Words by Jack McPherson
Ayub Kathurima of the Kenyan Riders took the 2014 Tour de Bintan title on November 9 and with it the S$2,000 first prize thanks to a Stage 1 breakaway win and an outstanding team defence of the yellow jersey on Stage 2. Grace Phang of the Specialized Mavericks was crowned the Women’s champ with a dominating display that saw her take two wins and a second place from three stages on the Indonesian island of Bintan.
As the racers gathered in the provincial capital Tanjung Pinang on the Friday afternoon, most of the talk centred on what impact the introduction of the Criterium as an opener would have on the tour. The fast and twisty 3.5km circuit certainly provided some great theatre and the star of the show turned out to be Tjarco Cuppens of the Lapierre Asia team. Schooled on a heavy diet of crits and kermesses back in his native Netherlands, Cuppens was always going to be the man to watch, and an early break from the Dutchman proved decisive, with only local favourite Endra Wijawa (Customs Cycling Team) able to go with him.
The timing of the strike proved a masterstroke as the dark clouds which had hung menacingly around pre-race unleashed their fury soon after, making the pursuit more difficult for the big chasing bunch. With the storm showing no sign of abating and light rapidly failing, the decision was made to shorten the race on safety grounds, with Cuppens taking the win in a sprint from Wijawa. Japan’s Kyosuke Takei (Infinite Singha) made a late surge from the bunch to take third place on the day, while tellingly, Fan Hsin Chu (Specialized China) and Kathurima led the rest across the line some 13 seconds back from Cuppens.
Earlier, the track stayed dry for the Women’s race, and the big crowd was enthralled by a thrilling contest that saw Sarah-Jeanne Fraser (Eddie Hollands Bike Services) and Phang attack from the gun. They quickly left the peloton behind with only the pair of Kathryn Haesner (TriEdge Singapore) and Kari Nore (Anza Cycling) able to mount any form of resistance. While Fraser and Phang set a blistering pace up front, the chasing duo steadily chipped away at their lead and eventually caught them during the last lap. But their epic chase had used up too many watts, leaving the fresher Fraser to power to the sprint, with Phang second and Nore third. The peloton trailed in some two minutes behind.
Crit over, the focus turned to the heart of the Tour de Bintan, Saturday’s 150km-long Stage 1. Cutting a punishing path through the centre of the island, the winner of the “queen stage” often goes on to take the overall title. Cuppens and his Lapierre teammates had their work cut out early on, with a slew of attacks shooting forth from the peloton as the other teams sought to put pressure on the yellow jersey. Lapierre coped well through the first two-thirds of the race, but with the temperature rising into the high 30s and no sign of any of the Tour de Bintan’s traditional tropical showers to cool things down, the relentless thrusts and almost constant diet of short, sharp hills, eventually took their toll.
Neither Lapierre nor any of the other teams could follow when just after the second Sprint Ace prime at the 110km mark, the dangerous trio of Kathurima, Fan and Bastian Dohling (Specialized Mavericks) put in a huge attack. The trio rapidly increased their lead and were soon out of sight. The race looked over, but then with 25km to go, Cuppens finally made a move, launching a vicious counteroffensive that took the bunch by surprise. Only a select group of seven featuring defending champ Pierre-Alain Scherwey (DirectAsia.com), Suleiman Kangangi (Kenyan Riders), Jimmy Guardino (Mavericks), Takei, Andreas Oestern (Holmenkollen Cycling Club), Wijawa and multiple Tour de Bintan stage winner Heksa Prasetya (Customs Cycling) could match his pace, as the man in yellow set off on a desperate mission to keep his jersey.
But the leading threesome proved too strong and they swept down the hill into the long finishing straight at Simpang Lagoi knowing that one of them would be the day’s winner. In the end it was Kathurima who had the goods, just pipping Dohling on the line, with Fan having to settle for third.
The chasers came in 40 seconds behind, meaning that Kathurima moved into the GC lead, with Fan and Dohling both just five seconds behind after time bonuses were taken into account. Cuppens in fourth, less than 20 seconds back, still couldn’t be discounted. The Dutchman also received the sprinters green jersey as compensation for losing the yellow, while Fan donned the climber’s King of the Mountain’s shirt.
