Monday, 24 December 2012

fairytale in Saigon

It’s Christmas eve babe, and I’m yet to hear a single slurred syllable of the Pogues. Although I have seen father Christmas in flip flops and an adorable Vietnamese toddler with reindeer horns on her head passed by our bus on  a moped earlier. Any way you care to spin it, this has been a far from orthodox yuletide. It’s a rare occurrence for a Brit to spend the winter solstice suffering from extreme heat stroke, and I haven’t raced in December aside from on specially gritted and cleared circuits, or the occasional boxing day ‘cross race. Vietnam has been quite the experience, and coming here has been the best Christmas gift I could have hoped for.

The racing itself was odd, the heat puts such a limiter on the efforts that you can make that it almost entirely dictates the state of play. Guys who I have seen go out of the back of kermesses are driving breaks here. It’s all about water, getting water on you and in you is the only way to beat the temperature. Perhaps it’s something about the air quality, every day I peel off my socks after a ride I realize the fumes have turned my skin grey. The closest analogy I can make is that it feels like racing under a blanket, everything is muted, hot and fuzzy. sometimes you get disorientated and everything feels heavy. you can't ever do an all out effort as recovery is impossible. but the heat was the same for everyone, i just made the mistake of arriving pasty and white. 

Combined with the heat, the fact that I seem to be the tallest living human in Vietnam hasn’t helped my wheel sucking quest, and a case of food poisoning/ heat stroke had me writhing in bed all of Wednesday night as my kind teammates poured ice on my chest and eventually got me to sleep in the shower with the cold water running over me, our hotel’s air con had broke and our room was like an oven. I never really felt right after riding and tried to eat dinner. Later than night dinner and everything I had eaten for days resurfaced until I was totally empty.

After my spectacular vomiting/ sweating performance in Can Tho, the travelling circus transferred to Ho Chi Minh city for a downtown criterium, this was a separate UCI 1.2 ranked event and I decided to take the start line fuelled exclusively by coffee, coke and congee. It turns out that my decision to eat only rice the night before had been a wise one, something on the buffet had not made friends with Martin and Jean Michel’s fragile constitutions and it became pretty clear early on that both weren't feeling good. I tried my best to help Jordan up to the front but then he too started to feel the effects of food kept on paraffin burners for 2 hours while they presented awards. Without anything in my legs or my stomach, I did what I could, followed moves and covered. Team mate Etienne rode aggressively up front and we acquitted ourselves well with Jordan contesting a few of the sprints (the criterium was run as a points race) until his bowels got the better of him. I put in an unspectacular bunch finish and returned to the hotel in order to throw up my piece of toast, and to use the elevator before one of my teammates did likewise in the only confined space that everyone in the race HAD to use in the next hour. We likely didn't make any friends there.

it's been great meeting the other riders in the race as well. a shared water bottle sometimes bridges gaps that international diplomacy has found insurmountable. On the first stage i recieved bananas from the mongolians, water from the iranians and ice from team Hanoi. We've had dinner with the phillipinos and learned how to say hello and thank you in a plethora of Asian languages. Stage racing here seems more friendly, we share the same hotel and the same buffet, we pass bottles back and forth, albeit the local teams do so with a wry smile as my (now departed) beard drips with sweat and my paper-white skins turns lobster red in the heat. Bike racing doesn't allow the same isolation other sports do, especially when you race with the same guys day after day. Our fellow racers have been as much guides as competitors and become friends first and adversaries a distant second, Those members of our team who chose to embrace this racing community have enjoyed their time here much more, and gained more as people than the few who decided that true life experiences are fond, not in the streets of Saigon but on th einternet in hotel rooms. Speaking of new firends and outgoing travellers, we're at the Beach with Dan, a Kiwi who lives in China and is racing for the Mongolian national team, you can check out his adventures @bikedan on twitter, his blog makes for interesting reading.

What has really been the highlight of this trip has been the incredible people here, it is impossible to describe how friendly and happy they are. Everyone runs out of their houses to shout hello as we ride by, laughs as we are repulsed by Durian and smiles as we enjoy their food. They drink delicious iced coffee with sweet condensed milk and watch as we do the same, on one ride the café owner even yielded his hammock (not sure what that says about my appearance) when we stopped mid ride for a much needed cool down. Income per capita here might not be equal to the USA but I dare say smiles per day outstrip most places in the world. people here live well, they eat well and,a s we discovered yesterday, with gentle provocation they can throw a few hoops when the old gangam style comes on. From the schoolchildren cheering our progress to the staff in the hotels to the race marshals (who excel at the aforementioned gangam stylin') nobody we met here has been anything but a shining example of how happy and welcoming their nation can be. 

