When bike racing presents new opportunities I like to go for them, so when we were invited to compete at a UCI test event in China it didn’t take too long to commit. Chloe was equally excited so on two weeks’ notice we got our visas prepared and made last minute plans for the trip. We adjusted some ‘cross racing plans, packed things up in Wisconsin, made the drive to Boulder, and flew out of DIA. Fortunately my in-laws were excited to look after Maja for us and doing the China trip from CO effectively split up the drive from Wisconsin to Tucson for us.
We left first thing on Monday morning to arrive in Guiyang, China late Tuesday night. We were met at the airport by Tom, our race volunteer. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we quickly found out that the race organizers really had it together and all things race related went off really well. Teams from across the world had been invited and it made for a great international atmosphere. Our US-based team consistent of myself, Chloe, Judy (Chloe’s Race Club teammate), and her boyfriend Tom who served as our manager and pit staff.
Wednesday started off action packed with a nice breakfast spread at the hotel followed by a quick bike build that finished just in time to partake in the “parade ride”. All of the racers took part in this rolling enclosure ride which took us from the race hotel to the city square in downtown. Otherwise chaotic and packed streets were closed off for us as we cruised downhill, through tunnels and over bridges before reaching the city center. The heavy clouds and light rain that are common to the region would stick around for the first couple of days, but we got lucky with some sunshine as race day approached too. Buses then shuttled us back to the hotel after the parade ride.
That afternoon we got to check out the xc course. It was a little greasy and very steep, without anything too crazy technical. A fun, fast, physically demanding race course. It turns out that the course, venue, and road to the venue had all been built in the last three months. That would explain the random corn stalks lining parts of the trail or the potatoes that were strewn about various parts of the course. Every team got their own EZ tent in the expo area, except for us. We didn’t complain or mention it to anybody, but by the next day we also got our own area.
Wednesday evening we were bused to a local indoor stadium for the opening ceremonies. We had no idea of what to expect, but it’s easy to say that it went above and beyond anything we could have imagined. I was interviewed by the local TV channel, we walked into the packed stadium by country, and eventually got to watch some crazy musical and dancing performances which culminated with confetti and fireworks of course.
It was nice to have a relaxed Thursday morning for a chance to catch up on some much needed rest. By now the hotel restaurant had become a favorite part of the experience since they offered a buffet style sampling of all sorts of food, some more cultural than others, but nothing that was too out of the ordinary. Having healthy and tasty food with little or no effort was awesome and the breakfast options quickly became my favorite.
Short Track went off that afternoon and with the 44th call up I knew that the start would be critical. During the first lap I moved up quite a bit, but we also got bunched up in the singetrack – standing/waiting to walk on what is otherwise a fast section of trail. Laps took about two and a half minutes so it only a matter of time until the leaders would be threatening to lap us. I finished 29th on the day and felt okay with how things went given the cluster that is short track racing from the fifth row…
The XC went just about the same the next day. The bottlenecks weren’t quite as bad, but lap one certainly stretched the race apart on the 2.6 mile lap. I had some good battles with a few riders and again scored the 29th finish. You didn’t notice it much while racing, but their where a lot of people surrounding the course and half of them seemed to be course marshals. In fact, this event seemed to have three or four times the number of staff or volunteers working and there were more than enough people ready to step in if and when need be – even at the bike wash there were volunteers excited to help out.
Before and after the racing there was an exciting buzz in the venue. Fans were crazy for stickers and the Race Club trading cards. We autographed t-shirts and had our photos taken with fans. People were genuinely fired up about mountain biking and it got me thinking back to the first NORBA I went to in ’98. The general energy level was certainly comparable and you could sense the novelty that was mountain bike racing in China. The fans were excited about our bikes and equipment as well as the fact that we were Americans who had just traveled to China for the first time.
Local governments are certainly trying to make Guiyang (or specifically the Jinyang region of Guiyang) the next ‘green-living city’. They are heavily promoting healthy lifestyles which include outdoor recreation for this rapidly developing region. The number of cranes and large developments going in was mind boggling. There was so much growth all across the area. Coming from the US, it’s hard to imagine or understand the rate at which areas and markets are able to change like this. Their marketing efforts included promoting the race and supplying the budget that made it run so smoothly. Rumors were that the event operated on a $10 million budget – and this was only the test event for the world cup… Should they get the nod of approval from the UCI to host an actual World Cup in 2013 my guess is that they’ll go even bigger!
This trip included some great racing, but the experience went far beyond the race course. We met some great people and got a firsthand feel for Chinese culture. With a few extra days after racing, Chloe and I were able to explore the city a little more and get a taste of things away from the all-inclusive race experience. I’ve got to thank those who support me and help to make these opportunities possible, namely Arizona Cyclist, Niner Bikes, Reynolds, and Clif Bar.