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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Somraj Seepersaud (Spider) in Hong Kong, China

3rd Tour of Hong Kong Shanghai - 2.2
Hong Kong, October 19-24, 2008

The Stages
Stage 1 - October 19: Hong Kong criterium, 37.4km
Stage 2 - October 20: Jiangxi - Ganzhou circuit race, 101.4km
Stage 3a - October 21: Jiangxi - Feng Cheng, 78.1km
Stage 3b - October 21: Jiangxi - Feng Xin criterium, 35.9km
Stage 4 - October 22: Zhejiang - Fu Yang, 132km
Stage 5 - October 23: Jiangsu - Taicang circuit race, 92.5km
Stage 6 - October 24: Shanghai criterium, 78km

By Somraj Seepersaud:

Champion System Racing Team were invited to the 3rd Tour of Hong Kong. Teams from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Denmark & the US containing riders from Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, Colombia and myself (Somraj Seepersaud) from Guyana.

I am probably the first Guyanese to take part in a UCI sanctioned road race in Hong Kong, China. This is a major accomplishment for me considering this was my first real international exposure to stage racing apart from racing in the smaller stage races in Guyana. I am an amateur Category 1 racer riding for Kraft Genie / Champion System Racing here in the US, and no stranger to riding with the professionals on the criterium circuit in races such as Harlem and Somerville.

Our US based team had six days to prepare for this race since the invitation to the race was given on short notice. This included spending one day acquiring Visas in Manhattan and making final preparations for the long 16 hour nonstop Trans Pacific flight on a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 extended range aircraft. The team and I were excited to be taking part in the 3rd Hong Kong stage race.

We arrived Hong Kong at the incredibly modern international airport - Chek Lap Kok Airport at about 9 pm, the jet lag did not affect us that much since we were kept entertained on the flight with excellent service. The bus ride to the hotel was about 20 minutes, here we helped our team mechanic assemble our bikes. We hit the sack about 11:30 pm in preparation for a training and familiarization ride the next day with our Chinese guide. All the teams stayed at the same hotels and the riders would intermingle during feeding hours. All the hotels we stayed at in China were first class.

The first Criterium stage took place in Hong Kong and the remaining races took places on main land China and ended in Shanghai. There was a lot of traveling by bus involved in getting to the various stages which lasted anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Two teams shared a bus; we shared ours with the Malaysian Team, most were from the National Malaysian Track team.

The weather in Hong Kong and China was hot and humid and it took a little while to adapt to, after coming from the chill of New York. But apart from the weather the places we saw were very modern, the infrastructure was incredible. The large crowds were fantastic and the whole event was broadcast live on TV. It was China’s version of the Tour De France.

There was no real culture shock apart from a few language barriers, the people were fantastic, the riders were friendly but competitive, the organization was down to the details and the food was excellent. I even tried a few off the beaten path dishes which are not available in New York. The gung ho Australian riders were trying all the unfamiliar food and some paid the price.

The stages comprised a couple of point to point races, a couple of criteriums and a couple of circuit races. Some of the riders I spoke to from other teams were not too comfortable racing in the criteriums, which took place at a blistering pace and saw quite of few crashes. I was caught behind a crash on the first criterium towards the end of the race, this was a 1.7 km course, which was very narrow, almost like racing in an alley, but that added to the excitement and a thrill for the crowd to watch; this is what bicycle racing is about.

The point to point and circuit stages were not very hilly, but the pace was fast. A typical team comprised of six riders and the competition was top notch, even a little jostling and over aggressiveness with body contact took place towards the final sprints.

Our team got quite a bit of exposure with a few great individual places and a top three team placing. The prize money for the overall race was about US$73,000.

Click here for more behind the scenes information about the tour at my team mate's Blake Longacre blog.

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