After fond farewells to my beautiful family, I flew out of Wellington at 8pm for a one hour flight to Auckland to rendezvous with the rest of the NZ contingent of the Jazz Apples Cycling Team - Susy Pryde, Lauren Ellis, Malindi Maclean and Team Manager, Chris Drake. Our Aussie Team member Ruth Corset was joining us in China. Lovely to see them all again, and much hilarious banter ensued, setting the tone for the rest of the trip.
We flew out at midnight for an 11 hour leg to Singapore, then a 3 hour layover with average coffee at Changi before jetting the final 5 1/2 hours to Shanghai Pudong. Expecting a grilling at Chinese customs, we were all surprised to be through in mere minutes with zero problems! We were greeted by Wo Mei, our interpreter and Chinese liason, and her "boss" Mr Chung, who took us to a large bus all to ourselves. We then drove for 90 minutes along the outskirts of Shanghai marveling at the weirdness of the surroundings to our sheltered Kiwi eyes.
As we drove along, Chris and Susy pumped Wo Mei for info about Chongming Island. She informed us that it is China's third largest island after Taiwan and Hainan, and that it's the world's largest alluvial island. It is one of three islands set in the Yangtse delta, and is being used as a model for ecological agricultural practices. A population of 650,000 contains some locals and many migrant workers and people displaced from the vast 3 Gorges Dam project.
At the end of the drive Mr Chung and Wo Mei hustled us onto a slightly rickety looking ferry boat, and pointed us to a private room (TV lounge?) for the 1 hour journey over the Yangtse to Chongming Island as the sun slowly set through the all pervasive smog...
We alighted on the wharf of the main city of Chongming Island, Nanmen, to get back on the bus for the 5 minute drive to the Tian He Hotel, our base while we were in China.
Banners on the Hotel
After a bit of a palaver checking in and sorting our rooms we met up with one of our generous sponsors, Louis of Champion Systems, who sped up the process. We also finally met up with Ruth, who had been in the hotel most of the day. Great to see her again! As Ruth and Lauren were down to do a UCI Time Trial the next morning, I had to quickly dump my gear off in my room, then head down to sort their bikes for the race. I was shown to the underground carpark, which was designated as the mechanics zone with each team getting their own area to themselves. Now this would have been awesome if it wasn't that the light was dim, the cold was intense, and the smell of sewage was appalling...I determined that I would not spend another night down there no matter what.
The Team is equpped with the top Genius Squadra machines, with Grammo wheels and Sram Force components - lovely bicycles. The girls had unpacked and assembled their own bikes so I tuned them, fitted their race numbers and transponders and installed clip-on tri-bars and rear disc wheels to both machines. Lauren was running a prototype Grammo disc that certainly looked the business.
I finished at about midnight and repaired to my room on the 15th floor to unpack my gear (including a vast swag of cool Team kit!) and sort out my tools for the TT, then shower and sleep.
Up at 6.30am and down to the 4th floor for the Chinese version of a buffet breakfast, which we were soon to discover was exactly the same as their buffet lunch and dinner! No really freaky food, thank goodness, but I decided it was safest to settle on fried eggs on "roast bread", weak coffee and cordial and figured I'd wait sample the more exotic fare later on...
I then helped Susy and Malindi get ready to roll, as they wanted to ride to and around the TT course with Ruth and Lauren. Chris and I then were shown to our race vehicle for the week, a taxi all stickered up and driven by the unflappable Mr Ding. A slightly hair-raising 10 minute drive through the crowded and chaotic streets of Nanmen followed, ending up on the fully closed race course, which was rigorously patrolled by a vast number of Police and Army personnel.
The TT start/finish
Wo Mei with Mr Ding's taxi/race vehicle
The Time Trial wasn't actually counted as part of the Tour of Chongming Island itself, but was being treated by the Team as a valuable hit out for Ruth and Lauren.
Chris and I followed Ruth in the car, with Chris driving and Mr Ding and Wo Mei in the back.
16th for Ruth and 30th for Lauren was the end result, but that didn't really tell the whole story. Ruth had a storming ride and caught her minute (wo)man as well as her 3 minute man! Apart from 2 Ukrainian TT specialists there were only fired up Chinese riders ahead of Ruth in the results.
Ruth catching a rider for 3 minutes
After the race we headed back to the hotel for lunch, a debrief and then I got into the bikes in my room.
I had to pull off the discs, swap the cassettes, remove the tri-bars, then check all 4 bikes from stem to stern, fit race numbers and transponders and fit Team issue Topeak computers to all the machines.
NZ Criterium Champion Malindi Maclean's Genius Squadra in the stand
Sorted and stacked
After ensuring all the bikes were in tip-top shape and sparkling clean I was able to go for a sift around the hotel to check out the scene. I had a nice time catching up with the girls from the South African team, most of whom had been at the Tour of NZ. I also had another squizz down under the hotel in the mechanics zone, where I helped the USA team manager with a couple of minor issues with his bikes, and tried to talk to the friendly but non English speaking Polish mechanic. The pervasive smell of poos helped me determine I would not go down there again if at all possible!
Dinner that night was a "banquet" in the dining room to present the Tour and welcome the competitors. Apart from the Teams there seemed to be a lot of Chinese media present, and the whole shebang was hosted by a local TV star/singer in a slinky dress.
Each table had one bottle of Great Wall red wine only, but luckily I was able to use my powers of persuasion to bully the Team into letting me drink most of it...
Slightly inebriated, I tottered off to my room to channel surf the 50-odd channels of Chinese TV, settling on the BBC for the sound of English and Batman Begins in Chinese alternately before heading off to sleep...
I will do a further update in the next day or two. Thanks for reading!