Lee Rodgers Tour of Korea diary: Strike!
“Chief Comrade… sorry I meant Commissaire. The workers… dammit I mean the riders — they are refusing to work… sorry, to ride.”
“My dear Head of Police, what do you mean, ‘refusing?’”
“Refusing. They’ve downed tools. Sat up. Gone on strike. The air, it’s murderous…”
“What reason do they give?”
“Chief Comrade, they… I mean… oh whatever – they say it’s raining too hard.”
“Oh, come on! WTF…!”
I’d never seen it before, the proletariat rising up against the yoke of tyranny to strike a blow for the disenfranchised athletes of the world. This could be the start of a Real World Order – an order governed by the riders, for the riders: where multi-use pathways will be reclaimed and raced upon; where bike thieves shall have their hands chopped off; and at 6:00 p.m. each evening, the Shaven-Legged Believers will bow on trainer mats and give thanks in the direction of Belgium!
Wait, I’m getting a little carried away with this theme…
So basically stage 4 started in an absolute downpour, with some whipping winds that motivated two guys to drop out of the race even before it began… or so I heard. The riders gathered and grumbled beneath the sign-in tents until the very last seconds before the start. On the roll out, the rain fell so hard that it stung the face and forced us to hit the brakes, as we just couldn’t see a thing in front of us.
This was massively not fun. We bumped and gouged our way somehow through several roadworks behind the Comm car – with the expected 3km neutral dragging on to 4, then 5, then 7km, as the officials waited for one punctured rider after another to get back to the peloton. Problem was, just as one rider came up another punctured, and on it continued until suddenly an Azad University rider shouted “STOP!”
We stopped. Several riders gathered around the Chief Comm car in a scene right out of the days of Jimmy Hoffa (apart from all the lycra and the stink of embrocation). A bit of a hullabaloo ensued, words were exchanged, and I have a feeling the Chief Commissaire was more inclined to give us another 30km to see how conditions turned out. But suddenly a loud cheer went up, and riders began to turn and head for the team buses behind.
The 176km stage was over even before it had begun. With one whole inch of rain forecast for the area (that’s a heck of a lot of bathtubs), and a reportedly dangerous descent at 85km with potholes and oil all over it, the call was perhaps for the best. Felt weird though, to not race. Our safety should always be paramount, though, and I guess it was the right decision. Had the Schlecks been there I’m sure they’d agree…
I asked some of the veterans (grand tour guys) if they’d seen anything like this before, and each of them scratched their heads before saying “No.” Still, like 99 percent of us, they weren’t complaining. Another day down and we are still third on GC with Dave McCann and second on the team GC.
Stage 3 was not quite as rebellious as today but it was a thumper of a day for me personally – thumper as in, I got my arse kicked all over west Korea by the wearer of a very sturdy pair of steel-toe boots.
We set off on a ridiculously beautiful morning (the way spring mornings are supposed to be), and as usual the attacks began at 0km. For the next two hours I followed attack after attack, keeping an eye out for Team Optum guys going off the front (Candelario of Optum was in yellow) – and just generally trying to make sure, along with teammates Martin Irvine and Alex Coutts, that RTS Racing was represented if any break did go.
Not easy work, that, when every Tom, Dick and Cheung Gyo Jeong wants to get away.
With my legs beginning to ache a little, there was a lull at about 85km gone. Dave came up to me and nodded ahead – the signal for me to attack. The domestique doesn’t get to ask “Why?” he just bloody well goes. Dave has much more experience than I and reads a race like a book, so I did as I was nodded and set off. I didn’t get too far, but it did shake the bunch awake to the dangerous six-man break up ahead. I got caught on a 2km drag and had to bust it to get over with the leaders, and I was already feeling a little cramp come in. Not good.
More attacking nonsense followed, then after about another 20km, another lull came, and another nod, and off I galloped once again – this time just before the first of two meaty little hills. I was joined by a Korean national team rider, but in all honesty we were suffering. We made it over the first hill ahead of the pack but got caught on the second, and here I really fell to pieces.
The cramping (it was in my triceps by now, not a good sign at all!) meant it was now almost impossible for me to get out of the saddle, so I had to grind out a big gear to keep up with the big dudes at the back. At one point I was about to go all Captain Oates and wander off into the trees “for some time.” But, stupid as ever, I did my best to ignore the sensation – even though it felt like a burly short order chef separating my thigh muscle from bone with two dull spatulas and then splattering my guts to shreds – and get over the top with the last wheel just a meter away.
I made it. We were a group of 12, all desperate, some hollow-eyed, and at least three with mullets (that really has to stop!). But yet again the ineradicable power of the human will somehow saved the day, and we caught one group, then another, and then finally the high rollers at the front. I almost lost touch two or three times on the smallest of rises but, with my also-sick teammate Alex Coutts battling away to the bitter end, and with second place on the team GC at stake, I made it to the line in the peloton.
Dave and Jai Crawford looked fine, and we have high hopes for the rest of the week. An event-filled couple of days indeed.
Thanks for reading.
17 years after stopping racing as a junior in England and traveling and working around the world, Lee Rodgers started cycling again 4 years ago “to lose a bit of weight” and now rides for UCI Continental team, RTS Racing Team, based in Taiwan. He works full-time as a journalist and part-time as a cyclist. Check out Lee’s previous diary entries