Monday, May 5, 2008

China! Part 3

Once more unto the breach, dear friends...

After a great sleep - I'm not sure if it's the beers, the pollution, the hard but comfortable beds or maybe just the Feng Shui, but I slept like a log all trip - it was up and at 'em and down to the dining hall for breakfast with the rest of the Jazz Apples Cycling Team. It was to be a relatively long stage today, so I erred on the side of caution and only had one coffee to avoid complicated issues while stuck in the convoy!

The usual stowing of tools, pump, spares and bottles of water in Mr Ding's car was followed by the morning hoon through the city streets. As usual the girls kept pace with us easily, despite the seeming chaos.

Malindi and Lauren

The morning was a bit chillier than the last couple of days, but Wo Mei assured us it would soon heat up. Time to pull out my Jazz Apples long sleeve top...

Today's stage, the 71 km Chongxi Road Race, was a circuit of the WNW end of Chongming. Like the rest of the Island, it was dead flat with the biggest obstacles (apart from the odd bridge) being the crosswinds. The girls were pumped and ready for the Screamers, and determined to do well. I believe the plan was to ignore the 2 sprints, then key off each other to try and get a break away from the China/Giant Pro Team in the finale to hopefully stay away to fight out the stage result...

Chris and I climbed into the car - number 10 in the convoy today. As we had no radios, we decided Mr Ding could drive.

In the car - a tight fit!

The race set off through the wide, flat and fully closed streets of the city, with the now accustomed large and curious crowds gathered in every available spot to watch the women ride.

Local performers added to the ambience in almost every village we passed through

The first two thirds of the stage went well - the Jazz instigated a few attacks, and Susy and Ruth were causing splits and consternation with their fine echelon work sticking the riders in the gutter a few times, and eventually helping Ruth get into a break that briefly got out to 15 seconds. Unfortunately, it was impossible to overcome the Chinese combine, as territorial concerns overrode sportsmanship for a this race of such local import. Being the host country for the 2008 Olympics meant that the Chinese wanted to put the visitors to the sword...

We were cruising along quite happily chatting and having a laugh, when all of a sudden over race radio came the call we all dread, "Crash!" All of a sudden our decision to let Mr Ding be the driver became a bit of a worry, as we couldn't communicate what we needed him to do as we rapidly approached the crash scene, and poor Wo Mei couldn't understand our rapid-fire English to pass on our slightly frantic requests! As we were (luckily) slowed by the cars all over the road, it became apparent that there were Jazz Apples jersey's caught in the chaos, but the unfortunate Lauren and Malindi were already up and riding by the time we got there. Chris tried to get Mr Ding to pull up alongside Malindi to check on her, but that proved near-impossible, so a few shouted words and realising she was basically okay and we set off in pursuit of the peloton. A rapid chase and her and Lauren got back on, but Malindi was sadly unable to reintegrate...

We were starting to become aware of some (perhaps inadvertent) parochialism creeping in, as the mainly Chinese commissaires seemed quite happy for the Chinese crash victims to be motorpaced back up to the bunch by their (or other) Team cars or the odd ambulance, often with a Police escort, but strangely the same courtesy didn't seem to be extended to the foreign riders...

A Max-Luciano rider chasing back on after the crash...without help

The race continued through the rural environs of Chongxi, with Chris and I in a more sober frame of mind. We knew it would be very hard for the battered Lauren to provide an effective launch pad for Susy and/or Ruth, but we knew she'd still try her best.

An arch!

The peloton hits the KOM

Suddenly, with only 5km to go, there was another crash call over the radio. We figured it must be a foreigner, as the Chief Commissaire didn't scream in the usual panicky voice that he used whenever it was a Chinese rider in trouble - he sounded almost blase. As we again drew up in what seemed like slow motion, I had the terrible feeling it was us again. Sure enough, it was Susy. As I leaped out of the car clutching my wheels, I could see she was in a lot of pain. She was slowly dragging herself off the side of the road in a sort of agonised bum-shuffle. It was obvious that Susy was in a lot of pain, and initially she thought she'd broken or dislocated her hip. She was also covered in patches of road rash all over her arms and legs.

My inexperience in this sort of situation showed as I was so concerned for her I utterly forgot that my duty was to look after her bike! Slowly with Chris's help, Susy managed to get to her feet, as I finally remembered what I was there to do. I untangled the chain, then straightened her handlebars. Through her pain and frustration Susy gently pointed out that her front wheel was in need of attention, as half the spokes had been severed by an errant rider's pedal - the cause of the whole crash. I whipped the munted Grammo out of the forks, and quickly jammed in one of the spare American Classics. Susy was by now ready to ride, but again she had to let me know that her seat was skewed. I straightened it fast and finally she was off, nursing a huge and vicious bruise on her hip, and dripping blood from various limbs.

We drove alongside her to see if she would be okay, and she waved us on, so Mr Ding rapidly drove us back up to the peloton again. It was up to Ruth now, we thought, but we didn't realise that she too had been caught up in a crash, making it unanimous - every member of the Team had gone down. Chris and I were silent for the rest of the stage, as we struggled to digest this terrible turn of events. What awful luck for Susy and the other girls, not to mention our Team aspirations.

The stage ended up being won by Chinese Olympian Li Meifang (Giant Pro), with poor Lauren our top finisher back in 48th place, Ruth gingerly following in 51st, Susy the best part of 8 minutes down in 69th and a furious Malindi 71st and last. Not quite what we expected, to say the least, and we were now firmly occupying last place on the Teams General Classification.

The Team post stage

After Susy (man, she's tough!) stomped over to the ambulance to show them how to dress her wounds, we packed up and rolled back to the hotel. Luckily, the other women weren't as bad off - Malindi had a bang to the knee, Lauren some lumps and bumps, and Ruth seemed fine.

The rest of the Team went of to shower, scrub the crap out of their wounds and have some lunch, but I thought I'd better get straight into fixing the bikes - especially Susy's! Malindi and Lauren brought me up some freaky sausage roll impersonators and jam sandwiches, and I cracked out a beer to help me focus. I have to say that I was still feeling very rattled - most of my race wrenching experience has consisted of straightforward wheelchanges and been devoid of serious crashes, and I had been quite rattled by Susy's crash. I resolved to be more aware of the damage to the bike next time, and ensure I didn't try to send a rider off with a crooked saddle ever again!

I wish I'd taken a picture of Susy's Grammo - it was a mess, with 5 spokes out of 16 severed and dangling loose, and the rim so buckled it couldn't come close to passing through the forks. Fortuitously, Chris had brought spare spokes appropriate to the wheel and, despite the damage, it was actually relatively straightforward to sort. I removed the tubular and the cut spokes, then unwound the rest of the spokes to release the tension, then it was simply a matter of fitting the new spokes, evenly tensioning the wheel, then I re-glued the tub and it was sorted! I am super impressed with the Grammo rims, as I seriously thought it would be a goner, but the integrity of the carbon was untouched, and the rim seemed unaffected by it's brief life as a potato-chip!

The rest of the bike was relatively easy - I checked the steerer tube for cracks or stress-risers, straightened the derailleur hanger and sorted the gears, properly straightened the bars and shift levers, then cleaned up the other random damage I could find. I then took the bike for a test ride around the hotel. Mint. I was stoked (and Chris seemed impressed!) to have pulled this bike back into shape, and to know that Susy could race it hard in the next couple of days...

I then gave the other three bikes a good look over, but the girls had kindly used their bodies to take the brunt of their crashes, so mostly it was minor damage to deal with and I was finished by mid-afternoon.

The bikes restored to former glory

We had arranged with Mr Ding and another driver to take us to a supermarket that afternoon, so we piled into the two cabs and set off. The streets were filled with sights, sounds and often pungent smells, and the supermarket itself was quite a shopping experience! I bought some alien lollies for the kids, and what turned out to be wedding candy for Jacq, much to the merriment of Wo Mei and the cashiers! Later on we wandered the streets soaking in the atmosphere of this fascinating place...

Some sights of Nanmen Town:

Scooters, bikes and rickshaws were everywhere

If the locals spoke any English, it was always a cheery "Hello!" in a sing-song voice

Whole families would ride on one bike

A rickshaw - the streets aren't as quiet as they look, I swear!

The supermarket - what an odd stench...

Chris deciding which chippies to buy

My sweetie selection - amazingly, some even made it back to NZ!

The local bike shop

Rudimentary tools didn't seem to hold them back - several complex repairs were being done as we passed

This woman was pedalling a HUGE load. She wanted to buy a paper, so she simply got off the still-moving bike, scuttled to the newstand, purchased her paper, then hopped back aboard - all before the bike stopped rolling!

A curious (but ubiquitous) belt-drive vehicle passes in front of the Ying Tong Iddle I Po Hotel

After this sensory overload, we reeled back to the hotel for the evening meal. Before this, however, the lovely Wo Mei visited us all in our rooms to present us with gifts - she had told her husband Leoh about the day's travails, so he had gone out and bought us all good luck bracelets made from local jade! Chris and I got black ones while the women got either pink or apricot(ish) ones. They were very beautiful indeed, and were a very thoughtful gesture much appreciated.

Off to dinner after that, then glorious sleep...

More soon. Cheers, Oli

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