Tour de Bintan race report, October 2014
“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another”
I thought I could handle the heat. And I was right, but what really screwed me was the heat and the humidity. Things went downhill from day 1. The start line was about 16km from the hotel, so I decided to do a recce ride to check it out. Took it easy and had a pleasant ride over. Hung around for a while and then headed back to the hotel. I could see course markings on the road on the way out, so all I had to do was to follow them back the wrong way round, right? Wrong. In fact, the markings I followed were for the second day’s racing, so instead of a steady ride back over the big hill to the hotel, I rode the Day 2 race circuit pretty much in its entirety. I was out there for seven hours. I ran out of water, I ran out of food; basically I f*cked myself. But there it was; so refuel, rehydrate and get ready to do it again tomorrow.
Race day 1 dawns. Actually, a key event happened just before dawn – it rained. A lot. This meant that the world was still drying out by start time, and the air was mega humid. Sweating just standing around humid. Now, the night before, I’d asked one of the race organisers how most people would get to the start line. He told me that you could put your bike on a truck and then get a bus, but a lot of people would ride to the start. He said, and I quote “it’s easy – you just follow the long line of riders” So I rode, figuring it would be a nice warm up to ride to the start line in the company of others. I headed up the road, looking for the “long line of riders” I WAS THE ONLY FREAKING ONE. Bus after bus passed me, all full of riders lolling in their nice cool air conditioned seats. But was I bitter? Damn right I was. So anyway. Lining up at the start in a pre-sweat soaked state, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of riders were rocking three water bottles – two on the bike and one in the pocket. It seemed unnecessary to me, because the course map showed plenty of water stations. The races that I’d done before with water stops had neutral zones where everyone had to dismount and walk so that no-one got penalised for getting a drink. But, as it turned out, not here.
So the race starts. I get myself up amongst the first 10-15 riders, and despite a heart rate higher than I’d like, I felt good. So good that I had enough breath to ask a fellow rider “why 3 bottles” He said that no-one stops at the first water point. Ah. I was already drinking at the rate of a litre an hour, and a quick calc told me that if I didn’t stop, I wouldn’t have enough to take me to the next one. I got myself to the front, thinking I could minimize the down time, and stopped to get a refill. And while I was thus engaged, the entire group swept past, disappeared up the road, and suddenly I was standing there on my own. “If only I knew some people who had done this race before who could have told me about this” I thought to myself. Or words to that effect and naming no names. But there it was. Back on the bike and fuelled by righteous anger, I gave chase. Man, did I chase. But I never caught. What I did was sweat. I mean it was like Niagara. Water, water, water. I poured so much of the stuff down my throat that in the end my stomach rebelled and said “ENOUGH” Next time I’m going intravenous. And then cramp. The roads here are never flat. It’s a continuous roller coaster – not high hills, but big enough to need an effort to get up. Wearing. And every time the road headed up and I put pressure on the pedals I got a cramp spasm. So progress became a process of spinning up the hill in granny, roll over the top and then get in the biggest possible gear to go downhill to maximize momentum for the next one. The roller coaster from hell. After a while I managed to latch on to a group of laowai Singapore investment bankers, who while unfit, were at least in better shape than me, and they rolled me all the way to the finish. I found a shady spot, laid down and didn’t move for two hours.
Day 2. I knew the water thing was coming, so I sprinted off the front to gain some time. It made no difference. I stopped, no-one else did, race over. This time, I didn’t even try to chase, I just settled in to enjoy the ride. Which I did, because Bintan is a lovely place, and it was amazing just being here. And in so doing I eventually caught and passed a long line of refugees who had been spat out of the peleton. A group formed and we even had a race of sorts. This was an unexpected bonus, and fun was had. But overall, I felt massively cheated. By my own body for dealing so poorly with the conditions and by the race organisation for a system whereby you got penalised for getting a drink. But this was just me. Overall, the whole event was impeccably run, from bike collection from the ferry to getting all of the various categories to the start line and back every day.
Would I do it again? To quote Willard for a second time “When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle”