By Dexter Alumni biker Adam Craig - As part of the Chinese Olympic Committee's preparations for the 2008 summer games, they have been conducting a series of test events at the Olympic venues dubbed the "Good Luck Beijing" invitational events.
We were lucky enough to get in invited to the Good Luck Mountain Bike event held on the Laoshan MTB course. USA Cycling used the 2008 selection criteria to select the top three men and top two women in the current World Cup series ranking to attend the event.
Turned out it was an awesome group of people, Todd Wells, Jeremy Horgan Kobelski, Georgia Gould and Willow Koerber. The MTB national program director, Matt Cramer and our trusty mechanic TJ Grove accompanied us as well. The plan was to get in some time on the course, use some SRM power meters to acquire course data and get in some good old-fashioned racing on the track.
Fortunately, with such a happy-go-lucky group, and it being the end of the serious season, we also ended up doing a bunch of random other stuff around Beijing, getting in all kinds of culture.
The amount of propaganda we've been getting on the games is pretty interesting. On the bright side, China is bragging that all of the venues are complete and ready to go a year before the games. This was spot-on for the Laoshan MTB venue for sure.
Everything was polished and ready to go, down to the PA system directing spectators around the site with recordings and the security screenings to enter the venue.
Now, on the negative side, we have the air and the traffic. Chinese officials have been taking cars off the road and shutting down factories in attempts to clear the air in the city of 15 million. But they're not stopping at that, an ambitious cloud-seeding program has been implemented to turn any cloudcover into immediate rain showers, knocking particulate matter to the ground.
We were fortunate enough to land the day after it "rained" and the skies were pretty clear. I thought to myself that anyone in LA had to business talking down on Beijing's air quality. Little did I know what was in store… Turns out it's a cycle, rain, then increasing pollution for about ten days, then more rain. The fifth day in happened to be when we raced. It was HORRIBLE!
I don't drop out of races in my backyard, let alone ones I fly to the other side of the world for, and am fired up to learn from. But I did this one. I had no option. After two laps (about 25min) of riding very comfortably with the lead group up and down the short, STEEP pitches of Lashan Mountain (the term mountain used very loosely, it's about 40m tall…) and thinking I could probably attack whenever I wanted and win for a while, my lungs stopped working.
It started with a routine deep breath on a descent to recover a bit, which produced a sharp pain and fit of hacking, then progressed rapidly to a state where I was unable to take more than ¼ of a breath, even that producing coughing, hacking, spitting up all sorts of gross stuff and feeling nauseous and kind of scared… It was awesome.
Nino Schurter of Switzerland was experiencing the same thing in the lead group, so we slowed down, hit some jumps and chatted, thinking we'd recover and be able to continue. No dice. Ten minutes later I was sitting in the athlete's lounge with gosebumps and muscle cramps, trying to take a breath and make it stop. Crazy.
I felt pretty horrible for all of the volunteers and organizers who gave us the opportunity to check out the course, and I'm sure were hoping for a good show in return. Eight riders ended up finishing, lap times falling from twelve minutes per to fifteen by the end. But hey, now we know, and can figure out how to deal with it for next year (hopefully).
Now, on to the fun cultural stuff. Todd McKean of Trek China set us up with a translator (Kye, one of his trek employees) and vehicle to get around in during our stay, which proved absolutely invaluable. We could go downtown to Tien 'anmen square and check out all kinks of history, get out to awesome dinners, stop by the silk shop and get fitted for custom tailored suits, etc.
Todd, Willow and Georgia even went out to the Great Wall the afternoon Jeremy and I spent doing an awesome urban assault ride downtown to have a secondary suit fitting. All in all, we had a good time learning about the course and the country in one fell swoop.
Thanks to China, Todd and USA Cycling for making it happen. Now we just have to earn the privilege to go back next August, when it's gonna be hotter and supposedly the air is going to be workable. If anyone can make it happen, it's the Chinese.
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