Sunday, October 30, 2011

No smoking

I used to be a smoker. I never appreciated just how annoying a smoker can be for non-smokers until I quit. Before the non-smoking laws were introduced, a guy once went off at me in a restaurant and I shrugged him off as an idiot. I wish I could apologize to him now.

In Austria, smoking is still allowed in restaurants and it drove me insane. In old pubs, decades of cigarette smoke had imbedded itself into the building itself and I would struggle to breathe at times. Despite this, you can't say anything because... A: it's allowed. B: everyone smokes!! You simply have to put up with it.

Here in Asia, it is the same. The restaurants are often huge rooms so the smoke tends to disperse and there are often non-smoking areas such as the toilets and elevators. Consequently, I took the law into my own hands when a man decided to get into the elevator with a cigarette.

He was puffing away in a box full of cyclists, so when the door opened on the next level, I pushed him out. He turned and starting saying something in Chinese. I pointed at the no smoking sign as the elevator doors closed. I was very satisfied with myself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tetraphobia

In a lot of the hotels that we have stayed at here in China, there is often no 4th floor. At first I just assumed there was something special (or dodgy) that we weren't allowed to know about on the 4th level and the elevator just skipped it. It is only recently that I found out the real reason.

It turns out that tetraphobia (or the fear of the number 4) is an east Aisan superstition. The word for 'four' in Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean and sino-Japanese is similar or identical to the word for 'death'. Consequently, they avoid use of numbers with 4 in it, including building levels and especially on festive holidays.

Some hotels even go as far as removing rooms 14 &24 because '14' sounds like 'die for sure' and '24' sounds like 'easy to die'. Restaurants may even remove any table numbers with a 4 in it.

Thinking back on it, I'm pretty sure that I have stayed on the 'death floor' at some stage during the year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Slow motion disaster

Have you ever had that feeling where something bad is hopping and you know it but can't do anything about it? You can see the disaster happening right before you and it seems like it is in slow motion but you are helpless? Well, today I had that feeling.

Stage 5 of the Tour of Hainan was pretty much a flat stage of 150km. After 17km along the beach front, the race took a left turn into a 7km section that has a history of strong crosswinds. Over the years, this section has split the field up so we were told to ensure that we were at the front when we reached this point.

After the left turn, I was positioned in the first 20 when I hit something. Something big. The loud 'crack' that came from my bike was a bit concerning and both of my tires were instantly flat. I put my hand in the air and waited for the team car as the race rolled away on the most critical and difficult part of the course.

Moments later, the team car drove past me, unaware of my problem. Thankfully, the Polish team CCC stopped to assist me and pushed me back up to the back of the cars at 100kph. I pedaled to get up next to my team car and my bike felt funny.

Not 'funny' as in the gears didn't work but 'funny' in that when I pedaled, the bike felt like a wet noodle.

I rode up to the window and asked the mechanic to check my bike for cracks cause it felt weird. He grabbed me and then everything went into slow motion.

My front wheel wobbled, and I thought 'this is not good'. Then I had time to think, 'Why is my front wheel sideways? The front wheel shouldn't be sideways'. I saw my forks snapped in half and I began to fall. 'This is gonna hurt, I wonder how fast I'm going? Oh no! Oh no!'

I landed on my hip and rolled over a couple of times. I got up and onto the spare bike but my hip was hurting. The ambulance pulled up and took me to hospital for x-rays. Thankfully everything is okay. Except for a couple of grazes, I came up pretty good. Maybe it's because I had so long to think about it.

At the finish, I was able to check out the aftermath on my bike... Now we just have to figure out what we owe CCC for the wheel!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Security overload

I have always thought that the security measures at airports were a bit over the top. I hate having to take my belt off and hold up my pants as I walk through the metal detector and nothing is more annoying than the whole no liquids over 100ml thing and having to take your laptop out for the x-ray machine. If you are unlucky, you may get taken to a small room to get padded down or wait around while your bags get 'randomly' swabbed.

After traveling for the last 8 months, the most insane security is, surprisingly, not in America, but in china.

At the security gate, someone checks your passport and ticket as you enter. Everything gets x-rayed as you go through a metal detector then you get padded down on the other side as another person checks your passport and ticket. Once through to immigration, another person checks your passport before you go to the departure area. At the gate, another person checks your passport and ticket before you get on. The most surprising thing about it, is that this is the security for a domestic flight!

For the Tour of Hainan, the security did not stop at the airport. For the opening ceremony, which was outdoors, they set up a compound on the beach front with police surrounding it. Before entering, you had to make your way through a temporary metal detector and get padded down by police.

The worst thing was that there were no toilets inside so if you needed to go, you had to leave and do the whole thing over again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Recovery

Racing in Asia is very different to Europe. In Europe, the race follows a routine... Very fast start, breakaway gets away, everyone slows down, sprinter's team controls the race, breakaway gets caught, sprint finish.

In Asia, a breakaway rarely goes. It's as if every rider wants to be in it so the pace just stays crazy fast for the whole race. In the tour of China, there was one breakaway in 10 days! As a result, I was surprised to find myself in a breakaway in the first 10km of stage 1 of the tour of hainan.

