Friday, November 8, 2013

Tour de Bintan 2013... what an epic ride.

Tour de Bintan 2013, a memory of pain and elation.



It was many months before November 2013.  Didn't know who was the smart guy who initiated the whole gang to sign up for Tour de Bintan 2013.
The majority of us had only been cycling seriously on road bikes for slightly less than a year.

"Tour de Bintan?" asked someone. "That one is quite tough isn't it?"
"Yeah. But this tour is the closest thing you can come to an UCI organised and sanctioned event," replied the smart Alec. "Come, let's go!"

Months after months passed. And our usual Eastern Loop and Western Loop and the occasional Round island rides became a little more intensive, as many of us woke up to the notion that TdBintan was just rounding the corner.
And we started doing the Kulai Loop in Malaysia, and the 6 Bridges of Barelang in Batam, and some hills workouts back in Singapore hoping that if we were to suffer then, we would suffer lesser in Bintan.

Well, I could only say for myself.  My fitness indeed got better as TdBintan drew nearer.  
But frustratingly despite my desperate efforts on the trainer, TrainerRoad, and my best attempt to follow the purchased Gran Fondo program from TrainingPeaks, I saw my weighted average power going nowhere northwards.
"You need to bank in the miles.  It's that simple. You must be conditioned to ride the distance," advised Gerard.

Well, I tried my best.  But with my training averaging less than 8 hours a week, I could only hope for the best.  The other boys were doing Round islands after Round islands, and early morning 5am rides after early morning rides, while all I could manage was my 1 hour spin on the trainer.
Shit.  This is not going to be enough, I told myself.  Kc Tng's power went through the roof towards the last few weeks and his average speed for RI hit 31km/h.  David Low demonstrated his prowess on the last Hill training, speeding way ahead out of the saddle as the gradient became more unbearable.  Gerard became faster and faster on his usual second train course.  I began to question myself how I was going to fare when the big day came.

The last two weeks before Tour de Bintan was the period when most of us started tapering off.  At that point in time, I was having serious doubt if tapering was really that important.  But in retrospect, I can say that it was one of the most important part of preparation for TdBintan.

8 November 2013, Friday
Serene pointing out something to Gerard...

It was a sunny morning that greeted the group when we gathered 9am, at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal with our bikes.  The long long queues of Ang Mohs after Ang Mohs confirmed our belief that this event must be quite something.
To my front and rear were slim and athletic westerners.  And the occasional local cyclist with equally lean and muscular structures well suited for racing.  I felt a sudden twang of inferiority complex standing next to them.

I remember being rather confused which line to join, until one Ang Moh very nicely pointed out to me to follow the longest line to get our Boarding pass and bicycle tag, after which we would tag the bikes and check them in on the queue on the right.  Despite the seeming chaos, the line moved pretty fast.  
Efficient, I must say.
Our fantastic support team
Our group members were quite well supported with spouse and official photographer, namely Alex. 

"We are there for R&R," joked Alex, Lai Peng and Chris. "Our bicycles are folded inside our luggage."
That was the first joke of the day. 

Seriously, it was pretty important getting there early on the pre-race day.  Because Bintan is so classically Indonesian.  There were definitely things happening along the way that sort of hindered a smooth transition.  At the Bintan ferry terminal, I was shocked to see a lady holding up a sign saying "Nirwana Gardens Express custom check in $4 per person".  Crazy.  This kind of thing can only happen here.  I ain't no gonna pay extra $4 for something that is part and parcel of the official duty of a customs officer.
Francis: "Ok guys. Quickly let's buy our bottles of plain water
here at the ferry terminal before we get to the hotel"
 We were pretty lucky to have our bookings at Nirwana Gardens Hotel, the official hotel of the event.  Good thing was, the transport to and fro the ferry terminal, and to and fro the starting points on Stage one was nicely arranged.

But not all of us managed to get our room at 1pm at the hotel lobby.  Several of us had to bunk-in our luggage with the luckier ones, and go for lunch at the everything-Singapore-priced restaurant.  Haha...
Kee Chong Tat, David Low, Kc Tng, Edwin Marc Low,
Francis Chia and all our hero riders - a toast to tomorrow's ride!

The rain clouds gathered on this idyllic afternoon as we had lunch.
"Wow. If tomorrow's weather is so nice and cooling, it would be perfect for the ride," said someone.
Well, for myself I would really rather it be dry.  Hot, yes.  But dry.  For a couple of times of riding through heavy downpour along the 6 Bridges of Barelang had proven that I was not one who particularly enjoyed fighting the rain while on the bike.
But as destiny was such, this turned out to be a wet and water-logged Tour de Bintan.

