up.
The course had a bit of everything; long, flat straights, a series of technical corners, and some short but sharp climbs and descents. The sweltering sun was also a factor as was an unusually strong wind, which played havoc due to the circuit’s constant changes of direction.
The Cat 1 competitors were actually last to tackle the Prologue, the Cat 2 men and Women having been the first to face the 11.8km race against the clock. The late afternoon start did nothing to temper the speeds being put out by the elite riders, with fast times recorded from the offset. Being 13th out of the starting gate obviously wasn’t unlucky for Luke Pledger (Wormall Civil CCS), the Aussie clocking a time of 16 minutes and 11 seconds, which represented an average speed of 44.5kph for the 11.8km; a scorching time considering TT bikes and other aero equipment are banned at the Tour de Bintan Prologue.
Ledger’s time in the hot seat had the potential to be a short one when Takei, starting just two minutes later, was reported to by flying round the course. The Japanese rider fell five seconds short of Ledger’s mark, though, and none of the other pre-race favourites subsequently threatened his time either, giving the Perth-based man the victory and the yellow jersey. Taking the final Prologue podium spot was Bastian Dohling (Specialized Mavericks), with a time of 16:30.
In the Women’s race, Vicki Goodwin (Anza Cycling) was the first off the starting ramp and for a long time it looked like her time of 19:40 was going to be the fastest of the day. But Lee, the last lady to go, snatched the victory at the death with a performance 20 seconds faster than Goodwin’s. Rounding out the podium was Lizzie Hodges with a time of 19:42.
Earlier, the Cat 2 riders kicked the competitive action off and possession of the hot seat changed so often among the first bloc of riders that no individual enjoyed much time in that TT throne. That changed when Ali Najmi Bin Zulkefli (KL Velodrama) crossed the finish line having covered the 11.8km in a remarkable 16:47, which was nearly a minute faster than the previous occupant. That mark by the Malaysian teenager, which would have been good enough to place him fifth in the Cat 1 race, was never neared with the eventual runner-up, Stephen Ames (Specialized Mavericks), some 50 seconds slower. Another KL Velodrama rider, Grant Latimer, occupied the final Cat 2 podium place in third.
Stage 1, Cat 1
The queen stage of the Tour de Bintan has always been an extremely tough 150km+ trek around the eastern side of the island on the Saturday morning, but for the 2016 edition the organisers at MetaSport decided to make it even harder. Instead of the traditional visit to a series of towns in the southeast of Bintan, the course looped back earlier and took in a second trip along an infamous sector colloquially known as the “red road to hell.” A left turn at the coast then delivered the tour into new territory, taking in narrow but stunning roads along the coast and through pristine woodlands, before returning to the traditional route for the fast and furious last 20km.
The Cat 1 men got things started when they rolled out of the town of Simpang Lagoi at 8:30am. The 50-man field featured a number of strong teams, including SwiftCarbon-VirginActive, Allied World-CCN, Wormall Civil CCS, CyclingTraining.Asia, Team Integrated Cycling and the Specialized Mavericks, but even riding on his own, Takei was never going to be underestimated.
The competitors tested each other’s mettles in the early stages of the morning, but none of the thrusts and barbs made any real ground until around the 40km mark, when a six-man group containing some big names escaped. Comprising four Mavericks (Youcef Cummings, Ben Arnott, Andreas Ostern and Jonathan Hooper) and two Allied World riders (Pierre-Alain Scherwey and Will Pratt), this move had the potential to be a real threat, even with over 110km to go.
While it ultimately failed, the breakaway caused some big problems and nervy moments for the peloton, as it took some 70km and a lot of hard work to bring the escapees back.
The decisive moment of the race came with 20km to go when a five-man move containing Takei, Pledger, Dohling, Boon Kiak Yeo (CyclingTraining.Asia) and Wesley Hughes (Team Integrated) got away. With the yellow jersey and most of the big teams represented, there wasn’t a lot of impetus in the peloton to chase and so the winner was always going to come from this quintet. With a sprint among his many weapons, Pledger must have fancied his chances, but the Aussie overcooked a corner in the run-in and came a cropper. He sustained no major injuries but as he remounted his bike he watched his chances of overall glory go up the road with his former breakaway partners.
