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Photo ©: Sirotti

Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

Tour of Korea - 2.5, Korea, June 12-20, 2004

Kudos in Korea

By Michael Carter, Marco Polo

The Marco Polo Cycling Team
Photo ©: Dirk van Hove

Our Team

Cory Lang (Canada)
Robin Reid (New Zealand)
Oggi: Ulzii Orshikh Jamsran (Mongolia)
Lionel Syne (Belgium)
Tim Wilson (Australia)
Michael Carter (USA)
Team Manager: Dirk van Hove (Belgium)

Prologue - June 12: Seoul ITT, 1.4 km

Same prologue as last year. Nearly the same result for me as well. I made my third attempt at entering the "real working world" earlier this year. Like my consistency here at the Tour of Korea, I have found that my attempts at entering the "real world" have also been consistent. I cannot seem to find a life of working 8 to 5 (or 6, or 7, or 8) desirable. Not that I don't like to work, don't get me wrong. It is just that working for other people is not my idea of living a life of contentment. I started working at the University Of California - Davis, Sports Medicine, January 1 this year. I was working with fantastic people there, including the "Master" himself, Dr. Massimo Testa, Dr. Eric Heiden, Judd Van Sicle who is a master biomechanical engineer, one of the sweetest receptionists I have ever met, Rita Allison, my other mom.

Long story short - I don't have the kilometres in the legs like I did last year when I finished second on G.C. and won the K.O.M.

I started off 2003, with Marco Polo, at the Tour of Chile. That was one brutal training camp! Worked wonders for the conditioning, brutal as it was. I am entering the 2004 Tour of Korea with trepidation - and a big question mark. Stage 1 and Stage 2 look to be THE stages that will determine G.C.


Stage 1 - June 13: Seoul - Chun Chon, 147.1 km

A typical Korean dinner
Photo ©: Dirk van Hove

Same stage as last year - started the same too. Break went in the first 40 K. Only this year, not only did I initiate the break but I then drove it hard to establish the move. Unlike last year, the group ended up with 25 guys minus two big threats, Aussie Glen Chadwick and the Iranian phenom, Ghader Mizbani, both from Team Giant. Unfortunately, Giant recruited the winner of this years Milk Ras, Irishman Dave McCann. McCann made the move, sat on the group until the end - so did four Japanese Shimano Pro Team riders. Thankfully, my teammates Cory Lange and Robin Reid also made it into the break.

This stage is relatively flat for the first 115 K. There was a KOM at 101 K, but that was really a non-event. We hit a wall of a climb first, short but it split the field. Then a short descent, then another climb of about 7 K. That was a KOM. I was starting to come unravelled due to the heat and humidity (and lack of training). Group split down to 13 after that KOM. Then we had a fast descent, and the last 27 K's were featured with one big roller after another. These rollers were about 2-3 K's, making for perfect attacking terrain. I was completely blown at 20 K to go - total survival mode. Cory and Robin looked great. I know they were suffering too, but they looked good enough. Sure enough, attack after attack went down. McCann finally got away with Rob, a Seoul City rider which was a big surprise, and three others including Carl Menzies from the Aussie team of MGZT, and a Japanese Shimano rider. Cory ended up with two others up the road, I was with four others. We had 10 minutes on the chase behind at the finish - which was amazing to me.

McCann wins the stage, Robin came fourth, Cory seventh, I limped in at 13th - NOT like last year. Menzies takes the yellow, due to his prologue.

On a side note, Mizbani was hit head-on by a van that was coming down the hill on the second KOM. First reports coming in were that he was so bad off, that he may not survive. Traffic control is a BIG issue at the Tour of Korea, so we were not too surprised that some one was hit by a car, or van in this case. The good news is that the rumours about his condition were greatly exaggerated. Not only was he OK, but he started the next day as well!


Stage 2 - June 14: Chun Chon - Dae Kwan Mountain, 156 km

This stage is the same as Stage 3 from last year. Big rollers the first 25-30 K, then a big climb of 10 K, 8-10% which started at 95 K. For some asinine reason, this climb was NOT a KOM. The smaller one just before was, and there was a second KOM at 130 K. The finish was also on a nice climb. Like yesterday's stage, heat played a significant role in sapping the field of strength. After the biggest climb of the stage, the group split to 13, minus Menzies. Giant had Chadwick, McCann, and remarkably, Mizbani. Indeed, the rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated! McCann wins the stage but not before Cory makes a great move with 5 K to go, only to be caught with five precious meters to go by McCann.

Robin was in fourth going into the stage, but blew on the last KOM and Rob had to chase hard with Menzies, who blew on the big, non-KOM climb. Menzies is one tough rider! He is not at all a climber - big heavy bones, and tall. But that guy can motor. Impressive.

I blew again today, but this time with only 9 K to go. Better than Stage 1, so conditioning is coming.


Stage 3 - June 15: Kyung Po Lake criterium in Kang Leung, 86 km

The team on the podium
Photo ©: Dirk van Hove

The stage for the day was a circuit on a 4 K course around a lake. Problem was, the circuit included a trip down a bike path that had bricks on half the path and a rubber type material that ran the length of the path for runners. The problem was that there was a lip of a few centimetres that separated the rubber portion from the brick, as well as the pillars at the beginning of the path and at the end. I rode around the course to warm up and could not believe how dangerous the course was. Having raced as a pro since 1984 (less the attempts at entering the "real world") I had never seen such a precariously dangerous course.

I felt I needed to bring up the safety issue with the UCI Commissaire, Mr. Jose Cruz. Mr. Cruz suggested that a letter of protest expressing the dangers of the course, and a solution to the stage be written and to have the directors of each team sign it. So I grabbed out director, Dirk Van Hove, the director for the American team, Betsy Davis and asked them to write the letter then to have the other team directors sign it. Every team agreed that the course was too dangerous. A meeting with the promoter, the directors and Mr. Cruz convened with "yours truly" present. R Cruz suggested that the race be neutral for the first 15 of 20 laps, then race for the last five. I pointed out that in that case, the race would still be very dangerous. Two options were available. Either just run the race and hope for the best, or run the stage for prize money but do not count the results in the G.C. That way, the promoter would still have a race, and the riders would not have to risk their safety. Mr. Cruz agreed to the second option, thankfully! Most of us rode five laps then were pulled and we had a rest day for most of the field today, which was welcome by nearly every rider except of the six riders who contested the prize money.


Stage 4 - June 16: Kang Leung - Yang Yang, 149.5 km

And again,
Photo ©: Dirk van Hove

This stage is the flattest road stage of the tour. Same course as last year, but the organization added a detour to a nasty 2 K climb of 12-14%, 17 K from the finish. At first glance, this stage looked like an easy one for Giant to control and conserve their lead held by McCann. But, this is a bike race and anything can happen, and it usually does!

There were a lot of attacks from the gun, which was not really surprising. After 50K, Oggi noodled (pardon the pun - we are in Asia!) off the front with a Seoul City rider. They had a small lead, but then five to six others bridged up to them, then another 10, then five of the UPMC Team, from the States. Joe Papp organized that team, brought along a few South Americans who are very good on the flats. One of the guys, Alejandro can climb with the best of the field as well. Chadwick also bridged up, along with one other Giant rider. McCann was cruising in the field, like a lot of the GC contenders. Cory however, always fighting, made it in the break with Menzies and Shinri Suzuki from Shimano, who was currently in second.

So there goes the break, pulling away with second, and fourth place on G.C. contained within. The lead builds to over three minutes, then Giant has Chadwick and the other Giant rider sit up, so they can help chase. Alas, it was all in vain - today in any case. A UPMC rider, one of the South Americans wins, A Seoul City rider is second (those guys are impressive this year!), Menzies third, and Cory moves into second overall, Suzuki is now first on G.C.

What an ugly day for Giant. What is a sort of "poetic justice" is that the director for Giant told Oggi at the start of the race, "Looks like another easy win for us!" McCann is now fourth. Tomorrow is going to be interesting. Shimano will certainly try to protect their lead, but Giant will be attacking like crazy! Should be fun.

