It seems remarkable that a country with an estimated 244 million people and annual sales of 7,000,000 bicycles doesn’t have at least one permanent professional road cycling team, but this is exactly the situation Indonesia had been in until recently, when assistance in the form of Ireland’s Cycling Federation came along.
During what has become a routine mining of the UCI’s team database for a pre-season analysis of registered teams, it appeared Indonesia’s ‘Polygon Sweet Nice’ (PSN) squad had been registered as a UCI Continental team in Ireland. At first glance, it’s puzzling: where is the connection between Ireland and Indonesia? Fortunately, PSN’s founder and manager, Sastra Harijanto Tjondrokusumo – who also happens to be the race organizer of the UCI2.2-ranked Tour of East Java – was happy to explain. Here’s the story, beginning with a little background on the team and road cycling in Indonesia, in his own words.
THE LOCAL SCENE
Road cycling is gaining more popularity in Indonesia in recent years, especially with men. Women will usually ride mountain bikes because it’s more comfortable for them; however, the percentage of female road cyclists has improved from last year.
The real hot spot for road cycling in Indonesia would be the mainland, Java. The cycling community is getting bigger each year and lots of executive teams are popping out; for example, SRBC, the biggest executive cycling community in East Java.
Coffee stops are not a habit in Indonesia, but some people do. People will go straight to a traditional food stall to have their lunch after a ride. The daytime temperature in Indonesia is very hot (37-42°C) so lots of riders don’t like to hang out in the sun for a long time after a ride. We can watch the Tour de France only through cable TV (which shows Eurosport). Cycling is not quite as popular as soccer in Indonesia so the local TV station doesn’t broadcast the Tour de France, at least for now.
Most of the Indonesian racing calendar takes place in Java and usually the dominant teams of Indonesian road cycling are from Java (East Java, West Java, Central Java, Jogjakarta, Jakarta) too. Teams outside of Java come to Java for training and racing, too.
Indonesia has quite a lot UCI road cycling races: Tour of East Java, Tour of Singkarak, Tour of Indonesia, Tour of Ijen, and Tour of Jakarta. This year, Tour of Singkarak becomes a 2.1 race [Cycling iQ: this is not yet ratified by the UCI, as Tour of Singkarak is still currently ranked UCI2.2] making it the biggest UCI road cycling event in Indonesia. My event, Tour of East Java, is the most consistent UCI race in Indonesia; run from 2005 until now without absence from the UCI calendar.
We don’t have a national championship every year, or an official cycling site about cycling results in Indonesia, but we have a national championship included in the biggest Indonesian Sports event, PON [Cycling iQ: Pekan Olahraga Nasional or National Sports Week], once every four years. It is the biggest non-professional road cycling event in Indonesia. Riders from all over Indonesia will compete with each other to make their province the best. Tonton Susanto is the most consistent (professional) rider in Indonesia, and there are more than 20 competitive teams.
In Jakarta, Bandung, and Surabaya, there are some shops which sell high-end road bikes. But mostly, they don’t have a big stock so people usually need to order them first. Most people would just buy the bike from Singapore or an online store, and even order by themselves directly to the factory. I spend quite a lot in Chain Reaction Cycles. Tax in Indonesia is quite heavy (35% tax, if the price of the item is more than $50) which makes people think twice before buying anything from a (foreign) online store.
It’s easy to say that Polygon is the most popular bike brand in Indonesia. Most people in Indonesia will talk about Polygon if they think about buying a bike. They are quite cheap and reasonable for high-end carbon frames, but with competitive quality. Pinarello, Specialized, and Cervelo are quite famous in Indonesia too. [Cycling iQ: Polygon is the house brand of Indonesian bicycle manufacturer, Insera Sena, which produces approximately 700,000 units annually, including major OEM brands]
POLYGON SWEET NICE TEAM
The original name of this team was “Sweet Nice”. It’s the name of my jam company and the riders consisted of my family (brother in law, nephew and some childhood friends). At first, this team was only a fun bike team. We started in 1992 and became a competitive team in 1993. In 1998 Polygon became one of the main sponsors of the team and, starting from that point, we have done a lot of international races until now. Polygon and Sweet Nice are the main sponsors, but we still trying to get other sponsors to help the growth of the team.
THE IRISH CONNECTION
There are two reasons why we chose to register the team in Ireland. First, we have no support from the Indonesian Cycling Federation (ICF). For the last two years, PSN couldn’t be a Continental team because of problems within ICF. They didn’t give us any recommendation to the UCI to be a Continental team for some unknown reasons. It is really frustrating; ICF kept trying to hold my team back despite it being the only team able to compete at the highest level.
We actually would like to help Indonesian riders to go international now, and this is the second reason for our registration in Ireland. I talked to David McCann about the team’s problem and he introduced me to Ryan Sherlock and Ireland Cycling. We hope that, by registering the team in Europe we have the chance to compete not only on the Asian racing calendar again but also European races. [Cycling iQ: almost half of the Polygon Sweet Nice roster is comprised of Irish riders, including Sherlock, and the team. Irish-born McCann formerly of RTS Racing, is now riding for Azerbaijan's Synergy Baku Cycling Project].
By becoming a Continental team, we could get access to more UCI races, especially 2.1 and 2.HC. I would like to give Indonesian riders the opportunities to race professionally with other Asian and European riders – especially with ProTeam riders – with a belief that one day, one of my riders will become a real professional and even join the ProTeam ranks. I hope someday, Indonesians will be able to participate in World Championship, Olympics, and Grand Tours. Until now, there are no Indonesian riders who participate in those events. Two Indonesian riders participated in the 1992 Olympics, but on the track, not the road race.
To tell you the truth, Indonesia is far left behind in almost everything. However, that’s because Indonesia Cycling lacks people with integration and dedication to truly develop cycling in Indonesia. The most important thing for Indonesian Cycling to develop is finding the right people to run the organization without political intention or gaining profit; (they should) purely work only for the cycling passion.