The Worst Helicopter Pilot Ever

When we left the hotel in Wuhan, there was a major stir in the lobby. The Japanese team was leaving the race and returning home because of the tiff between China and Japan over some islands. I tried to find some news articles on the subject but a lot of them were censored. From what I gathered by listening to the gossip in the lobby, Japan had bought some islands which China laid claim to. I heard stories of the Japanese embassy getting eggs and rocks thrown at it and people flipping over Toyotas because its a Japanese car. Apparently these things were happening in upcoming towns and the race decided it would be safer for Japan to return home. There was talk of the race being cut short, of being stuck in China for weeks. The bus was full of great stories.
From Wuhan, the race had a 6 turned 8 hour transfer to Huainan, pronounced Why-naan. First the caravan got lost leaving Wuhan and we only covered 38 kilometers in the first hour of travel. Secondly, the caravan has to stop every two hours so all the Chinese can take a smoke break. Its infuriatingly slow but its nice to stretch the legs, refill water bottles, and gawk at each bizarre item in the shops in the service centers. Finally. the race provides a ‘lunch’ for everyone during the transfer days. It consists of a lot of nothing. A few preservative stuffed French rolls, maybe a muffin, a slice of American cheese, a banana, and some kind of candy bar. And everything is individually packed in air tight plastic. Most of the food in these lunches are passed over, minus the candy bar.
After a while, the days begin to blend together. I had no clue what day of the week it was and its so easy to lose track of time. Every day is the exact same. Wake up at 7. Pack bags and put them in the lobby for the transfer to the next hotel. Go to breakfast and remember to bring my packet of Emergen-C. Every morning I have high expectations of something other than rice and rice. Every morning they are dashed. Head back to the room and pin numbers on a jersey, throw on my riding gear and ride to the race. The best way to count the days is count down the number of meal tickets left until the next hotel.

This morning was no exception. We were one of the last teams to leave the hotel and instead of riding into the center of Huainan, we rode through a tunnel and into the outskirts of town. (I found out later that the race director was really pushing for us to leave, saying ‘We can’t keep the streets clear for much longer’. Apparently he was talking about the protests over the islands but we never saw anything. The course was another circuit, wide open. When we arrived, there were already big crowds milling about the tents. Usually people are good about giving us some bit of space, but not today. Herds of people kept crowding closer and closer until they were in our tent, pushing and jostling for an autograph or a water bottle or a picture. The worst part was that everyone was smoking. Brian kept having to push people away, especially the smokers. We could only use hand gestures until Olivia was called into action. That’s when the helicopter showed up, rising over the fields and heading towards the race. Fortunately everyone’s attention switched towards the bird and we were left with some time to talk race strategy. Unfortunately, I could not hear what Thomas was saying because the chopper was hovering low and near the tent. It slowly made its way over the tents and then stopped.
The wind generated from the blades is not something to be underestimated. One moment I was sitting in peace. The next, our tent was ripped from the ground and blown into the team’s van, knocking over bikes and people. I fell onto the ground and covered my head. Brian was nearly taken out, the van suffered a big dent, Joe’s bike had flown about 5 feet, and we were not the only team that suffered. It was unthinkable. Mental as Brian would say. Riders and staff alike shouted at what is arguably the worst helicopter pilot every. Or the most inconsiderate. We all slowly gathered our thoughts and bikes. The show must go on.

And it did, but it was quite the tedious show. We didn’t make the break of 5 that rolled soon after the second sprint of the day. But damn it we tried. From there it was just a waiting game as Christina Watches, Team Type 1, and Rabobank kept the break in check for the inevitable sprint finish.
My excitement for the day came from an early broken wheel. After it happened, I threw up my hand and drifted backwards into the race caravan. Thomas drove up behind, I stopped, and Casey jumped out, swapped the wheel for a new one and pushed me back into the race. Fairly standard. I got up to speed and waited for the car to pace me back. It was still early and the field was moving quickly. ‘Stay calm’ Thomas shouted as he passed me. I got onto the bumper and we slowly increased the speed upwards towards 40 mph. If I sat up, I could see the rest of the caravan about 100 feet in front of us when a referee on a motorcycle sped up and began blowing his whistle at me, signifying I was about to get fined if I continued to motorpace. ‘Ignore him!’ Thomas yelled at me. ‘I had a flat’ I protested with the official. ‘No matter’ he replied, continuing to blow his damn whistle. Desperate not rack up too many fines, I left the shelter of the team car and sprinted towards another. The official followed me and whenever I would spend more than five seconds sheltered, he would begin blowing his whistle and I would try to appease him by racing to the next car. I finally reached the safety of the peleton and proceeded to tell Blair about my escapade. Turned out to be a costly one; I was fined 50 swiss franks and given a twenty second penalty while Thomas was fined 200. A bit overkill if you ask me, but no one did.



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