merry Christmas everybody, I've bought myself a duval as my present to me. good things are brewing for next year and great things have happened this year. i hope you are amongst friends, family or at least surrounded by mince pies. i hope your stocking is fully stuffed tomorrow and that you enjoy giving as much as receiving. I also hope that one day you get to see a 5 foot Vietnamese man wearing sandals masquerading as father Christmas, and a lady nearby butchering the word the lyrics of "feliz navidad/merry christmas" in a way that only someone who speaks not one word of the language they are singing can. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

vietnam day one: Ho Chi Min to Can Tho

After last night's chaos whereby our team was initially refused entry, some kind of confusion between the nomenclature which means that regional teams can compete with a mixture of different nationalities but other teams cannot. Fortunatley the issue was resolved thanks to a friendly commisaire and our friends at Agile. This morning we woke up at 5, recieved the good news that we could race and commenced boiling water to drink on the road. Having breakfasted on Congee and baguettes we met with our driver, Mr Minh. Between our team he have 5 languages sadly mr minh contributed two more and none of them were shared. However his enthusiasm and friendly attitude made up for the gaps in vocabulary. He's also now capable of using glucaon.

After our breakfast and an hour spent perfecting the aincient art of sitting around a hotel lobby in lycra drinking coffee we saddled up and rode to the start where we drank more coffee and looked for shade. The race took shape around us, seriously 100 motorbikes seemed to arrive and revved their engines in sync. most impressive was a tricycle with a crotchrocket motorcycle on the front, two wheels on the back and a blue tiger pinted on the side. after an hour of posturing, swopping race foods and looking for ice we lined up,i  looked down the lens of a TV camera for an uncomfortably long time, something exploeded and we were off.

Today was pretty nasty, the heat was opressive, 95 degrees at the start. after 10k neutral and having insisited we were going to take it easy, the flag dropped and i found myself out of the saddle and out of breath, we turned left hopped over a bump and dodged flying bike parts, bottles and in one case an airborne body. the heat beat down and the attacks continued, we were moving fast and it was hot. feedign was difficult with a large caravan and large potholes. and i was getting carried away at the front. i think i underdid the basal, about 60% of normal but i always go high in the heat. i had about 180g carbs for 180km which isn't enough but i was high. live and learn i suppose.

soon enough my head was feeling as if something was trying to hatch from it,  I was holding down my own vomit and i couldnt get out of the saddle without cramping. I slipped to the back to try and get some insulin out of the car but with our vehicle in 21st place in the caravan i worked out that i would never make it back. By the time i got back into a group the race was split up, in the third group those allergic to the wind had gathered and commenced sitting on. Myself and a teammate commenced doing the majority of the work and recieving grief whenever we stopped doing so, i spent far too long riding on my invisible aerobars and chasing down the occasional attack from team gheghis kahn (i'm not joking, they also have team atilla).

crossing the line i fell of my bike completely worked, my beard tasted of salt and my clothes were crusted with my own sweat. i was cramping in muscles i've never cramped in before; my intercostals, my forearms, my forehead. minutes later i had my head in a bucket and my body was doing the sensible thing when overheated and dehydrated, it was expelling the water it had left. Smart.

we've made it back to the hotel now, we're sitting on our beds sharing stories, cleaning shorts, eating sweet buns and shrimp flavoured peas, drinking iced coffee with condensed milk. we're sharing stories from the race and talking about things that aren't bike racing; our univerisites, our favourite music and our favourite other sports.

last night i overdid the spicy food, and my stomach wasnt happy today so i might back of the chilli and feremented fish products tonight, the race organizer kindly waters down the beer so i might have one of those. I'd love to explore canh to but my legs are less than excited about the prospect.

Hasta manana

Friday, 14 December 2012

36 hours, 3 days and 3 countries

This blog was written at various stages of a 24 hour evening and a 36 hour journey:

From the dark (too dark to see my laptop) confines of an air china 747. I can report a distinctly mixed day, never a dull moment, or a blood Glucose check in range. And the seat in front just slammed back into my knees. Arse.

Leaving home 14 hours ago I drove I pick up teammate Jordan and meet coaching as Jessie at the train station. We schlepped boxes and bags onto a rapidly departing train (if bike box cx were an event, I'd be a cardboard carrying Sven nys) which took us to a station where we took a bus to an airport. All good so far.

Things went a little Pete tong here. There seemed to be an issue with the third party issuer of our visas. After considerable sweet talking and hand gesturing we've managed to check our bags and ourselves to Taiwan where we should recollect our visas and head south to Ho chi min city.

China airways have been exemplary in their service. The food has been fantastic and there's a USB charger and a power outlet in the seat. They carry bikes for free, refused to waive fees for the diabetic supplies I'm carrying to a diabetes organization in Vietnam, but then didn't charge us for bags anyway.

Incidentally I can elect from several feature films including one on "bike messengers" and another on food bloggers. How very vogue.what next? A biopic on the social connotations of pbr, crafting a fully fledged 'stache and how to fit into your skinny jeans?

