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Life as a Bike Jockey: Breaking the norm in China part II

Crankbrothers pro Judy Freeman finds new fans and results that bode well for the future in China

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Editor’s note: Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. Freeman races for the Crankbrothers Race Club. Watch for her monthly “Life as a Bike Jockey” rider diary on Also, be sure to follow her adventures on her Facebook athlete page.Last week, Freeman wrote about the first half of her trip to China to contest the Guiyang International MTB Invitational Tournament.

Aaaand… we’re back! Where were we? Oh yeah, the short track.

Thursday’s short track was a tough one, using a good deal of the XC course for the main climb. Luckily, the rains from the week before let up so the course was in good condition. I say that, because on the Monday before the race, the officials weren’t sure there was going to be a race at all.

Getting ‘er dun in China

The course was atop heavy, muddy clay making it unridable, let alone raceable, when wet. So, organizers trucked in loads of gravel and had about 50 people spreading baskets of it all along the course and then whapping it into place. The race-day outcome was a nice and tacky course that worked well with my Conti Race Kings tread. Pretty incredible it all came together so quickly.

My shorttrack went all right. For some reason, my legs vetoed the starting gear we were doing well with just minutes earlier. I was a slug off the line and got swallowed up at the start. Luckily, with some cat and mouse action slowing up the lead group, I managed to climb back to the front with a lap to go. But I had nothing for the last attack and ended up sixth. Still, I was happy to be just seconds off Slovakia’s Blaza Klemenic and Italy’s Eva Lechner.

And evidently, so was Asian Tom.

Making mountain bike fans

Before the race, we asked T-Dawg (Tom, or Asian Tom, from part I) if he was going to come watch the race. He said no and that he’d stay and watch our stuff. Our tent was secured away from the public so we had no problem if he left. But he was dutiful in saying he wouldn’t leave his post. At least our tent was just 100 feet from a section of the course where Tom could see the action from afar.

For the first few laps, I could hear Asian Tom yelling as Chloe and I rode by the tent area. He sounded far off. But his cheers got progressively louder and wilder as the laps went by. By the end, I could see him standing course-side, yelling like crazy. When it looked like I might break the top five, I thought he might pop. He got sucked in. Yes! It’s not everyday we’re making new mountain biking fans — but that’s what we were doing in China.

The main event

Friday brought the main event with the cross-country race. As it was a weekday, most people were at work, so organizers bussed in some school kids to make sure we weren’t just racing for the crickets.

I headed out on the course for a quick warm-up and to dial in some lines. The course didn’t have too many technical sections, but the sections it did have were steep, navel-to-the-saddle descents.

I picked the wrong line in one of those sections and went over the bars. I got up quickly and surveyed the damage — one scraped up the knee, but that’s all.

But I had no sooner stood up than I saw a small fleet of nurses fully suited in white outfits and hats rushing up the course to me. Then, a flank of four other course marshals darted at me from out of the trees to my left. “I’m ok! I’m ok!” I said and almost took a stance to ward off the onslaught of concern and kindness coming at me. And with that, everyone went back to their business.

Wear protection

I finished my lap and headed back to the tent where Asian Tom was standing watch. When he saw my newly bloodied knee, his eyes got as big as saucers and he insisted I wait as he found a doctor. I assured him I was ok, but he still seemed a little panicked.

It was then that Yankee Tom came through the tent to grab stuff on his way to the pits. Having become somewhat accustomed to this sort of thing, he barely lost pace; asking if I was all right in the same breath that we confirmed a plan for the start and pits. Meanwhile, Asian Tom stood by, still saucer-eyed.

I had to reassure Tom that I was fine and went back to cleaning my knee. He suggested that I “may want to be careful.” I nodded — Ha, if he only knew! And then he added, “Judy, you may want to wear protection.” Too much was funny about that not to chuckle as I headed out to the staging area.

A little more of the same

My cross-country followed suit with my short track. I started poorly and was mid-pack into the first climb. The lead group of five or six got off the front. With a number of tight chute descents bottle-necking the field, I spent the straightaways and wide-open climbs punching it to make up time. Lucky for me, there was a lot of climbing in the course. And Asian Tom had moved course-side to cheer us on from start to finish.

So ‘jai you’ (sounds like ‘chai’ with a j + ‘yo’) is how you cheer in Mandarin. I heard the same thing all around the course, but in different ways. The school kids near the finish line sang it, “JAAAI you!, JAAAI you!” Others shrieked it “Jai! You!” While some, just seemed to mention it in between puffs on a cigarette as I drug my carcass past them up a hill.

However you say it, though, it’s a cheer to say “Go! Keep going!” Literally, it means “Add oil (or fuel),” so I guess it could also mean I had a bus full of school kids telling me to light a fire under my ass.

Huh. That doesn’t happen everyday.

Tom was in the pits letting me know the splits. At one point, it looked like I may catch fourth and fifth just ahead. But by the end of our five laps, I finished sixth. Chloe came in eighth. We both landed the same positions we got in the short track the day before. While we didn’t think much of it, Asian Tom saw it as auspicious. I guess six and eight together signify continued success. Two days in a row hammered in the effect. I’m taking this as good news for The Race Club’s 2013.

A different way of life

The next day Chloe, TJ, the Toms and I hopped in a car for a day of sightseeing in nearby Qinyang. Asian Tom, a basketball fanatic, talked NBA with Yankee Tom along the way. They discussed players and their prospects for this next season. T-Dawg wondered what Yankee Tom thought of Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity”.

Asian Tom said Lin is popular in China. Maybe it is mostly because Lin is Asian-American, but I think it’s also because all the world loves game changers — people that change the way we look at things. I guess it inspires us to see new possibilities, especially new possibilities within ourselves. I’m thankful we have people like that in the world.

We spent the day in nearby Qingyan, a 600-year-old historic city. Aside from the plastic swords and trinkets, it still had the stonewalls and climby streets to make you feel like you were walking in a market that you’d see in Chinese watercolor painting. It’s crazy to think of the city with four miliion people that was growing like crazy just outside its walls.

That evening it was a mellow dinner at the hotel. Chloe and TJ stayed on to tour the country a few more days and Tom and I headed to the airport at 5:00 a.m. the next morning for our 30 hours of travel back home.

China 2013?

The decision as to whether or not China gets on the World Cup calendar for 2013 should be out soon. The organizers put on a worthy event and with some changes, if not next year, maybe 2014. We’ll see. Until then, it was just a nice break from the norm, getting to be a player in the 2012 Guiyang International MTB Invitational Tournament.

You can see more photos on my athlete Facebook page.