UCI 2.2 Tour de Singkarak

It only felt like a few days, but one week after returning from the Tour of Japan, I set off to the airport to meet my teammates once again and travel to our next race, the UCI 2.2 Tour de Singkarak in Indonesia.
Our staff for the tour included director Steve Price, mechanic Sean Hurley and our swanny for this tour, Margo. A lot goes on behind the scenes and we have the easy roles, racing our bikes and enjoying recovery either side of that. The team staff work late nights to ensure bikes are clean and that our bodies are finely tuned ready for the next day’s race. Their work is something we appreciate and couldn’t compete so strongly without. I recovered well post Japan and was ready to challenge the competition in Singkarak. Our first task would be not only to win stages, but to also try and out muscle some of Asia’s strongest continental teams competing on the UCI Asian Circuit for a general classification result. 138 riders started the 2014 Tour and it wasn’t long before that number significantly reduced. The humidity, along with the course profiles made for some harsh racing early on, with at least 20 riders not making it through to stage three of nine.
The first few stages were rather fatiguing on the body, coming from an Australia winter and racing in the Asian humidity can be quite hard to acclimatize to and I found it difficult to adapt in the early stages. In the 98.5km stage one, not catching the breakaway was our biggest mistake. We chased but the gap was too big and the timing board moto wasn’t giving us the time splits we needed. In the end, the boys rode strong and I won the bunch sprint for 10th, but it wasn’t what we were there to achieve. Our hotel for the evening was nice, very modern and spacious; with teammate and New Zealand time-trial champion Taylor Gunman my roommate for the first night and the remainder of the tour.
Stage two got off to a fast start with a four kilometre climb testing the field straight after the neutral section before the actual race start. It was another hot stage, which started on the Equator Line, adding some extra media attention. On the category two climb, eight kilometres was all it took to split the field with the yellow jersey Iranian team pishgaman controlling the race and riding away with a convincing victory. Teammates Matt Clark, Tom Robinson and Sam Davis made what was left of the front bunch, some minutes down from the leaders. Another solid stage three saw teammates Matt and Jack Beckinsale finish 10th and 13th respectively. I found myself surviving the stage in the company of Mitch Lovelock-Fay and Taylor who worked hard to get me through. We enjoyed the post race lunch party on offer after every stage, and then set off to our hotel for some recovery ahead of stage four. On the first mountain top finish of the tour, stage four was set to be a stage suited to our best climber, Matt. The early stages in the race saw us stamp our authority behind the race leading teams to position ourselves well near the front of the bunch. Matt was supported well by the whole team all day and it was great to see him mixing it up with the Iranian’s. When going up the ‘Kelok 44’ switch back climb, Jack and Taylor set the tempo for me. Like the days prior, my heart rate was elevated on every climb due to the weather and it was not only a physical, but a mental battle to just get to the top. 8.7km’s at 7.8% was solid, however some wild monkey’s and the view overlooking the Maninjau Lake may have slightly eased the pain of the climb itself. Matt was our best-placed finisher with a very respectable sixth place on the hard stage. Sam Davis spent a lot of time pacing Matt and it was great to see Matt place as the first non-Iranian rider on the stage - a win in our books.
On the podium for sign-on and team presentation on stage five, an Indonesian woman who was from Melbourne cheered us on. It was nice to meet an Aussie who seemed very passionate about our team, but after a few group photos in front of our team bus, it was time to load up on Torq Nutrition product and line up on the start-line. Only a 10.9 kilometre climb at 3.2% would stand in our way today, with a flat finish to Singkarak Lake concluding the 102km stage. I made it over the climb, which was broken up and relatively easier than we expected, before preparing for a bunch sprint as the boys began to ride back the early breakaway. The fast tailwind to the finish had the boys flying along at 50kms/hr + but we fell short by 30secs and I finished eighth. It was disappointing but we set our sights on the next stage and made the most of our post race recovery. Spending time with the guys on Tour when away from home is always good bonding and we all had a great time, making plenty of great memories to be shared in the future. From funny racing stories post stage, to bus drivers and translators that loved a laugh or two, the tour vibe was very enjoyable. On stage six, another opportunity looked set for Jack and I who, if able to make it over the final climbs, would have an opportunity for a sprint. The climbs were hard, the last one especially, only short but at 7.6%, it sorted the strong from the weak. Sam rode very strongly to follow the move, which landed him in the breakaway. His group was caught with 10km’s to go, and then we chased the three leaders and once again fell 30secs short of victory. A textbook lead-out from the guys helped me win the bunch sprint for fourth; a small consolation for the strong lead-out, proving we all had the strength in the sprints.
