World Wide Cycling

                 Qinghai Lake Tour 2005



Marco Polo Cycling Club

2005 Tour De Qinghai Lake - July 16 to July 24


Marco Polo Cycling Team:

Michael Carter, USA

Jamsran "Oggi" Ulzii-Orshikh, Mongolia

Robin Reid, New Zealand

Rhys Pollack, Australia

Fuyu Li, China

Yu Tong , China



Gudo Kramer, D.S. Race Guru, Nederlands

Wilco Gerts, Crack Mechanic, Nederalnds

Peter Coates, Massage Magician, New Zealind, via Denmark

Naran Bat, Massage Magician, Mongolia

Todd McKean - Morale Director, TREK China G.M.


The Marco Polo Cycling Team on stage at the opening ceremony of the Qinghai Lake Tour 2005. (Photo: Gudo Kramer)


Report by Michael Carter


July 15, 2005

Qinghai Xining Hotel

Here on the eve of the 4th Tour de Qinghai Lake, I can't believe I am back - again!  Even after the first year when I was asked by U.S.A. Cycling to put together a U.S. team for the 1st edition of this race which Tom Danielson made his international debut and crushed the field for his first big win, I thought for sure that would be my one and only trip to Xining. Xining is the host city, located on the Tibetan Plateau which is a 2 hour airplane ride directly West of Beijing. Each of the subsequent years, I thought that each would be my last. Started off here in the first edition coming in 5th on G.C. The 2nd edition won by phenom Damiano Cunego, I managed an 8th.  Then last year. What a disaster. Completely fell apart on the big mountain stage - could barely finish the climb on the decisive day that set up the rest of the top 10. Phil Zajicek of Navigators and his whole team rode a brilliant race and the day before the big climbing day, Phil ended up in a break that finished with 7 minutes over a less than ambitious field. I attribute the source of the 2004 disaster to picking up a "bug" that one of my Marco Polo teammates brought over from Europe. All of us on Marco Polo save Robin Reid, ended up getting sick during the race. Our health problems had nothing to do with food, rather some kind of "bug."


Marco Polo is a team organized in Holland, but registered in China. We have a sponsorship from TREK China, and the Chinese division is managed by Todd  McKean, a bike rider himself, and a very good one I might add! Todd surprised us by sending up two French press coffee makers, along with five ponds of Starbucks "House Blend." Todd also organized a "Trek Tent" that will be set up before and when it makes sense, after the stages. Looking very sharp this year, thanks to Todd! Just awesome!


The Marco Polo Cycling Team set-up at the Qinghai Lake Tour in China, with tents from sponsor Trek bicycles. (Photo: Gudo Kramer)


This year, even after winning the Iron Horse in Durango, my confidence is not really there. I do have doubt about my 42-year-old body to survive this 4th edition. This one is longer than the previous three, and also features more climbing. Watching Lance ride this years Tour is definitely inspiring - he is just incredible!  Hopefully, some of his confidence and assertiveness will wear off on me. Stay tuned!


Stage 1  Huangzhong - Xining, 101 K.


The course today featured a nice 37 mile downhill start to the finishing circuits around the city of Xining. In the first three editions of this race, nothing of any significance happened. All three years, the opening stage finished in a field sprint. Our D.S. and Team Manager, Gudo Kramer mentioned that he thought today might be dangerous. Thought, "Yeah, right - after the last three years, naw....." Oops.

Rhys Pollock, our Aussie, attacked on the downhill solo. He built his lead to 1:10 or maybe a bit more, but is swallowed up before we hit the circuits, of which we were to do eight laps of an eight kilometre course.

But lets get back to the start where the opening ceremony took place in Huangzhong. Each year, the opening ceremony becomes more and more elaborate. It truly rivals the opening ceremonies at the Olympics. There are easily as many people watching as an Olympic stadium. This year, the ceremony was at a Buddhist Temple, which feature a gold dome. The people watching had to number close to 250,000 people, Yes, that many! This IS China! People, people everywhere. Incredible spectacle this year too. The performances were amazing - we watched later that night on TV as the temperatures were reportedly 38 degrees centigrade, which is like 98 degrees for us Americans. We were "chilling out" in our Trek tent (not at 98 degrees!) during the ceremonies, except for the team presentation part.


