Monday, March 22, 2010

Race Report - 11th Water City Green Festival and Mountain Bike Race, Xinjin Town, Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, PRC

Hello everyone! Warning: this is a little long... it was a crazy weekend.

Josh and I are in Chengdu these days, enroute to our ultimate destination of Jiuzhaigou National Park. But, since I am to be officially based here, we are stuck for a few weeks. Of course the first thing we needed to do upon arriving was buy decent mountain bikes. We decided that we didn't want breaking parts, so we would get single speeds, and v-brakes. Plus, we would then move to Ohio really darn strong next winter. We carried a suspension fork that was previously on my beautiful Juliana race bike so that I could have front suspension. We forgot the posts for the v-brakes though... so I ended up with a front mechanical disc brake. We went to Giant to get the bikes. Mainly because I knew where it was and it was walking distance from our hotel. After about 30 min in the store I approached someone to ask if I could ask a question. We had seen a nice single speed mtb that looked to belong to a shop employee. Once they discovered that (a) one of the crazy big nosed people speaks Chinese and (b) we were interested in bikes like that one, we got some attention from the manager. Although he thinks we're nuts, he made us single speeds. They were about $500 each, including brain buckets (head cans, to be exact, in Chinese). It took only 2 days. Wow. The hotel let them into our room. Wow. Also, by the way, there is a race on Sunday. But you need to get there Saturday because it is a little far away.

Ok. So we got the address to register for the race. I told them that I could compete with the guys since there wasn't a girls cat. No problem. Single speeds, no problem. We test rode the bikes. Awesome. We didn't get hit by cars. Even more awesome. Or buses. That is a really great start. Saturday morning we left early for the bus station, braved the crowds, bought tickets, x rayed our backpacks (we had to learn to pack light - only a ski-touring sized day pack each), paid for the bikes to go on the bus, removed the wheels, and waited for the bus. We got herded to the front of the line because we are blonde. Honkies need to be taken care of. I saved seats (my first ever experience in China with unassigned bus seats) while Josh loaded our stuff. Success. 45 min later, we were in Xinjin, a town in the city of Chengdu (sort of - you have to think of the city as also being like a county). We got the bikes reassembled while being intently watched by the pedicab (Sanlunche, or 3 wheel vehicle) drivers. They really were fascinated by our crank brother pedals.

There were advertisements everywhere on lampposts for the race and some kind of a "Green Festival" going on, and a sign for where the race was. We figured that was registration. Fortunately we found actual registration on our way to there. It was 50RMB/person. That's about $6. We got: a hotel room, dinner, t-shirts, cloth numbers, water, breakfast, and race entry and support. I don't think we'll be needing any reimbursements this year. Getting to/from the race increased the price to 100RMB each. Still a steal. So we registered and were sent to our hotel. A nice guy with a strange perm decided to help us out. He spoke a bit of English and wanted to make friends with us. Some team called FBI had taken over our room as well as their assigned rooms, so we got a room on the 2nd floor and were given permission to take the bikes upstairs. At 1:30 we walked to find where we were supposed to be for "an activity" (i swear, that is all I was told). We decided to wear our jerseys since everyone was hanging out in their kits. We were Fasting (for our religion), so we weren't eating or drinking at this point. We walked about 30 min and hitched a ride with some officials. Then we ran into organizer man (the guy who made our bikes, Luo Wei) and he wanted to know why we didn't have our bikes. So we hitched a ride on a 3-wheeled motorcycle/truck thing full of watermelons back to the road our hotel was on. We got our bikes, put on our kits, and headed back up. We also grabbed some water just in case.

Turns out it was a tour of the city for them to see all the racers. We rode around the city being videotaped. Then at a fashion show stage (I am not kidding), all the teams introduced themselves. I hope it's ok, I appointed myself team leader. We needed a leader to do the introducing, and Josh's chinese isn't quite up to that yet. I was interviewed on stage. Then I was interviewed off stage. Everyone clapped. I introduced Josh. I tried to tout our sponsors, but everyone was more interested in the freaks of nature who grow blonde hair. I don't think honkies go to this town much.

Next our friend from earlier with the perm said he would take us to the 5 pm event. But first did we have time to visit his old school - the Sichuan Water Sports School. Ok, why not. So we watched the Sichuan Provincial BMX teams (men's and women's) practice starts and talked with the brand new provincial women's road bike time. They are a little wobbly still, because they didn't ride on road bikes before being recruited. Lots of scabby faces and elbows. Apparently they fall a lot. By this time it was becoming obvious that something was wrong with our bikes. We thought the rear cog was loose, but it turned out to be much worse. We have PVC pipe instead of spacers and things weren't really working right on either bike. After about 45 min trying to fix it with tools that belong to the Sichuan Men's Road and Track teams, we gave up. It was nearly 5 at this point and we thought we had to be somewhere at 5. But first we needed to be showed off more and were taken to meet the captain of the BMX team (I think) and a coach for the same team (the captain's wife). They were cool. They live in a really Communist era block with all the other athletes and have a cute dog. We had decided to start drinking water so we wouldn't be too dehydrated the next day (it's wicked dry here), and they basically force fed us oranges. So much for Fasting. A steady stream of people came in and out of the room for the next hour to look at the white people.

