Friday September 26th, Chengdu, Lao Che Mi Cycling Festival Series.
Team DirectAsia.com (TDA) invaded mainland China for the seventh race in the "Chengdu Cycling Festival Series". Mike 'Moisturiser' Maiers, Paolo 'Italian Stallion' Caputo, Matt 'Diesel' Kenfield, and Damian 'The Climbing Leprechaun' Barrett all set off for the teams first race since the Hong Kong National Championships.
Wo men chu Chengdu...
The team arrived together in Chengdu at 10.30pm Friday night. Add transfers, hotel check in's and bike building and riders saw their beds after 1am. Heading into a race in sleep debt is never ideal, but race organisers in Chengdu delivered an efficient event making riders lives almost a luxury. TDA was provided a translator who looked after vans, transport and rider well being. A HUGE thank you to Rachel from the team!
Saturday morning saw riders stirring at 7am. Their short slumber broken by the the smell of fresh roasted coffee wafting from the room of Paolo Caputo. The Italian, not willing to take any chances on espresso, had brought his own supply of the dark brew. Riders had also brought along their own food as the Sichuan breakfast can be a tad spicy!
To the roads...
The course in Chengdu is a purpose built circuit created for the World ITU World Cup Triathlon Series. A pancake flat course with 3 bumps, one after another, in short succession. Not short on help, riders spotted more than 50 people hand sweeping the course, while it was estimated that more than 200 military and local law enforcement representaives were present on the closed circuit. TDA would fight for victory over twenty laps of approximately 5 kilometres. It was going to be fast...
Temperatures were cool leaving damp roads from the previous nights rain. The skies a brooding, moping shade of grey. A mix of pollution and cloud. Contrasting lush green vegetable fields from the surrounding farming areas seemed to glow with life.
Thirty minutes before the start the series Yellow Jersey holder was called to the start line for photos. A hasty interview was conducted as the large inflatable starting arch started to bend and sway in the wind. TDA riders signed in, dropped their bags, checked their machines and posed for photos with local fans. It was time to go.
The field of ninety riders attacked the start. Speeds maintained fifty kilometres per hour as attacks exploded from the peloton. By the end of the first lap legs were burning and tempers had settled to a more resonable forty kilometres per hour. Riders took note of their competitors from behind dark racing glasses trying to anticipate who would push their pedals in anger next.
At the 8 kilometre mark 2 riders burst from the pack. The group would have nothing of it. They were brought back quickly. The simmering peloton was beginning to find it's rhythm and the pace increased with more and more attacks being attempted and violently squashed. Matt Kenfield rode himself into a small break which gained thirty seconds on the group but his companions wouldn't work. Kenfield, unwilling to do the work of 4, sat up.
Damian Barrett saw his opportunity next. Just as Kenfield was coming back to the group, the Irishman counter attacked through the 3 rollers and found 15 seconds between himself and peloton. Once again, his companions refused to work and the effort was quashed.
The dance continued. Nothing found its rhythm.
Just as the pace seemed to settle, riders had given up the chance to get away, Daniel Carruthers (CCN, Velocite Bicycles) put in a hard, sharp attack. The Newzealander put 30 seconds into the peloton. His big frame heaving with the effort, he stayed away alone for 3 laps. The peloton seemed to acknowledge his effort, but seemed unconcered. He was enveloped around the 10th lap.
Next would be Aron Akesson (Bicycles4Humanity) counter attacking after Carruthers was caught. Pushing a monster gear, the Swede held off the peloton gaining a gap of just over thirty-five seconds for almost 3 laps. He was then joined by Kenfield (Directasia.com) and 3 local riders. The group of 5 worked well together. The gap increased to almost sixty seconds at its peak. Akesson had been off the front for almost 6 laps. His companions turns became slower and shorter. With an enormous effort from the series Yellow Jersey the break was brought back into line.
The dance continued. Nothing found its rhythm.
Next to test the legs of the many would be TDA's Paolo Caputo. The Italian seemed focused on shaking things up. He was clearly motivated after finished the second race of the series in second place. He was heavily marked by other teams and riders. If he twitched, they were on him.
Mike Maiers also made efforts and a solid run at a breakaway. The hardy Australian darted across to a small break with dreams of getting away. Riders dribbled across to join and brought the peloton with them.
Barrett refused to say die and again attacked. He came back quickly and it was clear legs in the group were tired. Suddenly a local dog ran in front of the mass of cyclists. Barrett locked up his brakes saving himself from leaving a skin sample on the road. This put Barrett well behind with a small group who would struggle do regain the group.
3 laps to go...
With 3 laps remaining Darren Benson (Bicycles4Humanity) attacked alone. Benson has built a reputation around the Asia peloton as a dangerous rider. With a history of elite racing in Europe, a key role as a rider with the heralded Trek China Racing Squad and time with the CCN Continental Team he can't be left to ride away. In the group, teams looked around at one another. Their eyes asked 'who will bring Benson back'? No one moved. Benson rode out to a 60 second lead with no response from the peloton.
Caputo saw the danger and asked his team to move forward. Matt Kenfield marched to the front. Benson now had 4 companions and the move was a real threat.
Kenfield hammered the pedals alone at the front. His effort wasn't bringing the threat back in time for the finish so Caputo moved to his side. Caputos efforts would delete his name from the top three, the Italian hoping the fresher legs of Mike Maiers could fill his void.
The bell lap.
Caputo and Kenfield strained under the effort but brought back the break. Their heavy legs were caught unaware as Gary Loafman (unattached) countered. Loafman rode away as the peloton watched.
As the pace hit more than fifty kilometres per hour and the group fanned out across the road. Kenfield slipped back with the effort.
Tired legs and minds saw some poor decisions. Riders made crazy maneuvers putting everyone at risk. And then the inevitable. The sound of carbon, skin, aluminium and bone hitting the ground. A massive crash took a whole group of riders to the tarmac.
With all the melee the group came around the final corner to Loafman raising his arms in victory.
A final bunch sprint saw TDA roll across the line with Maiers 7th, Caputo 12th. Kenfield and Barrett rolled across the line with heavy legs from the effort and relief at narrowly missing local wildlife.
Until next time TDA.