After a 15 hour transfer to the island of Hainan, the most southern part of China, we finally arrived at our second hotel at 10pm. The next morning, we were greeted by the most beautiful resort imaginable. It is built on a gorgeous lake complete with water lilies and exotic birds. Surrounding the lake were wooden benches covered with oversized straw umbrellas that were very welcome to shade us from the sun beaming down on us in 30°C (86°F) weather. The resort was at 1000 feet altitude, which offered stunning views of the mountainside.
I am sure that every racer would agree that the organization created a spectacular course, completely carved out of the side of a mountain – mainly twisty steep uphills and downhills with a mini flat section where the pits were located. It was adorned with a few exotic touches such as their uniquely designed bridge.
The evening before the race, the organization again held a fancy banquet, complete with exotic foods, some of which we couldn’t recognize. Afterwards, there was a dance performance for our entertainment outside the hotel entrance on a stage built specifically for the race event.
The next morning I woke up shaking and feverish. I felt completely drained. I held up my shaking hand to Jonas and he confirmed that it’s just nerves. After riding around like a cyclo-tourist for 45 minutes, I quickly realized that it was more than just nerves. My searing back pain cutting power off to my legs didn’t help much. At the front, I heard that it was a hard fought battle between Åsa and Californian Emily Kachorek. “[Emily] tripped on the stairs and I hesitated for a second as I wasn’t sure if I should wait for her but then I decided nobody would wait for me so I pushed it as hard as I could to the finish. Luckily it worked out since I wouldn’t want to come to the line for a sprint with a road racer,” explained Åsa.
Even so, the show had to go on. After my race, Jonas and I did a quick turnaround to make it to the pits to help our friend Angus Edmond as well as the Belgian contingent of Wietse and Radomir. What should have been an easy job turned out to be a nightmare. The sky opened up, causing the riders to immediately want to switch from their Chicanes to their Limus tires, if they were lucky enough to have brought them. Clearly the Chinese were not expecting rain since the bike wash consisted of an oversized water bucket with a hose dipped into it…enough water for one bike.
I sprinted back to our team tents, grabbed a ton of bottled waters and went to work to clean the bikes by pouring the water into my one water bottle. It was not an easy task considering the dirt turns to sticky clay when wet. There were four of us to handle Wietse and Radomir’s bike changes and we were still busy fulltime to get the job done.
How Wietse rode so well still amazes me as he yelled to us on the second round that he couldn’t breathe. Radomir’s strong ride, though, was clearly proof that he was no longer suffering from jetlag. In the last round, Radomir pulled a class act move to let Wietse take the win so he could earn much needed points to reach UCI top 50 and race World Cups.
At the finish, passed out on the line and was rushed to hospital, missing the podium. But with his professionalism intact, he made a quick turnaround to make it back in time for the press conference. Standing in for him on the podium was his mechanic Jonas Elst. “That was the first time I’ve been on the podium. They asked me to also stand in for the press conference but I declined. That would have been a bit too much,” explained Jonas.
On our way back the 300 meters to the hotel, BKCP equipment in hand, I had to stop twice to sit down and rest. Jonas and I were both completely empty. We chalked it up to busy pit work. Once in the room, we both plopped ourselves onto the bed, literally unable to lift our heads for the next four hours. Eventually Jonas magically pulled himself up off the bed to throw up. Immediately he felt that bit better and urged me to do the same. After the third try, I completely filled the sink to the rim with everything I ate and drank since last night. Even my two vitamin C pills from the day before were fully intact. Needless to say we skipped the festivities that night. Rumor has it that the organization once again outdid themselves with an evening filled with special foods and interactive entertainment.
The next day it was time to fly back to our respective countries. For our final meal, the organization again offered up a buffet. Our Chinese experience continued straight through to the bus ride back to the airport with our driver honking his horn every few seconds the whole way there.
Now that I have been to three of Qiansen’s cyclocross events in China, I can easily say that they indeed made the sport their own. It was clear that they put lots of time and effort into creating something special. The courses were unique, hand-carved even. The crowds were extra enthusiastic, and the organization’s treatment of the riders was top notch, to say the least. I expect that after word spreads of their successful events, they can expect many more riders including toppers to make the trip overseas. And for those lucky few, this experience will change not only how they view cross but will change their lives forever. Heck, where else can you pose with twenty people, one after another, each thanking you with an “I love you!” after his or her photo with you.