Vardaros prepares to descend on one of China’s many course features. © A. Reimann / Cyclocross Magazine

Vardaros prepares to descend on one of China’s many course features. © A. Reimann / Cyclocross Magazine

For 2015, the third annual Qiansen Trophy C1 UCI events reached over two races, one held in the north of the country by the Great Wall, and the second in one of the southernmost islands, at Hainan. In today’s rider dairy, Christine Vardaros reflects on both sides of the race tape during her visit.

Cyclocross in China: what is the approach? Maybe the promoters will copy the Belgian model or make the race their own? While curiosity is what pulled me and my husband Jonas to China last year, this time around it was my desire to make good on a botched 2014 race attempt due to a wasp sting as well as wanting to check out out the beautiful island of Hainan, where the second race was to be held.

As for my performances, it was pretty much a repeat of last year albeit with a twist on how I got there. Nature may have left me alone but a lingering back problem accompanied me through the whole journey. Two minutes into the first of the Qiansen Trophy events held in Yanqing, the searing pain cut the power from my legs. The second race in Qiongzhong was pretty much the same, but with a bit of food poisoning thrown in for good measure. No matter my personal outcome, I remain thrilled to have collected so many unique experiences that only the races in China had to offer.

At the first race site, we stayed in a very elegant hotel located close to the town center. In the evenings, we could do a bit of light shopping and sightseeing to add color to our trip. The hotspot store amongst some racers was Walmart, yes – the same store as in America, but filled to the max with Chinese twists on everything. On our visit, I walked out with three tea mugs. I may never pass Chinese, but at least I could now fill up my mug at the Chinese airports with hot water dispensers just like a native.

Christine Vardaros shows off her lucky 13 number the day before the race. © Andrew Reimann/Cyclocross Magazine

Christine Vardaros shows off her lucky 13 number the day before the race. © Andrew Reimann/Cyclocross Magazine

Our journey to the Walmart was also the colorful experience. We passed a strip of stores, each fully wrapped in neon lighting and ticker tapes. Their advertisement loudspeakers finished off the job of getting the passerby’s attention as far as a few blocks away. It reminded me of the old Times Square before the Disney renovation.

In addition to the light shows, we passed many other typical Chinese stores including a few of their all-in-one shops where one can find anything from wrapping paper and talking pandas to red bean buns and lychee ice cream.

The day before the race, we were all treated to a tour of the Great Wall of China. Since we walked the most touristic path last year, we decided to take the shorter option on the opposite side this time around to save my back. What nobody told us is that it was also the steepest side. Each step was so high that it turned into a workout, even with my long legs. I can only imagine what our very short guide Shen Yi was feeling as she never complained once, all smiles the whole journey. Once high up, the views were well worth the effort.

That night, the Qiansen organizers had a special meal in store for us, overflowing the lazy susans with Chinese specialties like Peking duck. The emphasis was surely on meat and fish, leaving Jonas and me with not too many vegan options. Luckily, they brought us rice and broccoli so we too felt like royalty.

Come race day, we were greeted to our western breakfast of bread, jam and coffee among other treats. Afterwards, we threw on our backpacks, jumped on the bikes, and headed to the race site 4km down the road. As we were located in another hotel this year, traffic was fairly calm to get there, although we still had to dodge a few electric scooters and rickety-looking 3-wheeled flatbeds.

On site, each team had their own labeled tent so you knew immediately where to call home. The weather was only 22°C but still felt heavy with thick moist air. Feeding was allowed, but only on a mini strip of pavement where race volunteers stood with open mini plastic water bottles. Unfortunately the spot chosen was not ideal since we hit immediately after we came off dirt, and had to turn back into dirt three seconds later. I tried once to get a sip but ran out of pavement before the job was done.

As for the race itself, I only saw the front for very short time before the back pain kicked into gear. While that was somewhat expected, what did catch me by surprise was receiving a few encouraging words from almost every American who passed me. It reminded me of what it was like to race in America where there is a feeling of camaraderie. Every gal standing there on the start naturally wants to win, but they also want to beat you when you are at your best, a rarity in the Belgian women’s cross scene.  We also had an American rocking the mike in the form of California’s Michael Hernandez, known for his racing as well as for his solid support of women’s cycling.

Afterwards, I was very pleased to learn that two of my favorite racers made the podium. Cyclocross Magazine racer Kathryn Cumming came in second after a hard fought battle with my friend Åsa Erlandsson who took the final spot. Two riders I expected to round out the top five were Belgian Katrien Thijs and Dane Margriet Kloppenburg but this was not to be as Katrien overheated by the second lap and Margriet was forced to ride with a borrowed bike and clothing when her bags were lost by the airline.

Vardaros riding near the front of the pack on the first day of racing. © A. Reimann / Cyclocross Magazine

Vardaros riding near the front of the pack on the first day of racing. © A. Reimann / Cyclocross Magazine

As for the men’s event, it was no surprise to see Belgian Wietse Bosmans, in his second year as elite, destroy the field. What I didn’t expect was to see Radomir Simunek riding in a group of four guys fighting for third to sixth place. “I arrived the day before the race and only got 30 minutes of sleep on the plan. I also didn’t sleep well last night. I know my form is there though,” explained Radomir after the race. Meanwhile, Wietse wisely paid the extra cash to fly business class and was better rested. The strange Chinese food did not play a role in their performances as their staff brought pasta from Belgium that they could eat in their rooms.

The evening after the race, while those of us who were there to collect UCI points were early to bed, there were many others who remained hard at work well into the early hours. And if the noise outside my window wasn’t proof enough of this, the 2am wake-up bell sealed the deal. I threw some clothes on and opened my door to a short American wearing glasses teetering on an angle. In his hand was a beer can. Thanks to his selfishness, I was robbed of any shuteye that night. The next morning we heard all sorts of stories over damage caused by the festivities. Unreal. This is something just not done in Belgium, especially not with only warm Chinese beer at their disposal.

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