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Photo ©: Schaaf

Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

Chile-California Tour: Vuelta de Chile and Sea Otter Classic

By Felix Rohrbach and Kay Kermer

Riding against the backdrop of the Chilean landscape
Photo ©: Paolo Pellizzari

At the end of March, we flew from Brussels to Atlanta then over to Santiago de Chile. It was a very long trip, about 20 hours. In Atlanta we had about six hours rest between both flights, so we made a little sightseeing-tour downtown and to the Olympic centre. Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh stayed at the airport to sleep.

After arrival in Santiago, we were brought to the hotel by some guys of from the organising committee. Santiago didn't look that poor as many other cities in middle or South America. You can see the American influence, but fortunately just in the capital!

Talking with the bus driver, he asked many things about life in Europe and Germany. All inhabitants we met were very friendly! We met the others on the team that travelled here from different places. Good ol' Michael Carter came from the USA, Cory Lange from Canada and Nathan Dahlberg with manager Dave Thomson came from New Zealand. The team was together, so we were ready to race... we hoped.

26th Vuelta de Chile - 2.5, March 27 - April 5, 2003

Prologue - March 27: Ciudad de Concepcion, 4.5km

Very hard to race a prologue well at the start of the season with almost no racing in the legs. First 20 riders were all South Americans, in the middle of their racing season.


Stage 1 - March 28: San pedro de La Paz - Chillan, 135km

The Vuelta de Chile cruises through a typical Chilean town
Photo ©: Paolo Pellizzari

Windy, warm 25C, 970 meters variation in altitude. Felix: "We started 500 km in the south of Santiago with the first stage. I remember the first race hour was over 50 km/h and nobody of our team was able to follow well. In the end, I was riding against the time limit alone!"


Stage 2 - March 29: Chillan - Linares, 211km

Windy, 25C sunny, 1155 meters difference in altitude. Kay: "After 10k, a 11 men break went. They had a maximum 15 minutes advantage. We first had two and after some bad luck only one rider up front. After the mountain, the Chilean LaPolar team chased and almost caught the group back. I got second in the crazy field-sprint and came 10th.


Stage 3a - March 30: Linares - Talca, 122km

Felix: "I got better and better day by day. I tried to breakaway with two other riders. We had a 90 km escape. Two kilometres before the finish, we were brought back in the peloton. Kay crashed in the final sprint and had many injuries.

Kay: "This stage came down to a field sprint. I was totally motivated after yesterday's sprint, but in the last kilometre I crashed."


Stage 4a - March 31: Talca - Licante, 70km

Chilean men sit in a bus stop as they wait for the peloton pass by
Photo ©: Paolo Pellizzari

10C, pretty cold and cloudy, 1070 meters difference in altitude. Kay: "I was suffering, the legs became heavy from all racing and the wounds still hurt. I got dropped from the peloton and came in four minutes after the winner."


Stage 4b - March 31: Licante - Curico, 120km

25C sunny and warm. About one hour and many autographs after the first half-stage, we started for the second half-stage. We reached the Andes and there was a lot of climbing. On the finishing circuit, we raced the last 26km with over 48 average. I would not feel comfortable yet in the field sprint so I attacked with 2km to go. I got away with a Brazilian, but with 800 meter to go, the peloton came over us.


Stage 5 - April 1: Curico - Pichilemu, 160km

22C and sunny. The South American seem to get stronger and stronger. Again they attack from the gun and the speed is incredibly fast. At the team meeting we decided to have a guy in each break. So we did, as hard as it was. Finally Cory got away in a four-man break. He finally got away with Dutch rider Harm Jansen who lives and races in the USA. Cory got second.

It is amazing how many kids are watching the race. They go crazy like we are pop stars. Also car drivers that have to wait for the race to pass, just take an easy break and smile and wave their hands. So much more relaxed then in Europe. The country is beautiful with palms and the Andes-mountains in the backgrounds. "Senors" that ride their horse and wagon wave their hats. Poor looking farmers in the fields with "leather skin", really dark and almost black, but always with a smile on their face!


Stage 6 - April 2: Pichilemu - San Antonio, 140km

15C cloudy, 1695 meters altitude difference. The place we stayed was like camping out. We were a little out of town in a bungalow park at a small lake. Dinner was in a big cabin, heated with a stove. The tables were decorated with the flags from the countries the teams came from. With a nice view at the lake, it was really nice, except for the racing...


Stage 7 - April 3: Melipilla - Farellones, 125km

Michael Carter showed that he is still a strong climber
Photo ©: Paolo Pellizzari

21C and sunny, 2285 meters altitude difference, with one mountain of category 1+ (special). The locals told us this stage would be really hard and they were right. In the last 40km, the race would go up to 2456 meters. First slowly uphill, then 10% and 42 S-bends. It reminded me of Alpe d'Huez, but then a lot harder and the last kilometre was on cobble stones!

