China, July 31, 2006
Well it all started with a bus trip to Paris, with the 'Tuff boys' sitting in the back seats and the staff at the front. After the long flight to Beijing we had another two hour flight to Xining.. We had a bit of a wait in Beijing so some of the boys thought they would hit the famous Chinese 'Silk Markets' early. On there return after a few hours we asked them how it was and what they bought. Their reply: "Oh, we got lost and didn't find it!!!" Not a good start...
We got a warm welcome at Xining airport, then it was time for the 30 minute bus drive to the hotel, which gave us a chance to take in the different landscape and traditional towns on the side of the mountains.
The first couple of days gave us a good chance to get used to the high altitude and the mad Chinese drivers on the road. They love to use the horns over here, even if there is a fly on the windscreen they beep!!! We were staying at 2300 metres, but most of the race was at 3300 - 3900 metres around the Qinghai Lake area.
The first stage was a shock to the system!!! After a huge opening show to the tour and the introduction of the teams by riding on this floating stage in the lake, we were breathing through a straw, single file in the gutter ten kilometres into the race!!! Not nice. We all hurt a bit today.
Around the Qinghai Lake are mountains covered in green and the air was clean compared to down in Xining city. Our fans for the race were the families, who had come down from the mountains dressed in traditional Tibetan clothes and caring for their Yaks. It was a great sight. I hadn't seen anything like this before.
After a couple of days we started to get used to the air and conditions. We had about three or four stages that just went straight up and down, but the stage was still 140 kilometres long. So, some of the climbs where 20 - 40 kilometres long. It was a good idea for me to not look at the stage on paper too much, it was just a head crack!!!
On one mountain stage (3900m) we started in cool wet conditions (not nice getting a mouth full of dirty water off the roads in these parts). At the top of the first climb we could only see 10 metres in front of us, so there were some very dodgy moments. Coming into the start of the big 'HC' climb, things warmed up a bit - both the weather and the pace. Riders where throwing jackets off everywhere. This climb was hard and I was puffing and panting like a fish out of water, trying to push my non climbers body over the top, while little jockey-sized riders beside me where doing it a little easier. With all the puffing and panting I managed to climb over the top in the second group, which is good for me. From the green mountain top we dropped down into a hot valley; it look like we where riding through the Grand Canyon. It was amazing!
For me, most of the mountain stages were the same. I made a lot of noise puffing and panting riding over in the second group. There were some very hard climbs with long switch backs, but also some nice descending on the other side.
As a whole, the team performed very well. The Downing boys had some great sprints and breakaways. Worm was going strong as usual and Casper, Tank and Dag worked hard every day putting me in a good position for the climb and doing much needed work at the front! I can't fault the boys. For me it was a good tour and a 'change of shoes', as I didn't have to be the worker for the team, which was nice for a change! I finished 32nd on the GC, which I was happy with. Worm finished strongly in 42nd place.
The altitude and change of food took the toll on some of the riders, zapping them of much needed energy to ride this tough tour.
There are so many things that I could tell you about the tour and the experience of riding through this country. The lives of the local people made me feel lucky.
Overall, it was a good tour for the team, we all performed well and other teams saw what we can do with our results. Nice work.
Thanks very much to our staff, we couldn't have done it without you!!!
Also, we found the markets on the way home. Good shopping by all!!!
For most of us now it will be a couple of days easy rest. It will be very nice doing this in the great weather Belgium is having now. Good coffee, and rides - that's what it is all about!!!Till next time, bye bye for now.
Kane "Munge" Oakley
Riders - Cam (Worm), Dean (DayOff), Russell (Fonzy), Jeremy (Dag), Leigh (Tank), Alex (Casper) and me (Munge).
Staff - Gil, Raoul, Wimm, Luc and Dom.