As I entered my eighth year as a professional cyclist, I began 2012 like so many of the other years by spending my birthday and most of January in a foreign country. This time, however, the first get-together with Champion System has been taking place in various cities and regions across China versus the more common spots in the US and Europe. I’m still not sure how to classify the trip other than to say it’s been quite an experience.
The Champion System Team has the ambitious goal of growing the sport of cycling in China, and a mixture of international riders will pass along their experiences and knowledge with the hopes of doing just that. All of the pieces are still falling together - in fact, we just added Australia’s Cameron Wurf to the roster - so a bit of chaotic gathering this month was to be expected, but I am pleasantly surprised at how well everything is playing out.
Ed Beamon, the general manager, has been doing the job of ten men these last few weeks. It’s hard to comprehend the logistical nightmare of managing a team of nearly forty staff and riders across a country as big as China. I felt bad for the pressure Ed was under, but I’ve still often thought of throwing one more question or comment at him just to see if his head actually would explode. Through the trials and tribulations he kept his composure and led the team in the right direction at all times – a great sign of a true leader and for the year ahead.
On our first day of team bonding in Hong Kong, we ventured down a dark alley and up a staircase into what seemed like someone’s residence. We gathered around a few tables with plastic chairs and in front of us, on burning gas stoves sat our lunch; a bowl of mystery meat and seafood all prepared in various ways. I cringed at the very thought of even touching the contents with my chopsticks. Don’t get me wrong, I love trying foods from every culture, but testicles and tripe are just not my thing. The verdict is still out on what the entire bowl comprised of, but I still worry that I might have swallowed a toenail at some point during the meal.
After this lunch of local “delicacies,” we took to the streets with a few instructors and learned a bit of Kung Fu. We then attempted to replicate what is known as the “dragon dance.” I’ve been part of many team-bonding experiences, from as simple as throwing a football on the beach to the over-consumption of alcoholic beverages. This was far from anything I’ve ever imagined, but it served the same purpose. It’s obvious that if you get a group of twenty men together, under any circumstance, men will be men. The same jokes are made and same bonds are formed. The team becomes a fraternity and that’s the real reason for these camps.
When our time came to an end in Hong Kong, we made our way up to Beijing for our team presentation and the usual medical testing. I was pleased to see a rather large group of press and media warmly welcome us as Asia’s first Professional Continental Team. I think there is still a long road ahead before we see the first Asian win the Tour de France, but that road begins here.
The island of Hainan is now playing host to the actual training part of the camp. Here the weather is a constant 70 degrees and since we are staying the countryside of rural China, there are little distractions. The roads are in impeccable shape, and there are more than enough climbs in the area to build a solid base. With wild animals running in the streets, motorbikes jumping out of the jungle and a total lack of stop signs, adapting has been a challenge. But for the most part, you couldn’t ask for a better setup.
With just a few more days left here on Hainan, we are taking full advantage of the warm weather before most of us head home and back to a more typical winter. Champion System has gathered a lot of interested across the globe and our racing schedule will reflect that. Even though we do not feel the pressure upon us, we all want to do our best to prove ourselves and give back to the sport. There is a big year ahead for the team and for the sport cycling in China. With our rider Will Clarke – racing for the trade team UniSA - already taking a WorldTour win in the Tour Down Under we are off to a great start!