Collecting our Race pack at Nirwana Gardens.
Collection of Race Pack
The collection room.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
Some of the friends with whom I usually ride remarked that the price of registering for Tour de Bintan has sky-rocketed over the years.  This was the forth year of TdBintan.  And while fees was $150 last year, this year it was $205 for a Gran Fondo Double.  While events like Kuantan Century 160km, OCBC Kuala Lumpur and OCBC Singapore would come with lots of goodies, including a suitably designed cycling jersey, this Tour de Bintan race pack came with nothing more than a cycling cap and some energy bars.  Kinda disappointing I must admit.   But I reckon it must have been like this for the past three years.  I'd just wait it out and see how the event turned out.  If it was so highly subscribed, there must be a reason.

Bike Depot
Now one thing I must say was that the organiser did a really good job in handling and safe-keeping the bikes.  We were instructed to remove our pedals for ease of transport of our bikes and a few of us actually did just that.
The bikes were tagged, numbered and sent to our respective hotel's bike depot and systematically lined up in the huge bike depot hall up the slope from our hotel.
Gerard fitting up the pedals on his bike.
What impressed me was that they had security guards on duty, and bike handling staffs who would verify your numbers.  The Shimano bike mechanic team was on standby outside the bike depot for last minute checking, pump and all. 


Very good! They actually provided Top tube
stickers for those of us who were a little
worried about getting lost. Haha..!

After the race pack collection, we brought back our bikes to the rooms, fixed up the pedals, fitted on the respective saddle pouches, affixed the top tube stickers for the route, and sent them back to the depot for safe-keeping, reassured that they will be transported to the starting point the next day to await us.

The night before...

Yupe.  Somehow, despite having entered into quite a few other events, this was the one which I found myself having the jitters.  We stuffed ourselves silly with the most enjoyable buffet dinner (S$50 per person), loading huge amount of carbohydrates the evening before. 
I kept drinking sips of water, hydrating myself at regular intervals rather than doing a one-time hyper-hydration on the actual day, following advise I found somewhere on the internet.

The bananas and 100 Plus I brought along came in very useful as I continued to drink and feed even after dinner. 

Sometime on that afternoon... There was the suggestion to the team members to ride the 15km route from Nirwana Gardens to the Starting point tomorrow.
A friend of mine who had done TdBintan previously advised against it.  "It's very hilly.  And by the time you arrive at the Starting point, you would be pretty shagged."  And thus the idea of riding to Simpang Lagoi, 15km away from Nirwana Gardens, was squelched.

"Ok, let's all have a good night rest," said Gerard. "We will meet at 6am for breakfast, and we will gather in the lobby at 7am for the transport to the starting point tomorrow."

9 November 2013.  Stage One 150km.

Our guys waiting for the bus at the hotel lobby
of Nirwana Gardens.
Morning began with the vast majority of us getting out of bed much earlier than we expected.  At 5am, some of us were already tucking ourselves in at breakfast.
The morning started really nice and cool.

David and I at the bike depot.
"Wow, this is really of a Carnival atmosphere!" exclaimed Gerard, using his favourite phrase.
Certainly well-attended was the starting point at Simpang Lagoi.  There were bands of drummers, dancers, plenty of balloons and lots of spectators and children from the local villages.  We found our bikes easily at the on-site bike depot.  Everything was in order except for Francis's front tyre, which was found to have a puncture. Fortunately the bike mechanics had a neutral wheel that Francis could use to start the ride.  And we were all good to go.

A podium shot before the start of the ride.
Serene and I before the start.
 The Gran Fondo wave's scheduled start time was at 9:20am.  We slowly eased ourselves to the conduit and found ourselves almost at the starting line.  We still had time for some chit chat.
We all getting ready at the starting line.
It was quite exciting and I found my heart rate racing as we edged close to the starting line almost at pole position.  Wow, this was the first time I was actually taking part in a ride of such a nature.  Although we were in the Gran Fondo category, but the atmosphere was rather charged and it felt almost like a race.  Alex, Lai Peng, Chris, Angela and Serene were all spread over the starting point finding the best vantage point to take our photos.  They made me feel as though I am a pro cyclist going for Tour de France. Haha..

Minutes before the horn went...
The countdown, the horn, and off we went!


Yours truly at the starting point.
[Photo: Gerard Tan]
 The guys shot off like bullets, led by Gerard and followed closely by David, Kc and Edwin.  Kee and Kaye were somewhere in the front of the peloton.
"Man, this is fast," I remember saying to myself as speeds average 31km/hr.  There was supposed to be a lead-out for 2km, but hey what lead out? The peloton went quite all out right from the start.  Everyone was fresh and energetic and I found that my adrenaline probably kept me pumping and kept me closely within the peloton.

I looked up at the dark clouds, and rain started pelting down on us.  "Shit, please don't let it rain too heavily," I thought to myself.  But nope, it wasn't going to be my day, and raindrops became heavier and started to hit harder on my face.  Very soon my glasses started to mist up with droplets and I could hardly make out further than the front couple of riders.