The opening ceremony of the Qinghai Lake Tour 2005 was an impressive and colourful happening. (Photo: Gudo Kramer)


Now the race. Hit the circuits, and in my honorary place in the back of the field, just relaxing, trying not to conserve energy, a break of 37 roll off the front, gain three minutes! Dangerous riders up there, Chris Baldwin and Jeff Louder of Navigators, Dave McCann of Giant and others that I am sure are a G.C. threat. Gudo pulls up to the back of the field with 5 laps to go, and tells me that we can't afford to lose minutes like that. So I make my way to our English speakers (Fuyu sort of speaks English, Yutong not a lick) and tell the guys to start attacking (the field was creeping along). So we all start launching attacks in hopes of stimulating the field to start riding. I end up off the front solo, bridge up to a Kazak rider, and the two of us catch a group of 7 who were trying to bridge as well. After two laps with them, I end up accelerating off the front of that group, only to be followed by the Kaza, and then one Barloworld rider. We end up closing the gap down by about one minute at the finish. The good news was that I put over one minute on threats, Ghader Mizbhani of Giant, Glen Chadwick of Cyclingnews, Ryan Cox of Barloworld, Cesare Grajales of Navigators and a few others. But, I lost a minute on some very good riders. Not really so bad really in a race like this. A Russian won the stage, a Kazak 2nd and Polish rider was 3rd.


Stage 2 Xining - Qinghai Lake Hotel, 145 K


This stage was the first day of any climbing. The stage starts in Xining which is at 2250 meters, or 6,730 feet and climbs out of Xining to a max altitude at kilometer 83 of 3,419 meters, or about 10,257 feet. From there, the course descends to only 3250 meters and finished on Qinghai Lake. The stage starts off very aggressive, with attack after attack. I know this climb and think that whatever does roll off, probably will not last. But this IS a bike race and you never know - anything can happen and it usually does. After a lot of groups form off the front and are swallowed up, a group forms at about 60 kilometres into the race. Oggi and I are on the front, watching it roll away, and no one is chasing. I mention to Oggi, "Maybe we should jump up there." So Oggi jumps away with two or three in tow. I stay in the field, and watch to see who of the dangerous riders in the field respond. Cesar Grajales does, so I jump after him. We make it to Oggi, who is driving a break of 5 riders. Oggi sees me on board, and for 7 whole K's, drills it! I turn around after a tunnel, and can't even see the field. The field has sat up! We pick up a few riders who were dangling off the front, and when Oggi finally pulls off, the break organizes and we all start rolling through.


Jamsran Ulzii-Orhsikh from the Marco Polo Cycling Team in action in the Qinghai Lake Tour 2005. (Photo: Gudo Kramer)


The climb does not get too serious but does pitch up a bit at the 70 K mark. My Kazak partner from yesterday jumps away from us, takes the KOM, and the break is whittled down to none of us, two Giant riders, two Naturino riders (one is Simeoni, Lance's less than favourite adversary), a Lamonta rider, a Czech rider, and Cesar. Long story short, Simeoni jumps us with 3.5 K's to go, I go after him and start to cramp in my hamstrings. Debilitating! Had to sit up, and had to watch in helplessness as he rode away, then the Lamonta rider, the Kazak and the other Naturino rider get away. The Giant riders, Ahad and Hosein do not chase! UNREAL. I end up just struggling to survive some of the most serious cramping I have had in years! At 42 years old, that is a LONG time! End up ninth.

The good news: we put over five minutes on the field! I move into 4th overall, the Czech rider was in the break yesterday, so he takes yellow, Hosein was in the break too, and the Kazak rider was about 10 seconds in front of me.

Back in the hunt!


Stage 3 Qinghai Lake Hotel - Qinghai Lake (Bird Island), 121 K's.


This stage circumnavigates Qinghai Lake and does have a couple of climbs. Not hard climbs, but it is the wind that is so dangerous here. Even though it is a short stage, a break can get away and all hopes of a good GC placing can be lost.