For some reason, the peleton let me go and a China team rider and myself quickly established a gap of 5mins. It was going to be a long day with only two of us in the break, 160km to cover and strong headwinds.

I took the first KOM at 20km before we turned onto the highway and into the wind. At 70km, the China rider took the sprint and the plan was for me to take the second one about 25km later. However, just after the 1st sprint, he punctured, leaving me by myself with a four minute gap riding into the wind.

At the 2nd sprint point, I was cooked. And I mean well-done. I decided to sit up and wait for the bunch as the final 25km included a 9 climb and there was no way I was going to make it alone. When we hit the climb, I went straight out the back.

I crawled up the climb and crept to the finish. I was well and truly spent. My legs were cramping pretty much everywhere and I was very dehydrated. I was told to recover take it easy the next day. Problem was, the next day started with a 9km climb!

I woke up with sore and tired legs. Half way up the climb and my legs gave out. I chased on the descent but was picked up by a group of 20 riders and we had to ride the 150km by ourselves to the finish. Now I am even more wrecked. Thankfully, tomorrow is flat and I can finally have a chance to take it easy! (All 165km of it!)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Good meat

What happens to all the good meat in china?

At every hotel I have stayed at, I have seen a plethora of meat dishes made with everything from swan to eel. Pork and duck seem to be the most common dishes but despite this, I have not seen a single steak, breast or chicken drumstick.

Every dish is made from the bits that we would generally not use in Australia. Take away the chicken breasts and drumsticks, then slice up what's left over and thats what gets used. Even the pork skewers use the bits that are impossible to chew due to the gristle and small bones in it.

But where do all the good bits go? Are they reserved only for the rich and famous? Are the hotels just operating on such a tight budget that they can't give us the good meat? Do the cows here not have a rump? Do chickens not have breasts?

I'd kill for a zinger right now...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Un-disappointed

After spending a bit of time in mainland china, I'd have to say that its not one of my most favorite places to visit. Sure, it's a memorable place, but I can think of many nicer places I'd rather be. The traffic, crazy driving techniques, pollution, large language barrier and lack of coffee has shuffled it down the list a bit for me. So when I discovered that I was going to the Tour of Hainan, I initially wasn't over the moon.



After being back at home for a couple of weeks and getting a bit of a chance to 'unwind', I was keen to stay where I was but I packed my bike back up and headed to the airport. I had no idea where Hainan is and just assumed it was somewhere on mainland China. As it turns out, it is an island off the southern coast of china and is VERY different to the china I had previously experienced.

After landing, I thought I had touched down somewhere in Malaysia or Thailand with a hot and humid day surrounded by palm trees near the beach. It looked nothing like china. The area has beautiful beaches and is a very popular tourist destination so the coast is littered with huge resorts with swimming pools and palms everywhere.





There is a lot less traffic and there seems to be less crazy here. Due to the tourism, a lot more people speak English so it is also easier to communicate and get things done.



Now that I am here, I am very much looking forward to the Tour of Hainan, however, one thing does bother me... If you look out into the distance, there is a lot of mountains in the background and with the tour going all around the island, I suspect some of the 9 stages are not going to be pleasant.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Customer service

Today, at work, I received an odd phone call. I've never had one like it before and I doubt I will ever get one again. Here is a rough transcript of how it went...


Me: Hello, 99Bikes, how can I help?

Lady: Hi. Do you sell the Garmin Forerunner watches?

Me: Yes, is there a particular one you are interested in?

Lady: I have a Forerunner 405CX and... well... this is going to sound like a strange question, but with the GPS thingy that it has... is it possible to somehow look up where it is and see where it is going?

Me: It has a GPS recorder so you can see where it has been but it does not have a live tracker.

Lady: I want to be able to track where my husband goes during the day. He says he has to go out and do things during the day and I want to see where he is going and find out what he is up to.

Me: Well, I guess you could start the watch and hide it in his car then upload it to the internet later to see where he has been.

Lady: How do I do that?

Me: Turn the watch on and press the start/stop button. Put it in the car where it can still get satellite reception like next to a window. When he gets home, press stop, reset it and then upload the file to Garmin Connect.



Lady: How long will the battery last for?

Me: I think around 6hrs or so but I'm not sure.

Lady: Okay. Thank you so much for the help. I will give it a try.


I'm always happy to help those in need.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Easy going

Australians have a reputation around the world for being relaxed and easy going. 'G'day mate', 'Throw another shrimp on the barbie', 'That's not a knife' and all those other cliches that people think we say. However, after coming home, I can't help that Australians are really uptight and rude.

We seem to have no patience at all. Just look at the number of road rage cases we have. A survey done in Australia found that 74% of drivers had road rage. If you are stopped at a red light and you don't start accelerating within the first second of it being green, guaranteed the person behind you will be on the horn. Just yesterday I saw a lady in a car merge slightly into the lane beside her to get around a cyclist and another car had to slow slightly to let her in. He then felt it his duty to accelerate up beside her and make sure she knew that he had to slow down by beeping his horn and making gestures at her. Its almost at the point where you cannot trust cars to stop for you at pedestrian crossings!



