A little more about our translator, Olivia. First of all her name is not Olivia. Its Shay Li. She is from Beijing and studies English at a University and likes the TV show Friends. The race contacted her school to find translators for each team. Until yesterday, she had never seen a bike race. And she hasn’t been to most of the cities the race is visiting. She calls Craven ‘Mr. Chen’. The other day, Olivia asked if everyone in America has different colored eyes. Taken aback by her comment, we each looked at one another and noticed we have brown, blue, and green eyes where in China everyone has brown. Craven asked Olivia if she had ever heard of the Massacre at Tinnamen Square. She said no. Later, I tried to google and then look it up on Wikipedia. The page refused to load. On that same note Olivia can somehow access Facebook but she won’t tell us how. The day began with an hour long transfer to Latian Province where the stage began.
The team van was full by the time Blair and I got downstairs after being forced to walk down the 16 flights of steps so we piled into a big bus with about fifty other riders. Somehow the police had completely shut down the roads in our rolling enclosure, but we kept hitting the gas and slamming on the brakes making for a dizzying ride. At one point, the bus came to a complete stop as the driver thought the overpass in front of us was too low and that his vehicle wouldn’t fit underneath. It took five minutes of inching the bus forward to convince him it would. Other than that, the transfer was uneventful.
The small town of Latian was very different from Xi’an. First of all there were mountains in sight. Second, there were a lot of military and police officers. They lined the streets and wouldn’t allow anyone near us. Craven tried to take a picture with one of them but he pushed Thomas away. People were everywhere with cameras and at one point before the stage Brian motioned for two girls to come and take pictures with us. The military guard near the team car did not like this and it took some persuading for him to stand aside. There were so many people out! People were jammed ten deep at the start and being entertained by loud music, dancers, and speeches.
15 minutes before the start I had to poop. Peeing is easy. Just go find a bush, no one cares. But pooping here outside the hotel rooms is another story. And if you don’t wish to know it, skip this paragraph. So I looked around for some bathrooms. Past the start line, in a muddy field, stood some porta-jons and I really didnt have time to look for something a bit more nice so I headed for them. Opened the door and saw there was just a hole in the ground with a box of toilet paper to the side. Nothing I could do but keep climb in, take off my jersey and roll down my bibs. I squatted over the hole, reached down, pulled my bibs forward and completely missed the hole. I cursed under my breath and shuffled forward, the awkward position I was in not helping at all. Hopefully thats the last time I have to do that again. The race started out with 3 fast, dusty laps around town. There were so many people out and everyone of them were yelling “Chai-o!” which means ‘go for it’! Towards the end of the third lap I bridged to a break of 6 that has been away for nearly a lap. I was sure it was going to be the breakaway that stuck. But after a few roations with them, the field caught us right as we exited the laps and headed out to the 17 kilometer category 2 climb. We began climbing immediately. And I noticed that these were some serious mountains that the race was headed for. The peleton was fanned out across the road at the bottom but after going through a toll booth, I found myself further back than I would have liked. Guys were already coming off the back and I was having to jump across gaps. We climbed higher and higher through tunnels and over large rivers until I could no longer hold onto the front group. I looked back. I was sitting last wheel. I gathered my breath and waited for the next group to catch me. It was about 8 guys and we could see the race caravan for most of the climb like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey. As the climb kept going, the gradient eased up a bit and little clusters of houses appeared. The residents, looking much tanner and much more weathered than their city counterparts stood on the side of the road and waved little flags and yelled “Chai-o”!. Many of the men wore oversized green jackets and had red armbands pinned to the left sleeve. And they all had cigarettes dangling from their mouths. The climb was so beautiful. Mountains, small villages, children lined up chanting ‘chai-o’ in unison under the Chinese flag. There was even a temple nestled into the side of the mountain. The green country side, the tan houses, string after string of yellow corn over the doorways, red flags, blue sky, they were a beautiful 17 kilometers. Over the top of the climb, we lost sight of the caravan for good. But that didnt stop my group from riding hard. We rotated and rotated for kilometer after kilometer. 30 mph. 40 mph. Back to 30. I think the descent was harder than the climb at times! There was a nasty headwind and I was quickly out of water. But there are no feed zones here in China and I had drank all the extra bottles Craven had given me as I dropped off the back of the front group. We hit another small climb with 25 kilometers to go and I started to cramp in both legs. Its so painful to watch a group ride away from you while cramping, but there is nothing you can do but try and ride through it. I caught a Chinese rider who suffered the same fate and we rode together before getting caught by a large 20 man group that included Blair and, thank the Lord, water. As the group made its way into Shanglo, pronounced “Shang-loo”, we ran into some real trouble. The spectators and motorists that had watched the race believed for it to be over and had reclaimed the road. As we came speeding through town, we suddenly had to dodge traffic. Run a red light, dodge some cars, cut left, jump onto a side walk, it was mass chaos and the constant horn from the race official trying to clear the road only added to the mayhem. Blair and I finally made it to the finish line a salty and tired, very thirsty and hungry mess only to find that the team car was MIA. No one. We circled around the lot twice before stopping for water and getting mobbed for pictures. By the time I pulled Blair away, I decided there are two reasons why the team is gone. One, someone got on the podium. Two, we were really, really, behind the lead group. Either way, we followed the signs back to the hotel. There we found Casey who told us that Ty had finished 2nd and Joe 4th. Way to go boys! Happy for the team but still with tired legs, we headed to our room. It was huge. Especially compared to those at the Tang Dynasty. Big shower, balcony, flat screen, and bathrobes with slippers. Oscar walked into our room all decked out in his robe and slippers, tea cup in hand and pronounced “This is awful.” Indeed it was. And I was loving every moment of it.