I stole a look at my Garmin on the bike.  Heart rate 170.  Looked like it was going to be a tough day ahead for me.  
David and yours truly. [Photo: Official photographer]
The road was wet and slippery at many parts.   And the slopes didn't help either.  Tour de Bintan was made up of endless rolling slopes, ranging from easy 3-4% gradient to many tougher 14-15% ones.  But what was true was the slopes were all short ones, not long, drawn-out ones like those of Barelang.
So Bintan took a slightly different strategy to tackle.  I found that the best way for myself was to speed down the slope so that I could carry myself up to at least half of the next, and then drop my gears gradually to spin all the way to the top.  One of my acquaintances advised going out of saddle at the last 10m before the peak of the slope.  But I was not strong enough for that and I ended up seated most of the time.

The boys in pink were pulling further away from me.  I worried a little for I wanted to keep together with them as a team.  So I quickened my cadence.  The rain was still unforgiving, weighing down everyone.  Those who hated the heat would be rejoicing for the rain cooled everything down.  But we had to be a little more careful.
A sharp right turn on a steep downslope and suddenly the whole peloton slowed down.
Our very own David Low beating Chris Froome
to the KOM! [Photo: Alex Kaan]

"SLOW! Dead Slow!" shouted a few Ang Moh cyclists in the front.  Wet carbon wheels weren't the best in emergency braking but we all scrambled to ease our speed.  A rider in red on the left of the peloton had skidded and landed on the left side of the road.  Fortunately he took no one with him, and the rest of the peloton gingerly made the sharp turn safely.

l couldn't remember much of the first 30km for everything was a blur - the rain, the breath-taking pace (for me), the constant alertness to danger on the route and within the peloton.  I remember on one of the climbs, I was panting mouth wide-opened and found Edwin on my right equally panting.  This good man was nursing a cold the night before, and on this morning, the heavy rain and the pace didn't make things better for him.

Kc Tng the powerful. Must have taken off his glasses
cos they fogged up his vision. [Photo: Alex Kaan]
At around 30km into the ride, I came up to Kc and cycled side by side with him.  "Hey Kc, how come I feel so shagged so early in the race ah?" I shouted across to him.  "Yah! I was thinking of the same too," he replied.  One hour into the ride.  Most likely our adrenaline rushes were wearing off, and I began to suffer the effects of exertion.  On and off I followed Kc Tng closely.  David, Kee, Kaye and Gerard were nowhere to be seen as they were in close pursuit of the front pullers of the peloton.

We passed by small villages and I was pleasantly surprised by many of the children who rallied at the side of the road to cheer us on.  So indeed it was true, the saying that Tour de Bintan was a whole-island affair.  The genuine happiness of the local villagers, children and adults alike, upon seeing us in our multi-coloured jerseys cycling along the tarmac, really lifted my spirits.  Time and time again, I would encounter children who shouted to me "Let's Go! Let's Go!" when they saw the words on my jersey.  That was really the ultimate in encouragement. 
Children cheering me on. [Photo: Alex Kaan]
Who would have thought that a catch phrase mooted by Gerard back home here in Singapore would have such a resounding response out there in Bintan!
So touched was I that I repeated smiled and called out to them in response 'Let's Go!!'.

36km first water point  
The cheers of the crowd did in a big way make the ride more tolerable. At the 36km mark, the first water point came into sight.  I was already soaked through, and the time had come to finish off my one bottle of 500Cal of Promax + Glucolin, and to swallow two ViperBoost gels.  "Isotonic, please," I said to the very friendly and helpful water team passing out Tour de Bintan bottles of water and isotonic drink.
I finished off the remaining half a bottle of isotonic I had, and got them to top it up to the brim.  With plain water, I mixed another pack of 500Cal of Promax + Glucolin into my rear bottle, in preparation for the next stretch.
Edwin our powerful triathlete. Nose blocked
and weighed down by the flu.
I prepared around 2500Cal of nutrition for the whole ride, which I estimated myself taking 6 hours to complete.  I was making good time.  My average speed till now was about 30.6km/hr.  Hmmm.. never had I ridden with such speed back home.  Must be the euphoria of the carnival atmosphere.

Edwin came up behind me.  "My nose is killing me and I can't breathe.  I think I'm gonna stop here," declared the usually fast and fit rider.  Yeah, he is right.  Sometimes when you are not in form, you just cannot push.  "Ok, rest good. I'll see you back later," I said.
Ok, time to cheong again.
So far so good.  The water point stop thinned out the peloton.  I decided that I was just going to look around and see which other peloton I could latch onto, and go more at my own pace.  From this point onwards it was nice flat coastal roads. No rolling hills.  Not long after I started off, I looked back and saw to my surprise two, three Ang Moh riders drafting behind me.   I nodded in acknowledgement to them.  And over the next 20-30km, we took turns drafting each other. 
David along the Coastal Road.
[Photo from Official photographer]
Very good coordination, these Ang Moh riders.  I realised for the first time that not every Ang Moh rider is a powerful one.  There are also cyclists who are of about the same standard as myself.  

50km second water point
Thankfully, our ad-hoc teamwork got us through the flat straight, and through that flooded 50km water point which was supposed to be a walk-through but a few of us missed that and went straight ahead onto the main road as everywhere was water-logged.   The water team staffs were so kind as to walk out to the main road with a couple of water bottles to replenish our supply.
Seng Keong at the walk-through water point at 50km mark.
Right at the end of the 100m walk-through point, I saw Kc Tng taking a sip.  "Hey Kc!" I shouted out. "I wait for you in front!"  He nodded back.
So I started cycling behind a big size Ang Moh.  The road was still nice and straight.  Then a couple of more riders joined up behind us and our own train formed.  I looked back but could not find KC.  No choice.  I just had to keep going first.

Soon, the rolling hills started again.  The top tube stickers were of no use in such weather because I could see none of the writings on them.  As I pedalled, I wiped the water off the screen of my Garmin Edge and I could vaguely make out the distance.  About 60km.  The Forerunner on my wrist was what I depended on mostly for speed and distance because it was the one that I could read clearer.
At this stage, I started developing some medial thigh cramp. 
"What? Thigh cramp?" This hardly happen to me.  In fact I don't think I ever had thigh cramps during my rides back home.  And what was more, on this ride I made sure I consume my Crampfix capsules the night before, and before the start of the event, and every one hour on the road.  But yet, the cramp on my right thigh adductor muscles stayed.

Our Pink Dragon Francis pushing through the rain.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
I dropped the gears and tried to spin more.  Hopefully the cramp would be lessened.  But not long after that, the medial part of my left quadriceps started to go into spasm.  I could not believe it.  Two cramps in a roll?
It was kinda strange.  Nice cool weather, well hydrated, properly carbo-loaded... and yet I was starting to feel the fatigue and then the cramps.   Somewhere at the 60+km mark I started to harbour negative thoughts.
"This is crazy," I told myself. "Maybe this is why they said Tour de Bintan is tough.  I have never had so much pain on a ride.  Man, I am ONLY going to do this once.  Just once.  Once is enough."  Yupe, these were the exact thoughts going through my mind. 
This was me, shot taken by the
Official Photographer.  What a
pathetic sight I was.

Every upslope I just pushed myself to spin and just kept going, mouth wide-opened gasping for air, glasses pushed down from my nose bridge in order that I could see clearly what was ahead.  The feeling was exasperation coupled with that of helplessness.
Really crazy, this weather.  After a few slopes, I began to realise that I could out-spin some of the cyclists of a similar fitness level as me.  I had it easy with the 12-30T rear cassette and a front elliptical chainring of 52/36T.  I was very thankful for my pair of very smooth Enve 6.7 wheels for not only did they spin smoothly upslope, they made it possible for me to cut through faster on the flats and the downslopes.
My Parlee frame was also very responsive and all in all, I felt that I was able to achieve efficient power transfer and that really made things better.  But of course, I still suffered.

I only remember that at this point in time
I was focussing on getting to the top of
that slope.  And Ang Mohs on each side
of me were panting their ways up too.

With trembling fingers, I reached down to grab another Crampix capsule and gulped it down with some isotonic drink from my front bottle.  My average speed till this point had dropped to about 29km/h.  I was slowing down.  Signs of strain and fatigue.  This was really ridiculous.  It was hardly 70km into the ride and I was suffering already.  And it wasn't even under the hot sun.  But of course, in retrospect I knew why.  I never liked cycling in the torrential rain for it drained me, pushing against a heavy sheet of water, not being able to see around me.  What more, during the first part I over-exerted myself following the peloton that wasn't of my own pace.   I was looking out for the next water point at 73km.

So shagged at the 73km mark.
{Photo: Alex Kaan]
73km third water point
The highly sought-after water point came into sight as I made a right turn.  Heng ah! Finally, the 73km mark.  Suddenly, I heard someone calling out my name.  On the right came Serene, Alex, Lai Peng, Chris and Angela in a black rented MPV!  Alex was taking shots of me and the boys on his 70-200mm.  Man, this Alex was really resourceful.  Never would I imagine that he would grab a taxi and follow us all the way.  Now THIS was support!  I was so touched I could have cried.  But I was really so glad to see them.

