TdB has been a bogey race for me for years. I had a top 10 result in the test race in 2009 (when there were only ~50 in the field). Since then I’ve racked up my worst ever crash (2010), a bit of off-roading to avoid a crash (2011) and some horrendous double cramping that would have felled the devil himself (2012). I skipped 2013 due to the clash with Taiwan KoM.
Upon entering the Ferry terminal at 7.30am Friday, I was quickly reminded why I didn’t mind missing last year. It was like the fall of Saigon with people and bikes everywhere. Somehow the BRF folks kept it together and everyone seemed to make their ferries. In my case, it was close run and we ended up getting the astronaut treatment with the electric cart out to the closing door of the boat. Hopefully taking us to Apollo 11 glory and not a Challenger disaster.
PA and myself planned some Team Sky style marginal gains at the other end by grabbing a taxi and gaining 30 mins over those on the free bus. Whilst my borderline genius worked to plan, it all went tits up when Nirwana announced that the rooms were not available and likely wouldn’t be until 3pm. Given that many had buses to catch to the Crit venue at 11.30 onwards, this probably resulted in a serious dip in Nirwana’s satisfaction scores for the month….
Eventually Pierre’s room came available and I was able to at least have the obligitary pre race bathroom visit in relative luxury. I also got to witness 1st hand, the level of preparation required by our Swiss precision pain machine.
Logistics for the new crit dropped further when we hooked up with the rest of the Direct Asia boys and got on the 1:20 bus trip to the new crit location. Shedloads of speed bumps in a bus with no suspension do not make great pre- race prep. I did see someone with a swastika bumper sticker though which blew my mind.
We arrived at the crit just in time to see Anza take 1 & 2 in the Cat 2 first wave which was great. Word was that the circuit round the township was pretty good and better than people were expecting.
To the chagrin of some of the peleton, DA were fielding a big team for the event with sizeable contingents from HK and SG side. Was great to finally meet some of the people that you’ve only seen listed in race results or in email exchanges. The HK lads were pretty buffed out and a few of the SG ladies I met were very pleased with our muscular colleagues…
For Cat 1, things had changed slightly by our 5.05 kickoff as rain was rolling in and an early dusk appeared. We were ok for a 1st couple of super fast laps (despite there being a chicken on the circuit in the neutral lap!) before the heavens opened. It became almost impossible to see what was going on. I’d dropped a few hundred metres back by then and had to contend with people and mopeds zipping across the course when the peleton had passed. The big crowd offering suitably motivating encouragement “faster boss!” and my personal favourite, a sarcastic “impossible is nothing!”.
The rain and dark made it super sketchy and a race neutralization was called. I pulled out then with a handful of others. Better to take a 5 minute penalty than risk that again. The brave ones went on for 3 more shortened laps which Tjarco Cuppens took in the sprint. PA was our best placed guy – coming in 9th 15 seconds back.
Our pain really began with the race finish, as we then endured a 2 hour bus journey back to the hotel in a bus with seemingly no headlights. We missed the race briefing and ended up eating a belated dinner at 9pm. Not a good start to the event.
Saturday’s queen stage of 150km started on a more positive note. The overnight rain dried up and I conducted my 1st ever radio interview on the joys of cycling in Beautiful Bintan. The toilets weren’t so beautiful as someone had clearly forgotten to fill the portaloos with water and so they couldn’t flush. A Scatologists dream.
The race kicked off at a blistering pace and we did a 42km average over the 1st hour – smashing the previous KoM on the Red Road To Hell. Riders were popping off the back within the 1st 10km. After the first hour, it slowed to a steady pace and apart from some massive attacks from Tjarco was ok. Near disaster was everted at the 1st sprint point, when the leading sprinters tub rolled off his wheel. Amazingly he kept the bike up, despite just riding on the carbon rim. Impressive stuff.
During this time, the heat also started ramping up and the cramping began to hit the peleton. I got my 1st bad one at 105km and dropped off the group. At 115km, I then got my dreaded simultaneous 2 legs cramps and hobbled off the bike. I’d specifically bought some Cramp Stop spray for the situation but the name was a clear misnomer as it did less than zero. I ground my way to the finish picking up other stragglers along the way. I managed to avoid the Cat 2 catch but still lost 20 mins on the Cat 1 leaders. I was also feeling sick and found I couldn’t eat for another 3 hours. Might have been the heat, might have been the drinks mix being given…no idea. HTFU.
PA and Rondy were active on the front throughout the day. At around 40-km to go, a dangerous breakaway escaped with Kenyan rider, Chinese Pro Chin Hsu and Bastian Mav. Despite a heated late chase from a counter-attacking group, they managed to stay out and ended the day 40 seconds up. Kenyans were in Yellow with PA again our best placed man – coming 8th today. The remaining front group came in 2 minutes back after being pulled for 25km to the end by the Japanese Ladies champion.
I was dreading the post cramp Sunday legs but I awoke to reasonably pain free thighs. The 105km stage again started out fast and we had another 41km average for 1st hour – adding more KoMs for the group. Pierre was 40 seconds down and so our plan was broadly based around the word ‘attack’. My legs were felling pretty solid and managed to get off the front 4 times but nothing lasted more than 1-2km – still I at least felt good and that I was contributing.
The race heated up over the final KOM and we had a crash 6km out as wheels touched – DA Fred Clatworthy and Ben Arnott being the biggest victims. Jimmy Guardino attacked at the 1km stage – one of the local Indonesians took the sprint by a metre over Tjarco Cuppens. Mike Maiers romped home to take 4th in the sprint for TDA and the Kenyans retained yellow. The Kenyans had sustained a huge number of attacks today from the Mavs, Lapierre & ourselves and so really deserved the victory.
A $50 bill for 12 cokes at the finish rammed home the gouging costs at the event. Whilst it’s great to have such an event close to home, it’s a very expensive weekend for what it is. Possibly also time to review the course as the gaps aren’t selective enough and the logistical nightmare crit was more of a crapshoot than a true test of strength. Chiang Mai seemed a much more interesting event and significantly better value this year…
Whinging aside given the limited racing options, we’ll all probably be back next year though…