From Radelaide to 延庆县. Diary of one lucky girl & her CX bike.

 


Day one
After 14 hours in transit, with a quick stopover in Singapore I landed in Beijing. On arrival (midnight) I quickly realized that the language barrier was going to be a challenge in itself over the coming days, and I was shocked at the level of smog glowing through the window of the plane. Not knowing what to expect, I made my way through customs and was greeted by two very friendly young locals with a UCI CX Event sign. Phew I thought, I don't have to attempt Chinglish to get a taxi to Yanqing. The other aussies had arrived an hour earlier so they were ahead of me, and all travelling together from Melbourne which I am sure would have been far less intimidating! 
It was this moment I realised this was real, and we were about to be treated like royalty! 
My drivers spoke no English, and I definitely don’t know any chinese so it was a laugh trying to communicate. Although they were very familiar with "KFC" when offering me food. We played a thorough game of mimes as they whisked me away into a pimped up spacevan and we began our journey to Yanqing; 80kms North of Beijing. 80kms I thought; yep thats less than an hour - easy! We drove for 2 hours along what could be called a highway of chaos. At first I was impressed by their traffic lights; counting down the seconds until the lights would change; I thought wow, check out the organization. Little did I know that I would experience the total opposite to this. Every vehicle is beeping its horn, flashing its lights and driving erratically. Indicators aren’t used, and line markings are clearly just a guideline. I got excited as we exited the main freeway and began climbing what appeared to be a mountain pass. This excitement grew as I saw tourist signs to The Great Wall. At 3am we arrived at the Hot springs resort and already it was obvious that the Qiansen Sports Group were about to host an amazing show. After a couple of hours sleep, I emerged for my first Chinese breakfast and caught up with the Aussie and Kiwi crew. Katherine, Ray and Myself set out for a morning walk to check out the local surrounding and found ourselves walking a canal with some interesting features along the way. It became apparent that a lot of money and effort was once spent here, but obviously the climate and lack of maintenance resulted in most things looking a little run down. 
 
The local butterflies. And smog. 
 

After lunch the Aussies, Kiwis and a couple of Euro's set out to spin the legs out, in search of the course. It wasn’t long before we had our go-pros recording to capture the madness that is every day activities for the locals. We realized that there must be a system to their traffic madness, that perhaps we just weren’t quite understanding. A green light by no means, is a guarantee that you have right of way. A green light for you, soon becomes a green light for every other car, bus, truck, bike, scooter or home made 3 wheeled tuk-tuk with passengers and prams on the tray. All coming at you with a sense of urgency, beeping. The roads have a lane in each direction that appears to be dedicated to cyclists. But apparently this means cyclists can go both ways, pedestrians can dawdle along in it oblivious to their surroundings, cars can park in there, and travel both directions, scooters can hoon through, and the home made jobbies are coming at you with their flags and constant beeping. This bike lane was by no means a safe zone. In fact for a bunch of pros riding at a decent pace, it was surprising that we all survived the commute. After the ride, we went for a walk to the local shops to check out the scene. 
Best news for the day: We were Great Wall bound the following morning!! 


Day two
Pretty much one of the most spectacular views I'll ever see in the flesh.
10 hours sleep was just what I ordered. We gathered for another banquet breakfast, this time the simple delights of cereal and toast were included. English translation signs were also included too, as the previous day had us all guessing and trying a bit of this and that, hoping for the best! As we looked out the window, it was drizzly and smoggy. Not an ideal day to travel to one of the World's most spectacular locations, The Great Wall. The organisers decked us out with fluoro ponchos and umbrellas and we boarded the bus to take the half hour drive to the wall. Along the way we could catch glimpses of the wall but the smog was still interfering. We jumped off the bus and the smog lifting gods instantly came to the party. The sun broke through and we were heading to the entrance. By the time we hit the wall, we were getting sunburnt! We were given 1 hour to explore the wall and were given the choice of South (Hero) Side or North Side. 
Luckiest CXers in the world. Lead by Team Vincent with the CX sign. 
The day we became heroes. Hero side was steep.
This was the Badaling section of the wall; location for 18 million visitors per year. Of course we chose the Hero side and were amazed at not only the size of the wall, but the gradient. Suddenly you had some of the worlds best CX riders breathing hard, sweating and struggling to keep traction up the wall. Don't underestimate the steepness of this bad boy! 
 