Do we really not have a few seconds to spare? Are we in that much of a hurry that we cannot show a fellow human being some courteosy? Or are we really just a bunch of uptight prudes that refuse to give any leeway?

The way we drive is just a reflection of our attitude in society and with people juggling work, families, traffic, etc, we are becomming busy, impatient and rude. Soon, the only thing that will keep people thinking we are easy going is the way we talk.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reasons

I no longer have a car. After months of surviving without one, I have really questioned whether or not if is a necessity and have decided to forgo getting one for as long as possible. Consequently, I ride to work. 

My route includes a large amount of bike paths and this morning it got me thinking. Along the bike paths, I see many, many people exercising. Walkers, joggers, cyclists, roller bladers (or the male version, man bladers), boot camps and everything else that people do for exercise. At first I thought to myself, this is fantastic, so many people outside exercising and keeping healthy. Then I thought about why these people were here. 



Is it because they enjoy these activities? How can anyone enjoy the violent act of running and no self-respecting male chooses to go man-blading! When you look around at advertising and media, we are told that we need to exercise and that there is an obesity epidemic. Is this the reason why people are exercising? Do they do it out of necessity rather than enjoyment?

Is this what our lifestyles have done to us? We consume so excessively that we are forced to exercise rather than doing it for the fun. If we didn't exercise, would we all be overweight and unhealthy? And if we weren't forced to exercise, what else would we do??? The media tells us that we NEED to exercise to lose weight, prevent heart disease and live longer. What happened to doing it out of pure enjoyment? I can't help but wonder now if most of those people I see on bike path are there out of fear and necessity.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Internal battle

After a few days of getting up early to train I was beginning to feel the effects and was struggling to rise with the alarm each morning. Despite this, I was determined to take advantage of a day off work and get some hours in the saddle. Then my alarm went off...

For a few hours during the night it had been raining which also meant that the temperature had dropped. This is the worst possible conditions for getting out of bed early to train. 



Several things went through my mind as I had an internal battle with myself about getting up...

The roads are wet and I will have to clean my bike afterwards but I have to get up to train. 
It's so warm and cosy in bed but I have plenty of cycling kit to keep me warm while riding. I just have to get up. 
It's wet out and I'm certain no one else is going to show up for the ride but I told people I would meet them and they could be there. 
I have the day off so I could just sleep in and ride later but I have other stuff I need to do later. 
I have a race coming up so I need to train but it's been a long time since I had breakfast with my wife. 
If I wait and ride later the roads will dry up and I won't have to clean my bike but the sky looks pretty grey and it could rain even heavier later. 
I've been getting up early for so many days and I need to get some rest but I have a race this weekend and I need to train. 
I'll ride further tomorrow to make up for the km's that I missed today but I shouldn't try to make up for missed sessions. 

With all of these reasons flying around in my head, I pressed snooze so that I had time to comprehend them all. After careful consideration, my alarm went off again...

I turned it off, rolled over and went back to sleep. Battle lost. 

Guilt trip

During dinner last night, my wife gave me some advice. Well, she didn't call it advice but that's how I took it.

She said that she had 'stumbled' across a blog during the day that was written by another cyclist. In his most recent post, he wrote about the things he attributed his success to... Hard work, training, early wake-ups, coaches etc etc etc. But despite all of these things, none of them were the major reason that he had made it so far. In fact, the one thing that he had thanked the most for contributing to his success was his wife.

WHY? Well, his wife had to endure years of early rises, missing out on breakfast with him. Lonely weekends while her husband was out training and $$$ being spent on cycling equipment instead of on other more important things. Weeks home alone while he travelled for races and numerous other selfless sacrifices she endured.

I googled to try to find this blog. I found nothing. Did I just not type in the right words to search for or is my wife trying to point something out to me??? Maybe I should dedicate a blog post to her. If only I could find this other blog for plagiarism... I mean inspiration.

In all seriousness, I can understand exactly what this guy is saying. I know that my wife has had put up with my crap for a long time and doesn't complain about it (much). I feel guilty when I go away for races. Not because she is at home by herself, but because I am fortunate enough to see things that I know she would kill to see. In fact, when I call her or get home and tell her about my trip, I often leave out a lot of details so that she doesn't feel bad about missing out on things. Or is it so I don't feel bad???

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reality check

Usually, after a long day of cycling, I'm able to go home and relax and recover. With fewer work commitments, I was able to train harder, longer and better. However, now that I am home, it's back to work and back to reality. 

After being able to rest during the day for so long, my body has to again get used to standing on my feet all day. And it is destroying me! My legs are more tired after a day of work than s long day on the bike. So much so, that I have resorted to wearing compression socks at work to avoid my feet and ankles swelling. 



Along with going back to work, I now have to change my training times. Instead of heading out for a ride at a comfortable time of 10am, I have reverted back to waking up at 5am to squeeze in 4hrs before work. I haven't had to pit a light on my bike fir 8 months but now I leave home in the dark and in the cold. 

Needless to say, the first few days have been a massive struggle to wake up in the morning and I have slept in twice. As I write this, I am looking at the time and calculating how much sleep I am going to get before I have to get up to ride.