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Photo ©: Schaaf

Tales from the travellers — the diary of Team Marco Polo

Yellow in South China

9th Tour of South China Sea - 2.5, China, December 26, 2004-January 1, 2005

The Marco Polo Cycling Team had their last "hometown-race" in Hong Kong, because the team changes the registration license to mainland China. And of course we wanted to say goodbye to our friends here with a great performance.

With some of our team we met again after the Tour de China. I, Remko Kramer was there myself and Chi Yin Leung (Kenji) from Hong Kong and Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh (Oggi) from Mongolia participated in between in the Tour de Lanka. They finished just two weeks before the Tsunami disaster...

Masahiko Mifune was welcomed again, he won last years Hong Kong Cycle Classic against a world class pro-field. And new riders on the team were Hong Kong national champion John Tonks and Australian Rhys Pollock who will also be on the 2005 team.

Also German soigneuse Francis Cerny joins again and of course our Hong Kong manager Louis Lui with a mechanic. Team director Allan Wolhuter from South-Africa starts his two months tour with us here (following are the training camp, the Tour of Siam (Thailand) and the Tour of Qatar).

This years peloton for the Tour of South China Sea is even stronger then last years, with of course the favourite team from Moscow and the favourite rider from Hong Kong Kam Po Wong, other strong teams are Ked-Bianchi Berlin from Germany, two teams from Czech and this year new Wismilak Indonesia, the Swiss national track team and Glud and Marstrand from Denmark!

It is Christmas day, but not the same experience like in cold and snowy Europe. Also for Rhys it is different experience because it is even cold for Hong Kong and much colder then Australian summer. But the nice thing is that we are here together with all these different nationalities and cultures and have a good time together, which is also a Christmas experience.

Stage 1 - December 26: Hong Kong road race, 105.4 km

The Marco Polo Cycling Team for the Tour of South China Sea 2004.
Photo ©: Francis Cerny
Click for larger image

The start was at the Golden Bauhinia Square in the financial district. It was so early that we could still see the flag raising ceremony. In the neutralisation we already reached speeds over 60kmph. But then it got quiet until we arrived at the 7 K circuit that we raced 12 laps. On this course are two mean climbs. With good legs still you take them fast on the big ring, but they wear the field out. And after a few laps, two groups got away. Rhys Pollock who looked impressively strong was in almost every break so also in this one. But it regrouped again. This happened a second time and we completely missed this break. Also because Rhys had a flat tire, the caravan with cars was about one minute behind the peloton so he had no chance to get back.

There was another regrouping and then a small group with Kam Po Wong got away. Then Kenji (Chi Yin Leung) made a very strong move, he showed how much stronger he became from racing in Europe. By himself he attacked at the bottom of the finish-hill and made a chase of half a lap, to catch the strong front group. Then Masa went as hard as anybody up one of the climbs to catch some chase group and he got also up front. When Oggi heard Kam Po already left the peloton (without telling him ;-) he went out of the group and just rode off, like nobody tried to follow him. That made 3 riders in the break of 21 riders, which got together.

Entering the final lap, young super talent Alexander Khatuntsev from Moscow attacked and was never caught back. Also the chase of Kam Po Wong with Vladislav Borisov failed and they sprinted for 2nd which was for Kam Po.

Masa came in 6th, Kenji 12th and Oggi 15th. We are now 3rd on team GC behind Moscow City Sports and Hong Kong National Team.

After a shower in the hotel, the whole tour packed and left Hong Kong for the next stages in China. We had a transfer by bus to the city of Shenzhen, just across the border. This city has grown from a small town into a multi-million huge city in just a few years. The big buildings and modern architecture are impressive and the infrastructure and roads are all new, clean and developed for so many in such a small area. This is modern China, in full economical development.


Stage 2 - December 27: Shenzhen circuit race, 90 km

Masahiko Mifune (Marco Polo Cycling Team)
Photo ©: Francis Cerny
Click for larger image

Today the Marco Polo Cycling Team took over the lead in the Tour of South China Sea! On the fast circuit in Shenzheng it seemed impossible to get away. On the smooth concrete roads the fast peloton caught back the many break attempts. With 9 laps to go on the 4,4 km circuit, a group of 6 riders got away with Hong Kong rider Ngai Ching Wong, Russian Alexey Schmidt and Marco Polo's Masahiko Mifune. Then 4 Kazakh riders made a great move. One of them had a flat tire and they brought him back to the field. However when they got back, they didn't stop, they just pulled through and flew passed the surprised peloton, straight to the front group, where they gave it all they had.

The group took a 1:30 minute lead and the chase of several teams in the last 4 laps was too late. Even the leading Moscow team and the Hong Kong team from the second placed rider Kam Po Wong couldn't close the gap.

In the final sprint Masahiko Mifune from the Marco Polo Cycling Team won the sprint with more then a bike length from Alexey Schmidt and Ngai Ching Wong.

The strong move of the Kazakhstan National Team gave them the lead in the team classification with Marco Polo Cycling Team in second and the Moskou City Sports Team third.

Japanese Masahiko Mifune from the Marco Polo Cycling Team takes over the points classification as well as the individual GC, he will wear the yellow jersey in the next stage.


Stage 3 - December 28: Guangzhou, 110 km

Some victims of the mass crash:
Photo ©: Francis Cerny
Click for larger image

A cold day for the riders in the Tour of South China Sea. Luckily it stopped raining just before the race. The race course of 2,3 km is at the entrance road of a Zoo and goes up and down a hill with a roundabout at 500 metres before the finish.

It doesn't take long to warm up because the first break goes from the start. All peloton still so excited, so one break catches the other and we don't need to do too much. Especially Kam Po Wong tries many times and is very strong. But he never gets far because everybody else is anxious to make another move for their teams.

The last laps the peloton gets ready for a mass sprint and the riders squeeze in on the corners. Then going down the hill entering the roundabout, the breaks scream, but nothing happens. This warning is not enough and 100 metres further bicycles and wheels crack and the riders fly all over the left half of the street. At least 15 riders go down, among them number two in the general classification, Russian Alexey Shmidt. His bicycles frame broke in two pieces. Me and Rhys also crashed. I hurt my knee bad and fell a crack in the helmet... But I am still o.k. I hope.

Schmidt is still on the street when the rest of the peloton flies by into the last few hundred metres where the Danes pull the sprint, but German Marcel Sieberg takes the victory before Sergey Kudentsov from Moscow City Sports and Marco van Kamel of the Swiss National Track Team.

Tour leader Masahiko Mifune sprints to a seventh place. But he does this on the 13. He had a wheel change and couldn't shift the 11 he usually uses...

After the finish we were sent into to Zoo for a cooling-down lap and we could enjoy the view of bears, panthers and other exotic animals.


Stage 4 - December 29: Zhongshan, 88 km

Photo ©: Francis Cerny
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Today's stage was in an Californian looking boulevard, with palm trees and brand new wide roads. The streets of the course were surrounded by nice looking apartment buildings and some guarded private properties with large villas. And nearby was an 18 hole golf course. This shows how fast things are changing in China, especially in this southern part, near Hong Kong.

It seems that most of the riders are still pretty fresh, because the tempo is high again and there are non-stop attacks and counter attacks. But most groups were caught back within a lap. The laps are 4 km each and go up a little rise with a headwind and the finish is downhill with a nice s-bend at 200 metres before the finish.

With about 7 laps to go, a bigger group formed with threats for the yellow jersey of Masahiko Mifune. Ngai Ching (Dereck) Wong the number second and again (stage 2) 4 Kazakhs drove the break. But with strong efforts of Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh, Rhys Pollock and John Tonk from the Marco Polo Cycling Team and a little help from the Russians who also missed the break, the group was caught with 4 laps to go.

From then the peloton got hectic again for the coming mass sprint. With about 2 km to go, on the uphill section riders go down again and at least 10 riders crash and some more are blocked. The Russians with Kudentsov, the Germans with yesterday's winner Sieberg and the Danes pull the sprint and behind them the battle is on. Then Max Nielsen from the Danish Glud and Marstrand team takes over and nobody can beat him the last 200 metres. Second Marcel Sieberg of Ked-Bianchi Berlin and third is Sergey Kudentsov from Moscow City Sports.

Masahiko Mifune from the Marco Polo Cycling Team still holds yellow, but Kazach Alexey Lyako is getting close in the points classification. He was top three in each of the four points sprint today!