Not sure if it was harder walking up or down. Apparently good for stretching the calves out. 
We walked for a solid hour and took in the breathtaking scenery. The skies were almost clear, the sun was hot, the visibility was great, and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that most would not experience in their time. How lucky are we! 
These havvy's have travelled. Providing bombproof grip to the most adventurous tourists since forever.
Safe to say I was not wearing the most inappropriate footwear. Heels and wedges were spotted enroute. 
After lunch we made our way to the course to check it out and cut some laps. Within 300m Katherine & I were loving it. Technical, flowy and fast. 3 sets of stairs, steep descents, steep climbs, paved sections - oh and bumps. Lots of bumps. Ok so the bumps weren’t ideal. But to me, this is what I had hoped cross courses would be on the international scale. FUN. Just like back in Adelaide. The course was a bit greasy in places from the morning rain but was drying out. Secretly I hoped for mud. I love mud. Wasn’t long before we heard mixed emotions about the course, but we were stoked, and it was a sense of relief to travel across the world and have a brilliant course to ride on.
 
Day three
Hello calves. Uh oh. The wall had taken its toll. Walking was on the painful side, but thankfully on the bike it wasn’t so bad. Glad to hear it wasn’t just me, we headed out to the course for another hit out. The sun had dried the course and left it quite fast and hard pack. On arrival to the course I was greeted by the local TV crew who knew a lot about me. Which came as a surprise, they had read my blog and were very keen to interview me for the race coverage. Feeling pretty famous to the Chinese as they interviewed me, it was a laugh to have current MTB Eliminator World Champ standing beside me and to see the reporters look him up & down and think nothing more of him. 
 
The sun was shining and it was another glorious day. We found out that yesterday had been a public holiday, and today they were having off too; for the moon festival. Perhaps why the smog had cleared and the views were awesome! On day one we couldn’t tell if we were on flat ground, or surrounded by mountains. But the resort info book showed an impressive mountain range behind the resort. And now we could see it. Mountains in just about every direction. 
The Hot Springs Resort. Blue sky. Brought to you by the Moon Festival holidays!
Wanting to maximize the time we had in China, Ray arranged with Yanxing, the local man behind this amazing week to book a driver to take us to Lonqing Gorge. A taxi arrived and Katherine, Ray, Paul VDP and myself jumped in for another adventure. The language barrier once again proving to be an entertaining laugh. Never a dull moment. We managed to strike a deal with the taxi driver to take us to the gorge and wait an hour for us to experience it, and then take us back to the resort. All for a bargain 150 Yuan. 
We arrived at the Gorge to a strange scene. A modern style village with water features, and shops selling very tacky souvenirs.  
We followed the signs to the boat and found a gigantic yellow dragon containing a series of escalators. This took us to the top of the dam wall, where we could then board a boat to take a gorge tour.
The gorge entrance. No shortage of (tacky) souvenirs. 
So who can say they've been in a dragon escalator?
We jumped on the boat and found the seats a little challenging; especially Paul. Possibly designed to suit small people only, and maximum numbers. The Chinese tourists giggled at us, I felt this had been the common theme for the week so far. 
The Yanqing Gorge tour. 
Stunning much. 
The gorge was spectacular; More breathtaking views. But what was surprising was the amount of interference with the natural beauty of this site. I found myself thinking this was a mini Milford Sound. But Milford Sound is pure wilderness. These mountains in Lonqing Gorge had Chinese writing on them, Bungee Jumping, and flying foxes. Can't beat natural beauty. After more madness created by the language barrier, the number of people in this tourist zone, and the general transport ‘system’ we arrived safely back at the resort. 
Feeling pretty exhausted it was massage time.. Simple I thought.. So I headed to the hot springs and began acting out what I wanted. Neck and Back massage. Hoping they knew what I was after, I was taken through to a room full of lockers and basically instructed to remove my clothes. While they watched. Hmmm...Another cultural difference perhaps? So I stealthily slipped into their really sexy hot springs outfits with the slip on shoes hoping nobody I remotely knew would see me! The locals all stared and watched me very closely. It wasn't long before I was gently persuaded to go a foot massage. Slightly terrified I survived 45 minutes of foot pleasure. Then the stealthy escape began, after probably seeing a little more of various human bodies than I needed to. 
6pm rolled around and we headed to the banquet dinner with all of the riders, teams, managers and officials. It was great to share a few laughs and get to know a few more riders from the Northern Hemisphere, and learn of their experience with CX. I was shocked to hear that Margriet Kloppenburg had raced 44 CX races last season. Wait a minute; last SEASON?! I am sure if I tallied up my entire list of races I have ever competed in - it might just come close to this! 
The Mayor and Qiansen Sports Group were very excited to host the event and share a toast with us all.
RACE DAY

After a good nights sleep I woke at 6:30am and got everything organised. We basically had to pack to be prepared to leave the resort at 7pm that night to head to the airport, so it was going to be a long day. I chose the aussie option at brekkie to play it safe and went for cereal and toast, just like at home. A few of us were helping out with the amateur race so had to head to the course at 9am to lead the race for a lap. It was fantastic to see the locals so enthusiastic about cyclocross. Although most were on mountain bikes they were setting a decent pace for their 30 minute race! We rode back to the resort to have some lunch and for any last minute prep. It was getting warm, up around 30 degrees. Not the traditional cyclocross weather conditions! 
The event setup was awesome; big screens, a grandstand, tents for each team and the crowd was great. Probably not the rowdiest crowd, in terms of decibels but very keen all the same. 

