Prologue: Tiny Indian dudes can't TT...(yet!)
The 12km course was momentum sapping with cross winds and false flats on the way out. That didn't stop Tjarco Cuppens (Fuji Asia) from smashing his way to yellow in 16:27. Biting at his heels was Colin Robertson and Dave Christenson -- both of DirectAsia.com [facebook.com] -- at 16:46. DirectAsia put the bulk of their squad in the top-15. This was great fore-shadowing of the control they would wield over the peleton over the rest of the race.
|Lokesh (Specialized Kynkyny) heading down the start ramp. He covered the 12km course in 18:03 for 24th on the stage. Image by Venkatesh Shivarama|
I put down a 17:41, theoretically enough for 16th on GC, at 1:14 from Tjarco. I say theoretically, because in reality, my race ambitions had turned stone cold on the start line. All because I wasn't made aware that I needed to run my 5 year old, 11 kilo, aluminium Specialized Allez, with over 80,000 kms on it, through bike weigh-in. Never mind that I was given permission to start my TT by the race director, who was aware that I hadn't got a chance to weigh-in. Also, set aside the fact that I probably had the heaviest bike in the peleton. When results came out that evening, I found out I was relegated to dead last, being docked 5 minutes. So, I spent 3 months of my season building up to Bintan and I spent the rest of the race convincing myself that the GC was sour grapes.
|I ended up with a top-15 time, but was relegated to dead last. Image: Adapted from TdB official Prologue results|
Stage 1: Rolling in and out of cramp city
The 150km course looped around the island and dished out a little bit of everything -- forested rollers, red hills, coastal flats, narrow sinuous rollers, urban fanfare, filler miles, more hills and a rehash of the first 20kms (except this time under the slickness of a tropical downpour). Unlike in engineering school, I had actually done my reading for Bintan and it clearly said: early breaks have a high probability of success, so be in it. The bunch knew this too, and so the queen stage turned out to be an all out melee. Everyone and their mom kept attacking to get separation, but it was all for naught. The rule of the day (and the tour) proved to be this: One does not simply ride away from DirectAsia (DA, for short).
Heading due east, the first 22km featured a bunch of frazzled breakaway attempts. On the run in to the first KOM, at 28km, Lokesh (Specialized Kynkyny) was the first to jump. He was pipped at the line by Mike Maiers (DA). Tjarco (Fuji Asia) put in a couple solid digs and I marked him with intent every time, only to be shut down by DA. When was this supposed "break" supposed to happen?
Due south, and on to the flat coastal section, a couple half-hearted attacks kept the peleton semi-strung out. Cat6-esque gaps were opening up in the back with people failing to figure out the neutral moto drink support. Having enough of that, I went to the front and signaled our boys to move up. Right then, Dipankar Saikia (Specialized Kynkyny) marked a surge by Jason Baran (DA) and the two were joined by Mark Scoular (Unattached). This ended up being the longest break of the day and the most steady 30k of the race. I sat 5th wheel as a Maverick, two mustachioed Cannasian Movember-ers, and a thousand Michel Velasco's (Fuji Asia) did their turns. The escapee's were reeled in around the 90km mark, by no small effort on Michel's part.
I've learnt, that if you aren't able to recall what happened in a race, you were either: (a) way off the front, (b) too far out the back, or (c) were turning yourself inside out to stay with the field that your senses had shut down. Around the half-way mark, some cranky cramps kicked in and I soon found myself categorically experiencing (c). Every time I'd hit the back, I saw our team director, Vivek, still in the race. I kept telling myself that if he can make and sell classy furniture, father a brood, run this team, all while training 2 days a week, then I was going to have to chew some handle bar tape and get back in it. It helped that half the field was cramping with me, including the yellow jersey!
We were now out of the capital, Kijang, on the far southern end of the course, making our way back North. At around 98km, Loki (Lokesh) asks me to lead him out for the 2nd intermediate sprint at 103km. I tell him I'm in no shape to lead out, but I can string it out and he'd have to stay on sprinter wheels. Just then, Laxman (Specialized Kynkyny) solo's off the front. A disinterested peleton let's him roll. That works great: Laxman dangles, sprint approaches, peleton closes, DA/Fuji leads out, Loki takes it. Nope! Laxman holds of the charging field, takes maximum points and it's grupo compacto.
Past the 110km mark, what starts out as a hunt for KOM points ends up changing the face of the race. Dave McIntosh (DA) solo's off. Dave gets the seperation everyone's been trying for all day. This time it's different though, as the peleton isn't taking it lightly and is hurting in its chase. Sensing the peleton's pain, Heksa Priya (ISSI Tanjungpinang) -- last year's winner and canny tactitian -- hits out. Mike Maiers (DA) is there too. Meanwhile, Dave (DA) snipes maximum points at the KOM. The peleton has no snap left and switches to if-you-can't-bridge-up-to-them-then-neutralize-them mode. DA is in the drivers seat. The yellow jersey is cramping and DA must realize this. At 126km, Colin Robertson goes all carpe diem and makes the GC winning move, marked by Peter Hope (Fuji Asia). At this point, only Alan Grant and Richard Paine (both of, Confero Mavericks) realized that this was the move worth anything and had the legs to do something about it.
|The yellow jersey of Tjarco Cuppens (front right) and Lokesh (center, red bike) in the dash for the line under a torrential downpour. Image credit: Tjarco Cuppens|
The next 10km saw several valiant, but unceremonious attempts to break free of the peleton by Lokesh, Heksa, and Specialized Shanghai. In the last 10km, right as I was about to melt into a puddle of brown and red, the skies opened. The peleton did well to keep it upright. Loki sprinted to 5th in the bunch and 9th on the stage.
|Lokesh (Specialized Kynkyny) was 5th in the field sprint for 9th on the stage. Image: Adapted from TdB Stage 1 official results|
As a team, we went into the stage a little disillusioned -- our lack of experience, telling a little. At the end of the day, we ended up with a 9th on the stage (with Lokesh), Laxman (unwittingly) ended up in a 3-way tie for the Sprint jersey, Dipankar infiltrated the day's longest break, and we (by our own measure) rode an aggressive race. On to the next!