Update: we made it to Taipei, where it came to our attention that my visa hadn't. I sent some emails we became gradually more offensive as I got closer to the deadline for checking in for my next flight. Eventually I got a reply suggesting my application had been lost but was now being processed. More emails ensued and we obtained the visa with 5 minutes to spare. It didn't occur to us until a little later that I had not one visa but three, so some poor bastard(s) are in the same position I just was. Facing two weeks in Taipei airport without the necessary visa to go out of the airport or the necessary credit card limit to change their flights. Lessons learned : don't EVER use , Taiwan airport arrivals lounge Has benches long enough for me to sleep on(and i have a clean foot on most people here) but even the sandwiches are too spicy for me to eat without my nose and eyes issuing forth a torrent. Gina airlines has wonderfully helpful ground staff. Tea here is good and rice, even with prawns in it,CAN be made into a breakfast porridge .

Second update: we made it! The race sent a driver to pick us up at the airport and e did an exemplary job of cranking up the backstreet boys whenever out lack of a commonlanguage hindered conversation. Because "backstreet is back" is universal. We went shopping and grabbed a few essentials; "safety food", bbq seaweed, steak flavoured crackers, gold cow energy drink. lemon toothpaste dragonfruit an fried squid.

Returning with our goodies we hopped out for a spin. Within 500 meters of the hotel I had flatted, snapped a valve extender and caught a lift with a friendly local on a moped to his house where we inflated my tyre and continued on our adventure in motor pacing. On the Main Street it is no exaggeration to say there are thousands of motorcycles, I now. Know how if feels to be a fish in a shoal albeit the only fish in Lycra, the I y fish with a beard and the tallest fish by about a foot. My YouTube channel (right) has a video of the craziness.

On our route back we bumped into two weddings and what looked like a fatality. Night one in Saigon and already the adventures have begun! Stay tuned.

Monday, 10 December 2012

mince pies with ho chi min

The much missed “blog from above” is making it’s comeback this week. As people all around me drink sugar loaded beverages just because somebody in a blue jacket offered them and I attempt to force 190cm of bike rider  into a seat designed for 90cm of dwarf, and the kindly lasy in front helps the process by pouding my knees into a seemingly impossible position with her (not insignificant) body mass, I feel the urge to update my friends, family and people who came to this website though a series of typographical errors on what’s been going on and what’s coming up.

The last few weeks have seen plenty of kilometers, November was a month with over 110 hours of riding and a resulting above average number of pictures of baked goods in my twitter feed. I’m normally pretty old school in my approach to winter training. I start in December and ride a lot, once I feel ready is tart doing a few more efforts and then commence racing in something a long way from peak form but with just enough fitness to hold on. Which is what I do until gradually, painfully, the legs come around and I start to feel good.

This year I’m approaching things with a little more structure and purpose. After folding my pelvis like a copy of 50 shades of Grey in the summer I feel as if I’ve already rested enough for this year. Nearly 8 weeks off the bike made me miss it terribly. I was fortunate enough to heal up in time for some late season racing but just as I felt my legs coming back from where I left them in Wisconsin, the racing dried up and I was left with two not to enticing options: become a “Christmas Star” and burn brightly on the local group rides where nobody was trying particularly hard or rest when I wasn’t tired. Given that neither seemed particualirly enticing I found a third.

Not all of the world obey’s the Norther hemisphere’s notions of summer and winter, San Diego enjoys year round good weather but it’s inclusion in the US cycling circuit means that racing tends to conform to a national pattern and has dried up. Making use of my world map and email address book I sent off a few messages to friends all over the world with the necessary credentials to find me a bike race to do and an adventure to have.Most came up blank but my Friend John came up trumps. The UCI Asia tour knows how to make hay while the sun shines and so, a brief exchange of emails occurred. The social media cry went out to some like minded friends and a posse was soon assembled with the aim of a pre Christmas trip to the only place in the world where they can say pho and not giggle.

On December the 17th we’ll begin the tour of Vietnam,this is my first Asia tour race so I’m not 100% sure what to expect. I know it’ll be different and it’ll be an adventure. I’m excited about riding new roads, meeting new people and eating new food. I’m also excited about seeking out local diabetes organisations and doing as much advocacy as I can with young people in Vietnam.

Thanks to GoPro I’m also going to be able to capture much of the adventure on video and share it with you, here and on cyclismas. The good people at balmco are on board with embro, oil, recovery creams and chamois “crème” to make the ride more comfortable. Title wise our merry band of brothers is holding out for a cash sponsor. Sponsorship in cycling is an issue I’ll address elsewhere but I feel that money is to say the laast misplaced. The image of our sport has taken a hit in recent months and through no fault of our own perfectly innocent young men are paying the price for the transgressions of a previous generation. I hope that our adventures, blogs, tweets and videos can provide for those of you patient to have read this far, something of a relief from the constant stream of negativity, the rebranding of old cheats at new conferences, calls for change by the people who need to be changed and partial confessions without remorse. This isn’t going to be the sort of UCI racing where people wear oversocks or ride in buses. This is a group of lads having a adventure, bike racing as it is supposed to be. Nobody’s in this for the money ( we’re paying our own way there, I just sold my race wheels and track bike to pay for the flight) we’re in it because we love what we do, and we love it enough not to do anything to hurt this sport. I hope you can share some of that passion on our adventure.