The start list. 23 Women from 9 different countries. 
We gathered at the race start for call up, and unfortunately I lucked out with the start order. Number 23; dead last. This didn't leave a lot of options on the grid. Back row, inside line for the first corner. The other Aussie girls were all on the outside line, and Lisa was lucky enough to be on the second row. 
The start line! Looking pretty dam happy. Despite the worst positioning on the grid.
And behind number 13. Unrucky?
 
The whistle went and we were off, the start felt slow and I managed to get toward the front, until the first corner, when all of the riders to my left moved across and then I found myself jamming the brakes on to avoid slamming into the fence, or hitting another rider. In the meantime team mate Katherine had managed to sneak past on the outside line and into the lead group. I was excited to know she had a great start, but didn't see her after that!
The start. Thats me in the background!
Staying calm and riding smoothly I passed a few riders before we hit the first stairs and made up a few spots. Half way through the first lap I saw Lisa Jacobs crash just in front of me. The course was dry, fast, technical and almost like single track in sections so passing wasn't great, and then when it was wide enough to pass, the girls would get their pointy elbows out. Back in Oz I think we are a little more relaxed about this kinda thing, and I found it really aggressive. Coming into one of the steep descents I found my elbows smashing into another girl, with our bars clashing and almost grunting at each other just to hit that descent first. My race was going well, I rode well and had a lot of fun on the bike. When I realised I was not in contention as the leaders were too far ahead, I turned the race into an awesome experience, instead of feeling frustrated I just raced the best I could, styled it up for the crowd, enjoyed their excitement and had a heap of fun!! 
Not knowing what position I was in, I crossed the line with a big smile but expected the worst. My garmin had fallen off my bike during the race and I was not in the happiest place! Surprised to hear Katherine had finished 5th I was really excited for her to have such a great race. Only wished we could have been up there together and used some team tactics to our advantage! 
To say I was stoked when Roeland came up to me and reached into his pocket with my garmin is an understatement! What are the chances. Even happier to hear that I wasn't far off the pace and secured 12th place, less than 2 minutes back from the winner. I was in the prize money and brought home 90 Euros. Not bad for 38minutes work. 

After a great season in Oz, I had been top 2 at every single race (apart from champs when I was crook) and feeling pretty strong; the reality set in and to be honest I was disappointed to not be in the lead group, and the first aussie. So this was international cx racing.. Where the start is critical and the first 500m would decide your positioning for the whole race. 
 
I sent a few texts home and had a bit of a sulk. So now I am putting my order in for a thicker skin, and a bucketload more races. For us, a race of this caliber is a big and exciting thing, but to the euro's, this is just one of 44 races in a season. Although CX is growing rapidly in Oz, we are almost on a different planet when it comes to racing opportunities and the ability to gain experience and UCI points!

In a nutshell, my trip to China was an incredible experience. The people, the culture, the stunning scenery, the food, the weather and of course the racing. It is time away like this that you learn so much; not only about a different part of the world but yourself too. Although I didn't have the ideal race, this experience will help me to grow and gain better results in future races. 


Check out these links to other articles from the trip.. 


Marathon MTB - Aussie Women Shine in Beijing 
A very big thank you to all of the people that made this happen..

- Dalian Qiansen Sports Facilities Engineering Company for providing the opportunity to race in China, and treating us like rockstars along the way! Your hospitality was faultless and  deeply appreciated by all that were lucky enough to experience this trip.

- Katherine & Ray for sharing their invite with me, polishing my bike, lugging all my spares to the tech zone and providing a lot of laughs! (and Gin on the way to the airport!)

- The riders and crew from allover the world that made this trip such an amazing experience!

- The Aussie & NZ crew, Paul Larkin & Roeland Suys for offering mechanical tips and support along the way.

- My Coach and mentor, Neil Ross for your support, knowledge and words of wisdom. 

- Friends, family and die hard fans in Oz for the words of encouragement and support!

- TORQ Nutrition, Monza Imports & Adidas Eyewear for the ongoing support and product. 

Oh and my blog wouldn't be complete without including these photos and giving a special mention to these two guys for providing maximum entertainment! 

GO PRO FOOTAGE COMING.....

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