I am feeling even better, so tomorrow ought to go well. But, it is a bike race, and you know what that means.


Stage 5 - June 17: Yang Yang - Yang Yang, 136.2 km

Now it's Cory Lange's turn
Photo ©: Dirk van Hove

As predicted, Giant was on the attack early. The first climb went from 100 meters to 998 meters - but it was in 26 K. The rain made for an interesting ride too. There was a lot of concern about the descents in the wet, especially since last year when it was dry, 10 riders crashed on the first descent. McCann came up to me and asked if we would chase if they attacked, or if we would let Shimano chase. I told them we would only if our position was in jeopardy, but otherwise of course not. Then he asked if we would attack with them.

The last 50 K of the stage were the same as yesterday - which meant that we would be doing that nasty little climb in the end again. I told Cory that last climb was THE place to go, and to chill until we got to it. Shimano will chase or do tempo, didn't matter if a break was up the road or not. So Shimano would be tired for that last bit. Cory said, "I am going to attack soo hard on that climb!!!" I told him to do just that.

Chadwick ends up attacking on the first climb, hooks up with three others, two of the Uruguayan Americans (Joe Papp's mercenaries), and a Seoul City rider. They get up the road and build a lead of 4:30. Rob mentions that we may have our second place team GC position in jeopardy. So Tim and I go up to help Shimano chase. I notice that Shimano is creeping! They don't look so good. Suzuki was dropped on the climb, but the Shimano guys waited for him, stayed together. Smart move, as there is always strength in numbers - of course the numbers better make a stronger whole to be effective.

Oggi was dropped on the first climb, and we did not see him again until about 35 K's to go. Then he makes it up to us, I have him help Tim and I out while Rob and Cory sit in. We hit the bottom of the last climb, and Cory attacks. I watch the Shimano guys, in particular, Suzuki. He is creeping! Menzies is also struggling - he was right next to me for the first 500 meters, but then he blew. I follow Suzuki, and McCann is as well. We just about crest the top, and I throttle it over the top. So does McCann - I don't look back until we hit the flat. We have a few of us, and I see that we have a gap on Shimano. They all stayed together on the descent. We rail on it, and our gap starts to grow. Rob makes it there, Cory is up the road, and we close on Cory. I lead the charge to Cory and the race is all on the line. Cory only needs 30-40 seconds to take yellow, so this is IT! We drive hard, but our gap is not really growing too much. Then all of a sudden, Menzies magically appears. He again is impressive with his power - he jumped across to us solo. NOW we are fully loaded. A group of about eight of us, including an Uzbek who stands to move up a bit in GC as well. We end up giving every ounce, and just about catch Chadwick and company, and put over one minute into a hard chasing Team Shimano.

Mission accomplished! Cory is in yellow, and, Marco Polo is now first in team GC. All we have to do is defend tomorrow. That is all - but this IS a bike race!


Stage 6 - June 18: Yang Yang criterium, 80 km

Finally, the winning team - us!
Photo ©: Dirk van Hove

Race is not yet over - still have to assert ourselves, defend the jersey. All we have to do is keep it all together and Cory wins the whole thing. I talk to Menzies at the start of the stage - he only needs 24 seconds to bump Shinriki from second. If anyone could do it, it is Menzies. That guy is incredibly strong. He tells me he is not interested in attacking and that he is content with third. In fact, he offers to help us in the stage. That was huge - sure made our job easier! Tim, Oggi and Lionel rode awesome - strong all day. I was up there with them as well - Robin pulled through a bit, and Cory had the easy ride.

A group of four is off the front - 10-15 second gap for half the race, but they come back in the end - group finish. Lionel ends up third in the stage, Cory wins, Marco Polo first on team GC, Rob is eighth, I am 10th, Oggi is 18th. Not bad!


Up next - the new and improved Qinghai Lake Tour, a 2.3 sure to have a lot of excitement!

Stay tuned!


Images by Dirk van Hove

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