So glad to see Serene and our very own
support team.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]

My fatigue meant that I wasn't able to speak much, but was occupied looking for isotonic water.  I hadn't drunk as much for this second 30km.  That wasn't good.  I needed to hydrate.  Another 2 gels, and some more Promax, and a good half a bottle of isotonic, I was ready to go.
"I am only going to do this once.  This Tour de France is not something that you can do again and again," I declared to Serene as I was about to set off.  A couple of cyclists beside her heard my words.  "Tour de France?" they asked.  "Haha.. you see, I am so shagged I don't even know what I am talking about," I laughed at my own confusion.
Into the southern town I cycled. [Photo: Alex Kaan]
Off I went, and this stretch brought the cyclist into the small town at the southern tip of Bintan. Now there was traffic along the stretch, but the marshalling of the police and the marshalls with red flags was really first class.  Throughout the whole ride, even in the heavy rain, they were all there, visible throughout every turn, making sure that the cyclists did not get lost.  I personally felt that the organisers did a great job on this.  The water support was more than sufficient and the staffs were well-trained.  Isotonic drinks, plain water, kueh lapis were aplenty, and words of encouragement for the support teams at the water points were overflowing. 
This Gerard was so fast.  It took Alex and the girls quite
some effort to move forward to find him.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
Now I finally understood what Gerard meant when he said it was the closest thing one can get to an almost-UCI event.

Now this small town was not without its own rolling hills, for we were made to go up and down within it.  And as we left town, we found ourselves traversing yet again rolls and rolls of hills.  The rest at the 73km mark and the appearance of Serene and our own support team must have rejuvenated me.  I felt lighter, more uplifted.  And I could actually ride with a cheerful smile.  The rain had abated somewhat.  But the ground remained wet.  I had to be still very careful with the water puddles.  But as a whole I must say that the roads of Bintan were very good.  And the organisers even took the trouble to fill up many of the potholes before the event.  Kudos!

The Cat-women!
[Photo: Alex Kaan]

At 80-something km, I saw Kaye on the left side of the road.
"What happened?"
"My tyre puncture! That's it, I'm finished. Mine is tubular and I have no replacement," replied Kaye.  Aiyoh.. what a shame. He is a powerful rider. I'm sure he didn't want his Stage one to end prematurely.  But it was later that I learned he managed to get a neutral wheel to continue riding.
Into the town. [Photo: Alex Kaan]

The remaining road back up north was characterised by again rolls after rolls, with a KOM at about 120km.  I recalled spinning up a particularly punishing one at 15% with an Ang Moh on my ride.
"I ran outta gear!" I panted.

"Yah, me too!" replied he.
"Man, I am just gonna take this 10km by 10km," said I.
"Haha.. I'm just aiming for the next water point."

Here, again my cramps came back, this time with a vengeance.  Shucks.. I really needed to ride them out.  One-third done.  Another 50km to go.  I'd better just slow down.  And slow down I did.
KC Tng suffer-festing.
[Photo: Official Photographer]
And man, was I tired.  A sense of undescribable fatigue crept all over me.  My legs were like zombies auto-piloting away, pumping for what they were worth.  My heart rate was kept at about 150, which was the only saving grace.   And yes, I was feeling tired.  I made a mental note of my nutrition - hmmm.. so far so good. I had done close to 4 hours of ride, and I had consumed roughly 1500Cal. Ok, then it must really be muscle fatigue.
And not only was I the one feeling the effects. The boys were suffering as well.

David and Gerard both also suffer-festing.
[Photo: Official Photographer]
123km fifth water point
Somehow, I managed to crawl up to the 123km water point, right after a particularly siong KOM.  I dismounted and pushed my bike to the water tents.  I saw what Gerard would describe as 'carnage' - Ang Moh bodies all strewn over the floor, some frantically thumping their thighs, others just needed to stop pedalling.  But mostly were tired both physically and mentally.  I knew I was.  And the thought of another 27km left on the road was not consolling enough. 
This water point was situated on a gentle slope up, on a cul-de-sac on the left side of the main road, flanked on two sides by the vertical side of the hill.  I could only muster enough strength to pour half a pack of my last Promax + glucolin concoction into the bottle, and finished off half a bottle of isotonic drink.

Making my way back.
Photo: Official Photographer.
"Hey Wee How!" I heard a call from behind me.  It was Kaye!  He had gotten his neutral wheel and had continued the ride all the way here.  It was later on that night that he told me when he saw my face, here at the 123km water point he knew I was gonna suffer the last stretch back.
And I certainly did.  The last 27km was thankfully relatively flat.  I looked at my GPS - 4 hours plus into the ride.  I was surprisingly making good time.  I could actually complete this stage in five hours odd.
Ok, now it was all about conserving for the last home-run.  Don't over-stretch myself.  Just keep pedalling steadily, keep the cramps at bay, and my heart rate low.

