Marco Polo Cycling Club president Nathan Dahlberg has to be a leading candidate for the most miles done by an elite rider last year (or any year for that matter). Air miles, that is - jet lag does not exist in Nathan's world. And we are not talking about some recreational rider, this is the winner of the Tour du Maroc and second place in the Tour of China, both in 2001.
The following is an account of how someone can travel and race the following schedule in one year. Nathan's 2001 itinerary: Hong Kong, China, Macau, China, New Zealand, Netherlands, Greece (Rhodes), Netherlands, New Zealand, USA, Morocco, Netherlands, Turkey, Belgium, New Zealand, USA, Netherlands, China, Mongolia, Denmark, Belgium, China (Tibet), Hong Kong, New Zealand, Malaysia, New Zealand, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Netherlands and back to New Zealand.
The Marco Polo Cycling was founded on December 29, 2000. When the Club was founded, its president was in the Tour of the South China Sea, while partners Anno Pedersen and Gudo and Remko Kramer where putting together the pieces for the legal status of the club.
Dahlberg however, had travelled from New Zealand to Hong Kong, South China and Macau, to do the race over there. He teamed up with Ulzii Jamsran-Orshikh from Mongolia, TonTon Susanto from Indonesia and Aldo Klomp from the Netherlands. Although the race and stages where a bit too short and easy (fast) for him, Nathan still managed to get second in the hardest stage. After the race, Nathan stayed in the Southern Part of China to visit some friends and rest from the hard season and the travelling he had done before this.
In January he went home to New Zealand to visit his friends, relatives and most importantly, his kids. In February however, the Tour of Rhodes came up and the cooperation of Marco Polo with the Hong Kong Cycling Association started with the participation of some of their riders, including Kam Po Wong in the Tour of Rhodes. Dahlberg flew over to Europe, as the team led by Jan Hartjes needed a strong road captain. One of the teammates of Dahlberg and Kam Po was Kashi Leuchs, who later in 2001 finished on the podium of a Mountain Bike World Cup race.
After the Tour of Rhodes, Dahlberg had to get away from the bad weather (as he hates the cold and rain) and returned to New Zealand. Duty called soon again, as the Marco Polo Cycling Club was starting in some races in the USA, including Redlands and Sea Otter. Perfect races to get in shape for the first big goal of the season: the Tour of Maroc.
So after the U.S. races, Nathan stayed in California, away from the European April-weather, and flew straight through to Morocco. In Morocco two Marco Polo squads where racing, a Dutch team and a New Zealand team. The New Zealand team turned out to be the strongest of the race, despite an injury to sprinter Craig Thomson. Robin Reid, Brendon Vesty, Tim Vincent and Glen Mitchell where strong enough to keep Dahlberg for 8 days in the leader jersey, against strong competition of national teams and six trade teams. Everybody who was there agreed it was an impressive performance.
After Morocco, Nathan stayed in the Netherlands and rode some crits to earn money to make a living for the next period. He returned to New Zealand again and stayed there for one month and a half, to return to competition in the Cascade Classic in the USA, flying there on his second round the world ticket of the year. Nathan caught some form in the Cascade, by attacking early in a couple stages and flew through to the Netherlands.
On the day of his arrival he did a 170 km national race, he was one of the strongest riders in the final of this race. The second day in the Netherlands, he spent to get his visa for China and the third he was participating in a 1.4 race in the north of the Netherlands. The next day: departure for the Tour of China.
In the Tour of China the Marco Polo team was very strong, with sprinter Dennis Hammink winning two stages and third in the GC. Nathan came second in the GC after losing four seconds in the first stage to Lavrenenko from Kazakhstan.
After the Tour, Nathan travelled with his friend and Marco Polo member Ulzii Jamsran Orshikh to Mongolia. Oggi showed him around and Nathan had a great holiday in Ulaan Baator. After travelling to Beijing by train, the Marco Polo president returned to Europe and got out of the plane in Denmark, where he started in a two day race on the Fyn Island.
He came back to the team base in the Netherlands, and then stayed mainly in Belgium to do some kermesses over there. Suddenly an invitation for a race in Tibet came in, probably because of the great results in China. However, it was only two weeks before the start of the race. Dahlberg and his co-Marco Polo organisers succeeded in putting a team together in a few days and the team arrived four days before the race at the location.
The average altitude of the Tibet race is 4000 meters(!). The team was afraid of health problems and were sure that it would be impossible to do a strong race at this altitude. Nothing proved more wrong though. Oggi won the GC and the team turned out to be one of the strongest in the race, with Nathan's experience, leading Oggi to the win.
After Tibet, Nathan travelled back to New Zealand, finally some rest! Still with the great races in Malaysia in October in the back of his mind, but it would be too expensive to travel there, just for these races. Then the Société du Tour de France asked Marco Polo to come to the Tour of Burkina Faso. This would be another chance to score in Africa for Dahlberg. While Nathan was preparing himself in Malaysia, the Marco Polo organisation put together a strong team of riders, to make sure that the mega-publicity from the Faso Tour would be used optimally.
When Nathan came to the Netherlands to leave for Burkina, Maarten Tjallingii, Joost Legtenberg, Bram de Waard, Simon Dona and Atze Dijkhuis where waiting for him. The Tour became a tremendous success, with Tjallingii, Legtenberg and De Waard winning stages and Legtenberg winning the GC.
With Nathan Dahlberg as the road captain and setting the strategy, nothing could go wrong. After the win in the first stage, three Marco Polo riders sat on the front for almost 1300 kilometres! Dijkhuis had to leave because of his sick mother back home, Dona got sick and crashed hard, so De Waard, Tjallingii and Dahlberg kept the peloton under control for Legtenberg in yellow, for the rest of the race.
When Nathan came back in the Netherlands he fell ill, which is very unusual for him. After three days he left for New Zealand, where he arrived after a two days trip. Still sick, he went for a doctor. The doctor sent him to the hospital straight away, where Dahlberg was told he had the most severe version of Malaria! Nathan stayed in the hospital for a week and medical experts now tell him the virus is completely killed and out of his body. [At least he didn't suffer the same fate as Fausto Coppi, who was killed by Malaria following the Tour de Faso in 1960].
After leaving the hospital, Nathan was training 100 km a day again within one week. He has decided to take it a little more easily now. He is still training and racing in New Zealand, but he wants to concentrate on his training and coaching abilities as he is training a group of Hong Kong national team riders at the moment, for the Hong Kong Cycling Association.
He hasn't said goodbye to racing completely though, so you might meet him later this year on any part of the globe.
For more information about the Marco Polo Cycling Club, check www.worldwidecycling.com/marcopolo.htm .
Tour du Maroc: www.worldwidecycling.com/morocco.htm
California Series: www.worldwidecycling.com/californiaseries.htm
Tour de China: www.worldwidecycling.com/china2001.htm
Tour du Faso: www.worldwidecycling.com/burkinafaso.htm