World Wide Cycling
Qinghai-Tibet International Cycling Race 2001
This cycling race took part from September 8 September 17. The extreme conditions make this race one of the most difficult ones in the world. It's not only the altitude (up to 5300m) that makes it so hard, but also the bad road conditions (sometimes even no road at all), the extreme weather conditions (sun, rain, wind, cold and even snow), the bad accommodations (military camps with wooden mattresses), transportations by busses, almost every day (in total over 1600 km with an average speed of 60km/h) and the unusual Chinese food. This all made it a big adventure.
the Marco Polo Cycling Club the following riders took part:
The Marco Polo Cycling Club in Lhasa the capitol of Tibet, on the background Potala Palace. From left to right: Edwin Achtergerg, Lex Nederlof, Nathan Dahlberg, jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh, Damir Iratov, Jon Tarkington, Rob Conijn and Rutger Kock (Photographer; unknown)
Report by Team Manager Edwin Achterberg.
September 6 2001
This day we had to get up early because we already had to be at the airport (Beijing) at 8:00 am to catch our flight to Xining. This city is situated in the North-West of China at an altitude of 2300m in the Qinghai province. In the afternoon we could do some training there despite of the rain. But because of the rain the electricity stopped from working so we spend the most romantic night there with candlelight. The main benefit for us was that everyone just had to go to bed early, so we all had a good rest.
Training near Xining. (Photo: Edwin Achterberg)
September 7 2001
This day we tried to adapt as much as possible to the high altitude. We did this by going for an easy ride and spending the rest of the day resting in bed. We only got out of our beds to do some shopping and for the medical check-up. Sports doctors from the organisation did this medical check-up to assure everyone's health for these extreme conditions. As expected there were no health problems for the Marco Polo team so far, so we all were ready for the big event.
September 8 2001
This day would be the start of the race. From now on we had to get up at 6:00 am every morning, because of the early starting time of the stages. After each stage we had transportation to the next military camp. All these transportations were really necessary, because it's such a remote area so there are no villages and towns with hotels.
day started with an openings ceremony at the Zhangfang hotel, after which we
first had to get into the busses for over an hour to get to the starting place.
This first stage was 97 km long and it contained a heavy climb with an altitude
difference of 800m. This uphill started after 30 km and the first group of 11
riders that passed this mountain happened to be the decision of the stage. This
group contained 3 Marco Polo riders (Nathan, Jon and Ulzii), 5 Kazakhs and 3
South Africans. In the final sprint of this group Ulzii managed to place himself
in 3rd position after being pushed away by the South Africans twice.
Unfortunately the commissaries didn't punish them despite our protests.
September 9 2001
2nd stage was 86 km long at an average altitude of 3400m. The day started rainy
and cold and because of that the organisation decided to delay the start of the
race until the afternoon and they also decided to shorten the stage to a
distance of 68 km. During the race we noticed that the Kazakhs like the cold
because 3 of them were in the breakaway of 6 riders, with 2 South Africans and
Ulzii for Marco Polo. The final sprint again was won by the South Africans but
this time Ulzii finished as 2nd. The main group with the other Marco Polo riders
finished 1 minute behind the leaders so they didn't loose that much for the team
Jamsran on the podium, for the ceremonie of the second stage. (Photo: Edwin Achterberg)
of stage 2:
September 10 2001
3rd stage was 78 km long and went away from the lake more towards the west to
Chaka. According to the tour book it would go up gradually to 3600m. During the
race we soon found out that this wasn't trough, because after 10 km a
never-ending ascent started to an altitude of 4200m. At the summit there was a
breakaway of 7. Along them were Ulzii and Jon for Marco Polo, but unfortunately
Jon got dropped during the descent so he ended up in de
of stage 3:
Damir Iratov with on the background a wild Camel. (Photo: Edwin Achterberg)
September 11 2001
This day was filled with 410 km transportation. Along the way we were able to see the most magnificent sceneries. We passed a dessert, some rough rocky mountains and we went across a dried salt lake. We had a delay of one hour because one of the busses got of the road and almost crashed. After this accident a truck had to pull the bus out of the sand again. The good part of it is that we were able to make some nice pictures.
Finally we arrived at Golmud, which is one of the most remote places of China. We found that out during training when we saw signs with 1055 km to Lhasa (Tibet) and 1000 km to Xining.
September 12 2001
We soon noticed to be back again in a real city, because we found an Internet
café again. There we got the terrible news about the plane crashes of the day
before in the USA.
September 13 2001
was the day of the 4th stage with Ulzii wearing the yellow jersey. This time a
rolling course at an average altitude of 3500m. The Marco Polo team took control
over the race so nobody was able to get away. Unfortunately the final kilometre
turned out to be 1500 m so Ulzii started sprinting to early. Still he managed to
finish as 5th. Again the South Africans won the stage. Later this 5th place of
Ulzii turned out to be the decision of the race. For the first time there wasn't
transportation in the afternoon so we were free to do what we wanted.
First we went to see the course of the next day's stage and after that we have
been riding on some camels, a great experience. After that excitement we
spend the afternoon and evening
of stage 4:
September 14 2001
5th stage was a short stage over 38 km and it finished at an altitude of
4200m. Also this stage was totally controlled by the Marco Polo team, so again
the stage ended with a bunch sprint. Unfortunately Ulzii got a flat tire during
that sprint but still he managed to finish as 11th while Jon finished as 6th.
The Kazakhs pushed their main rider during the sprint like
of stage 5:
September 15 2001
Another transportation day! In total 415 km during which we passed the highest point of the race: Tanggula Mountain at an altitude of 5300m. Here we enjoyed the amazing view with mountains up to 7000m. At the top of Tanggula Mountain, the border with Tibet, we had a ceremony for changing from Chinese police escort to Tibetan police escort.
the race some people told us that we would experience 4 seasons in one day and
they sure were right about that. Sun, rain, snow, hail and storms are what we
got. The weather changes every kilometre. But as long as you stay on the bus
it's really great to experience all these changes. In the evening we arrived at
another military camp where we spend the night at
On top of Tangula Mountain (one of the highest asfalt roads in the world). (Photo: Nathan Dahlberg)
September 16 2001
was the day of the 6th stage. For us an important stage because after this stage
there was only one more stage to go (the final stage to Lhasa) and we wanted to
enter Lhasa with the yellow jersey! After 100km transportation the 6th stage
started. It was 85 km long at an average altitude of 4600m. The Marco Polo team
kept attacking with the South Africans and
of stage 6:
September 17 2001
the final stage to Lhasa we had to defend Ulzii's leading position. In the
beginning of the stage we surprised the Kazakhs, so a group of 15 got away. This
group contained all the Marco Polo riders, 5 South Africans, 2 Mongolians, 1
American and only 2 Kazakhs. For us an ideal situation. Than we were told
aver the radio that the road in front of us was broken but they would try to
repair it before we would arrive at that place. Than, suddenly, after an
off-road down hill every one stopped. Rutger and I immediately got out of the
car to see what was going on. When we started running we realised that the
asphalt still was soft and warm. This meant cleaning the tires with a knife and
change the wheels as quickly as possible. After a short break the race started
again with all the riders in the same positions.
of stage 7:
the stage we had a closing ceremony in the centre of Lhasa near the Potala
Palace. This again was an impressive happening.
The closing ceremonie in Lhasa the Capitol of Tibet, on the background Potala Palace.(Photo: Rutger Kock)