I truly enjoyed every aspect of this unique adventure and race. Racing internationally and visiting China were on my bucket list of life goals, so getting to be a part of this race was a dream come true. The race and host resort were in Yanqing Beijing – 90 minutes North of Beijing and 15 minutes South of the Badaling section of the Great Wall. The scenery was very reminiscent of Seattle with mountain views peeking over the city and green landscapes once the morning clouds disappeared. The timing also happened to be during the “full moon” and fall harvest festival, which meant a wide selection of Moon cakes at every meal and quieter city conditions as a big part of the festival is returning home to celebrate with family.
On our first morning, we were treated to a tour to the Great Wall and I was really glad I had decided the week before to go hiking on the record-setting sunny days instead of cycling as there was no flat section on the Badaling portion of the Great Wall. It was steep going up and down, and the physical therapist part of me was intrigued people watching all of the footwear choices – from high heels, flip flops and slippers – also scaling the challenging steps and slopes. Bless our kind tour volunteers who I doubt are used to regular exercise and hiking (my group volunteer told me it was her “second hike ever”) and, more unfortunately for them, trying to keep pace with a group of elite level athletes with twitchy post-flight legs walking the Great Wall.
After lunch, we added to the organized city traffic chaos as we rode through Yanqing city to the course. It was awesome to be a part of the 40 rider parade that took both the full bike lane and a lane of traffic. And once we arrived at the course, it was game on for the course pre-ride race. The course was a fun mix of fast flat straightaways on a paver bike bike path paralleling the river, technical descents and ascents down and up the river path side slopes, two steep hillside stair sets that made me thankful for my long legs and the Great Wall hiking warm up, three river crossings over newly constructed bridges, and a FUN stair run-up fly-over that flowed into a mini-pump track style bumpy section that weaved around forest trees. I loved it and kept finding new excuses to take “just one more” lap on the course.
It was also fun to witness the course and venue evolution each day and experience the final touches – like course warning signs and jumbo screens – on race day. I couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather and conditions –clear, blue skies, 22deg Celsius and a cool breeze along the river valley.
My legs felt great and I limited myself to only two pre-race laps on the course as the technical and bumpy sections were deceivingly physically demanding. Fortunately, I was experienced in dry, bumpy courses like this thanks to the early Seattle season races and possibly an advantage from talking to other racers who commented that these course conditions were a new challenge to them.
Although I didn’t have any UCI points (because I pursued Masters Worlds last year and you can’t have UCI points to be eligible for UCI Masters), I still got a second row call up with lucky race number 13. Proper back number placement was already a big deal for the dedicated Chinese race volunteers (and most people had their back number re-pinned several times), so I caused quite a commotion when I rode through call up with the traditional #13 pinning (upside down). “Wait! Wait! Wait!! Your number!!!!” Luckily, I had forewarned the UCI officials that I would be, so I listened with amusement as they told the volunteers it was okay (“but her number is not right!” “yes, yes, it’s okay” “it’s okay?!?! But it is not right side up!”).
Knowing that I am not in top form compared to where I was at Worlds and generally going into a cross season, my race pace strategy was conservation. I had a reasonable start and basically maintained my position, gaining a place for every place I lost in the first half lap shuffle and was able to stay ahead of and ride around the crashes on the descents. Once the race had strung out, I settled into a moderate pace, trying to balance speed, exertion and utilizing the course features as riding flow energy instead of physically absorbing it through ‘bike massage.’ On lap three, I could tell that my conservative strategy was paying off as I felt relatively good while the ladies around me were showing signs of being worn down and almost bouncing off their bikes on the bumpy sections. Plus, I was slowly gaining on riders fatiguing from the fast start and fast pace the course allows. Getting the final lap bell (there was no lap board, so I didn’t know whether it would be a 4 or 5 lap race) going into the fourth lap, I ramped up my pace and pushing the technical sections to my limit to work up from 10th to 6th place. So, essentially my race can be summarized as a good race and a great last lap!
It was also a blast to watch my Team Redline teammate, Justin Lindine, have a fantastic ride and rock the course during the men’s race to take third! This meant that with our results, Team Redline was also the top placed USA riders in the International field.
While 86 riders from 18 countries and 22 teams came together to share and celebrate cyclocross, what I enjoyed most about this race was that no one was at a significant advantage. The Belgium and European riders got to fully appreciate the challenges that come with traveling by plane to race (and without the comforts of the team RV), the majority of racers traveled over 10 hours and had adjust to a radical time zone different and minimizing jet lag in a similar timeframe, and 83 of us did not speak or read Mandarin or primarily eat a Chinese-food inspired diet. So, we were all in the same boat of adapting to the challenges that come with traveling in addition to bike racing. I will confess that Team Redline did have a slight advantage as our race support, Paul Gissing, is a native Seattle Team Double Check cross racer currently living in Beijing – and fluent in Mandarin. Another reason why I love cross – wherever I travel to race, I am never far from home as somehow there always seems to be at least one other Seattlite present and connected with the race – even in China!
It was truly an honor to be a part of this unique historic moment in cyclocross and Chinese history. I cannot thank Qiansen Sports, race promoter Yan xing Song, the amazing hospitality from Beijing Jinyu Badaling Spa resort, the generous time and tireless energy of local Chinese volunteers and interpreters – especially Linery who gave us the complete local tour including the best tea shop we would not have found otherwise, and Team Redline for helping make this event possible and such a huge success! I look forward to renewing my Visa to race in China again next year!