Finally our host agreed that we could go and he took us to the hotel. Wait. We needed to be somewhere, but we aren't sure where. But probably we should have been there an hour ago. Ok. He took us there and we complained to the guy who built the bikes that we couldn't race because our bikes weren't working. Back to the same disagreements about what was wrong and finally we were told we could borrow wheels on Sunday and he'd take them back to Chengdu for us and fix them there. Good. That will work. So we went and ate the nasty arranged dinner. It made me feel awfully sick. Seaweed and boiled duck was the first course. No carb loading. I taught Josh about how we have to toast everyone. We toasted all the tables and made everyone happy. Then we left and got noodles for dinner. Yum. That is better carb loading.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hotel (Josh's first Chinese breakfast) and headed up to the race start to be there by 8 am, as we were instructed. After standing around on mesh that caught on my cleats in a dirt pit (they covered it all with mesh) for a while, we started to try to find Luo Wei (bike builder dude). I should mention that they tried to make a real race scene. There were lots of tents set up in a U shape next to the main stage where all the townspeople were watching trick bikes, cheerleaders, and roller bladers. This was a major town event. They all came out to watch the show and to watch us bike around the city the first day. Also, it seems to be some kind of national race as there is a lot of prize money, raffled off trek and giant bikes, and teams from other provinces (Guangdong, Tianjin, and Gansu). It seems that some people from Sichuan on teams don't actually race and just bike to the races (most folks biked to the race), hang out, participate in festivities, and bike home after the race. Two other women braved the actual race with me. So the scene was a bit strange. A mix of Cascade Cyclists and racers. Anyway, back to fixing our bikes. We had to explain over and over again what we needed and people kept thinking we had been reformed from our stupid single speed ways (single speed mountain bikes are completely unheard of here. We will start a trend) and wanted to add shifters to our bikes. Finally we got our wheels to borrow and had our helmets and numbers checked. Josh never did get his bike to stop skipping. Interestingly, we found out that an average Chinese rider and/or racer knows nothing about bike maintenance. People kept trying to get us to have professionals help. Josh knows more than most of them do, I think. they kept trying to use adjustable wrenches instead of chain whips.

We were lined up into 3 start groups about 45 min before the race started. We were in group 3. I was interviewed 3 more times. When we finally got to start, the race was really short. It was 3 km on road, 3 km on bad roads, and then 6 km on dirt roads. We were dropped nearly immediately. But we worked together and Josh nicely pulled me along. The race was mostly uphill, unfortunately. We would have done much better if actual handling skills were required, but the only part that was potentially fun (very Crosstoberfest-esque downhill section next to some steps), we were required to dismount and run down the stairs. I had chain problems early on and wasn't really allowed to fix them myself, even though other people kept putting the chain on the wrong cog. My chain was disgusting because someone had oiled it without wiping off oil earlier. Josh had major chain problems the whole race. I believe I finished 2nd to last (the guy in front of me didn't sprint for the finish, so I passed him 50 m from the end). The race ended with a hill climb that we then had to turn around and go back down to get to the prizes and tents.People wanted to interview me as soon as I finished and I screamed at them to go away. They kept filming me. I had kind of lost my cool and couldn't breathe (the pollution and my asthma don't go well together and the dust and race made it worse) and wanted to get a drink. I don't know if I will ever be ok with people wanting to interview me after a race before I even get off my bike. Especially when I finished nearly last (it didn't help that we started in the last group).

I was told that I actually came in 2nd among the women because I guess one woman didn't finish. Cool. Also, I won the women's single speed cat. Josh won the men's single speed cat. Cat of 1, but no matter. We met a nice lady who works for Procter and Gamble and speaks good English. She won the women's race. She's only been riding a few months and already races, so that's fairly brave for a Chinese woman. Cool. We put our bikes onto the demo bike truck to come back to Chengdu and walked to the hotel (but ate a bowl of noodles enroute) and grabbed a 3 wheeled motorcycle to the bus station. Back in Chengdu by 3.

Things to remember for the next race:
Take an extra kit - we each only had one and were stuck in our shorts a long time both days
Take my dictionary thing
Don't take so much stuff
Get a car and our driver's licenses soon
Take some food we find palatable

There is another race this weekend and our bikes will be done by then, but the mountain bike bit is short track and limited to 50 entrants, so we can't compete. It's near the city though, so we may bike there to watch. We're getting our bikes fixed by pulling apart the cassettes we bought to get the cogs from and using those spacers. The guy who made the bikes saved the boxes of parts we bought but didn't need on the bikes in case we changed our mind about those crazy single speed things. We're trying to get single speed tensioners so we can stop using the derailleurs we currently have.

We're missing you all and real mountain biking. I am going back to studying for the driving test.

Amanda :)


  1. LOL! Chinar! Good to hear it's still all fun and games!

  2. So this was almost 6 months ago, Amanda - you fall of the face of the world or something??!! :)