After the Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen was wrapped up, we spent the next day relaxing as a team, including a trip down to the beach to see some baby sharks before getting ready for a late night (or early morning) departure to Bali at 2am via bus – the trip from Ijen to Bali Airport turned out to be close to eight hours!
By the time we arrived we were pretty tired and even though I’m not normally a Starbucks Coffee fan, it was sure nice to indulge in some western food and coffee for a change! We eventually departed Bali’s domestic airport bound for the Island of Flores and were greeted by lots of people and a fairly awesome performance of music and dance from the locals. Following even more ceremonies, we made it to bed by 2am – yes a whole 24 hours after leaving Ijen!
After a few hours sleep on what felt like a wooden door we had brekky and waited till around 1:30pm for another ceremony over lunch. Once completed all the teams made their way by convoy to the town where Tour de Flores would start – only 140km away, however it would take six hours in the car.
After a good sleep, the team awoke to see our bikes for the first time in three days (they were transported by boat from Ijen after we finished the race there). Once they were built and brekky was eaten we rolled out for a small and easy (although it felt hard and terrible) ride for a hour or so before relaxing at the hotel for the remainder of the day.
Stage one, 140km.
We’d already driven most of stage one the previous day on our way to the start village and I’d seen enough to know that it would be a hard day. The stage was hilly, windy and would have one big Cat 1 climb in it.
Around 10km into the stage a break formed and established around a one minute lead. This grew to two minutes as the break neared the top of the Cat 1 climb (around 60km into the stage) but it was reeled back on the descent and, by the bottom, it was reduced enough for the breakaway group to be back in sight and ultimately caught.
From there, several moves tried to go and eventually with around 60km left to race a group got clear. I managed to bridge across to it. With 14 of us in the break, including my KRD team mate Mwangi, we had to encourage the other riders to share the workload. Our lead ballooned over the next 40km – with 15km remaining, we had nearly a six minute lead over the peloton. I tried a few times to get away but always was closely marked and followed.
With 2km to go it was still all together up front and Mwangi got a gap with 1.5km remaining. I watched as he grew his lead heading into 1km to go but then the other breakaway riders started to chase him. With 500m to go, Mwangi was caught and it was going to be a sprint finish.
Negotiating a right hand corner with 300-400m to go the sprint was on and I was in a good position. I managed to get a good wheel and, after sighting the sign announcing 100m to go, I knew it was time. Crossing the line with arms in the air was a good feeling – I’d won the first stage of the the first ever Tour De Flores and in the process would wear the GC leaders jersey as well as take the lead in the Sprint classification. A great day for myself and my team.
Stage two, 140km.
With hilly terrain the team plan was to go out and defend my GC lead. Within the first 10km of the start we let a small group go up the road and set into a rhythm on the front of the peloton. Around the 40km mark down a descent we lost one of our riders who went off the road. We waited for him and, after seeing him briefly appear, the next minute he had disappeared again due to a double puncture. We then lost another rider due to another puncture and were down to two guys, Suli and Mwngi, pacing the peloton along for me.
It was then onto the biggest climb of the day – a 20km slog – and with 50km to go the attacks came thick and fast at the bottom, breaking up the peloton. I was distanced at the bottom and could only apologise to my team car as it went past me. I tried to ride a bit harder and the next minute I know I was run off the road by another team car. From that point, I rode with a bit of anger to catch that team car for the next 10km and the hill went fairly quickly! Before the summit, I had caught up to the front of the peloton including my two team mates. We went over the top of the climb and started the descent down to the finish for the next 30km or so.
Our group of around 18 riders were riding quickly to reduce the time gap to the breakaway that was still ahead. With just over 15km to go down a descent and around a right bend I double punctured. After negotiating the right bend I then had a left bend to get around but at around 70kph things happened so quickly and the next minute I found myself laying in a drainage ditch on the side of the mountain, feeling a bit worse for wear with mud and blood everywhere. Having my team car stop and check that I was alright I decided to ride to the finish of the stage.
Rolling in to the finish we had lost the GC lead and there were three riders including myself tied on the sprint points lead. No matter what happened on the stage I couldn’t be more proud of the way my KRD team mates rode for me.
Stage three, 124km.
Waking up to a swollen face and a sore body wasn’t the best feeling, but I decided to start the third stage. I would wear the sprint classification jersey for the day and also wanted to be there for my team mates.
The stage started and three riders quickly went clear. They had close to a minute lead so then I decided to go across to them and take a team mate, Jeff with me. We made it across to the break and made it a five-man group. Working away, I took the first sprint prime of the day, then took second on a climb and by the time we got to the next sprint (which was half way up a H.C. climb – huh??!!) the five-man group was in pieces and I had to settle for 2nd in the sprint.
Nearing the top of the HC climb, I was caught by the riders fighting for the GC. Following closely behind in the second group were two of my team mates. For the remainder of the climb I pulled on the front for them and then with 500m remaining my job for the day was done – or so I thought. After travelling at over 80kph on the descent, I could see I was gaining ground back on my team mates and their group. I caught up with them and, with 10km remaining, I TT’d on the front of the group to reduce the time between their group and the leading group for the next 8km. Upon finishing, I had also taken back the lead in the sprint classification.
Stage 4, 138km.
The stage on paper looked to be tough and with my body feeling the way it was I didn’t want to start. Waking up to an even more swollen face but still leading the sprint classification I decided to start the stage and pull out.
Normally as a cyclist I wouldn’t pull out of a race – I even remember a time when I had torn my abductor muscle on the second day of a five day tour and couldn’t walk but somehow continued to race. But as I’ve gotten older and wiser I knew it was sensible to pull the pin on the race as there are much bigger objectives later in the year. I enjoyed watching the rest of the race from the team car, helping out with mechanicals and supporting my team mates. It was an experience I think all riders should have as you realise how many riders are or aren’t playing by the book so to speak. A lot of riders were holding onto cars up the hills or having sticky bottles as we call them.
All in all Flores was an interesting but good race – however I was disappointed to know that not one single drug test was carried out during the event on the riders. Being a UCI-sanctioned race it is a real joke there wasn’t any testing done – especially given the questionable performances we’ve seen in the Asia Tour.
Looking forward now I get to enjoy a normal life again for a good period of time before I make my debut in one of the biggest races on the UCI Asia Tour and one of the biggest races on my team’s calendar for the year – the 2.HC Tour of Qinghai Lakes!
Thanks for reading,