Well, a break did get away after 62 K's of racing in a wicked tailwind. 18 riders up the road, my Kazak friend, Grajales, the Czech guy from yesterday, and Ryan Cox. A group formed with myself, Rhys, Fuyu both of whom rode great (as did Rob who did a lot of work protecting me early on) and all of the Giant team, who up until today, had the leaders jersey. At any rate, that group of 18 finished with 1:18 over our group. Not much to say about this one, other than it was a major crosswind battle after that 62 K mark. The course wrapped around the West side of the lake so the tailwind turned to those lovely crosswinds, which was a great place to split the field.


Tomorrow, first 55 K's offer more of the same, then we hit a couple of climbs with a decent to the finish. The forecast is for rain, and a high of 58 degrees. Take that over wind!


Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh at the Trek - Marco Polo Cycling Team tent with his photo at the background.

(Photo: Gudo Kramer)



Stage 4 Qinghai Lake (Bird Island) - Xihaizhen, 152 K

By Gudo Kramer


Stage 4 turned out to be a disaster for Michael and the whole Marco Polo team. With temperatures just above zero in centigrade and rain that felt like ice; 39 riders were eliminated from the race; including Michael Carter, our reporter from the first four stages.

Just half an hour into the stage and Mike comes falling back. The guys bring him back once or twice, but cannot keep him in the field, or at least whatever is left that could be called the main peloton.

Peter Coates drives the team car to the field; mechanic Wilco Geerts calls to the feed zone, where I am having a quiet day to hang out and talk things through with Todd McKean of Trek, who came all the way up here to see the team in action.

They talk to Mike and the guys and tell Oggi and Rhys to do whatever necessary to keep Mike in the group or even in the race. It would be bad to go into the real climbing part of this stage race without our climber!

Rhys refuses. Another call from the team car. What to do? The situation was more clear now; with Mike loosing 3 minutes in just a few kilometres; Oggi with him. "Tell Rhys he'd better win the f**ing stage if he refuses and let him go."

An hour and a half later the field passes by the feed, shattered to pieces. Rhys with the first group. Takes the bag, we shout: "better win this one!!"

What follows is a look into hell... guys one by one, little groups. Guys stopping at the feed, begging for another jacket. Todd and me end up giving most of our clothes away. Then, over 15 minutes behind the leaders: Mike and Oggi. Mikes stops, he looks like he is over 60 instead 42. Shakes all over, almost falls over when he stops. Cannot speak anymore, has to be helped out of his clothes. It is only then we realise how big the chill factor must be up here at this altitude. And... let's not forget, only two days ago, temperatures were still close to 40 centigrade!! I did my share of Dutch and Belgium spring racing, in rain and wet snow, hail, whatever, but never saw so many guys just freeze!! As Mike goes with Todd, I find a seat with the Chinese Cycling Association's Secretary General, Mr Tian Junrong. We pick up more riders, though guys like McKenzie of Wismilak and Paul Griffin of Giant. Shaking for over an hour in the car, almost crying, unreal!! I end up in one of the two broom-busses; both are full; almost naked, giving away all my clothes to cold and wet riders.

We pass group after group and I wonder where Oggi is. After the stage I find out, he passed most of the field by himself, and hardly lost any time after the feed zone, just riding by himself... long time trial... but why spend so much energy just to finish, we will still need our Mongolian warrior now we lost Mike!

We arrive at the finish to learn that Rhys did a GREAT ride. He ends up off the front for 20 km's with Cohnen of Lamonta, holding off big guys; but... losing the sprint by cm's. When I find Rhys I thank him for refusing to wait for Mike and saving the day!!

Rhys' comment on the day:

"After making the front group all day, watching everybody shaking with cold I thought this was a good time to attack. Well it was, with 20km to go I went and was soon joined by a Dutch rider from the Lamonta Team.We road hard, really hard, I was experiencing new levels of cold pain in my legs. It was great. There was three riders chasing at 25 seconds and the field (which there was only about 40 left) at 1min 20 down.

We held them off and with three hundred metres to go I thought I had it, with 200m to go I still thought I had it, with 100 to go I thought shit I'm going to win this then with 50 to go I was watching him pass me. Close, so close."


