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Photo ©: Bettini

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.

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Tour de Korea - Gimchi

By Remko Kramer

Tour de Korea Park Sung Baek

Thijs Zonneveld (Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team) suffering
Photo : Shangtai Kim
(Click for larger image)

It was the Tour of Park Sung Baek, no question about it. In his own country Korea it was Park who won the first stage, lost the yellow to German Hannes Blank, who finished solo in stage 2. However, Park caught back time -- with bonus seconds -- almost each stage by winning them. In stage eight it looked like his mission would fail, because a group of seven took some time, with Shinichi Fukushima taking yellow. But in the last stage it was Park again who won the stage and won the Tour de Korea by five seconds.

Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team in Tour de Korea

Pol Nabben from Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team took the second place in stage two holding on to the thrid place in GC for most of the Tour however he lost the podium due to the break in stage 7. Sergey Kudentsov was the only foreigner that could compete with the Koreans in the bunch sprints. In stage five he already came close with a second place, and in stage six he beat Park and won the stage!

Thijs Zonneveld felt strong in the mountains, but even then it was Park who often still hung on with the best climbers over the top. This killed the race a bit, as nobody was going to work hard to bring Park to the line and so the chasing peloton always came back.

Here follows Thijs' impression of the Tour de Korea:


Pol Nabben (Discovery Channel Marco Polo Team) going solo
Photo : Shangtai Kim
(Click for larger image)

I stared at the cup filled with indefinable slurry. Stirred my spoon in it and glanced at my neighbour, who was clearly enjoying devouring it. Its smell of onions and garlic filled the plane. In my head curiosity was battling repulsion. The latter won easily.

I put the cup back on my tray and clipped the lid back on it. The aroma didn't disappear. My neighbour, a Korean guy, gave me a nudge. He pointed at the cup. "Gimchi!" he said and waved his hand next to his ear. He took a mouthful of the sludge in his cup. "Mmmm...," he muttered. Again he nudged me, a little harder this time. "You. Eat!" He said it as if it were an order. I shook my head and pulled a filthy face. I shouldn't have.

His eyes seemed to be spitting fire. "YOU! EAT! GIMCHI!" His spit was splashing in my face. The other passengers turned around, alarmed by his yelling. A stewardess came running to us through the isle. "Is there a problem?" she asked. My friendly neighbour immediately started talking in Korean to her, pointing at me and the cup of Gimchi on my table. When he was finished, the stewardess gazed at me with a look full of contempt and took away my whole tray with food. The only thing she left behind was the cup of Gimchi. I grumbled a little bit, but the lethal looks of my fellow passengers made me shut up and I decided to settle myself in my faith.

Maybe, I should have packed a travel guide before leaving to South Korea. Then I would have read and known that Gimchi is the national addiction. Holy food, almost. Insult Gimchi, and you insult the Korean people and spirit.

Gimchi is fermented cabbage with onions and an amount of garlic that would blow a Frenchman off his feet. It is being served as a side dish. It goes with everything, breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a snack. Without it, any Korean would be lost. Gimchi is supposed to possess secret powers. Koreans say it is the reason that bird flue never touched ground in Korea, and the same goes for SARS and malaria. It would even be a cure against heart diseases, baldness and acne. At least, according to the waiter of the restaurant we asked to explain the meaning of the red slurry on our plates.

After the last stage of the Tour of Korea, I sat down at the sidewalk, next to Korea's national hero Park, a sprinter with thighs as big as tree trunks. I congratulated him with his fifth bunch sprint win and pointed at his legs. "What is your secret?", I asked him, laughing. For a moment he looked at me. Than he said, as serious as could be, "Gimchi, of course." He stood up and left for the podium, to collect his yellow jersey. The muscles on his thighs sparkled in the sun. Victory through Gimchi. Maybe, I thought, I ought to have a bite as well.


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Images by Shangtai Kim