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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

Marco Polo goes to California

By Remko Kramer, secretary of the Marco Polo Cycling Club

The start
Photo: © Francis Cerny
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With several riders coming from all over the world the Marco Polo Cycling Club participated in most important races of the California Series. These are the biggest stage races of the USA, so all American pro teams are there.

Marco Polo Cycling Club wanted to show its face again in the USA, some of our riders wanted to go there, and the race organisers wanted to have us in their races again. Last year we participated in these races as well, but then we had financial support for the Californian races from the Village Peddler bike shop in Marin County, not this year. The Marco Polo Cycling Club still runs with only small local support, so there was no budget to go the USA.

But our growing group of members worldwide is really concerned and many Californian members offered their help with transportation and housing. One of them even loaned his van that became the official team car! Now we just had to puzzle over flights, airport pick-ups, housing and transportation to the races.

Minus 40

Redlands crit
Photo: © Francis Cerny
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For the first week Jason Salkind was our team manager. He is usually the director of the Three Bear Racing Team in the Bay Area, but they loaned him to us. The first races were the Sequoia Classic and the Visalia Criterium in the middle of San Joaquin Valley.

Bram de Waard is doing a tour around the world that started in December in the Tour of South China Sea (Hong Kong), joined us from the Tour of Tasmania in Australia, so he was our team captain.

For the rest of us these were the first races of the season. Our rider from Mongolia, Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh showed some of his incredible toughness during this California tour. Coming out of Mongolian winter, with temperatures below minus 40 degrees, he had only been able to do some work-outs on the rollers as preparation. With two weeks in China, where he had to arrange his visum, he trained himself to fitness good enough to finish the pro crit in Visalia three days after his arrival in California.

Broken elbow

After a short and pleasant stay in the desert in Palm Springs (thanks Mister Salkind!), we went to the L.A. area to participate in the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Here we noticed the high level of the American races. Bram, who was really going strong, crashed in the second stage and broke his elbow.

Ryan Russell
Photo: © Francis Cerny
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The rest of us had a real hard time in Redlands and only three of our eight riders finished this race. The criterium was incredibly fast, within two laps the 200 rider field was strung out to single file. And soon most of the peloton was dropped and out of the race.

Only Ryan Russel from New Zealand could get a placing on G.C. Amazingly Jamsran managed to finish the complete stage race, which not even half of the USA pros were able to do. In our next race, the Sea Otter Classic, we expected some fireworks from him like we saw in Qinghai-Tibet where he won the G.C. on an average altitude of 12,000 feet!

We had a great time staying with our host family, the Agres. They really took us in their family and gave us an experience of American lifestyle.

Nine nationalities

Remko tests the bike
Photo: © Francis Cerny
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The man that offered his van as team car, Steve Edwards joined us as team manager for the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey. Also the team had changed a little; because of his broken elbow Bram became assistant team manager. Now the team of the Marco Polo Cycling Club had eight riders with eight different nationalities: Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh (Mongolia), Ryan Russel (New Zealand), Tony Zsarsadias (Canada), Chun Chuek Chung (the Hong Kong MTB Champion, preparing on the road for his MTB season), Lionel Syn (Belgium), Cameron Hughes (Australia), Sandy Perrins (USA) and Remko Kramer (the Netherlands). Together with the soigneuse and photographer from Germany, Francis Cerny we had nine nationalities in our team.

We stayed with Marco Polo host families from Global Cyclists Exchange in 'surf-city', Santa Cruz, a half hour drive from Monterey.

TV car crash

In the opening 27km time trial, bad luck hit Jamsran just after the start. A television team filming out of a van had to make an emergency stop when their cameraman fell out of it. This was in the dangerous downhill S-curve at the Laguna Seca raceway with Jamsran only 30 meters behind them. Jamsran could not escape and crashed hard onto the car. Luckily he was not badly injured. The cameraman was not so lucky, he had a bad injury because the car ran over his leg.

Dizzy as he was, he repaired most of the damage to his bike and rode on a flat tire until he received a spare wheel. He lost a lot of time but went on to try to finish on time. With 10km to go Chris Horner passed him. Chris Horner, the champion of the California series and winner of Redlands, came fifth in this time trial and went on to win the G.C. of the Sea Otter Classic. He was pretty surprised when our Asian rider kept up with him on the other side of the road and really surprised when Jamsran kept the same tempo and was riding next to him for about 7 kilometres.

Big ring

Photo: © Francis Cerny
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Jamsran was still dizzy at the criterium in the afternoon but still rode okay. His left shifter was broken, but the race organiser helped to try and arrange a new shifter for the next day. The next day the hard road race was on the program and that called for 39-21 or 23 on the mean, steep hills. The shifter didnít make it on time and Jamsran refused to ride a spare bicycle. So I counted on one rider less at the finish. But what a power this man has! He rode on the big ring, 53-23. On the hardest parts of the climbs he had to find his way through the peloton to keep speed. Probably nobody who knows this course will believe this, but many riders have seen it with their own eyes. Jamsran finished 39th in the hardest stage of the hardest stage race in the USA with only using the big chainring. Only 85 riders of the 150 pros finished this stage!

BMW cabriolet

The team van
Photo: © Remko Kramer
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In this stage Bram and Steve drove a BMW cabriolet as Marco Polo team car in the caravan. In the beginning of the stage they were riding in the tail of the caravan. But on the hard course many riders got dropped and more and more team cars were left behind looking after groups where their best riders were. Because we finished with six riders (like only a few of the best teams) they moved further and further to the front. In the last lap Chris Horner attacked, and what was left of the peloton was shattered. Ryan kept up with the best riders and now the Marco Polo BMW was in the caravan behind only US Postal and Saturn. Ryan came nineth which was a great result in one of his first races this season.

In the final stage on the Laguna Seca raceway he showed his power again with a long break-away with a rider of the British national team.

After the Sea Otter Classic Ryan, Tony and Chun went to Solano to race with a combination team of Marco Polo and the Three Bear Racing Team. The rest of us went home. We will meet again sometime somewhere for another adventure.

On this place I would like to thank all volunteers for their support, thanks to you guys, we all had a great time. Without your help we could have never done this Californian tour.

For more information about the Marco Polo Cycling Club, check .

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