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On top of the world: The Gunn-Rita Dahle diary 2006
Norwegian cross-country mountain bike racer Gunn-Rita Dahle is probably the best female rider this relatively young branch of the sport has ever seen. World champion in 2002, 2004 and 2005, Olympic champion in 2004 and rarely beaten in the World Cup in 2003, 2004 and 2005, she has a breath-taking palmares.
Dahle says her success is due to an unrelenting focus - she describes herself as a '24-hour athlete' - and the constant support of her husband and coach Kenneth FlesjŚ. Follow her exploits on Cyclingnews as she works to stay at the top of her game in 2006. Or, for more Gunn-Rita, see her personal website: www.gunnrita.com
One week in China, September 29, 2006
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]
They say that no two days are alike, but we have now entered a period of truly striking contrasts - everything from bike races in Estonia and classwork at school in Oslo, to spectacular bike rides in the middle of the noisy and busy city of Beijing. We're enjoying every single exciting challenge that meets us these days.
We've just arrived home again from an action-packed and busy week in Beijing. A whole lot has been happening since we did the final World Cup race in Schladming on Saturday, September 9. We had four days at home in Stavanger, meeting with the whole family one evening, washing countless machine-loads of dirty clothing, spending a few hours in the office doing the most important of the paperwork and, as always, spending some time at necessary meetings. We've also naturally had a few enjoyable evenings just the two of us, with delicious home-made food and lots of fun with our two lovely cats.
New places - new challenges
After that, we left for Estonia, a country we haven't visited before. Our programme here included a marathon race on bike, placed amongst well-known skiing resorts of Otapaa. We were cordially welcomed by some of the Merida dealers in Tallinn, Marko and Sven, and had a great cycling experience together with a good 3000 other enthusiasts on bikes.
After that we left straight for Oslo on Sunday evening, September 17, for a two-day course. It's a long time since Kenneth and I have taken part in a tutorial course, but it was interesting and we'd like more of it. Our course was in presentation techniques, run by our own personal sponsor, Coop, providing us both with knowledge and ideas for an upcoming period with many presentations and lectures on the agenda.
Full days in China
On Wednesday evening we got onto the aeroplane, aimed for China. On Thursday afternoon, only a few hours after arrival at the hotel, we were out on our bikes, cycling through the busy streets of Beijing together with millions of Chinese. I burst out in peals of laughter after just a few hundred metres, as the whole setting became just a bit too much for me to digest.
After only a few hours on the plane, we suddenly found ourselves in a completely different world. It was absolutely teeming with people everywhere, the noise-level was intense, the chaos in the traffic was fascinating, the air was clammy and dusty, and the temperature was 30 degrees centigrade. The cyclists have their own roads in Beijing, actually their own lane along the main roads. There are literally millions of cyclists in this very large city, and imagine us finding our place in this mass of wheels and becoming an integral part of the crowds using these bike lanes all day and all night.
We really enjoy these days of contrast which we experience at this time of the year, when promotion for our employer (Merida) and our sponsors fill our time. Sleep and rest are usually very important parts of our programme, but now sleep simply isn't an issue. Luckily there's a good bonus associated with this kind of work (when days can be long and sometimes extremely hectic), and it provides us both with thousands of fantastic experiences and impressions which we both enjoy and thrive on.
Increasing interest in biking
This is the second time we've been invited by Nordic Way, which is the organization behind The Great Wall Bicycle Festival. On Saturday there's a road race, and on Sunday everything is about mountain biking at differing levels and for all age-groups. Even though the bicycle is, and for years has been, the most-used mode of transport in China, cycling at a competitive level is still a reasonably unknown concept here.
This bike festival is in the same park as the Olympic mountain bike race track in 2008, and this is also where the Chinese cycling federation has its main offices. Since we were here last year, taking part in the same festival, they've built a mighty velodrome and many large buildings. BMX riding will take place in the same area. In my opinion, this park is far from an ideal venue for making an exciting and really challenging mountain bike race.
