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Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

Winning in China: Tour of Beijing 2002

Introduction by Nathan Dahlberg, President of Marco Polo Cycling Club

Jos Lucassen wins stage 2
Photo: © Beijing Daily News
Click for larger image

With the Beijing Olympics just six years away and the growing awareness of cycling sport in China itself it's not surprising that a bike Tour would be launched in the Chinese capital. The inaugural Tour of Beijing was held in late October, a rather cool season in North China to say the least and had as guests amongst others, Mr Bernard Hinault. Hinault and several invited international teams were there to help popularise and promote the event.

A strong all-Dutch Marco Polo team was assembled by Frans Van Slagmaat after a last minute invitation. Also present on the Beijing Youth Daily Team (international selection) were Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh (nickname Oggi) and myself, helping to strengthen the ties our team has established in Asia.

Below is the report of Ruud Kooijmans, a Marco Polo first timer.

October 24, 2002

The organiser of the Tour of Beijing welcomed us at the airport and took all our stuff into one bus - no problem at all! At first sight there was nothing to be worried about: the weather looked fine, it was a sunny day and the sky was totally blue! But outside it was a bitterly cold, only 5 degrees.

The organiser drove us to our first hotel, which was situated near the old centre of the city of Beijing. The first thing we noticed was the very busy roads and the reckless behaviour of the drivers, but we arrived at a good hotel without any accident.

October 26, 2002

Marco Polo leads
Photo: © Beijing Daily News
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The first day of action. The start of the race was at the Tiananmen Square near the Forbidden City. For us it was a good time to take some pictures just before the race. After that all the teams were presented to the press and the waiting people - and there were a lot of them! There were a lot of reporters from television, radio, magazines and newspapers.

The first stage was only 40 kilometres. First we had to do one lap around the square with our 'guest', five times winner of the Tour of France Bernard Hinault and then he gave the sign for us to leave. Some people of our team were feeling so cold after this little tour that they decided to attack immediately - no names, no pack drill.

After a quick race with lots of attacks the race ended in a group sprint and that was a job for our team-mate Mark Vlijm. He beat some fast Chinese men and took the first yellow, green and blue jersey.

In the evening we watched television and saw Mark's victory on the eight o'clock news. So I can say… Mark spoke Chinese very well!

October 27 2002

Media attention
Photo: © Beijing Daily News
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Today we had the second stage of 115 km. Again the weather was very cold and a little bit windy. After some attacks a group of six men escaped out of the peloton. Of course one of our guys had to be in this attack so I decided to join the six. After some time another six men joined our group so we were in the front with 12 men now. I began to wonder were my team-mates were but after some time Jos and Ferdi joined the leading group. Now we had three men of the Marco Polo team in the leading group. With 40km to go the strong rider from Mongolia Oggi (Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh) attacked and Jos and one Chinese guy reacted. They stayed in the front and it became a three-man sprint. Jos beat the strong Chinese sprinter and won this stage. It was a very great victory for Jos. He also took the lead in the general classification.

October 28, 2002

This stage (176 km) could be of great importance for the final ranking in this Tour of Beijing. First we had to do 10 laps around a very beautiful lake and after that we went into the mountains for the finale of the stage. We knew that the finish line was at the top of a mountain near the Chinese Wall. The first 110 km was no problem for Jos. He was in good shape and he had two strong men who could help him in the last 70 km. on the last mountain Oggi tried to attack but Jos was feeling very strong so there was nothing to be afraid of. In front of the race one rider of Mongolia was very strong and rode alone for 20km to win this stage.

After this stage we visited the Chinese Wall and took some nice pictures. We also bought some souvenirs at a market near the wall.

October 29, 2002

Photo: © Beijing Daily News
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The fourth stage was a race over 93 km. It was important to keep the race in our control. There were a lot of attacks but we only had to look for the riders in the top 10. It was hard work but we managed to control the race. In the last 10 km a Frenchman attacked and I joined him. We worked together very well and in the last kilometre he attacked from the back. I was able to react and in the long sprint to the line I won. It was a great day for me and I was very happy with this victory! In the sprint of the chase group Mark became third. So we had two Marco Polo men on the podium.

October 30, 2002

The fifth stage (115 km) and the weather forecast said that it probably could snow today. It was a hilly stage with some mountains. In the beginning a group of twenty men attacked and only Stefan and Martijn were in it. We had to work hard and in the last kilometres we finally were able to close the greatest part of the gap, so everything was under control. Stefan placed seventh.

October 31, 2002

Stage six (100 km) was a circuit race over 12 laps. After half the race on a flat windswept circuit a group of 25 riders was in the front. But after much chasing there was a general regrouping with Jos, Mark and Martijn representing Marco Polo in front. In the last lap, Martijn attacked and it looked like he could win this stage, but he was caught 200 meters before the finish line and Mark was able to win the sprint. Again a great victory of our sprinter and what a pity for Martijn!

November 1, 2002

Before the last stage
Photo: © Beijing Daily News
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This morning there was some panic about our leader Jos because he had become ill last night. It was up to Jos to decide what he wanted to do! He said he would try to race but he wasn't even able to eat!

The final stage (95 km) was also a windy flat circuit of 10 laps. We kept Jos out of the wind and helped him as much as possible. After 50 kilometers 17 riders attacked and four of us were in this group: Jos, Mark, Martijn and Stefan. Those 17 leaders were gone and they could sprint for the victory. In the last kilometer there was crash and Jos was on the ground! Stefan gave his bike to Jos so he could finish in time. Mark showed again his sprint quality to the rest and won his 3rd stage! In the last two stages Felix Rohrbach (Marco Polo trade team 2003) became second, behind Mark Vlijm!

Finally we had made it: Jos had won the yellow jersey as leader of the general classification and Mark the green jersey as points leader!

After the prize ceremony there was a buffet dinner at the hotel organized by The Beijing Tour. All the riders were together here and it was a nice happening. This evening we celebrated our victory again with some champagne!

For me it was a great experience to participate in such a race event. I had never been out of Europe before and I knew very little about China. That has changed now. The people were very kind and I think its countryside is very beautiful.

I would like to thank the staff: Frans, Jos and Joost for keeping us in good shape. It was a very nice team to join and I hope we can do some more races with such a team. I will never forget those 10 days!

Ruud Kooijmans

Images by Beijing Daily News

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