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Tales from the travellers the diary of Team Marco Polo
Marco Polo goes to Korea
By Remko Kramer, secretary of the Marco Polo Cycling Club
Marco Polo Cycling Club machine starts to work again...
After winning the GP Westphalen in Dortmund (Germany 9/5; Dennis Hammink) and the crit in Hoogkerk, (Netherlands; 10/5; Maarten Tjallingii), the Marco Polo riders start flying in Korea as well. This after a hard start of the season in Montenegro and a better race in the Tour of Greece already. Still it will be hard to achieve the same results as last year (winning four UCI stage races...) even when this is still the objective of the team management! The team in Korea seems to be well on its way to win the first UCI victory of the year.
Tuesday, May 7
We met at the Amsterdam airport Schiphol for our flight to Seoul, Korea. We were with two riders, me, Remko Kramer from the Netherlands and Cory Lange from Canada, our team manager Allan Wolhuter from South Africa and soigneur/photographer Francis Cerny from Germany. The rest of the team, four New Zealanders Nathan Dahlberg, Robin Reid, Jason Allan and Tim Vincent would fly in from different countries later.
Wednesday, May 8
We had a good flight and arrived May 8 in Seoul. We were welcomed by our translator, Seon Ha, and people from the cycling federation. They invited us for a real Korean meal. We sat on the floor at a low table with a kind of barbecue in the middle. Meat was grilled on the table and eaten in salad leaves. Further there were all kinds of kim chi, a Korean specialty of (very) spicy vegetables.
We stayed for the next few days at the Olympic Park Hotel, built for the 1988 Olympics. Meanwhile, the other team members arrived, flying in from Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and New Zealand.
Friday, May 10
Most teams had arrived in the last couple of days and it seemed like it was one big reunion of Marco Polo Cycling Club members and team riders, most of them riding with their national teams or sponsor's teams. The contingent included riders who were in Europe like Damir Iratov from Uzbekistan and Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh from Mongolia and riders who raced with us all over the world like Tonton Susanto from Indonesia.
Saturday, May 11: Prologue
The prologue was a 1km time trial on a winding bike path in the Olympic park.
It was a matter of just starting at your maximal effort and trying to keep the
speed until the finish. Jason Allan, a track specialist, had a super start but
had to hit the brakes when a couple of people crossed the circuit just in front
of him. None of us had great results here. Later in the evening we had the official
opening ceremony with a great buffet, a traditional drum band and video from
last year's race.
Sunday, May 12: Stage 1
Today we had a criterium in Seoul around the Olympic park, a 5km lap. The speed was high and many riders tried to get away. We made sure that we had a rider in each break. Going into the last lap there was a crash that split the peloton. But most riders got back again before the field sprint. It was a dangerous sprint with two crashes. Luckily Jason stayed on his bicycle but he lost his perfect position for a podium placing.
Monday, May 13: Stage 2
The first part of the stage was going great we all were active in breaks. A small group without Marco Polo riders got away but the Kazach team chased them down. On the long climb later in the stage they made tempo and the peloton got really small. Only Cory was in the first part.
Robin and I (Remko) were in a small group and went chasing. The Koreans sat on us and we thought they were tired but as soon as we hit some mountains they attacked on us.
Cory came 11th and is 10th on G.C. now.
Tuesday, May 14: Stage 3
Today Cory Lange went for a long and successful break. After a couple of hard climbs in the beginning we all started to attack to get a guy in a break before the two long climbs later in the race. Because of the many small breakaways the tempo was very high. Tim crashed but managed to get back.
After a very fast chase the peloton was happy that it slowed down and that was the moment Cory put the hammer down. First with two riders and soon with four they got a maximum of minutes on the bunch. The rest of the team blocked all attacksuntill we hit the real mountains. There the Kazachs and Iranians took over. But Cory was going strong and after a solo the last part of the stage he made it with about 15 to 20 seconds on the field. This was a great stage win but also gave him the leader jersey and on the way he also took the mountain jersey!
Wednesday, May 15: Stage 4
Today we had to defend Cory's leader jersey. Since the rest of us all lost too much time in the mountains we could not play poker, because we only had one card.
The weather changed totally today. From nice and sunny and 25 degrees plus, it was now about 15 degrees clouds and strong winds. From the start at sea level we went straight up a mountain of 900 meters. Everybody tried to cover attacks but most of us blew and had to chase the field the rest of the day.
Only Robin and Cory were in the main bunch and had to chase a six-man breakaway with two Kazachs, two Iranians, Tang Que Zhong and Tonton Susanto (Indonesian riding for Giant Asia).
There was only a little help from other teams and the group had one minute at the finish, so Cory lost his jersey and is now seventh on G.C., one minute down.
Friday, May 16: Stage 5
What can we do to get back the lead? The only chance is to attack and make the defending teams tired. This will be a hard job since the Kazachs and Iranians are very strong.
The weather was terrible, pouring rain and only 10 degrees Celsius. We started our job and Robin got away in a group of six riders. The Kazachs and Iranians had to chase hard to get them back.
Later when everybody was cold to the bone, Uzbek rider Kahraman Mominov went for an impressive solo of 90km. When he was out of sight, Nathan took off and attempted to bridge the four minute gap. He never managed but was still 30 seconds behind at the finish and came in second.
Going into the final criterium in Yang Yang over 80 kilometers the G.C. remains the same. We are going to give it a try attacking once again tomorrow.
Saturday, May 17: Stage 6
The final stage was an 80km criterium in Yang Yang. The circuit was 3km long, the start finish was downtown and there were two bridges to cross with strong sidewinds. We knew the chances were small but we tried everything to make the defending teams tired. Robin Reid was going strong in breaks and Jason Allan had a long solo. But every time Cory tried something the Kazachs and the team of race leader Tang chased him down.
In the last laps Nathan tried to go for the stage win, but everything came together for a bunch sprint. The South Africans made tempo and Jason and I had a perfect position when we flew to the last corner at 300 metres before the finish. It was a very wide turn that could be taken at maximum speed. However a Korean rider tried to take a shorter turn and slid away. At 60 km/h he cut our way, but luckily we were able to avoid crashing into him and the others that went down. But our sprint ended with the emergency break we had to make.
In the afternoon the race was officially closed with a ceremony. With a four hour bus ride we got back to Seoul. We packed our bikes and went for some drinks in town. The next morning we left to airport to fly to Europe were we will soon meet many of our international team mates.
On behalf of the whole team I would like to thank the organizing committee of the Tour de Korea for their great hospitality and the well organised race.
For more information about the Marco Polo Cycling Club, check www.worldwidecycling.com/marcopolo.htm