Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

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Back to the roots

Calbee Tour de China, July 23-26, 2001

By team director Anno Pedersen

An elite team of Marco Polo members went back to the roots of Marco Polo himself. The Calbee Tour of China (in Inner Mongolia and the Gobi Desert) was on the Marco Polo Cycling Club program, so the team traveled from Europe to China, only this time we did it a lot easier than our hero: we took the plane.

The team consisted of five riders from the Netherlands and our team captain and club president Nathan Dahlberg from New Zealand. The other riders were: Casper Helling, Andries Bosma, Raymond Raadtgever, Rob Conijn and Dennis Hammink. Hammink is a fast sprinter and potential winner of mass sprints. Like Dahlberg he has a lot of international experience.

Nathan had a good preparation program. After doing the Tour of South China Sea (Hong Kong), Tour of Rhodes (Greece), Sea Otter and Redlands (USA) in the early season he went to the Tour of Maroc intending to win and so he did, beating six trade teams. After this he went to Turkey and then flew home to take some rest. Then back through the USA, training and gaining form in the Cascade Classic, passing through the Netherlands (three days, two fast wind races) he arrived in Beijing the second big objective of the season.

The team had four days in Beijing to get used to the time difference and changes of food and climate. According to the Marco Polo jetlag and survival strategy, long training rides were done from day one (90, 120 and 170 km), and meals where ordered where the locals eat (they know how to stay healthy). With training and touristing the days where full and everybody slept well in the ten person room of the backpackers' hostel that has been our base for the past three years. The traffic in Beijing is chaotic, but slow, great for some rodeo riding, motor pacing and high speed maneuverings. The Chinese act like they see a bunch of crazy bike riders every day! Of course we had our own team crit on the Tiananmen square again. After the four days in Beijing, we took the night train to Hohhot City, Inner Mongolia and in the train we slept very well too, in the 'hard sleepers', no extra luxury for us. On the train we met our strongest competitors for the race, the Kazakhstan national team with Kravchenko and Lavreneko, the numbers one and two from the GC in 2000.

No touristing anymore from now, the race starting tomorrow and we are here to win. Talks with riders and a team meeting, team managers meeting and other preparations fill my day. I am here not only as team director, but also as masseur and mechanic. The team budget cannot bear the cost of too many airplane tickets so one fool has to suffer Is this what they call investing in a great project? A lot of work to be done, but Nathan and Dennis are also excellent mechanics and know what's going on. The riders will get the rest they need, not me though!

The profile of the stages is not really mountainous. Our judgement is that every second will be important, and this turned out to be right. Teams from Japan (national), Australia, Hong Kong (national), Taipei, Mongolia (national) and China have also turned up and fill the 62 rider field.

In the first stage Nathan gets the chance to gain time, in a four rider group. We decide that this is a great opportunity and start blocking in the pack. Lavrenenko is in the leading group, but not Kravchenko. Lavrenenko wins the stage and gains four bonus seconds on Dahlberg who finishes second.

In the second stage the peloton splinters on a gravel road, the Kazaks start riding right after this and in the crosswind a first echelon of thirteen riders breaks away. The group breaks in the final, Nathan attacks and drops Lavrenenko on a climb, here Dennis jumps from the second part and comes back in the Lavrenenko group. The strong Kazak comes back to Dahlberg, but Dennis is waiting on his wheel. After a wild sprint with B World Champion Tang, Hammink wins the 220km stage through the Gobi Desert. Casper and Raymond are in the second part of the group and lose five minutes: no win in the team classification, the Kazaks will not give us these five minutes back, that's for sure.

Hotels turn out to be great, we enjoy the luxury, but it makes the trip a lot less heroic. Organisation of the event is good, despite some communication problems with the Chinese. Does yes mean yes or no, I'm still wondering. The commissaires are hard to understand. Is feeding from the car allowed or not? After the first stage we notice that real times are being used and not the time of the first rider in the group, etc. Let's say things are sometimes different from traditional racing and if you don't want that, better stay home!

Third stage: Four riders break away in the beginning. After 180 km breakaway, Korean Chun Daehong just makes it, before Dennis who wins another sprint. In the last stage, the criterium, Dahlberg has his last chance to win back the four seconds on Lavrenenko. He attacks several times, but the Kazak sits glued to his back wheel. We decide to go for the stage win first to divide the attention of the Kazaks and play the Dennis card. He gets away with three others and wins the stage. Not enough time to win GC, so Nathan starts attacking again. Lavrenenko gives everything and just makes it. Nathan second on GC, Dennis third and wins the points classification. Marco Polo is second in team GC, behind the Kazaks.

We go back in the hard sleepers the next day; have two hours in Beijing and try to change our prize money to another currency which doesn't work. At the airport, 20 minutes before departure, we finally get to turn the Chinese money into American dollars to pay for a part of our tickets. We are very thankful for the Calbee organisation of Mr. Ichimura and for the hospitality of the Chinese. Happy with the results, but with a burning ambition for the GC win next year, we leave.

Nathan leaves for Ulan Bator, Mongolia to visit our friend and Marco Polo member Ulzii Jamsran Orshikh, famous Asian rider and second in the B-World Championships this year. Ulzii has been riding successfully on our European program this year.

More about Ulzii's life next time on Tales of the Travellers.