We were hoping that somebody from the Chinese cycling federation would show us around the Olympic race tracks, as the UCI was inspecting things here earlier this summer and gave the tracks their OK. We had an agreement before we left for China that we would be allowed to view the tracks, but when we landed in Beijing we were told that the federation didn't want to show us the race course after all. It is to be kept completely secret from everybody except for the Chinese women cyclists, who have full access to train and get to know the Olympic race course. The Chinese cycling federation was particularly unwilling to accommodate. It was a great disappointment, especially as we've made such an effort for increasing the interest in competitive cycling in China.
High level of enthusiasm
During our stay there was a lot of signing of autographs, photo-shoots, and great enthusiasm, as there usually is when we visit Asia. We met many friendly people, both young and old, and we also met many people who we had gotten acquainted with during our last visit to Beijing last year. The Merida boss in China, Simon Hsu, met us at the airport and we received royal treatment throughout the stay. The Merida factory in China produces over 600.000 bikes a year. Sales have increased by 40 percent this year, and there are a good 1000 Merida dealers in China today.
There are so incredibly many things I could have told you about our stay in China, everything from shopping, the restaurants, and the fascinating queuing culture, to the bustling life everywhere, round the clock. I've just started reading the book called "China - A Voyage on the Sea of Life" by Torbjørn Færøvik. I can strongly recommend this book to anyone who has been to China or is planning a visit there. At any rate, this is a book with poignant images, sounds and scents on every page, combined with a good portion of history about this mighty nation.
High level of activity
As I write, I'm sitting on an aeroplane, this time on my way to Longyearbyen on Svalbard/Spitzbergen. It's Friday afternoon and once again I'm going to visit a place on earth where I've never been before. Tomorrow various cycling activities await me together with children, plus a celebration tomorrow evening for the hundred year anniversary of Coop. There will also be some time for sightseeing this weekend, and I'm looking very much forward to that.
We got back to Oslo on Wednesday evening after a long and very uncomfortable flight from Beijing. I started out with stomach pains and headache right after take-off, and spent more time sitting on the toilet than on my own plane seat for the rest of the flight. Kenneth was flat out for two days after our arrival in Beijing with sickness, so now it was my turn. I was scheduled to take part in the food conference in Oslo yesterday, in addition to having a lecture at Grorud with a group from Coop, but I was forced to spend the day lying in bed.
I slept well last night and feel a lot better today, even though my belly is still brewing and I don't have much of an appetite. Kenneth flew back to Stavanger yesterday morning. He has two days in Stavanger before our trip to Majorca on Saturday evening together with Stians Sport and many Merida dealers from various places in the country. I won't be leaving before Monday morning and am looking forward to enjoyable days both on and off my bicycle together with our Merida family from Norway.
A lot has been written in the media the past few days about professional athletes and their reporting to the Anti-Doping authorities in Norway. With this in mind, I checked my own area on their website yesterday evening. I knew that my own reports cover our movements right up to our arrival back home again from holiday on October 15, but I still thought it would be a good idea to check through the data. I am required to report my movements and activities 365 days of the year.
I was rather shocked to find that my final update expires today. The following weeks which had been inserted with full addresses, and times for arrivals and departures, had disappeared from my archives. Once again I experience failure in the system, and it's us competitors who have to suffer.It's been quite demanding for me to be away from Stavanger 270 days a year, having to do this kind of reporting all the time, and it doesn't make it easier when the system doesn't function. It takes a lot of time to write in the information, and very often I experience technical problems which cause pages to disappear and everything has to be done over again. This type of reporting and control is important and necessary for elite athletes, but I certainly wish the same system was in place for other nations too, and of course that the system was actually trustworthy.
Now we're about to land, and it's probably going to be cold weather for Mrs Dahle in the coming days this far to the north. Still, I'm not going cycling here. Next week, sun and summer awaits me on beautiful Majorca, and then you'll hear from us again.
Cyclists' greetings from Gunn-Rita and Kenneth