After spending some time racing and travelling in Asia and now Europe, I thought I’d offer my opinion on some of the differences between them, from the point of view of travelling and racing.
When in Asia, I get a feeling that I am a lot more welcomed and treated more as a guest rather than a tourist. The people in Asia seem as if they are more accommodating and make a genuine effort to ensure that your visit is enjoyable. They do their best to avoid the language barrier and will put in a lot of time and effort to communicate with you, even if they cannot speak a word of English. In Korea, I had one person use a pencil and paper to draw pictures in order to have a conversation with me. In Europe, I have found things to be a little bit different.
Here in Germany, I definitely feel that I am a tourist, that it is a privilege to be here and I must tip-toe around the locals. My presence here is more of an intrusion rather than a welcomed visitor. There is little effort from locals to speak English and in some cases they flat-out deny that they can! One example of this is when we purchased a mobile Internet device for our time here. The assistant at the shop spoke very good English and helped us with the details and set-up. Two weeks later, we had some problems and had to return to the store to ask some questions. The same store, the same sales person and he claimed that he could not speak English! Only after we told him that he sold us the item in the first place did he realise that he spoke ‘a little bit of English’.
On the other hand, here in Europe, there are a lot more innate things to see and do. Things that are not designed solely with the tourist in mind. From amazing architecture to outdoor areas to restaurants, galleries and museums; there is so much to do that both locals and tourists can enjoy. There are not many places that exist but locals rarely go to. For example, almost everyone overseas has heard of the Australia Zoo thanks to the efforts of Steve Irwin and it is a very popular tourist destination. However, most locals in Australia would not really consider going there. In Asia, from resorts to fun parks, it seems that most attractions are purposely designed for tourists and visitors. Perhaps this explains the feeling that tourists are more welcomed there?
As for bike racing, there are also many differences between Asia and Europe. For starters, the roads are very different. In Asia, we race on huge highways that are 4 or 5 lanes wide. There are very few sharp corners and there is always plenty of room to move around. In Europe, you are lucky to get to race on a two lane road as most of the races are on the back roads around small villages. You must constantly fight to hold your position on the road and in the peleton and will quite often end up riding in the dirt on the side of the road as too many people try to squeeze into the same space.
The style of racing is also very different in Asia. Although there are many teams racing each other, they very rarely ride as one. You quite often get team mates chasing each other down as they appear to be riding only for their own personal results rather than that of the team. Consequently, very few teams can control a race and the pace is kept high by constant and random attacks at the front of the race. This means that breakaways rarely survive and there are a lot of sprints. In Europe, the team members seem to know their roles well. Large teams sacrifice riders for the greater cause and will often be seen riding at the front of the race in order to block the chase of their team mates up the road. If you are racing solo or have a small team, this can make things very difficult.
It has taken me some time to get used to the style of racing here in Europe and I have had to fight my way through to the front of the peleton on many occasions. With over 200 riders on the small roads in some races, it is vital that you can hold your position. It is a skill that you rarely need in Asia but is compulsory here.