Stage 5 Xihaizhen - Guide, 201 K


Shortened due to the cold. Finish on the mountaintop, instead of the intended finish in Guide, after a 60 km(!!) downhill. Everybody got into cars on the mountaintop; incredible scenery, this whole convoy in the middle of this rainy, misty Tibetan landscape, with nomadic people and their tents around...


The stage had to finish before the original finish because of the extreme cold and rain at high altitude, the last 30 km downhill were cancelled. (Photo: Gudo Kramer)


Stage 6 Guide - Xining, 112 K - Stage 7 Xining - Xunhua, 196 K - Stage 8 Xunhua - Xining, 162 K


In stage 5-8 we were trying to go for the stage win and looking for the long break. Despite the guys riding well and aggressive, the race was closed pretty much, with the Czech team protecting their yellow jersey well, maybe a bit too good. They didn't even let riders that formed no threat in GC go up the road. Everybody was convinced they would only last one or two days; but then they found a good coalition with their 'neighbours' from Poland. With two strong teams shutting the race down, the only bits and pieces left were for the real superclimbers in the race, like Mizbani and Cox. Hard to see, knowing that our own superclimber (Mike showed over the last years, he can follow these guys and attack them!!) was on his way back to the US already... The Czech leader followed them well, though and never got into real trouble.

There were a lot of protests from the team managers about the cheating the Naturino's did to keep their riders in the first group up the climbs; a shame to see this happen when it is about stage win and top positions in GC!! Too bad a good team like that needs that kind of behaviour in a 'small race' (in their program! for us it is one of the biggest!) like this!

Luckily after some protesting the commissaries responded well and despite some fights in the convoy, all cars stayed in one piece!

We did not really get a chance until the last stage: another great ride by Rhys!!


The last stage by Rhys again:


Stage 9 Xining-Xining 167 K


Rhys Pollock from the Marco Polo Cycling Team on the way to another second place in a stage of the Qinghai Lake Tour 2005. (Photo: Gudo Kramer)


I was determined to get away on this day. So as soon as we rolled out for the 167km stage it was on. Guys were attacking at every moment. There Czechs and the Italians didn't seem so keen to let anything go but it had to happen. So with 2 more laps remaining on the starting circuits of 8km I went alone. The gap opened up quickly and I was soon joined by two riders from Barloworld team. We stayed away all day for about 140km.We built up a maximum of 8mins. With 15km to go we still had 4min.Well when there's two from one team and you're all alone you are pretty in trouble! First South African Maartens attacked I chased him down. Then Sullivan went and I didn't have much left after 160km. In the end he finished 16 seconds in front of me and we where 2min in front of the peloton. Maartens was third but later disqualified, for hanging on to his team car. (GK: Maartens hung on to his team car after getting off the bike with some stomach problems. He wouldn't compete for the stage win but then decided differently when the line was coming closer... Like Mike said before: "Anything can happen in cycling and it usually does!")


Rhys' second on the last stage was a positive note to end the Tour with. Another positive note and for our team a real important one, was the good performance of our Chinese rider Fuyu Li. He was the best Chinese rider by far; improved through the race, was in almost every attack in the last stages and finished a decent 27th GC. A guy with great potential. Yutong was not that far yet, but shows potential too. He finally has a good trainer in China now and we had time to work on his position on the bike. We lost him in the cold stage, but he looks like he may be able to add something to the team in the future. We had talks with new Chinese riders like time trial guy Zheng Xiaohai, people from the China Cycling Association, race organisers, sponsors and we can return back home with a good feeling: it was a pleasant and useful trip!

We end it all with a day in Beijing; the usual shopping and touristing... Then everybody is back to their respective parts of the world: until next time!!

This will be Tour of Indonesia and Great Wall Bike Event, a great bicycle festival where we will be present for sponsors Trek and Craft!


Some of the Marco Polo Cycling Team pose at the teamcar in the Qinghai Lake Tour 2005. From left to right: teammanager Gudo Kramer, Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh from Mongolia, mechanic Wilco Geerts, Rhys Pollock from Australia, Robin Reid from New Zealand and Fuyu Li from China. (Photo: Gudo Kramer)




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