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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

A ticket to the tropics: Tour of Thailand and Tour de Okinawa

Introduction

By Rob Conijn

A tropical affair
Photo: © Anno Pedersen
Click for larger image

The Marco Polo team did a lot of races at the end of the European season. So for the strong and on-going racers this was a great opportunity to do hard races in nice atmosphere at the end of the season. During October and November Marco Polo Cycling was present and successful in the following races: Tour du Faso (Africa) - 2 stage win, and green jersey, Tour of Malaysia - 1 stage win, Tour of Beijing (China) - 3 stage wins, green jersey and overall winner GC and our racing in the Tour of Thailand and Tour de Okinawa (Japan).

The Marco Polo Cycling Club decided to race the Tour of Thailand to have a good preparation for Tour de Okinawa, a hard 200 km continually hilly race on a tropical island of Japan. If riders come direct from the cold Europe in November this will be mission impossible. Therefore the proposal was made to race the Tour of Thailand before Okinawa.

It was a nice trip with many ups and some downs. At the beginning, it was not sure whether the Marco Polo team would go to Thailand because of several government warnings after the horrible attack on Bali.

It appeared that Tour of Thailand is a very nice UCI 2.6 race, well organized and very relaxed, a combination you don't see often. Racing in nice warm weather, with 170-180km racing is the best way to get your form within one week. Starting at 7am also means that you can have look around later on the day.

Before the race

By Rasmus Madsen

When you are used to Danish infrastructure with a lot of small roads with a good surface and without much traffic, training in a country like Thailand can be a challenge. The traffic in and around the cities can be extremely heavy and with the lack of road signs, it becomes a little chaotic when planning a suitable route for training. But with a considerable amount of patience, it's possible to find a way out of the crowded city.

After some random riding around Phuket City, we hit the main road leading to the north for the airport and the mainland. Sometimes it isn't worth making training too complicated - especially not the day before a race start - because you risk to loose your way and waste some time and energy witch could have been used better for preparation.

We made the classic choice and rode one hour in the same direction following the main road, stopped for a drink, turned around and went back the same way. We didn't have much time for sightseeing during this training session, but on the other hand there isn't really anything to see at the Phuket Island. The island is not really anything but hotels packed with tourists, some beaches, stores, the inevitable street traders and of course, plenty of places offering all kinds of massage...

One of the things I noticed going about in the traffic in Thailand: all sorts of scooters and motorbikes driving at high speed and sometimes carrying three or maybe even four people. Most often the driver was wearing a helmet but the small children sitting behind, in front of, or on top of the driver had absolutely no helmets. I'm not sure if they have statistics on the number of people killed from traffic accidents, but maybe it's better not to.

Crash

By Rasmus Madsen

I must admit I'm having mixed feelings writing a diary of my unfortunately few days of racing in Thailand. It will remind me about the worst experience of my life that I don't think will be very enjoyable for other people to read about.

I'm not very proud to tell of my accident and other falls with my bike. To be honest, I'm pretty angry with myself and feel stupid. Anyway, I also feel that I have been extremely unlucky this season and particularly in Tour de Thailand. During the nine years I have been competing, I have had a total of seven crashes with five this season and three of those in Thailand.

On the second stage I crashed twice, the first time I hit a big stone on the road when sitting in the bunch, the second time I hit an oncoming car, which obviously had forgotten to pull in, which finished my race and nearly killed me. I'm not really motivated to bring more details.

But I'm still alive and considering the circumstances, I'm fine. But unfortunately I have a spinal cord injury and at the moment it's still too early to predict whether I'm going to recover fully. In many ways I hope to come back and be able to race in competitions, on the other hand cycling is not everything.

On a final note, be sure to have a health insurance covering you when you are traveling outside of your own country. I had - otherwise I would be broke. Private hospitals are not cheap and ambulance transport with the flight back from Bangkok is extremely expensive.

Note from Rob Conijn

With all warm help from the Thai people (including the race organizers) it was possible to go in an ambulance to the sophisticated Paolo Memorial Hospital in Bangkok. This was hard for Rasmus and his team manager Anno Pedersen because the accident happened at 11.00 am and the depart to Bangkok was at 8.00pm for a 800 km drive.

After investigation the analysis revealed a serious problem in his backbone, however, the good news was that after heavy revalidation the doctor said he might recover completely. Rasmus was laid down for nearly two weeks in this hospital in a private room, supported by Anno helping with food, reading newspapers, arranging insurance, and preparing for the trip back to Denmark. This was the most expensive ticket Marco Polo ever arranged!

Fortunately, Rasmus arrived safely in Denmark where he had to lay in hospital for another two weeks. He is doing a lot of exercise to recover completely, and we have the good news that progress is very good, so we hope that Rasmus can race in the Marco Polo Cycling Team this year again. Rasmus has been offered a spot in team if he recovers fully.

