I've just got back from a pretty successful Tour of Korea. Yet another Marco Polo adventure completed.
The race was scheduled a month later this year so as not to clash with the Asian games cycling events in Japan. This meant that the temperatures were much hotter than the previous two years that I have done this race. Being a little later in the year also meant I'd done a fair amount of racing in Europe as opposed to being a little under-done as in the past.
The race is UCI 2.5 and there was quite an international field this year with teams from all over the place (Japan, Uzbekistan, Hong Kong, Australia, Philippines, USA, etc.) and of course a bunch of Korean teams. The Marco Polo team consisted of Cory Lange (Canada), Mike Carter (USA), Lionel Synne (Belgium), Tim Wilson (Australia), Ulzii Jamsran (Mongolia) and yours truly. As usual, we were the most multicultural/multi-national team in the race. Our only staff member was a Belgian guy, Dirk van Hove (probably familiar to anybody who has had anything to do with i-team Nova in recent years). Oh yeah, we also had a grumpy Korean driver who chain smoked and liked to listen to Simon and Garfunkel.
A 1.4-km prologue started the race and our only rider capable of really doing something over this distance pulled his foot and finished 11th.
A miracle occurred on Day 2. Not only did we have three riders in the break, but one of the Iranian riders on the Giant Asia team, Chader Mizbani, survived a nasty head-on with a stray 4WD (Hyundai, of course) as he was hurtling down a descent. No-one at the finish seemed sure whether he had survived, which overshadowed my frustration at finishing 4th out of the final six-man break. The next report informed us that Mizbani had escaped with only (!) a broken hip and concussion. We figured the guy had to be a ringer for 'Rubber Man'!
The next morning we learned that Mizbani had smashed through the vehicle's windscreen into the passenger seat and had then been promptly ejected back onto the tarmac due to the savage braking technique employed by the driver. Mizbani suffered some light grazing to his right knee, heavy bruising and a broken Giant frame, and would be starting the stage with a 30-min time penalty! Incidentally, he went on to receive the award for the best 'fighting spirit', a prestigious award that traditionally goes to a Korean Kieren rider who struggles through the week inside or outside the time limit (same thing at this race) only to bring down at least 15 foreign riders in the final criterium stage, which he wouldn't have won anyway!
Stage 2 was okay for our team. It was Ulzii's 37th birthday, so he was motivated and got over the climbs. Mike and Cory were at the front and I was yo-yoing here, there and everywhere, eventually finding the front again for the final climb. Cory went away solo in the last 5 km only to get caught on the line by David McCane from Ireland. To cheer us up, our driver played a Simon and Garfunkel remix for the 20-km trip down the mountain to the hotel.
Stage 3 was a bit flatter and much cooler (the temperature on the first three days hovered around 35 degrees). Giant Asia somehow managed to let 17 riders go three minutes up the road. They lost the lead to Shinri Suzuki (Shimano Racing) and Cory and I moved up to 2nd and 8th overall, respectively.
Stage 4 was an 80-km criterium that was deemed too dangerous to be considered for GC, so we all decided to play it safe, watching the crashes rather than being part of them.
Stage 5 was 150 km with two climbs in the first 30 km (the second of which was over 1,000 m) and one last, very steep climb about 20-km from the finish. It also rained hard all day. Cory, Mike and I went over the first climbs in the front group of about 15. After about 30 km, most of the riders had regrouped, only for a four-man break to get out to almost five minutes with 50 km remaining. Ulzii, our Mongolian guy, was out the back somewhere. His motivation to race had somewhat been destroyed the night before when he received a phone call from his teenage daughter demanding that he take her to a 'Linkin Park' concert when he gets back from the race! Anyway, we managed to get a group of about ten riders away on the wet descent of the last climb, with Cory, Mike and I – minus the tour leader – gaining a gap of almost a minute and putting Cory into the lead by 22 seconds going into the final, 80-km criterium.
We controlled the last stage without too much trouble. Tim, Mike and Ulzii worked their guts out and our Belgian rider, Lionel, sprinted to 3rd at the finish.
All up our team did well, winning the overall and the teams and placing three riders in the top ten (Cory 1st, me 8th and Mike 10th). As an added bonus, I've started to acclimatise to the heat, which will no doubt come in handy in the near future.
Once again I learned a lot: About chemistry, I learned from Ulzii that Mongolians not only make vodka out of horse milk but also a very strong brew from a lengthy distilling of yoghurt!; and about physics, I learned from Mizbani (a.k.a. Rubber Man) that forward motion plus sudden impact with an object of greater mass and density does not always equal grievous bodily harm.