As the finish line came closer, the front four eventually became two, when Takei and Dohling created a gap from Yeo and Hughes with about 4km to go. The sprint for the win went narrowly to the Japanese rider and with it a 10-second bonus and more importantly the yellow jersey. Hughes, the 2014 Tour de Bintan Cat 2 champ, outsprinted Yeo for third place 17 seconds back from Takei. Pledger rolled in two minutes later, with the peloton a further three minutes back.
Stage 1, Women
The queen stage for the Women rider’s is usually a good bit shorter than the men’s route, but due to the course redesign the ladies only received a distance discount of 9km this year, meaning they too faced a long and arduous day in the saddle. While a few of the women were dropped in the early stages of the race, the main contenders mostly stayed together until they hit the KOM prime line the second time around on the “red road”. It was at this point that Lee and Hodges separated themselves from the rest and were set for a dual for the glory.
A two-up sprint finish would have been the perfect way to end a 50km breakaway, but the more experienced Lee broke Hodges with some 5km to go and soloed in for the win. With the gap to Hodges at 30 seconds, Lee now had about a minute’s lead on the general classification over the Mavericks rider going into the concluding Stage 2. Third on Stage 1 was Claire Davis (Arrivo Primo Singapura), but at some 10 minutes back.
Stage 1, Cat 2
In the Cat 2 contest, the task facing the non-KL Velodrama teams as they headed out onto Stage 1 was as tough as the course they were about to tackle. Frequent attacks were made but Zulkefli and his Velodrama teammates covered every move that threatened to get away over the first two-thirds of the day.
Eventually, with some 110km on the clock, a small group did escape, but it included the third-placed Latimer, which gave the KL team another option. With three of the other big teams represented in the breakaway through Richard Paine (Mavericks), Dan Smith (SwiftCarbon-VirginActive) and Ben Farnsworth (Anza Cycling), and the rest of the field temporarily unwilling to organise a chase, the quartet was soon out of sight, although not before it grew to a quintet as another SwiftCarbon man (Thorsten Mayr) bridged across.
The bunch dynamic changed, though, when Paine dropped back to the peloton with some 35km to go. The Mavericks now had no choice but to chase, and now with willing partners from the other teams the pace notched up several levels. But there was still no sign of the escapees when, with about 20km to go, Matt Lodge (Mavericks) sprung out of the peloton on what seemed like a suicide charge. KL Velodrama duly went to the front and pursued Lodge who was sitting in fifth place on the GC, one minute back from Zulkefli, but after about 5km Lodge had ridden himself out of sight on the twisting finishing sector.
Remarkably, Lodge not only caught the breakaway with some 8km to go, he then proceeded to race straight through them on his way to a memorable stage win and the yellow jersey. The diminished breakaway easily held off the peloton, with Latimer taking second and Farnsworth in third, but they finished about a minute behind Lodge, with the 25-man bunch crossing the line another minute later.
Stage 1, Cat 3
Exempt from the Prologue, the Cat 3 riders started their Tour de Bintan with the queen stage. The stage honours came from a four-man breakaway featuring Jonathon Curry, Michael Tee (640 Racing), Romain Barbier and Scott Leadbetter (West Coast Riders), with the stage win going to Curry in a close sprint from Tee and Barbier. The quartet’s dominance was shown by the fact they finished 10 minutes ahead of the 12-man chasing group.
Stage 2, Cat 1
The concluding stage was the familiar 107km journey that started and finished at the Nirwana Gardens race HQ, taking a scenic tour around the northwestern sector of Bintan in between. While the Tour de Bintan tops out an elevation of just 112 metres, the roads on the island can best be described as lumpy. Similarly to Stage 1, large parts of the Stage 2 course feature rollercoaster-like roads, providing plenty of opportunities to launch attacks.
Takei must have expected a torrid day in the saddle as the big teams were sure to gang up on the solo rider, and so it was in the early stages of the morning. The Japanese rider is as smart as he is strong, though, and he countered every move, until he allowed a solo thrust by Arnott of the Mavericks to get away around the mid point of the race; with Arnott over 6 minutes back on the GC, the odds were extremely slim that he would pose any threat on the overall picture.
