China, August 3, 2006
I had a good trip to China at the Tour of Qinghai Lake, although the experience was a bit of a culture shock. The racing was pretty intense as well. Here's how I went on each of the stages:
Stage 1: Qinghai Lake - Bird Island
After an opening ceremony that was something to behold we headed off for the short and fast stage to Bird Island. This stage last year was run at about 56km/h thanks to a howling tail wind. Fortunately this year the wind was a little slower but the fact that we were already racing at 3500 metres above sea level on day one meant the stage was going to be just as hard. We had to get through the stage as best we could and that is what we did. The field split numerous times and Dean and Alex were close to getting into the main break but missed out when a few riders dropped the wheel.
We set tempo on the front with a few Liquigas riders and Intel to get home. I finished a number of minutes down but it was the best we could do under the circumstances. Weissenger from Skil-Shimano won the stage, benefiting from the two weeks they have already spent at altitude. The stage was still run at 50km/h.
Stage 2: Bird Island - Xihaizen
I awoke in the morning with a bad dose of sunburn, like everybody else. I underestimated the strength of the sun and after spending all day in the sun during the opening ceremony and the stage we all had 'raccoon' eyes. This stage last year was raced in appalling conditions where 40 riders pulled out. This year, however, the sun was out the wind was down so we were looking forward to the day. We were all feeling better than yesterday.
The day was pretty uneventful apart from a brief heart flutter when a few of us missed the split in the cross-wind but after a concerted chase by our group we regained the front and the stage was getting set up for a bunch sprint. Three escapees were reeled in with five kilometres to go and after dodging a few signs and other obstacles I brought Russel to the front for the sprint. I hit the front and pulled the bunch along from three to two kilometres to go and got out of there. Liquigas was next in line with Russ sitting in fifth wheel but could or would not pull the sprint. Unfortunately Russel and Dean got swamped on the wrong side of the road with Russel eventually finishing the day tenth. The yellow jersey won the stage again.
Stage 3: Xihaizen - Qinghai Lake Hotel
First hard day today with a 35-kilometre climb to contend with after 60 kilometres. What made things easier was that the first 50 kilometres were downhill. So once again the first 50 kilometres were covered in under an hour. As we turned right onto the main road up to the lake plateau and 3500m the pace was not letting up.
With approx seven kilometres to climb on this particular climb the road steepens and you must hang on as best as possible. The front did split about 5 kilometres from the top but the leaders did not get too far up the road. I crested the top with the yellow jersey group with Munge just behind.
The front group was soon captured under the impetus of the Skil team, which made a front group of 50 or so riders. Munge was back on and we did our best getting into splits coming into the finish. However, I was not feeling the best and was content with finishing in the group. A split of 15 got away and gained 30 seconds on the rest. I happy to have climbed with the best and glad to get the day out of the way. Later in the day was a great opportunity to buy some cheap trinkets etc at the markets by the lake. There were plenty of riders with cowboy hats and Chinese stall owners with smiles on their faces.
Stage 4 Qinghai Lake Hotel - Guide
Raining. It was bound to happen sooner or later. The race headed out the way we came in the day before and then after descending part of the climb from the day before we turned right and up to the highest point of the tour. If you reached up and strained you could touch the 4000m ceiling. Unfortunately today, after a decent ride previous day, I had a shocker. The rain and cold did not help matters but that is just making excuses. I finished in a group 16 minutes down I think. I was a bit down that evening but there is always another day.
The yellow jersey changed hands but not teams. Maarten Tchaalingi was now in the lead. Kane, Jeremy, and Dean finished in the second group. Some other team news, Wim is the ten-pin bowling champ after a tough fought match at the hotel. Goed bezig jonge.
Stage 5 Guide - Xining
I awoke after a good night's sleep to find a good morning once I peered out the window to see blue skies. Today's stage was something special as the course profile resembles that of a pyramid: 20 kilometres of flat, 40 kilometres of climbing then 40 kilometres of descending and then 20 kilometres of flat to the finish.
On the lower slopes of the climb Dave McCaan from Giant Asia attacked and I took off in pursuit. I joined him and then six others came up. I contributed to the group effort and hung on but had to let go after 15 kilometres in front and 10 kilometre still to climb. The Spaniard in the group was simply ripping my legs off.
An attack group came and went and I clung onto the yellow jersey for a bit but eventually found a group that was me. I got over the top with a few Liquigas riders, Munge and a bunch of South Africans. I drove it home and limited our losses and tried to profit on our gains. I ended up five minutes down on the front. All the guys were still in the race and doing their bit. Tomorrow was going to be a good day for us.
Stage 6 Xining - Minhe - Xining
A long day today at 210 kilometres plus 10 kilometres of neutral on top of that. It was a simple course today as it went out 105 kilometre and turned around and came back. It was slightly downhill going out and uphill coming back. It was a day for our team and we did not disappoint. For the first 50 kilometres whenever there was a break one or two of us were there until a group containing Dean got away. It was flat out for that first 105 kilometre, covering it all in 2hrs and that was despite a slower section when the bunch slowed down due to a crash. Fortunately none of us came down but I did manage to do a bit of body surfing down the back.
