Sarah Lukas’ China CX Experience

Did you know that the Amy D. Foundation has a fledgling grass-roots cycling program that was born from the concept of putting aspiring women on the bikes that Amy Dombroski left behind?  Amy left a half-dozen beautiful bikes and frame sets behind, each of which provides an inspiring opportunity for a young woman to explore, grow, and achieve.  Here Sarah Lukas reflects on her experience racing in China with the Orbea CX bike from Amy’s time with the Luna Chix team.  


67662817-tmb_6439“Welcome to Beijing, where the local time is 3:17pm.” Finally. About 20 hours of travel later, we had made it to Beijing. Granted, we still had to
bus to the first race hotel, but at least my feet were on Chinese soil. While none of our luggage made it from the US, I had a clean t-shirt and toothbrush to hold me over. Let’s just get on the damn bus.

Yanqing Station – About a 2.5 hour bus trip from Beijing, our first stop in China is Yanqing Station. Still considered a subdivision of Beijing, you are a bit further out of the city. When the smog clears you get some nice views of the mountains and the green surroundings, but there is still plenty of traffic to make riding downtown pretty sketchy. Many of us venture out into the countryside to spin out our legs, which offers a nice relief to the cars, and the city views.

Our luggage came the next day. I opted to bring over a bike that is incredibly special to me, Amy Dombroski’s Orbea from when she raced on Luna. This is my third year racing with the Amy D Foundation, and my third year of being given the honor to race on Amy’s bike. This was my first international race with Amy’s bike, and it gave so much connection to other riders. Many would
first identify with the kit. “Wow, the Amy D Foundation. I knew Amy,” and they would go on to tell their story. After a quick glance down to the Orbea cross bike and Zipp 303 tubulars with Clement MXPs; they soon realized this was Amy’s bike. They gently smile and say, “That’s really cool,” as they nod and have no additional words for how they are feeling. I continue on to tell them the story of the Amy D Foundation, how Dan Dombroski and Nicole Novembre have supported me through thick and thin, and our involvement with the Little Bellas. We have so much to talk about.

dsc03781_zps9axhcrzlThe night before the race I laid in the hotel room retracing the course in my mind. In total, I have probably ridden about 30 laps on this course in my lifetime. Not much has changed since 2013. The streets to the course all remain the same. The Wal-Mart? Yep, it is still there, in all its glory. Riding to the course? No problem. You know, take Guishui North, and turn left at Jingfeng Road. Pass the red wooden shed about 1km down, then p
ass the duck pond and turn right down an unmarked road. You’ll eventually run into course tape. Now, it may sound a bit hectic, but it is a well-organized race. The organizers strive for excellence, and accept any feedback us riders have to offer.  After all, the main goal, here? To host a World Cup in China.

As always, the racers and staff become a large family in a country rather foreign to most of us. We dine together, complain together, dance together, praise together, and ride together. We are shuttled to view the Great Wall together, and we huddle together in groups as the locals stare at our awkward, gangly cycling bodies. They hold up cameras to take photos of us, and we shyly oblige.

By the time race day comes around, at least for the women, we are all very supportive of each other. On the start line, I glanced to my left of a young girl who had never done a UCI cyclocross race before, then to a seasoned veteran to my right who had retired earlier last year and wanted to give it another go in China. She kicked my ass.
unspecifiedThe start whistle blew (maybe it was a gun? I can’t even remember). The start was fast and aggressive. Too aggressive for some as the first left hand bend gave us our first crash of the race. Winding around it, I made my way to the first stair run up where the second crash occurred. I looked up and the top 10 women were long gone, and we were maybe 1 minute into the 40-minute race. Now, my view of the race is probably very different than winner and Americans, Emily Kachorek. I was having a smooth race, even though the course was bumpy as hell. Amy’s bike was perfect for this course. It was very open, with a couple of run ups, and a steep sharp climb. The Orbea is incredibly light, so hucking it up the climbs is effortless (really? Cyclocross – effortless? Well, easier than other bikes, I guess). But after getting railed by a bike on a run up mid-race and pinching a nerve in my hip, I was happy just to finish. Post-race, I slugged my way back to the race-hotel, craved a cheeseburger, settled for beef jerky I had brought from the States, and fell asleep.


Fengtai Station
– This is a new one for the race committee. Fengtai district is closer to Beijing’s city center, and has a much different feel than Yanqing. The organizers transferred us from Yanqing to our hotel in Fengtai by way of bus. It only took about an hour o
r so. Home of the Beijing Garden Expo, there are some incredibly quiet, nicely paved roads, green plants, and some pleasant smells from the foliage in Fengtai.

dsc03796_zpsxu3l8fbdThe organizers put us up in a rather nice hotel, with a Western-style restaurant. While they offered some dishes I could identify with, I personally struggled with the food. Some were willing to try everything, but there were others, including myself, who don’t have steel stomachs. Since I have a compromised immune system, and recovering from illness can take months, I opted to play it safe. Breads, pasta, some veggies, and my own foods were my best friends. Some wouldn’t try the raw veggies due to potential washing methods.

Since this was a new location, we were all uncertain of the course, how to get there, what conditions would be like, etc. Upon kitting up the first day in Fengtai to ride to the race course alone, I stumbled across more riders with the same plan. They turned out to be the dynamic crew of Christine Vardaros, Bianca Van Den Hoek, and Reza Hormes-Ravenstun. W
hat an amazing group of women that let me ride with them! We wound our way through some busy parts of town, climbed up a hill that we didn’t need to, and descended back down to the course.

It was dry. Very dry. Windy. Very windy. And a little bit shorter. Consisting of one-double fly over, 2 ramps, and another staircase, we had out work cut out for us. Once race day came, the concern from other riders, and myself, got into my head. I was less than excited for this race and couldn’t wait for it to be over. Did I mention it was hot as hell? With a field of 30 elite women, I thought there was no way I could corner comfortably on this course without wiping out, or being wiped out by another rider. I am pleased to say I was wrong. The course was fun, and despite a smooth start for the field, it spaced out nicely. Patience was key on a tight and twisty course like this, and Amy’s Orbea handled it gracefully – until I wiped out, dropped my chain, and lost contact with my group putting me out of the money. So it goes.

After the race we had some downtime to get incredibly hungry before the final “Farewell Banquet.” The organizers shuttled us to a local restaurant where they had a banquet hall set up for us. When we walked into the banquet hall we were greeted with Chinese rock who were quoted to yell to us “Are you ready to rock, mother-f*$@ers?!” My jaw dropped, my ears bled, and my tummy rumbled. Where’s the food??

Many of our meals are served family style, so a group of us newly-befriended Americans sat together. The organizers maybe didn’t know we were all famished from the race and proceeded to handle thanking sponsors, athletes, and all who helped to put on a successful event. I even won an award, called both the “Memorial Award” and the “Best Support Award.” They were honoring those who have come to the races for three or more years and supported the event. It was a very nice gesture. Al Thijs even got a statue made of him. The organizers had been talking about this since year one. I think all my dreams came true seeing a statue of Al Thijs’s head. But I digress.

We finally were fed. They entertained us with some local culture and talent performances, pushed us into a mosh pit during the Nirvana cover-band concert, and invited us to perform karaoke. Sidebar – I am pretty sure the band’s name was Libido. No joke.

All in all, the Americans threw down. It was inspiring. I was
able to walk away, with a slight limp, from the races with another new experience and perspective on next few months. While these two races marked the first two UCIs of the season, and rather early, it was a great jumpstart to the cyclocross season. #Cyclocrossishere67662818-tmb_4509

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