Bintan Island is part of Indonesia's Riau Archipelago, a short 45min boat ride from the city of Singapore and a great location to rest and relax on white sandy beaches or in one of the many resorts situated on the island.
Above: Nirwana Gardens Resort
If you want to measure yourself against some of the best amateur cyclists in your age group you'd likely head to the Gran Fondo World Series, but to get there you'd first need to qualify at a sanctioned race and Tour de Bintan is one of those races...
Before becoming a UCI sanctioned world series qualifier the Tour de Bintan was a graded road race with Categories ranging from Cat1 through to Cat3. The racing was tough and whilst you could enter as an individual the race mostly involved teams based in and around South East Asia with some teams also travelling from Australia.
Above; Wormall Racing of Australia controlling the pace of the peloton.
As with any graded tour or event which involves international teams the racing is tactical, hard, and fast, and TdB was no exception to this rule. With 1 ITT and 2 tough road stages which included a double crossing of the infamous Red Road to Hell which gets its name from the constant rolling terrain cutting through barren desert-like surroundings, exposing riders to temperatures topping 40 degrees celsius.
Above; Riders tackle one of the may rollers on the infamous 'Red Road to Hell'
In 2017 the graded racing was dropped in favour of TdB becoming a UCI World Qualifier. This completely changed the way in-which the race was ridden with two types of tactics being played out in one race; 1) GC and teams racing, 2) UCI Qualifying.
Above, Start line of the UCI Qualifier Road Race
Pre UCI things were relatively straight forward, you had one or two GC riders, a sprinter (for Green jersey honours) and your domestics who spent most of their time as water mules or suffering on the front in the heat, it was good hard racing and the peloton was mostly in-sync with what was going on.
In 2017 UCI racing and things changed. Whilst there was still a 3 day GC tour at play, there were also UCI ITT and Road Race qualifiers, this didn't affect the ITT but was noticeable in the Road Race.
The format of the race has it split into 14 general classification categories in 5 year increments for both male and female. This means that the team dynamics and tactics that usually play out in races are largely neutralised as the large teams are spread in smaller numbers within their respective age group category.
Above; MatadorRACING team tent. Each of the major teams are supplied with a team tent to prepare for the days racing.
The noticeable difference on the road from pervious years was that nobody was willing to do any work on the front through fear of putting at risk their UCI qualifying spot (all riders in this group were guaranteed to qualify as the group represented the top 15% of the entire field) which included some of the team riders. Pre-UCI teams had large numbers in the peloton and riders would happily (or maybe reluctantly) sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team but this mentality whilst still present was not the common behaviour in the UCI race.
Whilst the introduction of the UCI qualifiers has changed the dynamics of the race it's had a positive impact. 2018 was the eighth edition of the race which has now grown in both size and quality every year since its humble first edition in 2010 with just over 200 riders and swelling to 1200 riders representing 30 countries in 2018
Race organisers - MetaSport, decision to join the UCI Gran Fondo World Series (GFWS) in 2017 has seen an overall increase in the quality of riders. Where previously the South East Asia based teams would have dominated these races they are now being pushed to the limit by top riders from places such as Japan, Russia, the UK and Australia.
Above: Takei Kyosuke and Serene Lee of Japan, two international riders who regularly frequent TdB
The tour itself begins with an undulating 17km ITT on the Friday which also doubles up as the qualifier for the ITT at the Gran Fondo World Series. The roads a closed and well marshalled to avoid any wrong turns with riders being set off in 30 second intervals.
Stage 2 & UCI Qualifier Road Race
Stage 2 for GC contenders and Granfondo for UCI qualifiers is 144km in length and 1270m in elevation. The race starts and finishes from Simpang Lagoi with the course being largely made up of rolling roads through and around the island which is how the elevation is achieved. There are no major climbs to contend with, just constant energy sapping rollers.
Above: The remainder of the starting Peloton ride one of the many rollers of the road race course
The racing is very tough in the first section of the stage, usually the first 30mins to an hour which splits the field and results in a select grupetto riding the remainder of the stage together and at their set pace. This grupetto will likely be the select riders which will qualify for the world series so if you manage to get yourself into the front group you're well on your way to achieving your own World Series Qualifying medal.
The tour and final stage for GC honours is a 108km in length with 1060m in total elevation starting and finishing from the Bintan Lagoon Resort. The stage starts with a descent from the resort out onto the main roads of the island. As with any stage race unless the GC leaders has an excessive time gap the racing will be on from the start so your legs will be thanking you for the previous nights massage as you dig deep for another days racing.
One of the advantages of finishing at the same place you started is you can predict how the final 10km of the race is likely to play out with this stage given the finish is up hill back to the resort you can guarantee the pace will be high on the ascent and there will be multiple riders attempting to 'go long' in the hope they have the legs to hold a long up-hill sprint. In our experience with this stage, it never pays off going long, the stage is normally won by riders launching their sprint around the 200m - 300m mark.
Above; Riders pass by the local supporters
Alongside the serious racing there is also a variety of non-competitive fully supported sportives featuring shorter versions of the main events with distances of 55km up to the full 144km on either one or both days.
Hopefully this will get more riders competing in the full event in future editions Tour de Bintan so whether your a serious racer or weekend warrior there's something for everyone.