Enter the Dragon: A mostly true account of China CX

Best auspicious greetings honoured reader! This post be welcoming in heart and hope for longtime forgiveness of not earlier posting. Be that I have faced many adventures and much happiness in past week; no facebook make hard work of updating you my beloved reader. But fear not the iron instagram curtain, for today I write to you from aeroplane on way to USA, where much tweeting is welcome. So it follows, an account of Qiansen Cyclocross, UCI Cat 1 event, Beijing, China.

A lot has happened in the past few weeks, including a new national title, a new team, and the beginning of a new CX adventure. National champs went well, mostly thanks to all the people who provided help, support, and occasionally counselling: the Supercoach, my skills coach Neil Ross, and the A Team of Paul Larkin, John Groves and Steve from Apollo in Adelaide who kept everything running smoothly. As far as I am aware, no marriages were harmed in the post-race celebrations.

Winning national champs led to invitations to a couple of great early-season races: Qiansen Trophy CX in Beijing and Cross Vegas in USA. With work commitments ruling me out for world champs this coming January, these two races offered a great way of draining my annual leave balance whilst also building on my international CX racing experience.  Racing Cross Vegas in the national champ colours happens also to be at the top of my bucket list, by the way (although to be fair, the list also includes Eating My Weight In Salted Caramel and Marrying A Swedish Prince*, so may not be a great reflection of my life goals).

*Could also be a Baron; I haven’t looked too closely into the Swedish nobility nomenclatures.

Last year, I raced Qiansen Cyclocross and broke my wrist with a suspected ACL in the first 5 minutes of the race. I finished 14th, because it seemed like a good idea at the time and Grover was yelling out from the pits that prize money went down to 15th. This year, the race was upgraded to a UCI Cat 1 event (one level below World Cup), and apart from more UCI points and a stronger international field, offered the chance of redemption over last year’s disaster. I thought it was a great idea. My parents, who had spent the week after last year’s race driving me between x-ray appointments, were less enthusiastic. Fortunately, the only person I really needed to convince was Paul Larkin, whom I consider to be the World’s Best CX Pit Crew and whose support at world champs and national champs this year has been nothing short of brilliant. Paul, having returned from last year’s Qiansen CX race 6.5kgs lighter after a particularly nasty bout of Beijing’s Revenge, went back on his promise never to set foot in China again and agreed to be part of the adventure.

After having been a road racer for so long, one thing I’m learning about CX racing is the unique demands it places on a rider’s pit crew. On a muddy course, you can be changing bikes twice per lap (every 10 minutes or so), and you rely on your pit crew to catch your bike at speed, blast it clean and fix whatever is broken while you’re out on the course. Even on a good day, mechanics work as hard as the riders to prep equipment and fix bike niggles under pressure. Having a good pit crew that is organised, calm and good at working on the fly is essential. You rely on them not just to fix your bike, but to know which pit position is best, what tyre pressure to run, bounce off ideas for race lines and strategies, and help calm your nerves. Fortunately, not only is Paul one of the best, he is also happy to bring single origin coffee beans and put up with riders with OCD tendencies. So we make a good team.

This year, the Qiansen CX ‘event week’ comprised 2 races: a CX race on the Saturday, followed by a demonstration road race in a neighbouring province on the Monday. The CX course was a repeat of last year: fast, twisty and brutally bumpy, with some technical parts that could bring you unstuck if you lost concentration. To add to the excitement, the event organiser had asked Paul and I and a couple of the other riders to take part in the CX amateur race held a few hours before the elite races. Our job was to stay at the front ahead of the local riders for the opening lap, then peel off and let them finish the race. Apparently last year staying ahead of the local riders was quite easy, but no one had told us that those riders had then spent the next 12 months training the house down on that same course. The result was a very effective pre-race workout and a new job for Paul as a human shield, protecting me from getting T-boned by a couple of enthusiastic locals who hadn’t been briefed on the race script.

The CX race itself went well, with nary a broken bone in sight. I’d chosen a spot on the course right after a hard pinch, where I knew everyone would be knackered, as my point to attack if I needed to. In the first lap, I had chased up to third spot and was behind a French girl, Le Fevre, who had come 4th at world champs this year. I could hear her breathing hard so attacked hard just before that point and got a small gap. By the next lap she had caught back on, so I did the same thing and managed to drop her. Ellen van Loy, a Belgian who is ranked 6th in the world, was in a class of her own and won 22 secs ahead of me. I came in 23 secs ahead of former Danish national champion Margariet Kloppenberg who was in 3rd. I was absolutely stoked – it’s a career best result for me, certainly in CX, and maybe for my whole riding career. All those skills sessions paid off Neil!!

The road race on Monday was fun (especially on a CX bike with road tyres). The 11-hour bus trip was less fun, but still better than a broken wrist or a 6.5kg weight loss program, so Paul and I proclaimed this year’s China trip a success and set sail for USA.

If Northern Californian CX racing is synonymous with file treads and cold beer, Qiansen CX was characterised by SSCs and an oversupply of all-you-can-eat buffets. Of the 5 nights we were there,  there were 4 banquets, one featuring a Chinese version of the Spice Girls miming to traditional Chinese instruments. We felt very welcomed, if slightly overfed, and the hospitality of the event organisers reflected the region’s enthusiasm for growing CX and cycling in China. Next year they are talking of making it a world cup event: if it happens, it will give Aussie riders access to the highest level of racing in the world without having to endure 30 hours of travelling to do it.

Phew! That’s enough for now. I started this post on the plane from Beijing to San Francisco, and now Pete, Paul and I are in a log cabin at Lake Tahoe, getting excited for some CX riding tomorrow on the trails here. Next race: Sacramento GP on 6 Sept, then Cross Vegas on 10 Sept.

Ride Happy.