The hills of Tour de Bintan wasn't high.  They were generally about 10-40m of elevations.  But it was the rolls that got into me.  It wasn't a steady climb non-stop for 15-30km like Fraser's Hills, nor was it long ups and long downs like Batam.  But short spikes.  If I ever were to do Tour de Bintan again, I got to look closely into training for quick recovery in between.
But for now, I just had to finish off the last 20km of the ride.  Through serene villages we went.  I kept the count down of the distance looking at my Garmin.  The Ang Moh cyclist in front of me on a hybrid with a straight handlebar was tapping his thighs, in a bid to relieve some last bit of cramp.  An Indian rider further in front was slowly pedalling.  I caught up and overtook him, only to be over taken further down the road when he gained back some energy.  It was a tug-o-war game like this the last 10km back.

The road marshalls indicated a right turn.  And the road signs indicated 5km left.  Phew.. almost there.  But Tour de Bintan never made it easy for riders.  The last 4km was still terribly rolling.  Goodness.  I just grit my teeth, knowing that it would end soon.  The road signs counted down - 900m, 600m, 400m, 300m, 200m... and the finishing line was in front! I was so happy that I did a fist-punch as I sailed across the line.  But.. sadly no one was there to take my photo.

Job done for Stage one...  
Yes, job done.
But not without suffering tremendously.
Here, this is my Strava ride for the Stage:

My Strava for Stage One Tour de Bintan 2013

I walked with shaking thighs and sore hamstrings to where I could leave my bike with the staff at the depot, and joined a long line of (equally) tired cyclists waiting for the same.
From the corner of my eye, I spied Gerard, David, Kaye and Kee sitting on one of the round tables, and they waved at me.

"Man, this ride is epic!" I exclaimed.

Tired faces at finishing point - Stage one.
[Photo: Gerard Tan]
... and the guys stared at me with tired, blanked looks...
 This was a video taken of that very moment, edited and compiled by Gerard:

Post Stage one dinner

Almeric Ong, Oreo at the dinner.
Team evoLV official photographers, Lai Peng and Alex.
"This one must go lah!" said Gerard even as we were registering for the tour. "I heard they serve quite good food and they present the yellow jerseys and all that for the winning cyclists."
And yah we all went for it.  Ok lah.  The food was ok.  The MC was yakking on the stage.  We couldn't really hear what he or she was talking about.  There was some slide show of the day's photos on the projector, and there was some life music.
Kee and Kaye enjoying themselves.

Francis drowning his sorrow in some muscle relaxant pills
while Gerard laughed his a** out.
 But it sure was stuffy like hell with all the tables set in the lobby of Nirwana.  Francis was a tad melancholic.  Haha.. poor thing, him.  I only learned at the dinner table that he suffered a second puncture, this time the rear tyre, at the 123km mark and wasn't as lucky as Kaye to have a neutral wheel.  Thus his Stage one was truncated.  Man, so near but yet so far.   We joked about Zipp wheels, Enve wheels and in jest I blurted: "Enve wheels never puncture!".  Haha.. boy, was I sorry to have said that.
Many of us didn't wait for the presentation.. we just went up to the bike depot to collect our bikes.  We realised that since Stage two was going to start at the gate of our hotel, we might as well collect our bikes this night and bring them back to clean them up, re-lubricate the chains and cassettes and get them readied for the next morning.

Bike Depot... again.
Yam-gong ah! My bike was soooo dirty!
Yah, man.  These bike depots seemed to be the centre of the universe where all the activities were.   Our bikes were in such sorry state, all caked and muddy and wet and dirty...
Edwin was most helpful.  "Bring all your bikes back to your hotel rooms and hose them down.  Wait for them to dry and those of you who have got lubes, just lube the chain." he instructed. 
And we did just that.

Gerard finding his bike at the depot.
 At the end of Stage one, I was seriously asking myself if I could possibly start Stage two, with all those cramps and such.  I really had doubt.  But as the night wore on, I stuffed my mouth bananas after bananas, and kept gulping down 100 Plus after 100 Plus.   A couple of muscle relaxants and an Arcoxia, I felt almost as good as new.  And my confidence returned.

Time to bring my bike back to my
room to sleep.

Yeah.. all I needed was a night of good sleep, and a good massage of my thighs using the OSIM massager I brought along for the purpose, and I believe I should be good to go the next day.
"Ok, see you all tomorrow 7am at breakfast," said Gerard.   And soon we all were in slumber land.

Gerard literally let his bike take a bath in the tub.
[Photo: Gerard Tan]

10 Novemeber 2013.  Stage two 107km.

Animated discussion between Edwin & Seng Keong.
Morning 6am.  Must have been the excitement that woke us up and made us go for breakfast a full hour earlier than planned.  I was surprised to see almost everybody at breakfast.
Kc all readied for Stage two.
"Wah you guys see beh on ah!" I said. "All come so early for breakfast."
"Can't sleep mah," said KC. "So come and eat first lor."

"Yah, today let's do a nice easy ride at our own pace," I suggested.

