Culture and Sweat at the Tour of Poyang Lake
Eighteen days and twelve races in China. Ten different hotels. 43 hours on a bus. 41 hours on the bike. With over $300,000 in stipend and prize money, this race was no joke. But racing isn’t the only reason why we love to travel and slay our minds and bodies day in and day out. Scroll through this photo essay for more about the Tour of Poyang Lake and a look behind the races in China.
Let’s begin by saying that I will probably never eat Chinese food ever again.
International racing is an amazing experience. Rather than being a tourist and looking from the outside in, you become what everyone is looking at and get an inside perspective of a world most foreigners never see. The bad part is that there is a threshold of too much Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I reached that threshold many moons ago.
Time to backtrack a bit and explain how I ended up sweating my brains out during a seven hour layover on my flight back to the states.
I am part of a weird, little known group of crazy-ass bike racers in the United States (and around the world) that travel to all sorts of terrifying and beautiful sounding foreign countries in order to race our bikes. There is no super-site or collective listing of these silly races around the world. It is almost all word of mouth, or a hey, are you relatively fast, and can you take two or three weeks off of life without having your girlfriend kill you? Just over 3 weeks before the race began, I got one of those word of mouth calls literally saying:
“Hey, are your legs okay? Can you get a visa to China and a ticket in 3 weeks?”
Sure, why not?
After convincing my sister to wait for four hours in the SFO Chinese consulate line to get my visa, 40 hours of travel later I found myself in China, everything was kosher. Your standard bus pick up at the airport from the retired F1 driver, mopeds and tut-tuts weaving their way through traffic, and endless rice fields dotted with empty apartment complexes.
Every day for the next 12 it was basically the same thing. Wake up. Eat Chinese food (they literally don’t do breakfast, it is the same as lunch and dinner. I would pay $20 for a bowl of cereal and some cold not goat/dog/sheep/unknown animal milk right now) for breakfast. Put on the super suit that you washed in the shower the night before that smells like death (only after 6 days) and spin to the race. Get mobbed by the insane thousands of fans, especially if you look like Jesus. Race bike. Question your sanity. Finish. Feel good about flogging yourself to the point of near death. Ride back to the hotel. Shower. Eat lunch. Pack. Get on the bus. Drive 2-6 hours.
Hate the guy that keeps farting on the bus.
Check into new hotel. Unpack. Shower again because you smell awful from the stinky bus ride. Eat dinner. Eat dinner again even though you now hate Chinese food because you are so hungry. Flip through all 100 channels of Chinese tv trying to find either the one that has English subtitles or the one that is in English. Or watch one of the 50 channels that shows Chinese war/military/kung fu movies and just make up the words. Go to sleep.
Rinse and repeat x 12
To wrap it up:
China is a land of juxtapositions. Check out this insanely beautiful pagoda on top of these sacred mountains with a river winding below it. But the path to it is covered in trash. Welcome to our ornate hotel dining room with seating for 400 and 20’ high marble ceilings that you can’t see through the cigarette smoke.The people seemed genuinely happy and were very excited about the racing. For a country to put a literal $2 million USD behind a B grade international race shows that they are at least trying and are doing a good job at it.
Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. I will be back to Asia, hopefully with legs that aren’t destroyed from a hard season of racing. The quality of racing was the best I have experienced in an international race and the support was top notch. And most importantly I got to see a whole lot of a surprisingly beautiful country and had a good time doing it.
Thanks to the City of Perth composite boys. Owen, Mat, Craig, Steve, Nate, Terri, and Gregg. Blake rides for Team Clif Bar Cycling stateside and is the head coach at Train2Win Coaching.