In the morning of stage 7, we had a very early wake up at 4:30am ahead of our one-hour bus transfer to the stage start at 7:30am. The 165km stage was going to be a big day, but we were all prepared for the task ahead with a potential stage win on the cards. I felt very good, both mentally and physically, distracting myself by listening to my favorite music and playing Checkers on my iPhone on the way there. Our team plan was pretty straightforward, bring the breakaway back before the finish line to set it up for a bunch sprint. The pace was fast until the right formation of riders were allowed to ride away from the bunch, which was heavily controlled by the leading Iranian team Pishgaman and ourselves. The stage profile was simple too, mostly flat roads with only one 4.4km category four climb at the 30km mark. With the break gaining an advantage of out to four minutes, our ‘driver’ Sam joined in the chase and along with a few riders from the other sprinters teams, the time gap gradually reduced. With 20km to go, our second last lead-out man in the train, Tom, got a flat tire! But by the 15km to go mark, we were all back in formation racing at speeds of 50kms/hr plus. The break was caught with less than 10 kilometres to go and despite being challenged by team Japan, everything was going like clock work. Some big turns from Sam, Matt and Taylor left Mitch to power us home from two kilometres to go. Tom took over from 1km to go and Jack drilled it perfectly to drop me off at 200 metres to go.
At this point, I was scanning both sides until I saw fellow sprinter, a.k.a ‘the bulldog’, Sahrabi, step out on my right. I stepped out alongside him and we dragged raced for 50 metres until I turned on the afterburners and sprinted away to celebrate the win by a comfortable bike length. We had done it, a stage win for Avanti, our plan worked to perfection!!! I was over the moon and delighted to cross the line first for not only the team and our sponsors, but also my teammates who’d worked hard all day. Teamwork wins races. Stage eight was a stage of survival, with the time cut being our biggest threat on the day. The 167km stage included an 11.3km at 8% catergory one climb and a 10km 4.5% category two climb. Once again, Matt would be right up there at the pointy end, with Jack, Taylor, Mitch and myself toughing it out towards the back few groups on the road.
Following the longest stage of the Tour, we had the longest transfer of 175km from the finishing location to Padang to complete. It was a late evening, not much recovery, but I played the mental game and kept my focus ahead of the final stage where we were hoping to get another win. When we arrived at the hotel Ibis, a good bed, shower and wifi was our reward for the long day in the saddle and the seat. The final stage of the Tour began with a two hour transfer to the start line, followed by a lunch party with a buffet meal for all riders. The team vibe was great, we’d had such a good week together, everyone was getting along well and an opportunity still awaited us at the finish, so we were all pumped up. Two category four climbs of two kilometres and 3.3 kilometres respectively were the only speed humps in the stage today, which finished on a fast and open circuit around the main streets of Padang. In similar fashion to stage seven, the breakaway of four riders went up the road and the guys controlled it superbly. Once we hit the finishing circuit, four laps of the 5.7km loop remained and the crowds were huge. The course was lined with people and it was really cool to be supported by my teammates, showing the dominant blue and orange Avanti colors at the front. I was hungry, motivated and determined to get it done and nothing fuels my aggression more than seeing my teammates bury themselves on the front in the closing kilometers. The lead-out was strong and despite being challenged by other teams, the boys held their own and powered away with 1.5km’s to go. Sam, Taylor and Matt had done their job, the breakaway group was caught and it was up to Mitch, Tom, Jack and I to finish it off.
We rounded the final corner, only 500m to go, Tom on the front with Jack about to surge past into the headwind finish straight. I left it late, as the headwind would catch you out if you went too early. Skydive-Dubai rider Soufiane Haddi kicked with 200m to go and he got a gap but I waited behind Jack, ready to explode. Once I kicked, all eyes were on the finish line and I flew past Haddi to take our second win on the final stage and celebrated with the boys shortly after, surrounded by media and spectators.
The tour couldn’t have ended any better for us and we were pleased with the hard work that went into achieving two stage wins. Overall, Matt finished a very respectable 11th on the general classification and so much experience on and off the bike was attained. Thank you to our team staff, Steve and Sean for their devoted time spent ensuring our bikes and gear were always ready to go. Thanks also to Margo for the Massage’s we received. We couldn’t have been so successful without our supportive sponsors, so we appreciate your contributions to the Avanti Racing Team as we continue to get results on the board for 2014. Special thank you to my Mum and Dad, brothers, girlfriend, extended family and friends for your encouragement and financial backing to see me continue to achieve my goals. My next race is the NRS Tour of the Murray, which starts on the 29th July. Keep posted for my next blog report. Safe riding, cheers Brenton


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