TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The Tour de Siak (TdSi) organizing committee apparently overlooked the weather factor while deciding to hold the event this September, the peak of the dry season that is dryer than usual due to El-Nino.
Since August 2019, Riau Province, where Siak District is located, has been hit by forest fires emanating smog that has blanketed cities and choked millions of people, especially infants and children.
In spite of the disaster, the organizing committee of TdSi decided to go ahead with the race held on September 19-22, 2019.
Some 54 cyclists, grouped in 11 domestic and foreign teams, are participating in the Seventh TdSi international cycling race.
The domestic teams comprise the BSP Siak Cycling Team, KFC Cycling Team, KGB Cycling Team, and Indonesia's National Team. The foreign participating teams constitute the Terengganu Inc Tsg Cycling Team of Malaysia, Global Cycling Team of the Netherlands, Velofit Team of Australia, Foolad Mobarakeh Sepahan team of Iran, Nex Cycling Team of Singapore, Kinan Cycling Team of Japan, and Go For Gold Team of the Philippines.
Bianka Zarco, an official of the Global Cycling team from the Netherlands, after arriving in Siak on September 18, remarked that his team had visited Riau to win, though soon came to the realization that the smog would pose a challenge and was concerned over its health impact.
“When there is a something new, there is a challenge. We are, however, worried about (our) health. However, we must face it. We will drink more water,” he stated.
Riau Governor Syamsuar had earlier expressed his support to holding TdSi despite haze emanating from forest fires in the province shrouding Siak District.
Haze in Siak was not as thick as that in Pelalawan District, the governor informed Antara while monitoring fire-fighting efforts in Pangkalan Kerinci, Pelalawan, Sept 17.
"Siak is different from here (Pelalawan). In Siak, it is bright," he pointed out.
"The team of PB ISSI (the Indonesian Cycling Federation) has informed me following a technical meeting with foreign teams that they have no objection if the race were to continue," he remarked.
However, the PGN Road Cycling Team (PRCT), a continental team from Indonesia, announced its withdrawal from the cycling race over forest fire smog.
Safety tops the concerns of the United Cycling International and PB ISSI, as foreign cyclists are participating in TdSi. Hence, the distance of the route has been reduced owing to the forest fire haze.
Initially, the cycling race would cover a route with a total distance of 542 kilometers (km) and be divided into four stages: Siak-Mempura-Dayun-Siak, stretching 128 kilometers; Siak-Bungaraya-Sungai Apit-Siak, 114 km; Siak-Dayun-Buatan-Siak, two laps, and spanning 160 km; and Siak City Race, eight laps, reaching 140 km.
The first stage, on Sept. 19, was shortened to 60 km, and the participating cyclists wore face masks to safeguard against the haze.
The Sumatra Ecoregion Development Control Center of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry noted that on Friday (Sept. 20), the air quality in Riau was categorized as hazardous.
In the second stage, Sept. 20, the Air Pollutant Standard Index over Siak reached 300, or considered hazardous, and once again, the distance was cut short, from 114 km to 84.9 km.
Nur Aminrul Fachruddin Mazuki of the Trengganu Cycling Team from Malaysia emerged as the winner in the first stage. Reno Yudha Sansaka from the Indonesian National Team won the second stage, but the yellow jacket remains with Malaysia's cyclist.
In the third stage (Sept. 21), the organizing committee decided to cancel the race after 20 kilometers into the event owing to thick haze in the region.
"Owing to the condition, I have taken this decision prior to a doctor's warning. The best step is to stop this race," Sondi Sampurno, the director of TdSi, stated.
The organizing committee had earlier held discussions over the condition of the field with PB ISSI. Later, they waved a red flag, and the cyclists had to turn back.
They planned to hold a meeting to discuss whether the fourth stage will be held as scheduled on Sunday (Sept. 22).
TdSi has been organized annually since 2013, and this year, it has been included in the national calendar of tourism events and in the calendar of the United Cycling International (UCI).
This is not the first time that the implementation of TdSi was hampered, as the race had to be canceled in 2015 also due to smog.
Taking a valuable lesson from this experience, Tour de Siak 2020 will be organized in October, which is the start of the rainy season, and the route will be expanded to cover nearly the entire area of Riau Province.
Siak District Head Alfedri was upbeat about the annual cycling race being able to promote his district internationally.
"We are optimistic of this sports tourism event facilitating the promotion of Siak on an international scale and attracting more tourists to visit Siak District," he remarked.
Siak District was once the center of Islamic sultanates in Riau, called Siak Sri Indrapura. The Siak Sultanate heritage, such as the palace, is still well-preserved up until now and has become a proud legacy of the Malay civilization for Indonesia.
Historical tourist attractions of Siak comprise the Sultan Mosque, Marhum Buantan Tomb, High Density Hall, Lake Pulau Besar, River Tourism and Agro Tourism, Sultan Syarif Qasyim Forest Park, Pompa Anggrek Monument, and Kato Ships.