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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

One of those days

Thijs Zonneveld from the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team warming up
Photo ©: Thijs Zonneveld
(Click for larger image)

Next to racing in a good part of the UCI Asia Tour, the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team also races in Europe. This is important to improve the level of the Chinese and Asian riders. One of the stage races Marco Polo did in Europe was Spain's Circuito Montanes. This is high-level Spanish stage race and one of the hardest stage races on the UCI Continental Europe Tour. Its former winners include Dave Bruylandts, Fernando Serrano and Robert Gesink.

Japan's Hisanori Akiyama and Malaysia's Loh Sea Keong had a hard time in the tough Spanish mountains against some of the strongest European riders. Chinese talent Xing Yan Dong survived well, despite having trouble getting a good position before the climbs, he managed to pass many groups in the mountains and finish without problems.

The Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team also has some western riders who share their experience with the Asian riders, one such rider is Thijs Zonneveld who finished 14th overall. Here is a story from Zonneveld about one of his days in the 2007 Circuito Montanes:

The Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team van before the start
Photo ©: Thijs Zonneveld
(Click for larger image)

Some days seem to be cursed. A spell rests upon them and it's impossible to break it - from the moment you wake up, everything turns out the wrong way. You stub your toe on the bathroom door, you find out that the toilet paper has run out when it is too late and you mistake the tube with hair wax for the toothpaste. The yoghurt proves to be two weeks past the expiration date, the newspaper is soaking wet from the pouring rain and the vacuum cleaner explodes when you try to clean up the cornflakes that you put all over the kitchen floor. The rain outside never seems to stop.

There's only one way to spend these days: in bed, with the curtains shut and your eyes closed. Do as little as possible. Risk management, if you will.

Unfortunately skipping a day like that is never a real option as a professional sports person. Duty calls, especially in a stage race. Last week, while we were riding the Circuito Montañes, I woke up on the penultimate day and realised immediately that it was one of those days, but I didn't have any other option than to get out of my bed and hope for the best.

Pol Nabben from the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team in action
Photo ©: Thijs Zonneveld
(Click for larger image)

My hope proved to be in vain, as it was already shattered at the breakfast table. The coffee was cold and watery, I dropped the honey in my lap and the toast was burnt. When I returned to my hotel room, I noticed that I had lost my key. Half an hour and a grumpy maid later, the shower turned to be cold and my towel dirty. When I jumped out of the bath tub, I slipped over the soap. I looked into the mirror, studying the bump on the back of my head, and sighed. For one moment I considered getting back into my bed, but my duty was calling too loudly.

We almost arrived too late at the starting point. My mistake - I had volunteered to be guide, but in my state of confusion, I lead the team cars to the starting point of next day's stage. A mad raid trough the Cantabrian inlands brought us to the starting line just in time. I even had enough minutes left for a warm-up…at least, that's what I thought. Several seconds after mounting my bike I was already lying in the gutter. A little boy had crossed the street without looking and my only option was hitting a giant Mercedes instead of him. Lying in the gutter, I collected the endless list of Spanish insults from the mother of the little boy and the Mercedes driver. My shoulder was bruised, not to mention my ego.

Bradley White and Joe Cooper from the Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team
Photo ©: Thijs Zonneveld
(Click for larger image)

Black and blue, bruised and broken, I started the race. Of course, my colleagues didn't care about my condition and the pace was so high that the pain of my shoulder and head was taken over by my hurting legs. Hanging from my finger nails I survived the first big climb. The descent, however, proved to be too much. I crashed in the first corner. I managed to get back on my bike, but the sight of the blood dripping into my white socks clouded my mind even more.

Miraculously, I made it to the final 20 kilometres in the first group of 15 guys. A few kilometres later, I was alone and in front. My lead grew to half a minute. I started thinking that my decision not to get back into my bed was the right one and that this day wasn't too bad after all. But at 500 metres before the finish line Bauke Mollema, the newest Dutch climbing talent, came flying past. His orange shirt was blazing like the afterburners of a rocket. I watched him cheering his win and bowed my head in despair. It was just one of those days.

Thijs Zonneveld


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Thijs Zonneveld