Starting point at Nirwana Gardens

A hug before the start.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]

It sure was a luxury to have the starting point at our hotel's very own doorstep.  Ours was supposed to be Gran Fondo 4th wave to start.  The scheduled time was 8:20am.  But as always, the guys pushed their bikes
to the starting point much earlier.  I looked around.  Hmmm... strange, the number of starters this morning seemed much smaller.  In my heart I could explain that most likely a number of the Gran Fondo Doubles riders decided that one stage was enough for the trip, and ditched the second day.

The Pink Dragon Francis decked in his
famous red, with wifey Chris.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]

Seng Keong and Angela.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]

Well, whatever it was, we were all ready for Stage two, we boys of Team evoLV.   Nothing was going to stop us from starting.
KC all decked in fine Royal yellow
JR long sleeve.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
"Hey, let's go." called out Gerard.
"Huh? This is Wave 3 leh. Not ours yet mah..." questioned Seng Keong.

"Never mind ah. So few riders. Might as well start early so that we can end earlier, right?" reasoned Gerard. 
Well, that certainly made sense.  And we all clik-clogged our way down to the starting point.  The spouses and girl friends were all there in full force.
And the boys were raring to give their best shot for this last 107km.
 All right. So the stage was set, and it turned out to be another cool, wet morning with a continuous light drizzle.
Hopefully the rain wouldn't turn heavy, I was thinking to myself.  One stage of torrential rain was enough trouble for the Tour.
Off we went pushing our bikes towards the start.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
 Haha.. on this day, the boys were all a little smarter.  They left Gerard and KC standing all alone by themselves right in front with the Ang Mohs.  Myself, David, Seng Keong and Francis stayed a little distance away.
8am. The horn went.

And we went. Nice, wet road surfaces.
And aching thighs.
Only Gerard & Kc Tng at the front.
[Photo: Alex Kaan]
But the thought of completion was most likely the main preoccupation in most of our minds because someone was saying that for those Gran Fondo Doubles fellows - if you don't finish the second stage, you get no medals.  Ok, whatever it was, we just needed to finish.

Yours truly at the start, riding side by side with Eng Khoon in
white JR jersey.
Stage two was obviously so much more relaxed.  One of the guys who had done TdBintan previously told me last night that for many riders, the important stage is the first.
Thus, it was with a palpable sense of cheerfulness that every single one of the riders took off.

Kc very cheerful.
[Photo: Official Photographer]
Francis cheerful.
[Photo: Official Photographer
The Stage two ride covered a distance of 107km over a terrain no less rolling than the day before's.  The rain did threaten again and again, but it did finally settle into a light drizzle through most parts of the ride.  Stage two took the riders through the western parts of Bintan, including a coastal part.
Somehow, in this Gran Fondo wave that we were in, I felt that the aggressiveness was no longer there.  And most were there to enjoy the ride.  And enjoy we did!  Gerard, Kee and Kaye were lost somewhere out in the front early in the ride, and Kc, David and I remained close together.
The first water point at the 36km mark was the same one as yesterday's.  The three of us were visibly well.  Not much signs of fatigue detected amongst the boy.  Surprisingly, our tired muscles of yesterday held up well this morning.
36km water point, Kc blowing water out.
[Photo: Chris Goh].
We didn't take too long at the first water point.  Edwin was there to give some coaching advice. " Now that three of you are here together, for the remaining parts, just draft each other.  Should be easy," said he.  Now that's a great idea, I thought.  Ok. Let's do just that.  So David, Kc and I set off at a steady pace.  This Stage two saw us going at a much more comfortable pace, and the effects of this was apparent.  Heart rates were not particularly raised, cramps were at bay and smiles were often spotted.  Of course, this didn't mean that there were no rolling hills.  On the contrary, rolling hills were aplenty.  But hey, when you were in a fantastic, festive mood, everything could be overcome.
Such a lovely, cool weather with light rain on our heads.  How I had wished the day before was like this.

Looking cool at 36km water point.
[Photo: Chris Goh]
We subtly pedalled through good and wide roads of straight flats, and a newly erected bridge across a river.  Three of us took turns to pull.  The kilometres came and went easily.
I was thinking to myself: "Wow, this is easy.  It's just like another Eastern Loop left to the end point."
Complacency set in and I found myself spinning a little faster, a little harder.  And when I came to the coastal flats, I hummed at a steady pace,  confident that I would complete in a good timing.

As I cycled, I found myself seeing Sarah and her friends again and again.
At the 50km water point, Sarah came behind me and called out to me: "Hey, your friend is very good.  He is with us."  She was referring to David, who by then was cycling in their peloton.

David cheonging.
[Photo: Chris Goh]
I knew that there was always the danger of not drinking enough especially when the weather was cool and one didn't feel as thirsty.  So at every water point, the mandatory two gels and at least half a bottle of Promax + Glucolin went into my stomach.  There were so many offers of the famous Kueh Lapis held out by the nice young ladies at the support site.  But I just could not bring myself to eat them, though they looked really tasty.  I guess I just wanted to stick to my own planned nutrition to test it out.