At the turn, the group with Dean had eight minutes so things were looking okay. Liquigas got on the front to chase as they missed it, but they did not time things well and came up short. Coming back into Xining it started to rain and it was not long before we were covered in filth and swallowing goodness knows what off the road. In the end Dean placed third after getting worked over a little by the group. An Intel rider broke away and won solo, then the American guy left in the break was interested in racing for second and not the win. A good ride by Dean nonetheless. In the bunch Munge and myself got Russel up to the front for the sprint but again came up a rider or two short and Russ got swamped before the sprint took shape.
Stage 7 Xining - Menyuan
We're heading out of Xining today for a night and the rain is still coming down. Another filthy day on the cards. I awoke this morning with a sore throat. In fact it popped up about 30 minutes after the stage yesterday. Nothing like a bit of dirty Chinese water off a road to bring you down. At least my stomach was still in good shape and not suffering like all the Italians with "male stomach". No need for theatrics guys. You are not playing football now.
The race was 100 kilometres and slightly uphill. Russ did the job and got into the break. It was controlled by Skil and never got more than three minutes. As we approached the climb, I was not happy to see a dirt road. We were really going to get dirty now. After five kilometres of dirt the climb levelled out a little before kicking up again for another 15 kilometres. We caught Russ and with five kilometres to climb I could not hang on anymore and had to let go. I crested the top with a group including Munge and some South Africans and rode strongly to the finish limiting our losses to five minutes or so minutes. I found our hotel after the stage and was not happy to see the worlds smallest bathroom and shower. Not exactly suitable to getting rid of all the dirt accumulated after a long muddy day in the saddle.
Stage 8 Menyuan - Hush
Today's stage was delayed an hour as due to heavy rain. A river broke its banks and had flooded a road under a metre of water. So a hundred or two Chinese men fixed it all with sandbags, buckets and brooms and anything else they could get their hands on and we were off at 11am.
Another day and another 50 kilometres done in the first hour. It was pretty uneventful with two guys getting up the road and being controlled by the bunch. The climb started at 120 kilometre and I did what I could to stay with the big guns but the pace set by the rock spiders was a little too high. I blew a little and had to control my pace until I found a group that agreed with me. That done, I got over the climb with a good group and drove it to the finish. Happy to see Munge return to the group as I was surrounded by Russian and Kazakh riders. Challenge finished the stage and was still in yellow but now by only one second.
I arrived at the finish five minutes down and proceeded to get changed in front of hundreds of fascinated Chinese. They whispered and murmured as I took off my overshoes, shoes, helmet, undershirt and then I retreated into the van. Enough of me shown for the day. A little off putting, especially for a naturally shy person. Leigh on the other hand loved it and was strutting about. Like a fish in a bowl I guess. All the guys finished the last hard day of the tour and all put in some good work today.
Stage 9 Xining Circuit Race
Last stage of the tour and throat was at a point where I could not talk anymore. Only 90 kilometres to go though so should be okay. A bunch sprint was on the cards and Russ was feeling good albeit suffering from a dose of Xining belly. A break formed on the first lap and gained a gap of two minutes with four laps and 40 kilometres to go. Along with Liquigas and Caravello we set about chasing it down. Liquigas did their bit and then we pulled together along with Caravello and a Skil rider or two and with three kilometres to go they were all but caught except for the two riders in front.
Russel was at the front after some excellent work from Dean and then with a kilometre to go I hit the front and rode for as long as I could, until 500 metres to go and got out of there. A little far out but it was all I had. Russ did a good shop in the kick and was ninth on the stage. The two riders were still just in front and Intel won the stage again. Real good effort from all the team. Decent way to end the tour.
All that was left was a bit of lunch (KFC mind you), packing, and a little DVD shopping up in Xining. Everything was done. We had a small presentation dinner that night and then left Xining the next morning. Leaving in the morning allowed us time to get to the famous China Silk Markets for a dose of bargaining, arguing and shopping. Good time had by all. Tchallingi from Skil needed an extra arm or two to carry all his bags. Plenty of happy shop keepers and riders. Left Beijing the next morning and arrived early Wednesday morning after a mix up at Paris airport and our bus being late to pick us up.
Special thanks to all the team, staff (Gil, Wim, Luc, Dom and Raoul) for all the work out in. Could not have been done without you.
Have been enjoying a little break since arriving home and had A couple of days off. Last chance to catch the summer sales here in Belgium so that needed to be done. Back into things now and all attention now focused on the Tour or Britain. Hopefully all my guns will be blazing by then and a good tour will be had by all.
Till next time we meet
Ian Weigh Toyota
Wizard Home Loans
Dr. Peter Reaburn and the School of Health and Human Performance
CQ Crane Hire
Rock Pool Water Park
Tuckers Cycle Inn
Dr. Andrew Russel
Rockhampton Cycling Club