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Trek - Marco Polo team diary
Riders of the China-registered Trek - Marco Polo Cycling Team report in from races around the world. Founded in 2000 and named after the famous traveler, Marco Polo, the team's mission is to provide talented cyclists from non-traditional cycling countries an opportunity to develop into world-class professionals. Formerly the development squad for the Discovery Channel team, Trek Bikes took over the main sponsorship position.
In 2008, Fuyu Li is one of the key riders of the team, and he will prepare to represent the host country at the Olympic road race in Beijing under the guidance of experienced team directors and team-mates like Bart Brentjens (former Olympic and World Champion) and Leon van Bon (winner of two Tour de France stages and Olympics and World’s medalist).
Next to the Trek – Marco Polo Cycling Team, Marco Polo Cycling also manages the Bike4All foundation that supports the development of cycling in poor development countries.
Read about the history of the team.
Qinghai Lake Tour going up
By Guido Kramer and Michael Carter
Being a Chinese team, the Tour of Qinghai Lake is a 'regular' on the program of the Trek-Marco Polo team from its first edition in 2002 on. This year the team was sponsored by General Electric (GE Energy) for the event, so the team did race under the name of GE - Marco Polo Team presented by Trek.
Some health problems
The guys did cope well with having to miss Leon van Bon due to health problems and the best Chinese riders of the team dropping out for the same reason and Olympic preparations. Still, the team had high hopes for Jai Crawford, who is consistently racing very well this season, with a second place on GC in the Tour of Japan as a highlight.
The Qinghai courses do suit Jai very well, as he is one of the very best climbers on the Asian circuit. Jai crashed badly in the Tour of Korea-Japan, however (just after forcing the decisive break of the whole race...) His wounds did get infected again in this rainy edition of the Qinghai Lake Tour. Getting a fever from the infection, Jai was forced to give up as well. Things then came down to Rhys Pollock going for GC and Sergey Kudentsov trying to have a go at the field sprints.
Rhys Pollock going strong
Rhys did an outstanding job!! He conserved a bit more energy than he is used to, trying to save it for the mountains, which are not his specialty. (Rhys races very aggressively, normally; there are often stage races in which he spends more km's on the attack then in the peloton!)
Rhys was sixth in GC with just one mountain to go (and there are a few, in this race!), but this last mountain was just one too many for him and he dropped back to a 13th GC when another battle between Hamilton/Sevilla and the Iranians was fought. Sergey and Loh Sea Keong did a great job supporting Rhys; unfortunately Sergey was not able to catch a win in the sprints. He did also miss the support of the three guys dropping out, of course.
All in all a great effort by the team, dealing with so much bad luck, still having a good presence in the race!! Michael Carter, already present in the very first edition of the race, directed the team. His experiences are worth reading!
Michael Carter's impressions
I have been to the Tour of Qinghai Lake five times now - four as an athlete and one time as a team manager. I raced in the very first edition in 2002 and was asked by the USA Cycling Federation to organise a team that went on to win that inaugural event with Tom Danielson. The Tour of Qinghai Lake is most definitely the most unique event on the UCI Pro racing calendar and not just because it is in China. The Tour de Langkawi, the previous World Cup event in Utsonomiya, Japan, are also in Asia, but what sets Qinghai apart from these other Asian events is the altitude.
The race starts in Xining at 2,200 metres and reaches over 3,000 metres numerous times, making this event the highest race that nearly the entire peloton will ever reach in competition (or perhaps, ever in their lives!). The terrain is also as impressionable as is the altitude - rolling through "smaller" cities like Xining (population only four million) and Guide (pronounce "goo-eee-day" and only two million people) and out through the mountains and valleys where there is only yak, sheep, goats and a few cows and yerts dot the stunning landscape.
The race features one stage that begins in Xining, heads out into the countryside and takes the riders up a climb of over 30km to over 3,500 metres. As the race crests the top of the one and only climb on the day, the view is incredible to say the least. The bright yellow rapeseed flowers and green grasses fill the valleys below which create a stunning contrast when combined with the crystal clear blue skies and the bright white peaks of fresh snow from mountains that can be seen on the other side of the valley that must reach over 5,000 metres - at least!
This particular stage finishes in a town that has been (so far) left untouched by the economic explosion that the rest of China has enjoyed. The streets where the race finishes are in great shape, probably only because the race comes through the town. In town, the side streets are full of pot holes and small shops that sell DVD's, repair scooters, sell groceries and the essentials. (This is the stage where Tyler Hamilton of Rock Racing secured his win by attacking on the descent!).
From 2002 to 2008, I can tell you that this race has come a long, long way. The 2002 edition had four-hour transfers on dirt roads that were nearly impassable in regular cars, and some hotels had, shall I say, less than adequate sanitary standards, to the 2008 edition where the roads we drove over in the past were made into four-lane highways that had not even a ripple or bump. The race now uses new hotels that easily meet or exceed Western standards.
The food is also excellent - of course some complain (but those that do will complain anyway). The organisation of the race itself is also very good (save the incident where Oscar Sevilla collided with a policeman that stepped into the road too far with 300 metres to go on stage 2). The race organisers are eager to make the race as big as possible so after that incident, they were sure to have the proper fencing up for the stage finishes from stage 3 onwards.
Teams from all over the world were included in 2008, including bigger teams from Europe, Serramenti-Diquigiovanni, Skil-Shimano, Rock Racing, GE - Marco Polo p/b TREK, Jelly Belly, Tabriz Petro-Chemical from Iran, Giant Asia, the National teams of Uzbekistan, China, Kazakstan, Hong Kong and a few others.
Most would be surprised at the Iranians, although I have known them since 2003. They truly are among the very best climbers in the world, but due to politics, don't get the opportunity to display their talents, other than at Qinghai Lake. What does surprise me is how much they race against each other! Their agenda is not the overall, but the mountain jersey.
Three of them would attack each other as they would drop just about everyone else on the big climbs and instead of working together on the descents, they would just ride until they were caught by a group. They could easily have won the whole race it seems, but because they do not really like each other, they do not make an effort for the win.
With experienced riders like Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla, the entire Skil - Shimano team, the riders from the National teams that come from bigger pro teams, even with the huge leads the Iranians would have over the climbs, they would be reeled in. The Chinese have also improved immensely due to races like Qinghai Lake.
I am a bit dismayed that there are not more Chinese riders that are rising to the European level, but the reason is that their national program is based on a provincial system that actually prevents any development. The head coaches of the provinces dictate what their riders are allowed to do as far as races and often it seems that they forbid their riders from doing bigger races that would actually help to develop them and bring them to a new level.
The Tour of Qinghai Lake will only continue to attract big teams, and not just because of the huge prize list, but because of its unique attributes of scenery, altitude, culture and courses. I hope it does - it truly provides for an experience that only the sport of cycling offers due to races in every corner of the world.
I hope the race continues to grow and attract bigger, not only because I myself want to go back, but because it provides an opportunity to see a part of the world that would otherwise be missed.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Mark Gunter/www.pbase.com/gunterphotograph