But Arnott stayed out front on his own for about 40km and was dreaming about stage glory until he was caught by the peloton just before the final KOM point, a testing double-stepped climb on the rolling sector of road from “Checkpoint Charlie” to the special Bintan Resorts zone where Nirwana Gardens is situated. That KOM comes with about 8km to go and signalled a final flurry of attacks, with Pledger and his Wormall Civil teammates most prominent in their attempts to get away and steal the stage.
However, the finale features long straights and wide, flowing corners, meaning any attackers are always in sight, and so as the reduced front bunch of about 20 riders hit the Nirwana cobbles with 2km to go, a sprint finish was guaranteed. Pledger proved the strongest, just pipping Cummings on the line to take his second stage win and surely left pondering his mishap near the end of Stage 1. Not content to roll in with the bunch safely in yellow, Takei actually contested the sprint and took the final Stage 2 podium spot in third.
The same trio later shared the podium again as the final wearers of the Tour de Bintan jerseys. Takei of course was in yellow, with Cummings clad in the green of the Sprint ACE champion, and Ledger the polka dots of the King of the Mountains.
The other major honours went to Dohling as runner-up on the final general classification and Yeo in third, with the Specialized Mavericks taking the Cat 1 team title.
Stage 2, Women
With her obvious strength, vast experience and one-minute lead, it was always going to take a mammoth effort to wrestle the women’s crown from Lee. Still, the other ladies tried their best to test the SwiftCarbon Works riders on the same 107km course the men faced, but when the bunch split decisively on the final KOM, Lee was there along with Hodges and Nore. The trio of riders sped onto the Nirwana Gardens finale where Lee duly added an extra stamp of authority to her previous show of dominance by comfortably outsprinting Nore for her third consecutive stage win.
Hodges finished third on the day and second on the final GC rankings, but the prize presentation was all about Lee, who added the green and polka dot jerseys to her haul of Tour de Bintan booty.
Stage 2, Cat 2
With Lodge defending a 1:17 lead going into Stage 2, the rest of the Mavericks sat at the front for the first half of the stage riding tempo in an attempt to discourage attacks. They largely succeeded in this until the last third of the contest when Zulkefli launched a vicious attack on a short but sharp incline that immediately opened a big gap and made the Mavs burn a few matches to bring him back. No sooner was the teenager caught than another of the KL riders surged ahead to illicit another hard chase.
Things calmed down a bit with the Mavericks back on the front until the youngster Zulkefli attacked hard again on the final KOM with 8km to go. He quickly opened up another substantial gap and the yellow jersey suddenly found himself isolated and having to lead the pursuit. His strong efforts along with the assistance of other riders motivated to go for the stage win meant that the gap to Zulkefli stabilised at about 20 seconds. The lead grew ever smaller as the now-rampaging peloton made its way up through the Nirwana Gardens hills, but the youngster held on for the stage win, just ahead of KL Velodrama teammate Michael Duane and David Watson (Arrivo Prima Singapura).
The peloton crossed the line just four seconds back from the stage winner and so Lodge easily held onto his yellow jersey to clinch the overall Cat 2 crown. Second place on the GC went to Latimer, with Zulkefli third.
Michael Fiechtner (Project 852) won the Cat 2 Sprint Ace contest and with it the green jersey, while Steve Drake claimed the climbers polka dot jersey. KL Velodrama took the Cat 2 team title.
Stage 2, Cat 3
The Stage 3 contest came down to a two-up sprint for the glory, with Jin Yong Lim (640 Racing) pipping Barbier on the line. Best of the rest on the day was Romuald le Calonnec, who won the sprint for third place some eight seconds back.
Barbier took the overall Cat 3 title, with Tee in second and Curry third. The sprinters green jersey went to Faisal Ishan (Tomy Soebroto), while Jin Yong Limtook home the climber’s polka dot jersey. The Cat 3 team prize went to 640 Racing.
The sixth official edition of the Tour de Bintan was an overwhelming success, with hundreds of Gran Fondo riders adding to the festive nature of the event. The Tour de Bintan will stay in its new first-third-of-the-year date for 2017, with the race set for March 3-5 next year. Never ones to rest on their laurels, the people at MetaSport are promising more changes and improvements for 2017.
Visit www.tourdebintan.com for full results of the 2016 race and for details about next year.