Tour of Thailand - November 2-7, 2002

November 2 - Stage 1: Criterium - Phuket, 80 km

By Kay Kermer

Kay Kermer in yellow
Photo: © Anno Pedersen
Click for larger image

The Tour of Thailand started great for the Marco Polo Cycling Club. The prologue event was a criterium held as a points race. It was a really fast and hard race with points every three laps. Our team tactics were clear: save energy for the following stages but try for a good result if we can.

I felt good and won the first four sprints with the help of my strong teammates Rasmus and Lex. After the middle of the race, a group of 16 riders went clear before the 8th sprint that included all riders from Giant, Ian Wilkinson (a sprinter from England) and Rasmus, Lex and myself. Rasmus crashed badly, and in the end, I won the criterium with 33 points. 2nd with 19 points was Ian Wilkinson.

Results

November 5 - Stage 3: Chumporn - Prachuab Khiri Khan, 174.1 km

Lex gets Marco Polo's 2nd stage win
Photo: © Kay Kermer
Click for larger image

On this third stage we had another victory; with 10km to go, Lex attacked and only Tour leader Matnur from Indonesia followed. Lex could beat him at the end (old man's experience!) so we had another stage win.

Young Matnur from Indonesia made a great impression in this race towards the Marco Polo team. After his great results in the Tour of South China Sea at the end of 2001, we already had our eyes on him. Matnur has signed a contract and will race for the Marco Polo Cycling Team TT3 in 2003!

Results

November 6 - Stage 4: Prachuab Khiri Khan - Phetchaburi, 151.5 km

Making the headlines
Photo: © Kay Kermer
Click for larger image

With 4km to go, Paul Redenbach (Giant), Soren Peterson (Giant) and I were gone and five seconds in front. After a Soren's attack (he didn't want to sprint), all 3 guys rode alone in the wind, and with one kilometre to go, I caught Soren, attacked and won. The riders of Marco Polo Cycling team were the most successful team in this tour with three stage wins.

The Tour of Thailand finished the next day in Bangkok. All in all it was a great experience with a good organization, friendly people and a beautiful country. The following day the Marco Polo Cycling Team already left for Japan to be on time for the Tour de Okinawa.

Results

Japan

By Kay Kermer

It was only a five hour flight to Okinawa, so not much jet-lag. Also the weather was about the same as in Thailand, warm and tropical.

The welcome in Japan was very friendly and planned right on time. Okinawa is a beautiful tropical island, clear blue water, coral riffs, white sandy beaches and palm trees. We met with the nice Dutch women, Arenda Grimberg and Debby Mansveld, who had already arrived in Japan. They also participated in the Tour de Okinawa. We stayed in a four star hotel and enjoyed the luxury.

The Tour de Okinawa is a great event with cycling all different categories. Tour riders and recreational racing guys should enter this event. Marco Polo Cycling made this possible before and will try to do this in the future as well. The organization of the race is incredible, with more safety marshals then in any other one day race in the world!

Tour de Okinawa - November 10, 2002

I know this race from last year and I didn't want to make the same mistake when the early break stayed away. That is why we had three Marco Polo riders in front, just like the Canadians, Americans, Irish and the strong Japanese pros, looking out for any moves.

At the 78km mark, just after the 1st climb, I was in a group of five riders with Canada, Shimano Racing Team and Nippon Hodo represented, with a three minute lead. After the second 8km climb, 20 riders caught us and the race was open.

With 40km to go, I attacked and only Takumi Beppu (Nippon Hodo) and the ex-champion of Japan could follow me. But 100km in a breakaway was a little too much for me and on the next few climbs I saw stars and didn't know where I was. Team Manager Anno spoke German to me, but even though I am German, I didn't understand him, I was so smashed.

Rider after rider after rider passed me and I had hallucinations about the finish line. The result was that Paul Redenbach (Giant) won, with Lex 15th and myself 21st. It is a hard race and everything has to be right to win this. I think this is one of the nicest races ever.

After the finish we heard that the women also didn't make it. Arenda Grimberg finished 4th and just missed the podium; Japanese Miho Oki won the women's race with an impressive sprint.

Results

Karaoke

After the race there was a great closing ceremony with food and drinks for all participants. We enjoyed Okinawan brew beer and sushi together with Japanese drums and dancing dragons. Later we went with some riders from the USA, Canada and Ireland to some Karaoke bars. Here we noticed that we have more talent on the bicycle then on stage. We finished this great adventure on the beach, enjoyed the hot sun and the warm ocean.

We would like to thank the organizers from these two great cycling events.

Photography

Images by Anno Pedersen and Kay Kermer

More information on the Marco Polo Cycling Club and its travels: www.worldwidecycling.com