A cyclist’s perspective on 10 years of the Tour de Bintan
Meet Peter Bennett, who has taken part in all of the Tour de Bintan events to date and quite competitively so. He is the perfect person for a retrospective, so we asked him how he looks back on 10 years of the Tour de Bintan racing and what makes him lining up year in, year out.
I arrived in 2009, thus, I am a long-termer to the island. My first bike race was when I was 16 hence the answer is “almost always” with an interlude when I was living in central London and ran marathons instead.
There was a single race on the calendar – the national championships. That was it. The popularity of cycling is now through the roof, whereas in 2009, I would have been lucky to see another cyclist on the roads in Singapore now I see them in herds. It’s great!
The thing I remember most is the atmosphere at the roadside when we went through the towns and villages. None of us were expecting to see hundreds of kids out cheering us on, so when we came across them, we felt like the Tour de France stars. At one point, I attempted to break away on my own just before coming back through Checkpoint Charlie and came across one such village where they were blocking the road on either side, screaming at the top of their little lungs. For a second…just a second…I was at the top of the Galibier, powering away to win the Tour. Brilliant! They still do that, so when it happens, remember to savour it.
On the one hand, it was really hard as our legs were exhausted from the previous day’s long stage, the morning’s short-and-sharp, and hilly, 80km stage. But on the other hand, it was the same for all of us and we were all tired. That meant the pace was much slower than normal. Plus, by that point, the yellow jersey was secured. So, the team with yellow just drilled it at the front, meaning attacks were very limited. The result was a bit of a dull race.
Changing the format to include the TT completely changed the dynamics of the race in a hugely positive way. By stage two – the long queen stage – there were jerseys to be defended and attacked, so working together as a team to do either became pivotal. It also meant that teams had to think tactically – would a rider go all out in the TT or save his legs for Stage 2? Or blast it and hope to get yellow then defend? It also meant a change of tactics in Stage 2. A long breakaway from the start would no longer work as the riders behind chase the overall General Classification. Finally, Stage 3, slightly longer and harder than before, meant yellow is never secured until the final hill coming back into the resort area.
I am officially the world’s worst criterium rider, but I loved this crit course as it had everything: uphills, downhills, fast corners, slow corners. When my category raced, we raced in a storm and then it dried up. It meant the winner of the crit (not me!) was a proper winner as he didn’t fluke it or just sit in for the sprint. But the logistics of getting back to the resorts was indeed a nightmare, so I understand the reluctance to re-include it. If you ever were able to conquer the transport, Metasport should think about it again.
I entered the highest category, ‘Category 1’, in those early years and rode mostly in support of my team. The race strategy changed as a result of the age categorisation. Teamwork became less of an emphasis as the big Singapore-based teams were split into different age categories and there was more of an atmosphere of ‘every man for himself’. For those in yellow, it was harder to hold as they didn’t have (as many) teammates around them to help defend. But of course, that meant those lying further back in the ranking had a chance to attack too.
I was worried about how this would pan out and whether the racing would be as good as before. Unnecessarily so, as it has actually made it better. The UCI qualification has attracted a lot more overseas riders, meaning the fields are bigger and the racing just as good, if not better. It also made it better for me, as I didn’t have to ride as a ‘domestique’ and consequently I have finished higher each year.
I qualified three times and travelled twice to the World Champs. To Varese in Italy in 2018 and Poznan in Poland last year. Both times, the atmosphere and occasion were amazing. Italians know how to put on a cycling show and having the occasion to race with literally hundreds of others from all over the world was a fabulous opportunity. Cycling is always a great leveler and so it was in the foothills of the Alps. Whether the rider next to you was from Chile, Russia or China, you were all climbing or descending the same hill together. There was a sense of compadre without a word being spoken. Poland was slightly less grand, but still had a huge sense of occasion about it. In both years, the pace of the peloton was unbelievably fast – 46kmph for the first hour in Poznan – so they were both great learning experiences too.
Are you kidding?! No chance! The rain last year made any conservative tactics like that go out the window. I was dropped once that day, got back on, ended up in the winning breakaway and finished third, but everything took place before Checkpoint Charlie (Ed. 25km before the finish) so by the golf course (ed. 10km before the finish), it was a case of hang on…or attack!
You bet. The Tour of Bintan has always been a race where heat management is so important; getting your drinks right, getting your salts right, eating well, avoiding cramp and so on. Last year, it was all about managing the rain: staying high in the bunch to avoid a potential spill and handling your bike well on the corners. It was a completely different set of skills than in previous years. But the rain also led to cooler temperatures and that made for a more attacking race on both road racing days.
It’s hard. It is always a challenge. This year will be my tenth, but that doesn’t mean it is going to be any easier. I will still have to train hard in order to complete and compete.
Stay in the bunch for as long as you possibly can. I think a big mistake first-timers make is saying to themselves “I’ll just ride at my own pace”. By doing that, you’ll burn more energy and make it harder for yourself in the long run than riding in a small group – and definitely harder than being on your own – is much, much harder than riding in a big group.
A second, related, mistake is saying to yourself “I’ll just ride at the back”. Don’t. That is a sure-fire way of getting dropped and ending up riding on your own. Ride as high up the peloton as you can. Be at the front, but not on the front.