I’ve noticed that over the last two days, or 66% of the postings, I have started each entry with a little observation. And they have all had something to do with the dining room – probably because this is where I have been spending most of my time outside of room 1609 in the Tang Dynasty Hotel. I think I am going to continue this trend for at least one more day. Today I noticed that all the servers and all the cooks and even the hostess wear name tags. Nothing out of the ordinary until you look more closely – something that can be a bit awkward since all the servers and hostess’ are female and the name tags are placed on their chest. But I chanced it and noticed they are not name tags but number tags. So instead of thanking Elizabeth for taking the dirty plates away, you have to thank No. 1693. But I don’t know how to say thank you in Mandarin. Yet. Cue Olivia. Add that to a growing list of useful words I need to learn. Still, I find it odd and degrading to have to wear a number tag instead of a name tag. But maybe that is the norm and wearing a name tag would be seen as bizarre.
The first stage of Tour of China is a team time trial. but you probably assumed that from the title. 19.5 kilometers or about 12 miles, fairly flat, out and back along a highway.
We had to wake up at 6 for breakfast since the race began at 10 and the usual rule is to be finished eating at least two and a half hours before race time in order to let the body fully digest everything. Normally I eat a little cereal, maybe some oatmeal, before a time trial. Nothing too much because it is easy for the violent effort to really upset your insides. However cereal was non existent and oatmeal is unheard of, so I went with, and I know this comes with great surprise, rice. And steamed sweet potato. And some coffee. Ever since the first breakfast, the hotel staff took away the latte machine and replaced it with a pot of coffee with a pot of black tea right next to it. I think the coffee has to be refilled in a 5 to 1 ratio compared to the tea. Especially now that many guys are filling up bowls with coffee instead of the tiny tea cups to minimize the number of trips between the table and coffee pot.
We left the hotel in rather cold conditions. The last two days had been in the 80s but when you are used to 90 degree weather and the thermometer dips into the 70s, the leg warmers and long sleeve jackets come out quickly. We rode to the course with the Champion Systems team, hoping that the Chinese guys on their team would know exactly where to go. But it was not needed. The race had attached yellow signs with a black arrow and the words RACE to any tree or post they could find. We made our way out of the city, dodging more cars and buses, into a more agricultural area. Fields, small two lane roads, and shanties felt more like the China I was expecting. We came upon about a hundred people walking along the road in the same direction and right after that we came to the race. It was on a highway: going out was on a bike path, then you turned around and came back on the road. We did a quick recon before heading to our tent. The race sets up a row of 21 white tents with chairs underneath and today we happened to be next to Christina Watches, the team of Michael Rassmussen and Stefan Shumacher, both former winners of the King of the Mountains and yellow jersey wearers in the Tour de France. So we pulled on our speed suits, drank some water, and waited to go.
This race is a big deal. There are so many people that come out to watch and everyone is taking pictures or videos. The tent next to ours was empty and a Chinese man and his little boy were sitting under it. He was staring at Tanner putting on his speed suit and um, well, adjusting himself. Brian made a comment and we all laughed. When we stopped the little boy began laughing as well which brought more hooting from our end. The man laughed at his son, oblivious to what we originally laughing about and this continued for a few minutes. Brian gave the little boy some gel blocks and a BMC cycling cap and mumbled a shy thank you or ‘shay-shay’. Cute kid.
We started with a nice tailwind and quickly got up to speed. We were in a rotating paceline and careful not to go out too hard because a tailwind on the way out can only mean a nasty headwind on the way back. Once we got to the turn around, we stopped rotating and began taking thirty second pulls trying to keep the pace nice and high before dropping back for a short respite. Coming into the finish we began to ramp up the speed and sprinted to the line in 24:20, a tad under 31 miles per hour average. I really think that it was the best we could have done. Perhaps there could have been a little more speed squeezed out here or there but in general, I think we were satisfied with our performance.
We rode back to the hotel, this time the signs had been replaced with the words HOTEL, and had a quick lunch and nap. Tomorrow marks the first road stage and if the grey skies are any indication, it promises to be a rainy one.