Over The Hills And Not So Far Away

A short getaway, resorts, sunshine and unending beaches come to mind when Bintan, Indonesian crops up in a typical conversation. Unless of course, you’re a cyclist, then the island might be a love / hate relationship for you. Following the success of 2010’s inaugural race, the Tour de Bintan, put together by MetaSport, was back in full force over last weekend, on the 12th and 13th of November 2011.

This year, the approximate 800 cyclists overtook last year’s count of 500, and proved the Tour to be one for the fans. It was a three stage race with a total distance of 265km over the charming island’s lush rolling hills. At least that’s what it said on the brochure, and that was reason enough for my buddies and me to sign up. Cute.

The Buildup
We made our way to the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on Friday, 11/11/11, and aptly so as this would be a date we wouldn’t be forgetting in a hurry. After four months of our self-proclaimed training, waking at ungodly hours and sacrificing almost all forms of night-life, it had come down to this. Spirits were high as we checked in our meticulously wrapped bikes along with over a hundred others to board the ferry. It looked more like a war-zone with bike frames, wheel bags, floor pumps and jersey-clad people sprawled across the terminal. Needless to say, there was something special in the air that afternoon; it was a feeling of unity and knowing.

Once the ferry docked on Indonesian soil, no time was wasted and we collected our race kits before the race briefing commenced at the official hotel of the event. After which, night fell and it was a rush against time to collect, prep, clean, lube, tweak, tag and freshen up the bikes for the race on the morning. After which, the gazillion other bikes were calling out at us to check them out, so took a walk around the bike depot for a quick lap of bike porn. Many made their presence felt as no-nonsense, fly-weight race machines, while others bragged exclusivity and exorbitance. The sight was truly a thing of beauty that could bring grown men to their knees – weeping. We got a hold on ourselves and soldiered on for dinner.

We were starving but of course priority went to our babies and by the time we were done, dinner was no earlier than 10pm. The official hotel for the race, Nirwana Gardens Resort, which we stayed at, catered to the cyclists in every aspect and one of the things we really appreciated was the food. The immense scale of the event halted their regular array of grub choices since special menus were catered for, menus which featured mostly pasta, rice noodles, pizza and the occasional steak. Full-on carbohydrates.

Carbo loading was promptly followed by prepping our kit back at the room and after pinning tags, stuffing jersey pockets with gels, bars and tools and all the other hocus-pocus, only six hours of shut-eye was left. The day’s events had us debilitated by the time we hit the sacks.

Stages 2 & 3

Stage 2
Sunday morning crept in on us while we fought the urge to push the snooze button. Breakfast saw me having pasta for the 7th consecutive meal in the past two days. The starting line of Stages 2 and 3 were thankfully right at the entrance of Nirwana. Surprisingly though, once I was back on my bike, the aches and pains felt better than when I was walking around in the morning.

Stage 2 was quickly underway, with a total distance of 73km of hills. This time the route brought us through a lusher environment and a major village with narrower, winding roads. My main focus was to keep up with the huge peloton. It was a struggle but I managed to keep up until a bad crash on a descent at 58km slowed the back half of the peloton, while the front guys broke away. I finished in 58th position with a timing of 2:11:04, 4 minutes and 20 seconds behind the first to cross the line.

Stage 3
By the time it was time to commence Stage 3 at noon, we were absolutely drained. Unlike in Stages 1 and 2, where we were at least in the front third of the start-line population, this time we were actually among the last few to form up. I made up my mind that the goal was simply to complete the race, even if it meant doing so at a cruising, cool-down pace.

Even though it was the last stage and everyone was feeling the fatigue set in, the terrain showed no mercy and continued its bombardment of hills. This time we were really riding our own race and did so at a steady and comfortable pace. After just over an hour and a decent amount of pain, the end of Stage 3 drew the Tour de Bintan 2011 to a close.

Looking Back

After four months preparing for the Tour, it did pay off. I managed to come in 15th overall in the general classification in the Challengers Category while my team-mates similarly placed respectable positions.

Riding together regularly has brought out our strengths and weaknesses. Sharing and learning from each other throughout also brought about a certain level of camaraderie that I feel is unique to cycling. And when the finish line nears with spectators lining the route to push you on, it is a feeling that words alone cannot articulate. There’s a certain amount of magic in play.

We were fortunate to stay safe throughout the Tour, which is not to say there wasn’t a fair amount of incidents, as with any other race. Tour de Bintan will be seeing us back again, this time with more war stories under our belts.

For now though, it’s back to reality of the local roads. “Car back!”