‘Cross in China | VailDaily.com

‘Cross in China

Jake Wells
Special to the Daily
Jake Wells at the Great Wall, on a recent trip to China.
Kenny Wehn |

Editor’s note: Avon resident Jake Wells is a cyclocross racer for Stan’s NoTubes and recently went to Yanquing, China, to compete in the country’s first international cyclocross race. Cyclocross is a relatively new sport in which racers ride and run through obstacles of dirt, pavement and wood on specialized hybrid road-mountain bikes. The following are Wells’ dispatches from the Qiansen Trophy race, held at the end of September.

BEIJING — When I first heard that China was going to host its first-ever international cyclocross race, I didn’t think much of it, assuming there was no way it would fit into my schedule or my race budget.

Then I found out the organizers were encouraging all interested riders to apply — the promoter was willing to pay for all of the expenses for international riders to participate, so I decided to throw my name in the hat.

Even after getting an acceptance letter, I was pretty apprehensive about the trip actually coming to fruition. The process was lacking a certain amount of communication, which I’m sure was partially due to the language barrier and the massive difference in time. Even so, I didn’t want to get too excited until I was actually on the plane and headed to Beijing.

Into the Middle Kingdom

I made the trip with support staff Kenny Wehn, and when we landed in Beijing, our interpreter met us and escorted us onto a bus that would drive us 70 kilometers out of the city and into the mountains of northern China. I had spent the previous weekend racing in Las Vegas, and after the overseas flight, I was exhausted. It all seemed completely surreal, and it wasn’t until we had arrived at the hotel and started seeing the other racers that I was actually sure that I was in China and we were going to race our bikes.

We got settled and joined the welcome banquet, sharing a table with two Italian riders. We began to examine the interesting items on the menu. Most of us were fairly open to trying new and different foods … but some items, such as “meat of donkey,” were daunting. And no, I didn’t try it.

The next morning we hopped in the van to check out the race course, which was built around a park. It was technical and flowy with fast corners. It was almost better suited for a mountain bike and was quite bumpy, but I liked it.

Race day

We got to watch the amateur race — all locals on mountain bikes — and the pro women’s race before it was time for us to go. There were about 70 racers from 16 different countries represented.

It was truly impressive what the promoter had put together for this event. The venue was complete with multiple Jumbotrons, a grandstand, VIP area and a live-feed broadcast on the web.

Smaller cyclocross races have happened in China before, but nothing of this magnitude. It’s a completely unknown sport there, but the promoter Yanxing Song, of the Dalian Qiansen Sports Facilities Engineering Co., decided to bring it to China after watching some races in Belgium, the heartland of cyclocross. He fell in love with the sport and decided to host a race back home.

I got off to a poor start in the race, but after getting a feel for the corners, I started working my way through the pack. By the last couple of laps, I had settled into a good position but was in no man’s land. I finished it out feeling strong and was happy with my 15th-place finish, the fourth American.

That evening we had a big banquet celebrating the race and its success, and there was even talk of hosting it again next year as a two-day event.

Tourist time: Seeing The Great Wall and tightrope biking

The following day was Sunday (I think), and we finally had some time to get in a little tourist action. After spending a couple of hours at the Great Wall and thoroughly frustrating our translator and guide, we were off to the GeoPark. Coloradans familiar with open space would be bemused, as a Chinese GeoPark is something of a cross between a nature preserve and amusement park.

We entered a spectacular canyon by walking through the mouth of a massive yellow dragon, inside of which there were three consecutive escalators, then a boat ride down a river.

At one point, we came around a bend and there was a cable that had to be close to 100 feet above the water. A man on a bike rode out on the cable and stopped, hung out for a few minutes, then rode the rest of the way across. It was a pretty strange thing to see that at what would be considered a national park in this country, but not so strange considering the optional bungee jumping, the intricate “Flower Cave” (complete with faux-cave walls and ornate plastic shrubbery) and the alpine slide that took us back down.

Getting back home was a bit of a trek, but I finally made it back to Denver, where my beautiful wife was eagerly waiting. Nothing like a 36-hour travel day to get you ready for your work week.

All in all, the experience was absolutely amazing. Yes, I was wrecked for a week, but I am extremely grateful and happy that cycling has taken me to China.

So, here’s some quick math:

In 10 days (240 hours), I was on an airplane for 43 hours, in an airport 29 hours and in a car or on a bus for 15 hours. I raced my bike for 6.5 hours. That equals 93.5 hours. With six hours of sleep each night, that only leaves 86 hours to fit in eating, another bike ride, a bike trade show, checking out the Great Wall, a leisurely boat trip up a pristine canyon and a 2.5-minute ride on an alpine slide.

It’s a crazy life, but it’s good to be alive.