Cliffhanger alert! Today was not relaxing and we knew that going into it. Back it up to the previous day’s nightly meeting, Tomaz had passed out a bunch of race gear and filled us in on the following day. By the way, if anyone wants a Qinghai race backpack, a 2XL polo, a 2XL rain jacket, a 3XL polo, or a rider’s race pass, I’ve got no use for them. Sizes are Asian fit.
Back to the meeting. The organizers told Rosie, who told Tomaz, who told us that buses would be leaving for the team presentation at 8 am. Everyone groaned. Breakfast ends at 7. More groans. It’s an hour drive to the presentation. Expletives. Another hour’s drive back then our team had to drive to Xining for lunch and a press conference. We were in numb shock by the time we heard our ride wouldn’t happen until 3 in the afternoon.
Alex proposed that we go to breakfast at 655, just as it’s ‘closing’ because nothing in China is on time. Which is an excellent point and brings up rule #4: things never happen on time, hence Rule #2. It turned out that breakfast didn’t open till 7 and all the early birds had to wait outside.
Rosie hustled us onto our bus. Bus #3. There are 5 teams on Bus #3: Japanese, Kuwaiti, but composed of Germans, Australian, Malaysian, and of course Slovenian (that’s my team). Everyone wants a row to themselves but that’s numerically impossible. Which starts something of an unspoken war. Get there too early, you might get a row to yourself but you have Rule #2. Get there too late and you have to share with a teammate or because each team has an odd number, a random guy. There is also the possibility of getting your row early and still sharing with a late arrival. It’s like the scene from Spiderman when Peter Parker gets on the bus and one kid puts his backpack in the empty seat. Guys actually put their luggage on the empty seat or ‘fall asleep’ or look out the window when a latecomer appears.
This time, we arrived too late and had to share rows. Szymon ended up next to Davide Rebellin, a rider with quite a long palmares. He’s won Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallon, and Leige Bastogne Leige, all in the same year. The triple crown. He raced 19 Grand Tours and 45 Classics. He’s 45. Szymon is 19, young enough to be Rebellin’s son. Have a father and son ever raced in a UCI event together? That’s what I thought about on the drive.
The team presentation was in a small stadium in a town called Ledu, where the race starts from tomorrow. The stadium might have been small but it was packed with people. We got off the bus as hundreds of people, held back by police, watched us change into cycling kit, grab our bikes, and head through the back entrance of the stadium.
Inside, guys on mountain bikes with large signs bearing team names waited for us. We were to follow them up on stage. But first, we had to wait, Rule #2, in the sun behind said stage. Alex spotted some shade, parked his bike, and like a true professional, beelined for it. We all followed suit which did not sit well with Rosie. “You must be ready”, she pleaded, tugging on Ben’s arm. “The presentation starts now.” I looked at the long line of teams standing in the heat, not one of them moving. Rule #4 was in full effect.
Once our part of the presentation got underway, it passed swiftly. We rode our bikes behind the signal bearer onto the stage. Once there, we paused to wave at the crowd while the announcer said “Attaque Team Gusto! Slovenia!” The stage was made up of 3 circles with dance troupes on each. We had to ride in a loop de loop around them till we found the exit ramp. And it was over. Load the bikes back up. Change out of kit. Back on the bus. Hour drive back to Duoba. All for 20 seconds.
Back in Duoba, most teams went for a ride. We got into another van and drove to Xining for a lunch and press conference with our sponsors. If you’re a young rider and reading this, keep in mind that without your sponsors, you don’t race. So keep them happy. And sometimes that means doing things you don’t want to do. Like a press conference after a 2 hr drive to a 20 second team presentation. Rosie joined us. I sensed tension between us after the shade argument, so Ben and I attempted to smooth things over with some light banter. Getting a great translator is a two-way street, after all. So this is what I’ve learned about Rosie so far. She likes eating chicken gizzard (it was served at lunch). She’s an account. She’s from Xining, local girl, as she puts it. A translator is a volunteer position and after many years of watching the race, Rosie decided she wanted to be a part of the action and volunteered. She hasn’t ‘met the right guy yet’ and thinks we are the most handsome team. I appreciate her honesty.
The drive home from the press conference provided an opportunity for a quick pre race meeting. There are a lot of questions with guy’s form right now. Most of us haven’t raced in a long time. How we’ve adapted to altitude also remains unanswered. The stage tomorrow will give up a few early answers and also give an idea of the intentions of other teams. In his Stages podcast, Lance said that winning a bike race is a combination of Nascar, running for president, chess, and running a marathon. The Tour of Qinghai Lake will be no different.