Day Thirty Four: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

As I had a rest day yesterday I thought I would tell you all a little story.

Some years ago (actually quite a few years ago) I was invited to race in Shanghai.  At the time I held an International UCI Elite Road Race licence and was a full time, sponsored cyclist.  This meant I had no social life, ate more pasta than the average Italian family did in a week and shaved my legs more often than my girlfriend.

I was representing the U.K. and was racing in the Forever Cup, a race sponsored by a massive local Chinese bicycle factory of the same name.  Other national teams present included the USSR (this was before the Soviet Union split up), Japan and Korea, to name a few.  The ‘British Team’ consisted of yours truly and my friend James, who at the time was the reigning Junior Scottish National Time Trial Champion, trained by his friend the accomplished, if somewhat eccentric, Graeme Obree.

We arrived at Shanghai International Airport and were met by members of the Chinese Cycling Federation.  They whisked us through a special VIP channel in the airport, stamped our passports, and put us on a coach.  We were staying at the Shanghai Olympic Hotel.

We were shown our rooms and told to meet in the lobby in half an hour.  James was wearing a denim jacket and jeans and looked like he was about to head off to a music festival.  When we arrived in the lobby we found the Japanese team wearing blue blazers and ties.  They were wearing white gloves.  Impressive stuff.  The team from the Soviet Union looked smart, stern and suspicious of the Japanese. We looked terrible. So we smiled a lot to make up for it.

Our hosts handed out some illegible maps of the city and warned us that only ten percent of road users obeyed traffic regulations.  This meant intersections resembled something out of a Key Stone Cops movie.  We decided not to ride downtown as it was highly likely we would be killed at the first crossroads.

The race itself was run downtown in front of a crowd of one hundred thousand.  Yes that is right, a hundred thousand. The atmosphere was incredible.  At the start of the race I had a look at the teeming mass of people watching.  They looked as if they belonged in the middle ages.  If you can imagine transporting a modern stage of the Tour de France back in time to the year 1650 you would have the picture.  The crowd were essentially peasants, who had stopped working in the nearby fields to watch the spectacle.

The Chinese riders were made up of the National A and B squad.  These were top-level riders that had just returned from the infamous Peace Race, as had the Russians.  There were about ten other provincial Chinese teams.  These poor buggers were riding terrible bikes.  They were riding copies of European bikes, with knocked up copies of out of date Campagnolo components. The bikes looked lethal.

The race started and within minutes we were flying along at 55kmh.  At the first bend about twenty Chinese riders went straight on and ploughed right into the crowd.  It was chaos.  The Russians sat on the front of the bunch and hammered and the bunch split in two, with essentially the Chinese national A & B squad, the Japanese, Koreans and then myself and James.  Behind us the provincial riders grouped together and tried to chase us down.

The chasing group was eventually pulled out of the race as the front group began to catch them – lapping them would have been too dangerous as the groups were large.  There were over one hundred riders in total.

At one point  in the race a member of the Russian team punctured.  His entire team stopped and waited for him.  The Japanese went to the front of the bunch and put the pace up whilst I held on for grim death. I was breathing so hard I was practically hovering up small women and children from the side of the road.

The Russians caught us after an impressive chase.  They promptly rode right up through the whole bunch, went straight to the front and then put the pace up again for another few minutes to teach the Japanese a lesson.

As with many circuit races it came down to a massive bunch sprint. The Russians finished first, second, forth, sixth, seventh and eight. With a Chinese National A team rider splitting them in third and your truly in fifth.

Shell Shocked After Our Race in Shanghai

Shell Shocked After Our Race in Shanghai

Later on after the race, there was a knock at the door.  The Russians had arrived.  They came clutching alls sorts of things to swap and trade.  James got terribly keen.  He swapped everything he had, including a Walkman that his brother had lent him in exchange for a small red button displaying a Russian Emblem.  A good deal – for the Russians, a bad deal for his James’ Brother.

We found out why the entire team had stopped and waited for their stricken teammate.  Their Director Sportif had told them that they would get a bonus if they filled the top six places.

Cycling is a hard, hard sport and those Russians were hard men.

They were smart men as well. We found out they also avoided riding their bikes in Shanghai for fear of death at the intersections.

I leave you with a piece of footage, taken not in China but in India.  The street scene is similar.  Except in Shanghai you had an extra element.  There were horses and carts and about a billion bicycles thrown into the mix for good measure.
Tomorrow….I have a run and a hill climb session on the bike planed.  Lets hope the rest day has done the trick !

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