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Tales from the travellers the diary of Team Marco Polo
Racing at high altitude in the Tour of Qinghai Lake
By Remko Kramer
China had a new cycling event on the international calendar and of course we could not miss this race, being the Marco Polo Cycling Club. It was called Tour of Qinghai Lake and international it was!
18 foreign teams came over, including national teams from Australia, USA, Canada, Swiss, Serbia, Korea and trade teams like the Belgium Collstrop team. But of course we were the most international team with Nathan Dahlberg and Robin Reid from New Zealand, Glen Chadwick from Australia, Peep Mikli from Estonia, Rob Conijn from the Netherlands and Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh from Mongolia. Not to mention our staff: masseuse/photographer Francis Cerny from Germany, coach Peter Coates from Denmark and manager Remko Kramer from the Netherlands.
The race took place from July 27th until August 3rd in the west of China, around China's largest lake, the Qinghai Lake. The altitude ranged from 2500 meters until 4000 metres (8,000-13,000 feet). Last year we participated in the Qinghai-Tibet race, which was at even higher altitudes, so we knew what we could expect. Jamsran won this race and he and the whole team were very motivated to win this race as well.
We arrived first in Beijing before we travelled further to the city of Xining were the race took place. At this time another team of the Marco Polo Cycling Club was also in Beijing for the Tour de China. And could you believe our surprise when we met them during a training ride in the city! This was so funny to meet our teammates in this city inhabited by 10 million people without making an appointment!
The Chinese Cycling Association had done an incredible job by organising this race. All the teams had three cars with drivers available, two vans and a four wheel drive. Especially for this race there was permission for us team managers to drive the cars ourselves during the race. It is usually strictly forbidden to drive a car in China without a Chinese driver's license.
The city of Xining was completely into cycling! Reporters from television, radio, magazines and newspapers were waiting at the hotel and many people asked for autographs. Every hour we could see advertisement clips from the race on the national sports channel. The opening ceremony, which was a great show and the first stage were broadcasted live on national television!
The prologue and the first stage were visited by thousands and thousands of people. It was great to see the Chinese people getting so excited about cycling. It was even hard for the riders to leave from the circuit after the stage because of all the spectators that wanted to see the cyclists from nearby and get their autographs.
Peep won the green jersey in the first stage and Jamsran took it over from him in the 3rd stage. But for us, even more important was the general classification.
Into the lead
In the 3rd stage we had two of our three best riders for the G.C. in the break; Glen and Oggi. This group took a few minutes out of the rest of the field. In the 25km time trial, which was a real torture at this altitude, Glen had a good ride and kept his position in top of GC. Jamsran did not have such a good day. He is an excellent time triallist but this time he was not going great. The next day he gave it a try in a break, he was virtual leader until the last km but none of the others in the break were interested in the time for GC.
Stage 5 of the Tour had a mountain halfway. At the climb the peloton fell into pieces. Glen who got surprised by the hairpin turn at the start of the climb, went right through the peloton. Together with Tom Danielson (USA) he reached the top. But it was way too far to the finish, so they waited. A group of about 15 riders formed with Glen, Oggi and Nathan in it for Marco Polo. In the team car we went past the chasing groups and met Glen halfway to the front group on a flat tire! We quickly changed his wheel and Glen could catch in at the second group with Robin in it. Nathan waited and the three of them went to the front of the group in an attempt to bridge the gap to the front group. We had a good view from he team car and riders from the group being dropped by our riders. Only one Chinese rider could hold their wheel and they rejoined the first group - this was a real impressive demonstration of strong teamwork!
The 100 KM long 7th stage of the Qinghai Lake tour started at the yellow river and went up to 3800 meters (11,500 feet). Included was a super-hard, 30km long climb that would decide the final outcome on GC.
Very soon after the start, Nathan attacked and stayed away. The Catalana Team had to chase and at the start of the climb, they lost rider after rider. On the climb, Glen tested his legs and the group that formed became a select group of the best riders on GC. When they came over Nathan, he could stay in the group for a while, but was dropped after a few kilometres.
In the team car we passed all the small groups. Jamsran, who was not going great, fought his way back up to the second group. When we came by the yellow jersey group, it was falling apart. The American Tom Danielson had attacked and Glen went off to chase him down, with another American, Michael Carter, at his wheel. Glen was going great but Danielson was simply too strong. At the top he had gained 2.30 and it was only towards the finish that Glen managed to gain back some time. Glen beat Carter for the 2nd place at the finish, at the gate of the Taer Monastery. It was an incredible atmosphere, in between these ancient buildings were all the spectators, the colourful cyclists and team cars.
The 8th and last stage of the Tour was a fast circuit race in the centre of Xining. Nothing important happened in this stage and Tom Danielson from the USA won the tour, ahead of our own Glen Chadwick.
We flew back to Beijing and said goodbye to Oggi. He left immediately, back to Mongolia where he had the national championships starting the next day with the time trial. And defending Champion Oggi expected some concurrence since he is trainer of some young talents in Mongolia. We hope we will be able to help them further in the cycling sport with our team in Europe.
Division III status next year
The Asian and especially the Chinese riders were going strong. Several podium placings by Hong Kong, Korean and Chinese riders and a very good 4th place on G.C. by Wang Gouzhang were great results. The Marco Polo Cycling Club has decided to start up a 3rd division trade team next season to give these talents a chance to show the rest of the cycling world how good they are.
Glen's second place on GC was a great result in this high level race. 3rd in the teams, mountains and points classification were also a good result. However the Chinese character on our jersey says "We fight with strong conviction to win" - so we will come back next year to win!
The Marco Polo Cycling Club had big troubles to get to the Qinghai-Tibet Cycling Race (august 27 - september 8th). Visa formalities and stubborn airline employees costed the team two days of travelling extra. After three full days of travelling (including one night in a park in Copenhagen and getting visas on sunday in a Chinese Embassy that opened only for Marco Polo...) the team arrived during the first stage. 'Just' one rider didn't make it there, Jason Allen from New Zealand got stuck in Seoul and had to go home alone. It is the first time that the Marco Polo team had so much trouble to get to a race. The team thanks the (mostly chinese) people that helped them on their way!!
Luckily the comissaires had some understanding for the problems of getting into China and gave the Marco Polo riders permission to start in the second stage, with a 20 minute time penalty, however.
In this second stage Marco Polo rider Nathan Dahlberg did the impossible and finished second in a very hard stage. This, coming from the Netherlands (sea level), after three days on planes, embassies and airports, on 4000 meters altitude!!!
Ulzii Jamsran Orshikh from Mongolia won the first and second stage and is Tour leader. Last year Jamsran won this race for Marco Polo, this year he is racing for Giant Asian Racing Team.
Marco Polo line up:
Images by Francis Cerny
More information on the Marco Polo Cycling Club and its travels: www.worldwidecycling.com