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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

Tour d'Indonesia, September 27 - October 6, 2004

1500 km of suffering - Part I (see Part II)

By Nathan Dahlberg

Two riders of the Marco Polo - Greenfields Fresh Milk team
Photo ©: Dji Sam Soe
Click for larger image

It was 14 years since the last Tour of Indonesia due to the financial and political troubles of that country but the 10 day $100,000 tour - third richest in Asia, was back on this year. We put together a very strong Marco Polo adventure team for the race. This included Stig Dam , recently second in the Danish National championships and a proven performer internationally and in Asia where he had a previous stage win in Tour of Langkawi. There was also Morten, a fellow Dane and Danish national team member and CSC stagiaire last year; Marco Polo's own Ben Robson, only 21 years old, but who was having a great season and in good shape having competed the week before in Hokkaido, Japan; and rounding off the team two Marco Polo old timers, Anno Pedersen and myself (Nathan Dahlberg).

One of Marco Polo's friends in Indonesia arranged a special sponsor for this event. It was Greenfield Fresh Milk, which also gave our team the name in this race. Special clothing was made in the colours and with logos from the sponsor.

Facing us were a mix of known top riders, Wong Kam Po of Hong Kong, who had just won the Tour of Hokkaido plus Iranian Ghader Mizbani, best climber in Asia and one of the best in the World, and the unknown. Those were the local Indonesians sure to be strong on their own turf, the Filipinos likewise in conditions very similar to their home environment, and the Kazakh riders employed by local team Polygon Sweet Nice, sure to be a threat as Kazakhs always are, especially with good money involved.

The race route consisted of long stages (over 1500 km of racing in 10 days with one rest day) and at least two major mountain days. We had employed Indonesian coach Puspita as our manager and his local knowledge was to prove invaluable. He advised us that the first stage - which looked savage on paper, rising from sea level to over 1600 metres in a 25 km climb after 140 km flat and culminating in a series of rollers to the finish - was even harder in reality than on paper.

We tested out the last 70 km of the course to the mountain summit in a training ride two days before the race start and it proved a very wise move. The climb was indeed a monster, rising in a series of steep pitches at the bottom, a long steady middle section, then a very steep last 9 km with the final 4 being in the out of saddle trying to maintain 8-9 km/h category. This was actually one big volcano, and what a cool landscape, but hard to enjoy it...Poor Anno who hadn't been out of flat Holland all year couldn't even make those last 4 km and gave upon the side of the road.

Having seen the climb and realizing just how decisive the first stage was going to be, we planed our race, although 9 days long, on this key stage. Being motivated to win the Overall and also Teams we initiated an offensive strategy from day one. We had no pure climbers so there was no point sitting around - our plan was to attack and rip the field apart if we could and put as much time between us and the climbers particularly Mizbani as possible. The hope was to eliminate them from the race and than we would work the others over one at a time as the terrain and distance suited us more.

Stage 1: Jakarta city to Lembang, 192km

Nathan Dahlberg in action.
Photo ©: Dji Sam Soe
Click for larger image

In true Marco Polo style we avoided the early morning police escorted convoy to the race start and left the cool of the hotel at the last minute. Our race started rather early as we dodged the heavy traffic climbed over crash barriers and train line overpasses to make the start exactly on sign-off close in 15 minutes before the start.

The warmup was worthwhile as despite the mass of traffic police escorting us, there was no controlling the local Jakarta drivers and as we raced out of town there was a constant series of 'in the traffic attacks'. The local Indonesians and Filipinos were used to this style of racing and while UCI commissar Jamal of Malaysia tried to control the race and neutralize it in the traffic a break of 10 riders slipped 2 minutes up the road.

The riders proved as uncontrollable as the traffic and it was over 40km after the start that things started to resemble a normal race and the international racers began to feel comfortable and safe enough to start racing. From than on there were a constant stream of attacks and in the heat this and the fumes from the city were already tiring many out.

The race started to break up after only 55km under the unrelenting pace and I found myself in a small group off the front. Soon, to my relief, I was joined by Stig and Morten, and with a number of other ambitious riders we put the hammer down. After 15km of chasing we caught the front and the pace in our group of about 25 never let up and we quickly put several minutes into the peloton. Stig and I were both riding well and very motivated especially as no Mizbani, nor Kam Po and only one Kazakh were in the front.

As usual with the break established the smooth working group disintegrated into a series of attacks, which was to last to the finish. After one of these attacks I found myself alone off the front with some 30km to go before the base of the climb. I decided to just go for it, almost a suicide tactic but at the same time it was the team's plan to rip the race apart and it took the pressure off Stig and Morten.

My lead at the bottom was still about 1 minute over a chasing group of 10, which had detached from the other leaders and it was some 7 km of climbing before the two leaders of that group caught me. Led by the strong Kazakh Vyacheslav Dyadichkin on a huge gear, and following him Amin Surayana (the no. 1 Indonesian present as TonTon Susanto had broken his shoulder). I hit the first really steep pitch up one of the numerous lava flows and struggled on my 25 sprocket - something which we had decided would be very advantageous after our reconnoitre two days previously.

The Tour de Indonesia
Photo ©: Dji Sam Soe
Click for larger image

At this stage the two rode away from me, although Amin dropped off soon after and I caught him back up. A few km later though, the earlier breakaway effort caught up with me and I bonked badly. Soon riders in ones and twos started passing me - fortunately Stig was one of the first to pass by and he was looking good! Despite eating food and Stig giving me some Energy Gel, all the energy had gone from my legs and I was just managing to maintain some sort of speed on the climb. Finally Puspita arrived with some of the magic drink called Coca Cola and the effect was almost instantaneous. Within a minute I re-found my rhythm and with still 9 km of the climb to go managed to re-pass most of those who had raced by me before. The first was the Kazakh who I had last seen almost an hour before on the lower slopes. He was now weaving and zigzagging all over the road, his Polygon team manager screaming encouragement to no effect.

The last 20 "downhill" km consisted of two steep 3 km climbs, adding to the severity of the stage with Amin brilliantly winning by over a minute from Stig with myself a further three minutes back in 3rd. The rest of the race straggled in up to an hour behind Amin who 'only' took 5hours 40 minutes to complete the distance in one of the most devastating races I've ever witnessed.

Stage 1 results

Stage 2: Bandung - Tasikmalya 125km

Stage racing is all about recovery and none more so than this tour. In the first Tour of Indonesia the American Subaru Montgomery pro team - precursor of US Postal - had complete control of the race for the first two days before all pulling out wasted, sick and dehydrated on the third, with a local rider going on to win. Morten, who had finished 11th on the first stage and had helped put our team in an almost 20 minute lead after the first stage on team GC, was a victim this time. The efforts of the first stage had cost him everything and he couldn't start, although fortunately the other four of us were fine.

Although this the second shortest day and had a number of testing climbs, nobody was overly keen to really race most of the field content with the efforts the day before. One who was to prove most aggressive throughout the race was Kazakh Yevgeniy Yakolev, and after dropping a small breakaway group with Ben in he went onto win solo after a stage long break.

Just behind the peloton roared in and unfortunately in a crash near the finish Stig's rear derailleur was torn off. This was to have big consequences the next day.

Probably the most interesting thing for us was that we had assumed command of the race. Although we didn't have the Tour leader, Amin was unwilling and his team incapable of riding at the front and it was Marco Polo controlling the race - a hard physical position to be in but a good psychological one!

Stage 2 results

Stage 3: Tasikmalya - Purwokerto 153 km

Ben Robson
Photo ©: Dji Sam Soe
Click for larger image

A hard 153km faced us this day and after a day's recuperation the attacks came thick and fast. There was no control whatsoever and soon a break of 10 riders had two minutes. At this stage, Amin and the other GC contenders were still managing to mark us, but as they had to watch two of us it was only a matter of time before something gave, and in the end Ben and myself got away in a chase group which soon caught the leaders. With several guys wanting to move up on classement (both individual and team) it was a high speed group. Bernard Luzon of the Philippines did a brilliant solo effort at the end to win the stage over our break which ended with a 7 minute lead from the peloton.

Our bad luck of the day was Stig whose rear derailleur sheared off a second time and as Puspita was following the break there was no spare bike for him and he ended up losing 16 minutes and all chance on the Individual GC.

I had expected that either Stig or I would be in yellow eventually, but after just 3 days I had a two and a half minute lead over Amin with almost six minutes back to third place Derek Wong of Hong Kong. With Ben in the break we were also in a great position on teams!

After the stage there was an epic bus transfer over a big mountain pass between two 3500 metre high volcanoes. It was a foretaste of the stage the next day that was to cross another mountain almost as bad as the first day, Puspita had warned us. It gave me plenty to consider with the new jersey in the bag.

Stage 3 results

Click here for Part II of the tale

For more information on the Marco Polo Cycling Club and its travels, visit: