The best part of a new hotel is the promise of an upgrade from the previous night. When the race moves, its chaos. And the best plan of action is to get away from it. The end of a transfer starts with a stretch. Grab backpack. Check to make sure phone is in one hand and water in the other. Make way through cars towards hotel lobby. Check to see if there is wifi. There is, but my phone wont connect. Head back outside. 21 mechanics are scrambling to get bikes off the roofs and into a storage space along with wheels, pumps, bottles, etc. 21 soigneurs are helping to unload bags from two big blue trucks. And 21 translators are trying to get passports from their teams. Head back inside with room key. Stand in line for elevators for at least 10 minutes. Get to the room. Check internet. Still nothing. Check TV. English channels! But the most exciting part of a new hotel is the promise of some new food. And the best meal of the day is breakfast.
At this particularly nice hotel in Xiangyang, the breakfast was awesome. The usual rice and eggs were accompanied by muffins, doughnuts, chocolate croissants, and waffles. I nearly fainted when I lifted the silver top to the waffle tray. It smelled so good. That and some of Ty’s peanut butter and voila! best breakfast so far. Which was good because the race would be testing.
Today was the most attended race by far. People lined the city streets two deep all around the course and the start finish was a hub of activities from concerts to plays and everything in between. As Blair and I rode to the race we waved and clapped and smiled and yelled ‘Knee-how!’. In one particularly crowded blocked off intersection, Blair sat up and waved with both hands and everyone in the square erupted into applause. It was a lovely temperature with overcast skies and a little wind. “No rain on the radar?” I asked Thomas. “Hell no!” he replied.
We rolled out and immediately attacks started flying, mostly from the Chinese riders. A TT1 rider rode up next to me, smirked and said “It is great honor for solo victory.” Oh yes, but not possible when the field is already rolling at 35 miles per hour. We headed over a bridge when the race introduced its pride and joy: a helicopter with Tour of China stickers on it. Oh yes, this race has a helicopter and it flies entirely too low to the ground and too close to the field. As we went over the birdge, it swerved back and forth so that the cameraman inside could get all kinds of cool angles. All I could think about was the movie Black Hawk Down and envisioning this yellow bird losing control and flying into the field! But it didn’t happen. What did happen was that a breakaway was established and got more than a twenty second lead. So the field hung out for a lap before the team of the yellow jersey, Christina Watches, went to the front to begin chasing. Quite standard procedure and no one on BMC Hincapie was looking forward to the boring day of sitting behind Christina and waiting until the final lap to start racing. And then the rain began to fall.
Tanner had gone to the front to chase with Christina because the team wanted the race to come down to a field sprint because we liked our chances with Ty. It had begun sprinkling and I wished that I had swapped my dark lenses for something a bit brighter. The field was going into a corner incredibly slow when I saw the guys on the front crash. Including Tanner. He looked okay when he stood up, just incredibly pissed off. The guy in front of him, Thomas Frei, had crashed inexplicably in front of him and broken his pelvis. Just like that, Christinas Watches were down to 5 guys. Rasmussen came back and started asking teams to help chase because the gap wasn’t coming down fast enough. TT1, BMC-Hincapie, and the ISD team sent riders up there. With one lap to go, it was pouring, and the break was just ahead. I could barely see what was happening through my glasses. But I needed to keep them on to keep all the dirt from going in my eyes. They began to cloud up as the field went faster and faster. I moved closer to the front looking for Joe Lewis who was my partner for the sprint. We found each other and began moving closer up, only to lose each other again. The race deviated from the loop we had been doing and headed back into the finish. The break had been caught and now the mad, charging field could smell the finish and was racing blindly into wet corners we didn’t know. Thinking about it now, I am glad that I couldn’t see the five other guys an inch away from me. It was like closing your eyes and jumping.
With 2 kilometers to go, the corners came. Followed by crashes. I was right behind them. But not being able to see clearly, I somehow blundered my my way through them. A right, then a left. More crashes. A Champion Systems guy slid 100 feet across the road splitting the field with a kilometer to go. And I am right behind the split. Damn it. Not close enough to the front! The final kilometer was straight and slightly uphill and the front group a tantalizing two seconds away. But two seconds at 40 miles per hour might as well be the size of the Pacific Ocean.
The end of a race is this climactic moment. And then, nothing. You just coast; and dodge soigneurs, photographers. It was during this coast I realized that it wasn’t raining. It had just been the spray off the wet roads. Regardless, I was soaking and headed back to the room to take a hot shower and make some tea. Nothing could be nicer. Well, unless it includes waffles.