Stage 5 - December 30: Zhuhai circuit race, 108 km

A windy day at the Zhuhai car racing track. Wide open roads with fast asphalt. The race is hard because it was riding in the gutter all the time.

After a while three riders make a gap and must be riding very hard. They take a 1 minute lead on the chasing peloton. They are Adi Wibowo from Wismilak, Lam Kai Tsun from Hong Kong and Taiji Nishitani from Japan. But entering the last laps the speed of the field becomes so high that they are caught back. In the last lap, there is again a crash. At the last kilometre the Danish Glud and Marstrand team takes the lead and pulls the sprint for Max Nielsen who wins. Second becomes Sergey Kudentsov and third Kam Po Wong. Tomorrow the showdown in Coloane on the steep hill-top finish at the A-Ma statue.

With Masahiko Mifune of the Marco Polo Cycling Team still in the yellow jersey.

We have another transfer, this time to Macau, a former Portuguese colony. It has some nice old buildings and is becoming the Las Vegas of this region with casino's all over town.


Stage 6 - December 31: Macau, 90 km

Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh and Rhys Pollock from the Marco Polo Cycling Team
Photo ©: Francis Cerny
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It is 31st of December and the Marco Polo Cycling Team still holds the yellow jersey. It would be nice to bring it into the new year 2005. Also keeping it today would almost mean winning the Tour, because tomorrow is only a fast flat criterium.

So this is going to be the decisive stage for the Tour of South China Sea. There is a circuit with some mean hills. And the finish is at the top of a 2 kilometre super steep hill. The climb goes up towards the statue of the Goddess A-Ma. A-Ma lived in the region thousands of years ago and Macao was named after her. Her statue is standing at 199,9 meters above the sea level where the climb started. Note that there is a 300 meters long downhill at 500 meters to go, making the rest of the climb around 12-15% average! There is an early break of 3 riders. They gain a 1:30 minute lead maximum. But the active peloton comes close a few times. In the last lap, some teams keeps their top-riders in the front and the peloton almost caught the break at the bottom of the climb.

Then Russians Hatuntsev took off! He flew up the hill and won with 20 seconds ahead of Kam Po Wong and taking over Masahiko Mifune's yellow jersey. Derek (Ngai Ching) Wong finished top ten and remained the number two in GC. Kam Po Wong third.

Tour leader Masahiko Mifune from the Marco Polo Cycling Team had very bad legs today. He started the climb with the first, but suffered and struggled to finish as 40th.

A special note for Chinese rider Chen Jun, who was in the three men break for about 50 kilometres. He got caught at the start of the climb but stayed in the front and became 5th!

It is new years eve but no time to celebrate, there is another stage tomorrow morning.


Stage 7 - January 1: Macau (Jockey Club Square) criterium, 66 km

John Tonks from the Marco Polo Cycling Team
Photo ©: Francis Cerny
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Start 2005 with a race, a good start of a new year!

The general classification is set and the Russian team leaves no room for any surprises. Only the sprint jersey is still open. But Danish big guy Max Nielsen makes clear that he is the one that is going to take this one home. He wins the first intermediate points sprint and when later in the race some riders are in breaks, he also takes the left over points at those intermediate sprints.

The race ends in a bunch sprint where the Russians lead out with the whole team. The Danes come next to them. We try with Oggi and Masa and me to get passed them, but we don't make it before the 180 degree turn and only sprint for an o.k. top ten. Sergey Kudentsov wins the stage clear, Max Nielsen second and Marcel Sieberg third.

The final general classification of the Tour of South China Sea 2004 is: first Alexander Hatuntsev, second Derek (Ngai Ching) Wong and third Kam Po Wong.

Marco Polo's Masahiko Mifune becomes 7th , Kenji (Chi Yin Leung) 9th and Oggi 13th. This makes a 4th place in the team GC behind Moscow, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan.

We celebrate the new year at a nice closing ceremony with great Chinese food. And the next day we will move to Zhuhai in the south of China for the official press conference of the 2005 Marco Polo Cycling Team, a Continental Team registered in China. And then a two week training camp to prepare for the first races in the new UCI Asian Continental Tour.

We would like to thank everybody for their help and support, especially our Hong Kong friend Louis Lui. Also we would like to thank the Hong Kong Cycling Association for their well organised Tour of South China Sea and pleasant cooperation over the past years!


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