A Race-cation Guide to the Ironman 70.3 Desaru Coast; The Best Bike Course in Asia
The 2023 race is the 2nd edition of the multisport festival in Desaru Coast as organized by Ironman Asia. It was moved in May after the inaugural was held in the last week of July. After covering the inaugural race, it immediately became one of the must-race triathlon events in Asia. This article will guide you on your travel options as well as a quick review of the race course. You will not get disappointed.
Desaru Coast is a coastal resort area in Southeastern Johor, Peninsular Malaysia. The small town of Bandar Penawar serves as the area’s transport hub.
If your local airport has a direct flight to Senai International airport, this is the fastest way to travel. Senai is only an hour drive from Desaru Coast. But flights are limited to cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, and Jakarta. For everybody else, there’s option 2.
Most Singaporean triathletes would drive to Desaru Coast and it is a good two to two and half hours to reach Desaru Coast, and it will largely depend on the immigration line at the SG-Malysia border.
For foreign triathletes wanting to race Desaru Coast, the most convenient is through Singapore via Changi airport and make a land trip to Desaru. This is by far the most convenient way to travel and reach the race venue, and depending on your budget, you may take the bus from SG, or via taxi or private car.
Your booked hotel in Desaru Coast may help you hire local Malaysian private transport contractors who can pick you up to Desaru and also drive you back to SG. This was how I travelled and based on feedback is the most convenient if you are flying overseas.
Here is a good detailed article on how to travel from Singapore to Desaru Coast.
The 90 minute ferry trip did not have good feedback from the athletes. Aside from being cost-prohibitive, after arriving via ferry, there still left a 30 minute drive to the venue.
Desaru Coast is around 390kms away from Kuala Lumpur so its a good 4-5 hours drive via the expressway or a 45 minute flight to Senai. Singapore’s Changi Airport is the most viable alternative if you can’t find a direct flight to Senai Airport.
WHERE TO STAY
Of course if you want it the most convenient, you stay at the race hotel. The Westin Desaru Coast Resort is the host venue partner, it is where the swim start, finish and transition areas are located. The nearby Hard Rock Hotel is also nearby. These are luxurious options but if you are on a budget, you could take a look at Lotus, Tunamaya and Tiara for cheaper options.
Desaru Coast is more than 20 kilometers stretch of pristine and beautiful coastline facing South China Sea. Despite the initial perception that it would be too touristy, the area is still relatively low key and is perfect if you want to get the most of your race-cation.
THINGS TO DO
Whether you are traveling alone, with your friends or family, there are more than enough activities to keep your stay fun and awesome and alternatively, if you want to keep it low-key and relaxed, the place can still give you the quiet and peace as it is still laid-back and not too crowded.
For those bringing their kids in tow, there’s the Desaru Coast Adventure Water Park and the Ostrich Farms. If you love nature activities, a trip to the fishing villages in Tanjung Balau and the Desaru Fruit Farm are top options.
And then there’s the food. At 40-50 RM or around 10 USD, you can already feast on affordable seafood as the town is coastal in nature. Keep it local and definitely there will be plenty of affordable but decent food options.
Race Course Review
We will review the main event of the multiport weekend and that is Ironman 70.3 Desaru Coast race.
Swim Course-1.9km (1 lap)
The race started with a rolling start process in front of The Westin Desaru Coast Resort beachfront. The course is a rectangular swim, and in a clockwise direction. The swim was relatively smooth except for some mild waves near the shore. Feedback from finishers were the presence of tiny shrimp-like creatures, or planktons. That’s open water swim for you and you will get through that.
The last 700m swim back was a hurdle for some, as they were fighting to keep it rightmost on waves that were coming from right to left. From the swim out is a good 200-300 meter jog to the transition area.
Bike Course- 90kms (2 laps)
Another 200m jog from the transition area greets the athletes from where the bike mount area is. The long transition is worth it as this is one of the best bike courses in the triathlon racing circuit in Asia.
What made the bike course pop out in this review is two things: First, the roads are silky smooth, almost perfect and immaculate road conditions. Second, the canopy of trees and vegetation is a welcome sight. With the sun barely out, the canopy provided shade to the athletes. It is truly a refreshing view. The Jalan Ladang Siang portion was taken out this year, so it’s all Jalan Desaru-Tanjung Balau roads.
Despite the terrain being rolling and undulating, there is nothing too hard for most trained triathletes, except for a few steep sections. A cassette with 27 or 30 at the back is more than enough. Despite that, the course is not technical and plenty of straight sections can give triathletes time to keep their head down and steady. I thought the course would feature some coastal views, but the roadside view of plants, trees and vegetation does not disappoint.
Course was well marked and plenty of marshals and police/security on hand to control the minimal traffic on the course. On my coverage, there was very minimal vehicle-cyclist interaction, and could say that the bike course was almost exclusive to the participants.
Run Course-21kms (3 laps)
Another long jog to the transition area greets the triathletes after the dismount area. As with any Southeast Asian race, it should be hot on the run course already, and this year, yes the heat was really on. Unlike last year when triathletes were given respite due to overcast conditions, this year, there were no cloud cover to speak of.
The course circled around the perimeter of The Els Club Desaru Coast – Ocean Course and the first kilometer greeted the triathletes with a refreshing welcome shade from the canopy of trees. Despite the scenic view, this is the challenging part of the race as it was hilly. One triathlete recorded a 500m total elevation on the run, based on 3 hills. The 3 loop run though made it more spectator friendly, with the athletes getting a boost with supporters nearby whenever they start a lap.
Despite the difficulty on the run, there were plenty of aid stations, food and everything the athlete needs, including ice and vaseline.
The Desaru Coast Multisport Festival is one of the must-race events in the Asian race calendar. The organization led by CG Lim and his crew is top-notch and the race course is one of the best in Asia.
The bike course conditions and the view is the best I have seen in my years of experience covering races in Asia. That’s why the Ironman 70.3 Desaru Coast is awarded the Best Bike Course in Asia in the Long Course category.
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