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Marco Polo team diary

Sea Keong Loh (Discovery Channel Marco Polo)
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

The Marco Polo Cycling Club reports from races in non-traditional cycling countries with stories and reports from the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team. Founded in 2000 and named after the famous traveller, Marco Polo, its mission is to provide talented cyclists from non-traditional cycling countries an opportunity to develop into world-class professionals.

After years of building, the team signed Fuyu Li, and his success and subsequent signing with the Discovery Channel ProTour team led to a partnership between the two teams, resulting in the formation of the 2007 Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team. The team provides a development path for cyclists beyond the traditional borders of the U.S. and Europe to the highest level of cycling competition.

Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team -

Index to all entries

South Africa - number 11111

The Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team
Photo ©: Dewald
(Click for larger image)

The most important races for the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team are in Asia. The team also races in Europe April - September. Especially in the European races our Asian riders learn and improve their level. Sometimes races which are not in Asia, nor in Europe fit into the program. This was the case with the Giro del Capo in South Africa, no doubt the strongest stage race in the UCI Africa Tour. The team consisted of Rudi van Houts and Sid Taberlay (mountainbikers from our partner MTB-team Dolphin-Trek), Dutchies Pol Nabben and Thijs Zonneveld and Hong Kong rider Chi Yin (Kenji) Leung.

The team had some successes with Rudi van Houts who proved to be a strong road rider. Rudi took 10th place in GC in the strong field of the Giro del Capo. (RK)

Report by Thijs Zonneveld

Entertainment along the course
Photo ©: Thijs Zonneveld
(Click for larger image)

It looked like a Fata Morgana or a day dream, but it was real. I nudged my team mate Pol. "Look at that!", I said to him, but he had already noticed it. Of course. The number on the shirt seemed to be lighting up between the thousands of other, normal numbers. 24981, 14320, 34493, 09883: the series of numbers seemed to be endless. Random. Except for the One. Number 11111. A blood-red rose in a field of weeds.

Number 11111 belonged to one of the participants in the biggest cycling event of the world, the Cape Argus, which takes place in Cape Town, South Africa. Every year, forty thousand men and women try to complete the one hundred and twenty kilometre long course through the hills around Cape Town. Male, female, young, old; top riders and tourists: they come from everywhere. One day per year, Cape Town is the cycling centre of the world.

This gigantic event coincides with the final stage of the Giro del Capo, the six day stage race in which we were competing. Some daft organiser had thought of a luminous idea to let us start fifteen minutes before the departure of the big bunch of amateur riders. And since their start was planned at 6.15, ours was at 6. In the morning.

So there we were, sitting on a terrace in the dark at half past five, drinking loads of coffee. Yawning, we were staring with our drowsy eyes at the multi-coloured herd, preparing for its annual climax. We saw it all: skinny cyclist with shaved, tanned legs with priceless bikes; obese one-ride-per-year riders on antique mountain bikes. But most of all, we saw their numbers. As most of the cyclists, we also have a number fetish. Especially for number one. Let alone five ones in a row.

Thijs Zonneveld decending
Photo ©: Chi Yin Leung
(Click for larger image)

Breathless, we were gazing at the line of ones at the shirt of the lucky owner. I was focusing so much on the Holy Grail in front of me, that I didn't notice that I poured my coffee in my neck, instead of my mouth. "I have to get that number...", I whispered to Poll. I left my coffee and my team-mate at the terrace, and ran as fast as my cycling shoes could carry me to the shining number.

Only a few meters before I reached the object of my obsession, I noticed the guy who was wearing it. The magic number was pinned at a prehistorically woolen Bianchi shirt. The mint green jersey had been washed so often that the green had turned into grey. In it was an old black man. He must have been at least seventy years old. He wore his helmet so far on the back of his head that his white hair showed. I lay my hand on his bony shoulder. Surprised, he looked at me. "I love your number", I said. He laughed, revealing all three teeth in his mouth. "You wanna change?" I asked him, and showed my own number, 81. For a few moments, he doubted, but when I offered him a team cap and two bottles, we had a deal. We agreed to meet each other after the race for the official exchange.

I do not know how long I've waited for him. After the finish of our race, all my team-mates went to the hotel, I stayed. Hours and hours, I saw riders and their numbers passing the finish line. But the one I was expecting didn't show up.

It started to dawn and the road began to get empty. The last riders had crossed the line hours ago. I looked at myself in the window display of a supermarket. Number 81. I sighed. Then I took my bike and rode off into the dark.

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Thijs Zonneveld

Images by Dewald

  • The Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team in South Africa, from left to right, soigneur Frank Villevoye, Chi Yin Leung, Sid Taberlay, Rudi van Houts, Pol Nabben, Thijs Zonneveld and manager Men van der Borgh.

Images by Thijs Zonneveld

Images by Chi Yin Leung