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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.
My first time
By Loh Sea Keong
The Tour of Thailand 2008 was a totally different one compared to the last Tour of Thailand in 2006, in which the Marco Polo Cycling Team won the yellow jersey with Li FuYu. We also had a different team from the previous edition. This time Leon van Bon, Rhys Pollock, Jai Crawford, and I were around, racing for Trek-Marco Polo.
It is a great experience for me to race with these guys. They are great guys. Leon van Bon. What can you ask more if you race in the same team with Leon. He is such a great character guy and great guidance. Off course, he is also a legend in Europe, famous as a big classic rider and sprinter, winning stages in the Tour de France and a lot more. I gain a lot of valuable experience from racing with him.
Rhys Pollock, he has been around with the team since I joined Marco Polo. He teaches, guides, helps, takes care of me as I was only 17 in 2005, going over to Europe. I look at him as my big brother, and also a role model in cycling. He takes care of his teammate very much. And Jai, he is a great climber, and I am always willing to work my ass off for him. It is worthy for me to work for him as he will always fight for a good result at the end.
Before the race started, we already had a bit of a handicap situation, as we were one rider down, other teams have five. But, I had good feeling for this race, as it was my debut race with the Marco Polo Cycling Team back in 2006 and so I was a member of the winning team for tour of Thailand 2006 immediately.
The first stage was a climbing circuit race. With the Iranian national team, Tabriz Petrolchemical, Kuota Senges from Europe and Giant Asia there were enough outfits with strong climbers. They made the race hard until almost only riders from these teams were left – and our team of course in the 'peloton'. Five laps before finish, 10 guys went away and we missed this break. It ended up we had to chase it down to limit the time lost for our GC man, Jai. We could bring them back and kept losses at about one minute to the escape group.
Paris – Roubaix in Thailand
Second stage - after yesterday's mistake, the team was really keen to make up the losses and Rhys was in good form, coming from winning races in Europe. He attacked on a course resembling Paris – Roubaix, but instead of cobblestones, the roads were full of potholes. The bad road stretched for almost 15km.
Rhys went over alone to bridge to a breakaway group in front of him and it took ages for him to get there. In the last 20 km Rhys attacked the group in a headwind and went away with two Giant Asia guys and one guy from a Dutch team. Rhys had to settle for second place in the sprint, which was won by a Giant Asia sprinter. But, what an effort by Rhys, riding like a beast today!
Bad things happened then. Before dinner, Rhys was told by the commissar that he was disqualified from his second place and also was disqualified from the whole race. He could not start the race tomorrow. Rhys was really furious and found out that a motor commissar told the chief commissar that Rhys was hanging on a public vehicle for 10 min during his lone attack to bridge over from the peloton to the breakaway group. Unfair !
Such a ridiculous situation, as we all believe Rhys didn't lie to us and he denied he ever did that. Moreover, he just pushed off from a car that almost crashed into him from a sideway, just to stay on his bike, for one moment. The course was not very well protected in this race and now a local commissar wants to make promotion maybe and Rhys is out. If anyone would not do this, it is Rhys. He is a true sportsmen and hates it if even teammates try to get results in an unfair way!!
Third stage - we left with only three riders early on in the stage. Peter Coutes from Giant Asia got the leader's jersey from yesterday stage and they were controlling the race from the start. During the race, the two Iranian teams were having some fights, as they had some quarrel since the first stage.
Knowing this, I saw that getting into a break that day would be an effort with a good chance. It was a long stage of 203 K, but I am never afraid of long distance. So in the first hour of racing, I was away in a breakaway group with one Malaysian guy and one guy from Thailand. We did get a good nine-minute lead from the peloton and I saw there was a chance this break could succeed today.
After about 120km into the stage, we dropped the Thai guy. As the Malaysian guy was also one of my training partners in Malaysia, we worked perfectly to stay away. I was left alone on the front for the last 20km as my Malaysian friend got dropped, exhausted, and I managed to hang on to a 30-second lead from the chasing group and stayed away to get my first real win of my career. Jai finished in second place!! A Trek-Marco Polo 1-2 result, the day after Rhys was thrown out of the race so unfairly. Sweet revenge!!!
Fourth stage – Jai got into a 10-man breakaway and got sixth place and a four-minute gap on the peloton.
Fifth stage – Bjorn Glasner from Kuota Senges won the stage from a lone, long break. But Jai really made a big effort today by attacking the peloton at the bottom of the climb (50km before finish) and held off the charging peloton to finish second on the stage.
Leon van Bon on a mission
Sixth stage – Leon came into this stage with a mission. He wanted to attack. From the gun, he went hard and almost no one managed to get to his wheel. He had to slow down a bit to let someone come back to him and he rolled away with four other guys. The break seemed to go nowhere, as the Iranian and Giant teams were chasing.
But still Leon was going hard until he dropped the three other guys in the break. 30km before the finish, he got caught by the peloton, however. Last 10km, I was riding at the front, but Leon told me he wasn't going to sprint. So, I backed off a little bit.
But something happened. You couldn't see this happen often in Asia here. Someone attacked in the last kilometre before the finish while there were sprinter teams riding in front flat out, setting the pace for their sprinter. This happened in front of my eyes !! Leon attacked hard at the last kilometre, while the sprinters' teams were building a train in front of the peloton.
Nobody reacted to Leon's attack. Suddenly the train was 'kaput'!! Leon managed to roll through the last corner with a 50-70m gap from the peloton and crossed the line with his hands in the air, having time to celebrate his second win this year in Asia. Bravo!!! This was a super attack …..
Samuel Jackson of Phayao
So the Tour of Thailand was another success for Trek – Marco Polo Cycling Team, with two stage wins and two (for us it is three) second places. The team also enjoyed the country of Thailand. Great landscape in the "Northern Adventure" as the race organiser calls this year's race.
And good places to stay here in Thailand and very good food. There is one dish I would recommend in Northern Thailand is Phat Thai (Thai Fried noodle). Especially from this town named Phayao, situated on the river, in front of the 7-Eleven. Famously the Phat Thai is cooked by "Samuel Jackson” of Phayao ………….. see the photo. And also the elephant ride in Lampang, the biggest elephant centre in the world, is really worth to visit…. but I prefer to ride my Trek bicycle...
Note about Loh Sea Keong
Malaysian Loh Sea Keong does have a great passion for cycling and in 2005 at the age of 18, he came over to Europe to race with the Marco Polo Cycling Club. He had a hard time to even finish local races, but his dedication and professional attitude gave him a chance on the Marco Polo Cycling Team in 2006. In the past years Loh became a strong team player and developed to a rider to watch in the UCI Asia Tour. This year in Europe tyhe team already noticed that he has become strong enough for his first international victory…
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Tour of Thailand
Images by Steve Thomas
Images by Loh Sea Keong