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Lee Rodgers Tour of Korea 2012 Diary: Opening days

Our off-beat contributor is back to racing in Korea, but carrying a little something extra in the lungs

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Ah, it’s nice to be back, in every sense of the word: back racing again after four weeks off and a Belgian beer or two too many here and there (how dare they be not only such phenomenal bike riders but also brew the greatest libations known to man? Thanks Eddy for the Belgians, I say), back shoveling 6000 calories a day into my gut and back, of course, here on VeloNews.

It’s a challenge, trying to stay in race condition for a month after such an extended block of racing between Qatar, Oman and Langkawi. The body naturally needs a break and also the mind, but the difficult part is revving up again before the next race. After riding in such incredible locations and in such intense conditions, getting out on the old local roads left me a little flat. So, I dusted off the trainer and got up on the roof of my apartment block and did a few super-sessions to blow away the cobwebs.

Painful, but they get the job done. Trust me, filing tax returns, an evening at the ballet, an eight-course dinner with Pat McQuaid — nothing in this world will ever seem boring after a three-hour trainer session…

Onto the action. I arrived in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul, after a mammoth 14-hour door-to-door journey and hit the bed hard. (It takes two hours by plane from Taipei to Incheon; I’m not sure what went wrong exactly, but IT HURT.) I woke up to rain and um, oh yeah, more rain. Day one was 52km and wet, and cold, and crap, and that’s a trio you’d definitely kick out of bed for farting.

Being cyclists though, we launched ourselves into the day’s proceedings like lemmings off the proverbial cliff, barreling and splish-sploshing along at speeds that should really have had us sectioned, for no one in their right mind would even have been out walking the dog, never mind racing in that stinky weather.

I stayed upright, though, unlike some. One guy hit the deck back first, slid along a decent 15 meters and actually had one hand down on the road and was up on two feet in a weird ’70s disco dance move as he was still sliding. Impressive. And he had facial hair. Lots. I dug that. Ten style points to that man.

Two more crashes marred the final 4km, and there was a bit of fisticuffs in the car park immediately after the race, some Ukranian bruiser and an Aussie. That’s sprinters for you…

Then we had a two-hour transfer to the next hotel, most of which I slept through as the head/throat cold that I’d been nursing was making its was down to my lungs. Brilliant. Just what you need with 200km to come the next day…

Day two came and I ate buckets, felt sick, went to the toilet about six times, then got shaved and showered. Must look your best for a battering. All decked out in the most painstakingly color-coordinated kit known to pro cycling, we lined up and set off.
As ever, I was one of the first out the blocks when the neutral ended, gunning oh, a good 50 meters before I got caught. The legs didn’t feel great but it was my lungs that were the most hassle, sending up little chunks of something important from within after every half-decent effort.

I tried to get away a few times but nothing was sticking, and in fact the race didn’t break up for almost 140km. Imagine non-stop attacks for over three hours. Ouch is right. With some 21 teams here it is almost impossible to get the right mix to be allowed to get away. You see 14 guys go, but even if there’s 14 separate teams represented, that still leaves seven to chase.

That means that it’s only going to break when it gets hard, or a line forms somewhere near the front whereby several riders from, say, two or three teams block the road for long enough to let a group go clear. There are times when this happens and the guys at the front don’t realize for a few moments that they are even in a break, and even then, some will not want to ride as they might not be feeling good or their leader may be at the back.

So that was what we had, this constant probing off the front and a line behind with three or four of these natural breaks. It was pretty full-on, a proper day’s racing, and we hadn’t even reached the hill at 150km yet. (There was one amusing distraction, though, when a Lampre-ISD rider had to dodge a stationary police car and tried to jump the curb, only to misjudge it, bounce back and still hit the cop car, ending up flat out on the asphalt. It was slow-mo and he was ok and we shouldn’t have laughed but man it was funny… and he had a mullet. He also gets 10 points…)

On the climb, my lungs offered up more cheesy chunks but fortunately my RTS Racing teammates David McCann and Jai Crawford are in fine fettle and they went up the 3km climb like whippets, cresting it with a decent gap that they worked to enlarge with a few others.

Eventually, though, a second group joined them with some 30 riders, but McCann wasn’t to be pegged back and he again attacked on the run-in with Chan Jae Jang (Terrenganu Cycling), Muradjan Halmuratov (Suren) and Alexander Candelario (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), and they opened up a good 40-second lead in no time.

Back in the third group with teammate Alex Coutts (who had lost his breakfast on the road and couldn’t even keep water down due to a bug), I was quite happy to banjo in but no, the other dudes wanted to chase, worst luck. And chase we did, coming in all together with the majority of the peloton 30 seconds behind winner Candelario. McCann got second, which lifts us to second on the Team GC and on the Asian Team GC too — not bad for a Taiwanese team with no Asians in it!

All in all, it was a decent day, but hard. Being sick and on a bike sucks — but hey, I’d usually be behind my desk and sick, so better shut the heck up and get on with it.

Thanks for reading. Days 3 and 4 coming soon.

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