The 2014 Tour de Bintan concluded with Stage 2, over a 107km route peppered with more vicious little hills on a route through the northwestern section of the island. The pressure was firmly on the Kenyan Riders and their small squad of four as from the gun they faced the collective might of the other teams, all intent on attacking. Things looked ominous for Kathurima when he lost one of his men just 20km into the race, but in Kangangi and Samwel Ekiru, he had two giants. Clad in their distinctive pink jerseys, the pair sat at the front for most of the morning, responding to a non-stop onslaught; as the brave Kenyans brought one aggressor in, another would go, then another, then another. But somehow they had repelled every offensive as the race entered its final act.
With the field more or less intact and containing many riders much fresher than the Kenyans, the battle moved to the last KOM prime, which sat on the biggest hill of the race 8km from the finish. The pace was furious and resulted in a big split in the peloton, and while Kathurima lost another of his valiant workers, the man in yellow stepped up himself and didn’t let any of his rivals get away on or over the climb.
However, with bonus seconds on offer to the first five finishers, the title was still up for grabs as the riders hit the classic Tour de Bintan finale; the cobbled roundabout and the two hills of the Nirwana Gardens resort. But it was a non-GC threat who emerged with the line honours, as a bold early attack from Erik Suprianto (Customs Cycling) was just enough to hold off a charging Cuppens for the win. Toby Brown from the Perth-based Dome Coffees Cycling Team was the best of the rest, taking third place on the day.
With Kathurima and the other GC contenders all in the 20-strong bunch that followed, the Kenyan had done enough to clinch the overall title. Joining him on the final GC podium were, Fan and Dohling, with the former taking second place on the countback rule after the pair finished on the same time.
Cuppens retained the green jersey while Prasetya snatched the climbers polka dot jersey on the final day from Fan.
Kathurima proved a very popular and well-deserving winner, with he and the other Kenyan Riders making many friends with their impressive showing both on and off the bike.
Back to the Women’s race, and after their thrilling Criterium contest, they found more drama on Stage 1. First Phang suffered an early puncture that could have been fatal for her dreams of glory, but Mavericks team captain Sarah Clark selflessly donated her wheel. Still, Phang had to dig deep and rode the red road section solo before finally regaining contact with the leaders.
But the drama wasn’t over as not long after Phang got back on, it was race leader Fraser’s turn to suffer a misfortune. After hitting a speed bump on a bridge hard, her seat post unbelievably broke. With no teammates to help out, she was forced to ride the last 80km of the race standing up or perched on her top tube. Despite initially hanging on, it was too tough a task and her GC chances were over. As Fraser battled valiantly to the finish line on her won, up front the girls from the Specialized Mavericks were working to control the peloton for Phang who was by now the virtual race leader. The Malaysian duly delivered on that hard work to take the win in the sprint finish from teammate Serene Lee and Elizabeth Hodges (Anza Cycling) in third.
Phang clinched the title with another bunch sprint win on Stage 2, from Fraser in second and Lee in third. Anza’s Nore took the runners-up spot on the overall general classification, with Haesner clinching the final place on the GC podium.
Fraser made up for her Stage 1 misfortune by dominating the Ace Sprint primes on Stage 2 to retain the green jersey, while Lee emerged as the Queen of Mountains with a clean sweep.
There was more exciting racing from the big Cat 2 field, with close-run sprint finishes in each stage. Emerging at the top of the pile after three days was Wesley Hughes (Joyriders Racing Team) who took the title from Matt Lodge (Specialized Mavericks), despite the pair having identical times and placings. With each man recording a stage win, a runners-up spot and a third place, the title was decided on the UCI countback rule which gives precedence to the winner of the last stage. Hughes therefore snatched the yellow jersey from Stage 2 champ Lodge by winning the sprint for the line on Stage 3.
Finishing third on the final rankings was David Wilkins (Specialized Mavericks), who also recorded a stage victory by winning Heat 2 of the Cat 2 Criterium and with it the first yellow jersey.
Craig Cameron was a dominating champion of the Cat 2 green jersey contest, while Chanmakara Hong (Cambodian Kakis) claimed the King of the Mountains crown.
The Tour de Bintan will be back in 2015, mark the dates of 6-8 November in your calendar.