Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My side of the story (it's a little bit long as well)

Amanda has given her review of the race and I figure I should give my account as well. Skipping a lot of the festivities of the day before the race Amanda and I got up at a reasonable 7 am on Sunday morning to try and find some breakfast and get to the race since we didn't know when the actual race started. Luckily the restaurant next to the hotel was serving the racers a breakfast of chinese champions, aka not wheaties. On the table were hardboiled eggs, congee, baozi (which was being scrutinized for its mysterious contents), spicy peanuts, and something that had been pickled. Amanda and settled on the eggs and congee as our main staples and each had a plain baozi. The last thing I needed was a gut attack before a race so the rest of the stuff was out.
After breakfast we rode to the starting point of the race to meet the guy that was supposed to supply us with some new wheels as the single speed setup we had was not doing so well. I was willing to run pretty much anything with a cassette where I could set the gear I wanted and ride.Communication in china generally involves asking for something, explaining the problem, being told the wrong answer in several creative ways, having ten people push you out of the way to try and fix the problem and then maybe have them finally give up and leave you alone. Don't get me wrong people are very nice and helpful but when you add on the complexity of trying to run a single speed mountain bike in a race, mixed with already being a crazy foreigner they look at you with a little trepidation. We arrived at the staging area and wow it looked like a proper race with team tents, demo booths, and bars to hang your bikes on. We were met immediately with excitement even though we were mostly concerned about our bike situation. We set out to find guy who said he would fix our ailing thuroughbreds which was met with several people clamouring to help out in the situation. After one so-called shimano mechanic after another was unable to satisfactorily fix the wheel problem they finally gave up and said they would get us different wheels. The replacement wheels were less than ideal but given the energy it took to get this far I wasn't about to complain. We went about setting the bikes up, Amanda's went together spot on with no adjustments needing to be made. Mine on the other hand decided to pick up a knack of wanting to come off the big ring. I fiddled with it for as long as I could but ultimately couldn't get it any better. At 9:30am we were lined up for staging. It seems they decided to split the race into three groups. I think this basically turned the race into a time trial with a mass start.
At 10:15 they let the first group start, I was not sure if this was the start of the race or not but people seemed to be in a hurry to get up the hill. Finally the third wave was set to go up the hill and went they did. Amanda and I were at the back of the pack and were pretty quickly getting into the middle of it. Chinese bike handling skills aren't quite as daring as their american counterparts and so I was able to pass quite a few people on the downhill of the road while they were pulling the brakes. Going into the flat part of the road I noticed the first group stopped and lined up at what was apparently the actual start gate. This was much better for us as we were able to secure a first row start instead of the back of the pack where we formerly were. 
When are time came to get on the line for the start the tension was starting to hit me. I knew that the first three kilometers were going to be on flat road and that we would likely get spun out against the fully geared bikes (fgb) which I was prepared for, we just needed to get into a pace and catch the tale end of the pack as they wore themselves out with the sprint. With the starting whistle we took off, with the fgbs striding out in front at full sprint. Amanda dutifully got up to speed and began pulling each other down the street. We of course lost several places and a large gap was beginning to grow between us and the peloton. Still we kept a steady pace and were able to catch some of the guys at the back that had begun to wear out. We were also being trailed by one of the two other women in the race and another guy. I was having fun pretending to be in a road race and digging the scenery. The next turn up the road was the end of the flat and we were going into the hills which where I was planning on making most of my catching up. Gap between Amanda and I had grown and was keeping a good pace up the hill without having to get out my seat and stand on the pedals. This when I started to catch some of the people who had switched to lower gearing to lug up the hill. This is one of the nice things about single speeds is that your stuck with the same gear all the time forcing you to speed up when you want to slow down and slow down when you want to speed up. I was safely in a high zone 3 and feeling OK when I had my first mechanical. Going down a slight hill off the paved road and onto a dirt section I was pedaling through and I dropped my chain. While I was putting it back on one of the spectators ran over to try and help and really just made it worse. I got the chain on and cross mounted like I just got over the barriers. I got going at a good pace again and started to hit the harder hills and this is when I noticed how bad the chain issue was. Everytime I hammered down on the pedals the chain would go chunk! chunk! chunk! trying to go off the cog. This meant that riding hills would be mostly a pain and I was going to have to dismount to get up. After hitting a rolling section of double track I was hoping that this is how the rest of the race would be and that I could back into a pace. Not so. Rounding a corner in the double track I hit some bumps while pedaling which threw my chain off again. I put it back on and kept going, even managing to pass someone on the way. I hit my first steep hill in the single track and dismounted while rolling up, I shouldered the bike with the nose end of the seat on my shoulder and started up the hill. Turns out it was a bit longer than it looked and the bike got a bit heavy. Cresting the hill I once again mounted the bike and rode along the single track. This lead onto a road which took us back to the false start. We were warned that there was a hill that we were supposed to get off our bikes and run down, but I didn't believe it or rather didn't want to believe it. When I got there and looked down it, I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated but thought I could do it. If this were the states people would expect you to do it but this is China. The calls to get off set in and I decided to run it down.
After the run down it was the beginning of the end. The bike was really only functioning on flat ground but felt stable going down hill. One more short steep hill followed by a shallow long hill and I would be back on the flats. I hit the flats and pedalled myself out passing someone weaving across the double track and into a short downhill across a bridge and Oh crap! more climbing. What was this bloody Green water all over again. If there is one thing that i've learned from racing in the states is that if you go up then you'll come down and the down is what I'm good at and that was where I was going to make up time. The next kilometer or so was a mix of climbing and rolling hills the former would cost me some time but hopefully I could still close the gap. Alas this was not to be so, as I rolled over the last mound to the crest of the trail I saw the finish line. I mean seriously who puts a finish line at the top of a hill. I knew then that racing in China was going to be uh... special. I manage to pass one more guy before crossing the finish line rolling across to find a camera crew wanting to interview...Amanda. "You Wife?"
"You Wife?"
"Oh she's right there".
Something in Chinese. "You Wife?"
"She's right there" me pointing.
"Oh, thanks you".
The ride back to the start line was actually quite fun as all of the riding up hill wound up with us getting to go back downhill as well. I took advantage of gravity and let go of the brakes to get some much needed air across my face.

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