Rider after rider got dropped and I had nothing to do with the front. Only Michael could stay in front and secured a good 12th place in the GC. The local teams (Ekono Alamo, Publiguias and Ace Byrc Curico) dominated.

Felix: "We saw that it would be almost impossible to compete with the strong South Americans. And we decided to relax after the stage and celebrate the birthday of our team director from New Zealand, Mr. Thomson. We drunk some special Chilean red wine and had much fun!"


Stage 8 - April 4: CCU - Limache, 128km

Many kids watched the race with great interest
Photo ©: Paolo Pellizzari

28C and warm. It was warm and humid and after a sweaty night at the Sports Hotel, where we stayed. We had to race most of the stage on the freeway. This was boring, but also good because this surface was great compared to the usual streets. The Chilean teams were competing for the leader's jersey and we just waited for the bunch sprint. But it was a special one. Because four km from the finish, there was a 1.5km hill at 10% and the last 2km were twisting through the little city of Limache.

I found myself in a top 10 position with the cycle computer fixed at 60km/h, the Ekono Alamo team pulling at the front. I went into the wind to sprint but instead of going forward, I lost position and only got 20th. But I was happy to be up there again in the front without thinking of the crash.

We stayed the night in this great holiday resort with palm trees and a pool and all kinds of fruit hanging off the trees. A great view of the mountains in the sun, 30 degrees in the shadow, so beautiful if only I wasn't so tired...


Stage 9 - April 5: Quilpue - Quilicura, 190km

33C and hot!, 1455 Hhenmeter. A very hard mountain stage. We saw the big mountain for a long time already. And on the S-bends we went up, the higher we came, the hotter it was. The asphalt started to melt and so did we. The complete peloton was shattered and one by one we struggled up on the mountain. After the downhill, groups formed and it became a bigger group with 25 men, of course with good-old Michael in it.


Stage 10 - April 6: Circuito (Santiago), 71.4 km

28C and warm. The last stage! Going up and down with two 180 degree turns. On your marks, get set, go! 60km/h straight out of the start with a headwind! From almost zero in the turns to maximum speed every single lap. These guys were not tired yet.

Note from Kay: "It is so interesting to go on these international tours all over the world. I have got so many friends from so many nationalities now. This gives understanding amongst people and makes it so hard to understand that people have wars in this world."

Felix: "The two assistants we had in Chile who gave us massages and prepared our bikes everyday made us little presents for having so much fun with us. I got an "indio picarro", a little wood figure. Really friendly guys.

"The race was nearly the first race of the season. For us, it was really hard to race because we had done just training miles before. The teams from Argentina and Chile have been the best - they were unbelievably strong! We said they could start for the Tour de France no problem...


Sea Otter Classic - 2.3, Monterey, California, April 9 - 12, 2003

Soaking up the sun in Santa Cruz
Photo ©: Global Cyclists Exchange

After the tough Vuelta de Chile, we flew back to Atlanta just one day later and than further to San Francisco where the Sea Otter Classic starts just two days after our last race ended!

Our team management has organised us to stay with people from Global Cyclists Exchange in Santa Cruz. I stayed in the house of Tim, a real friendly man. It was a very interesting time there. That was much better than staying in a hotel all the time! Not that comfortable (sleeping on the floor), but much more fun with the other team members. Many well-known teams were on the start list: US Postal, Saturn, 7-Up, Prime Alliance to name a few.

Stage 1 - April 9: Circuit Race, Redwood City

The first race was stopped by some famous riders from the big teams because of the dangerous streets. They arranged it so that all the prize money should go to the family of a child who died a few weeks before in a cycling race. That was a very good idea. We started the race again and every team send just one rider to the final sprint because of the dangerous finish. I got 5th in that sprint and got a medal!

Stages 2, 3 & 4 - April 10-12: Laguna Seca ITT, Circuit race, Road Race

In formidable company
Photo ©: Kay Kermer

The next stages were in Redwoods and on the Laguna Seca raceway track! That was very interesting to race on such a track! A big event every day - real American! There was mountainbike, downhill, dual slalom races, with many other events taking place in this area. But in our races we had many problems trying to follow - it was very fast!

After this stage race there was a criterium in Santa Cruz. Here I got sixth, that was good for the nearly-lost morale. After that, we went sightseeing in Santa Cruz - looking at the many surfer stunts. All together, a very nice time there! Hopefully we can come back next year, but with some races in the legs beforehand!



P.S. Thanks to all people that helped us, the race organisers in Chile and California, the staff that helped us in the races and a special thanks to the people from Global Cyclists Exchange for their great hospitality! Also thanks to photographer Paolo Pellizzarri for the use of his beautiful photos!


Images by Paolo Pellizzari, Global Cyclists Exchange and Kay Kermer

For more information on the Marco Polo Cycling Club and its travels, visit: