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Marco Polo team diary

Sea Keong Loh (Discovery Channel Marco Polo)
Photo ©: Shane Goss
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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 -

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Tour of Japan - Sushi Junkie

By Thijs Zonneveld

Japanese Hisanori Akiyama from the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team
Photo ©: Akiyama
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Japanese Hisanori Akiyama from the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team
Photo ©: Henk Zuidema
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Team manager Michael Carter from the Discovery Channel
Photo ©: Henk Zuidema
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Car navigation shows the mountain Time Trial at Mount Fuji
Photo ©: Henk Zuidema
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My lovely better half almost went blind of envy, when she heard I would go to the Tour of Japan. Don't get me wrong, she wishes me everything: A long life, healthy children, endless happiness and the kisses of all podium misses in the world – as long as they are given on the podium. But me travelling to Japan without her, that was one step too far. The reason for her jalousie lies in her stomach. We share an addiction that is called sushi. The picture of me surrounded by mountains of sushi was unbearable for her.

At least once a week, we consume huge amounts of self-made sushi. The ingredients are simple, even though it isn't always that easy to get the special rice, the Japanese vinegar, the seaweed and the lethal spicy horseradish, called 'wasabi.' Besides these fundamental requirements, everything is possible. Omelette, cucumber, crab, avocado and all the seafood you can think of. I even put a Chicken McNugget in my sushi roll once, even though Mister Sushi would probably turn in his grave by the mere thought of this sacrilege.

The reason that we, junkies as we are, prepare our sushi-shots ourselves is a financial one. Sushi in a restaurant in Holland is only affordable for the happy few. The Queen maybe, some soccer players' wives and the winner of the New Year's lottery. For the rest of the inhabitants of the Netherlands, eating sushi once a week in a restaurant is only possible if they run for the door before the bill arrives.

Here in Japan, my world has turned upside down. Sushi is just as exclusive as a hot dog or a cheese sandwich would be in Holland. It is available on every street corner. For breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. The happy few are numerous over here.

It took me – with the help of my Japanese team mate Hisanori – exactly two minutes to find myself a sushi bar after we arrived, hungry from the trip and the lack of decent food in the plane. The bar proved to be the stairway to heaven. Inside, sushi was served as baggage at the airport: on a moving belt. Long lines of plates with sushi of all kinds, forms and combinations, were rolling through the restaurant and into my mouth. Each plate would have cost me a fortune in Holland; here in the land of the Rising Sun, it was almost as cheap as the sunlight itself.

For about an hour, we ate as much as we could. The plates piled up on our table. Deeply satisfied, I examined the enormous stack of dishes. Soy sauce was dripping on my chin. I caressed my belly. One more grain of rice and I would probably have exploded. A beautiful death, of course. But I didn't want to widow my girlfriend before we even got married. A little bit of teasing isn't forbidden, though. I asked Hisanori to take a picture of me and the pile of plates. "For my girlfriend," I explained. He nodded. "Say cheese!" he shouted, with the camera in front of his eyes. I burped and looked into the camera with a mean smile.

The sushi did not harm Thijs much; he finished top 20 almost each stage. His best place was ninth, and in the general classification he finished 13th.

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Akiyama

Images by Henk Zuidema