The slopes were still coming at us, and as much as I'd love to spin, there were some where I was already at my lightest gears and had to give them that little bit of mash to make it up to the top.  They were essentially shorter ones.  During this tour, I found myself not really watching my power, as the climbs were short and sharp.  Yes, I would hit 300W+ just pushing myself up but the recovery downslope was what it took to get me ready for the next. 
I learned something on this tour - this type of terrain is very much like interval training - bursts of higher power, but in short runs.  I noted a reminder to myself to do more interval trainings when I am back home to prepare for the next Bintan tour.

Rear tyre puncture at 80km!
Me smiling away.
[Photo: Chris Goh]
I was really enjoying myself cruising along, when after a particularly gravel route along the coastal straights, at 80km, 3km shy of the next water point, I felt a softening of the rear tyre and found that it had suffered a puncture.  What a time to puncture.

Kc sped pass.  "Hey Wee How, you ok?"
"Yeah, man. Punctured a tyre lah. Don't worry. You go ahead. I will be with you very soon," I replied.

I lay down the bike on the side of the road and prepared to change the inner tube.  I ran my finger through the tyre but could find no nail, nothing.  So I proceeded. Frustratingly, the first inner tube that I replaced had some valve problem and I couldn't pump it up, in the process I wasted one of my CO2 canisters. Cursing inside, I took out the second inner tube, fit it in, and used my second and last CO2 canister to inflate it.  Well, looked good.
Me at the Coastal road, Stage 2
[Photo: Official Photographer]
At that point, the Shimano bike mechanic car came beside me.  "How are you? You have a punctured tyre?" asked the Shimano bike mechanic.
"Yah, I fixed it up aready. But my first inner tube is not working."
"Never mind, let me have a look for you," offered the kind man. "Hey, your tyre is not properly inserted into the clincher - it's bulging at the side here!"

"Oh wow.. luckily you found that out for me, thanks!"
He brought the wheel back to the car and fixed the whole thing up and re-pumped it for me.  
Boy, was I thankful that the Shimano boys came by.  They were really good. And I thought to myself, events like these really needed good mechanic support.  And Tour de Bintan certainly didn't disappoint in this aspect.

I spent 18 minutes on that puncture, and I surely was in a hurry to get back on track.  At the 83km and the last water point, I finished up my Promax and top up only half of my water bottle.  No point loading too much weight, I thought to myself, there was only about 20 odd kilometres left.  Should be able to complete in less than an hour. 

The remaining of the ride was essentially uneventful and nothing to shout about, aside from the loooong rolls of the last 5km back to the finishing point at Nirwana Gardens.  Man, I thought it was all over soon when I saw the '5km remaining' road sign on my left.  But the last stretch rolls were meant to drain one's last bit of energy. Haha...
I maneuvred through the tricky cobble-stone path of the circle just outside Nirwana, and did a good last sprint back to the end, only to find.... no one there, except Sean, Yi Peng and girlfriend sitting relaxly by one side.

"Well done!" they shouted out to me. "Now please go and collect your medal and return your bike to the Bike Depot."

Yah. What an anti-climax.  I didn't feel the elation I felt yesterday upon completing Stage one.  I guess life is like that.  Only when things got tough, then would one really treasure the accomplishment.  

Job done for Stage two and officially my Tour de Bintan ended.  Here is the Strava for this ride:

My Strava for Tour de Bintan 2013 Stage two

How did I feel about the organiser?

Despite the little hiccups here and there, and the fact that the organiser of Tour de Bintan was a for-profit organisation (who isn't?), and charged a little higher for the participants and without a cycling jersey, I would say they did a fantastic job.
$205 for a Gran Fondo Double - ok lah, I think don't let it go up too much, otherwise it might just end up as a Tour de Ang Moh Cyclists.

What a trip...!

The mad scramble to check-out of our hotel rooms before 1pm or risk being slapped with a late check-out charge (it was strange, wasn't it? Nirwana was the official hotel, yet the reception made everyone check out at 12pm, knowing jolly well that we started the ride at 8:20am and how could any one finish the ride and shower and all and yet check out at 12pm? Until today I still couldn't understand the logic.  Official hotel must be official hotel mah, right?), and soon we were comfortably seated on the ferry back to Singapore.
It was a terribly humbling experience for me.
I knew that although I said I was never going to do Tour de Bintan again, I was certainly going to eat my words and go back one day to attempt the tour again.
But till then, I had a lot more work to do.

A trip like this where we all suffered and experienced the agony together, would be etched in our collective memories and would pass down as an epic ride for the team.
Hopefully in time to come, more members of the team would join in and attempt Tour de Bintan.
Until then!