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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

Marco Polo travels by train to the Tour of Serbia

By Nathan Dahlberg, president of the Marco Polo Cycling Club

A train trip that in theory was an easy 24 hours...

After some hesitation, the Marco Polo Cycling Club decided to travel to the Tour of Serbia with a entirely New Zealand team. The line up was: Jason Allen, Robin and Andy Reid, Craig Thomson, Ryan Russell, myself and coach Allan Wolhuter. Without knowing what other teams should be present and with only little information about the race, we left the Netherlands... by train.

Serbia, once the ancient rich province of Darcia in the Roman Empire, has, during the last 600 years experienced a torturous time leading to rather bad publicity - so one didn't expect the beautiful Danube countryside and friendly people that welcomed us when we arrived for the Tour of Serbia. Apart from that we faced a difficult Tour with very hard stages from the start, however for us on the MPCC and Kemmerland (Netherlands) teams, the travel down to Yugoslavia proved as tough as some of the stages!

With airfares being rather expensive and road travel debatable, we opted for the train trip that in theory was an easy 24 hours; first on a sleeper train to Vienna, then by regular coach to Belgrade. By the time we had fought with train conductors, carted bikes backwards and forwards, and with the Australian riding for Kemmerland locked up and thrown out of Hungary for no visa, the romance of train travel was lost. And to add to it all, every bike went missing in Budapest - now one realises why train tripping is the popular way of getting to races. For Tino Hackman and myself, this meant another whole day on the train to retrieve the bikes arriving late the night before the early morning start of stage one of a two stage, 240 km day. This wasn't entirely bad as at the end of the second 140 km stage we had a 1-2 success with Robin Reid and myself.

Our success was relatively short-lived, and apart from a couple of good bunch sprints by big Jason Allen and an all day epic by Ryan Russell in front, we had to be content with some more minor placings. It was evident soon enough that a Yugoslavian was going to win their home tour, with eventual winner Alessio pro Aleksander Nikacevic who had Giro form in his legs being the strong man of the race.

For us the pressure grows, as it is our goal to win four stage races again like we did last year and so far, we have not succeeded to win only one. For us, it was another epic train ride home, more obnoxious conductors, crazy border guards etc., but all agreed apart from a really hard week's racing, that Serbia was really a place worth visiting.

Back in the office in Holland, more hard work to do, preparing for two races in China at the end of July and beginning of August and also working on the Trade Team 3 status of the Marco Polo Cycling Club topteam for 2003!


More information on the Marco Polo Cycling Club and its travels: