Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The China experiment

A couple of weeks before Speedweek my DS asked me if I would be interested in going to China to race the Chongming Island Tour and World Cup at the start of May. If I would be interested? Well, of course!!! I've done World Cups in mountain biking before, but this would be my first road racing World Cup. Trying to organize a visa in time was nerve-wrecking but it all worked out fine and just in time.

After the last race of Speedweek I flew back to California where I had 10hours to quickly go "home", wash my clothes, repack and get back to SFO airport to fly to China via Korea. I arrived with my team late in the evening in our hotel on Chongming Island. Thankfully our mechanic (who was being harassed by the Chinese girls like a rock star) built our bikes, because the racing started straight the next day in the morning.

The Chongming Island Tour has 3 flat stages, on big straight roads, with few turns, and the team was riding in support of Shelley, our resident sprinter who had won the World Cup there the year before. It was funny, in the race book the profile was like a dead persons heart beat - exactly 3.5m above sea level.

Day 1 (passed by OK in good weather without any issues but also no results to write home about, it was a bunch sprint and we all stayed safe and arrived with the bunch. We were stared at by the locals a lot though, which was funny.

A bit dirty after Stage 2!

Day 2 was another flat day, but this time round in pouring rain. At least it was warm. I punctured less than 1km into the race with a big chunk of metal in my tire and had to chase back on. It took forever because I wasn't comfortable to cycling an inch behind the car, but I'm getting better. Then, trying to move up inside a corner, I had to brake and slid out on the wet, slippery tarmac. Thankfully I didn't take anyone else down and the bike was OK to ride, but I had to chase on again. Then, just after I had caught back on we got into a crosswind section and the pace went through the roof! Cursing myself for not having moved up further into the safety of the front I now had to fight tooth and nail to stay on that wheel in front in a peloton-long line out. Of course people let wheels go and I found myself in maybe the 3rd group on the road. Thankfully my teammates were in front, so I hoped they made it into the break. Our group chased hard to get back to the next group on the road, where I found 2 of my teammates, so only Shelley had made it into the break. Another group caught back on and the two big teams not represented in the break kept working hard in the front so that eventually they reeled in the break. A few crashes later (which I luckily avoided) it came down to another bunch sprint, with the front of the peloton coming down in a huge pile up just after the finish, where the surface was even more slippy.

Day 3 was a circuit race around the streets of the local village. We were going OK as a team, but couldn't finish it off in the last few and frantic kilometers, that included yet another crash. This was probably the closest I have raced within a peloton, with elbows and handlebars nearly touching, but it felt surprisingly safe.
Ready to go shopping in Shanghai!
After the last stage we spent some time in a market in Shanghai, haggling for handbags, shoes and watches.

View over Shanghai - it's a big city

Day 4: Recovery day and a nice ride around the island. It's a very organized island where trees are planted exactly the same distance apart.

Recovery ride with Cipollini

Day 5: World Cup. 130km or thereabouts in 40 degree heat. The start was in Shanghai, so we had a long transfer over from the island. The day was super hot. We all had our assigned tents and it was crazy how much media attention this event attracted. It was difficult to find a good time to put on chamois cream, without a camera filming, a microphone being pushed into your face or the riders being asked to pose for pictures. I've never experienced anything like this before. There was even a race helicopter! It was so hot we kept dumping water over our heads and put ice onto our necks and into our jerseys and helmets. My job during the race was to keep attacking, hoping to create a breakaway or at least to make some of the other teams work hard. I kept attacking left, right and center, but nothing stuck and I was chased down every time. Some other people were let go, but not me.

Another breakaway attempt
We had to go through an 8km tunnel, that was scary, then over a 10km bridge. I kept attacking throughout the race until the craziness of the last few km started. I hung back towards the finish, which was even more crazy today because someone at the front missed the correct turn and we went down the wrong road in the last km, had to scramble through a barrier and then start sprinting again towards the finish. It was chaos! For a race where everything else was organized so perfectly, it was unfortunate that this incident had happened.

Our Chinese translators - Roxanne and Sally or "salt and pepper" ;)

The next morning we were all back on a flight to California. Arriving back in California my short Chinese experience felt like waking up from a weird dream!
At the airport in Korea....
My results in China were:

Chongming Island Tour:
Stage 1: 65th
Stage 2: 57th
Stage 3: 62th
GC: 52th

Chongming Island World Cup: 77th

(Results found here).

I'll have two more blog posts coming up soon about my racing experience with Team TIBCO this year, covering my trip to Canada and the last few crits in the USA. Now I'll be resting up for the National TT champs tomorrow!

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