There are big races and then there are big races. And certainly, the Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) race in its many editions around the world are huge. Earlier this year, it was Bali's turn to host one of these editions. The turnout surely did not disappoint.
More than 1,400 cyclists were already fenced in between the metal barricades, eagerly awaiting flag-off early morning on race day. They came from 32 countries and regions around the world, all with the aim to ‘Be A Pro For A Day.” As the sun rose on the island, Bali kicked off the global cycling series this year to the mad clash of a gong. It would be the first time the race has run on the island east of Java.
Each cyclist in the crowd was clad in an eye catching green jersey, this time lined with the red and white of the Indonesian flag, as well as the trademark black and white of the island’s iconic chequered saput poleng. Tenne Permatasari, team leader in the GFNY Indonesia organising group told me later that it was a must, considering the location.
“When I proposed the colours, GFNY told me to just use red and white. But I said they will kill me,” she laughs as she reminisces the various meetings and discussions that led to this moment. Eventually a compromise was agreed on, with both national and island elements combined. Indonesia isn’t a stranger to the GFNY series however, since it was the first Asian country to host the event in 2016.
The Global Marathon Cycling Series has been held in Indonesia twice previously, in Bali's neighbouring island of Lombok in 2016 and 2017 respectively. This year the country appears twice on the GFNY calendar, with the first race of 2018 and the second race due to be held on the island of Samosir, Sumatra on Sept 3, the GFNY Toba 2018 Asian Championship.
For this year, these two events are the only Asian editions of the intensely competitive series, which are fast gaining popularity. The 1,400 plus throng of cyclists who signed up to race in Bali is a far cry from the 600 who took part in the first race in Lombok. Even the threat of an eruption from the majestic Mount Agung volcano did not appear to deter anyone. The volcano itself sat silently during the entire race weekend after weeks of activity, as if the gods themselves had given their temporary blessing for it to go ahead.
But after two successful years holding the race on Bali’s sister island, why the decision to shift the race? Clearly it was not an easy move choosing between the two, as both islands are special in their own right, and are unique from the rest of the Indonesian archipelago as a whole.
“It is very different to organise a race in Bali and Lombok. Lombok was the perfect location to start with a new Race Series: GFNY Indonesia. Bali sells itself. If we started in Bali maybe we could get too many participants for the beginning,” said Axel Moeller, GFNY Bali co-organiser. “We created a course that will give riders the chance to see the natural beauty of the island paradise. The first race in Lombok had very steep climbs up until 25 percent. Bali has a roller coaster section around Sidemen, after that a long climb up to Kintamani, but that part is not as steep.”
In the tradition of the great Italian Gran Fondos or “Big Ride”, GFNY Bali definitely does not disappoint. The event featured both a competitive and recreational route that started and finished in Sanur, winding through some of the island’s most beautiful locations.
The Gran Fondo or competitive route covers 142km of coastal and hilly roads, the highlight of which is a 1,350m ascent to the crater ring of the majestic Mt Batur volcano, with a spectacular view of Lake Batur. From the top of the volcano, riders get to enjoy a 40km descent, before powering through the last flat 20kms back to the finish line.
Meanwhile the recreational Medio Fondo route runs over 89km, with its fair share of breathtaking scenery and hill climbs, particularly up to Bukit Jambul. It may be the shorter route of the two with less climbing to do, but is not easy by any means. In total, both routes pass through the regencies of Sanur, Gianyar, Klungkung and Bangli, passing by many temples and running through villages, paddy fields, flower fields, tropical rainforest and hilly terrain. Without a doubt, Bali also gave the riders an extreme tropical challenge similar to that of Lombok.
Indonesian and Singaporean cyclists won their respective groups, qualifying for the GFNY World Championship round slated for May this year in New York, the United States. Singaporean Ernest Heng was the first to cross the finish line for the Medio Fondo route in two hours 56 minutes and 29 seconds, followed by his wife Colleen Ang.
In the Gran Fondo category, Indonesian Juwanto won the race in four hours seven minutes and five seconds, with fellow Indonesians Aryanto Nugroho and Candra Dauna Utama completing a clean sweep of the podium for the country after an intense sprint battle at the end. In the women’s Gran Fondo category, Indonesian Gia Amalia came in first ahead of Singaporean Christina Liew and Taipei’s Stelle Chen He.
From the 600 who took part in the first GFNY Lombok in 2016, the races in Indonesia have registered steady growth. The second edition in 2017 saw 900 riders take part, and this ballooned to about 1,400 in Bali.
“Have a look in the social media to get your own impression. We are very happy. Our dream for Bali had been 2,000 participants, but the eruption of the Gunung Agung end of November last year was a disaster for Bali and the tourism industry,” Axel continues. It’s a good job well done for the organisers of the race, based on the feedback from the participants.
Even Indonesian Cycling Federation President Raja Sapta Oktohari, who also took part, is pushing to have the event recognised by the Union Cycliste Internationale. Thanks to strong government backing and police support, GFNY Bali went smoothly despite only partial road closures, with only some minor accidents that always accompany an event of this magnitude.
Upon completion of the event, it was promptly announced that there would be another GFNY Bali in 2019, on February 24th. There are obviously big plans for the next one. “We are optimistic to get 3,000 participants after the very good feedback of the last race,” Axel reveals.
It’s still unclear how many changes will be made to the route for next year. For 2018 however, the following GFNY Indonesia is the GFNY Championship Asia 2018 in North Sumatra was on September 2nd.
The distances were slightly longer than in Bali, namely 107km for the Medio Fondo and 152km for the Gran Fondo. It was yet another stunning race course circumnavigating the Samosir island on Lake Toba. It was certainly another irresistible test of both mental and physical strength and endurance for cyclists, who then have the privilege of counting themselves as part of the GFNY family.