My phone vibrates on the kitchen table alerting me to a new text message – it’s from my older brother, John.
“Don’t eat the kimchi.”
“Kimchi. Don’t eat it.”
It was mid-March and earlier that morning I received an email from our team director, Danny Van Haute, informing me that I had been placed on the roster for April’s Tour of Korea. Upon reading the message I couldn’t help but crack a smile, and in my excitement, I texted my family and a few friends the news.
The first to respond was my brother who, despite having lived in Beijing for over four years and traveled to Korea on several occasions, only had that gem of advice to offer. Staring at my phone I couldn’t help but wonder, “what in the world is kimchi?” A few moments later my phone buzzed again – this time with a question from a friend who asks, “which Korea?” I didn’t bother responding to that one.
Flash forward to the present. There are only a handful of days remaining before Team Jelly Belly-Kenda travels across the Pacific. That feeling of excitement has coalesced with a mixture of nervousness, focus, anxiety and restlessness – pretty much the gamut of emotions one would expect when embarking on something new like this.
From a personal standpoint, the Tour of Korea represents uncharted waters: For starters, this is my first major international stage race, and at eight stages, it is also the longest stage race I’ve ever ridden. At the same time I’ve never been to Korea – or Asia for that matter – and as such, my understanding of the Korean language and their social customs is pretty much non-existent. When trying to picture myself there, scenes from the film Lost in Translation flash into my head, with the only differences being I’m in Korea as opposed to Japan, and I’m suffering endlessly on a bike. Obviously, this is an exaggeration but the overall message here is that I’m not quite entirely sure what to expect when I get there. In many ways it can be argued this is probably for the best. After all, what fun is the journey is you know what’s behind every bend in the road?
Over the course of the eight stages, the Tour of Korea has something to offer for almost every type of rider – a short circuit race, long road races, a few major climbs, and some fast sprint finishes. To accommodate the varying terrain, our team roster is built to compete for the win and be aggressive on each and every stage. Accompanying me to the race will be five of my Jelly Belly teammates.
Nic Hamilton and Alex Hagman are both distinguished climbers who rode in this race last season. Hamilton, the sole Canadian on the team, won the 2011 Tour of White Rock during BC Superweek and wore the KOM jersey for a time at last year’s Jayco Herald Sun Tour. Hagman, a former 8th place finisher at the Tour of Utah, earned KOM honors at last year’s Philadelphia International Classic after a heroic daylong breakaway with three other riders.
Fighting it out in the sprints will be Brad Huff whose cycling accomplishments – both on the road and the track – are so long that it would be futile for me to even attempt to list them. A strong all-arounder, Ricardo Van Der Velde has won a stage at the Tour de L’Avenir and toed the line at many prestigious European races such as Paris Roubaix. Finally there’s Jeremy Powers, who, in addition to being one of the nicest guys around, is pretty good at this thing called “cyclocross.”
As far as goals for the race, anyone reading this would be hard pressed to find a professional cyclist who shows up to an event NOT wanting to win. After all, nobody flies halfway around the world to coast along in a peloton for eight days. Since we didn’t get invited to the Tour of California, this race has become a major focus for our squad, and something of a proving ground for justifying our selection to future races such as the US Pro Cycling Challenge. With several major sponsors based in California – such as the Jelly Belly Candy Co., Focus Bikes and Speedplay pedals – we are obviously disappointed by AEG’s decision to leave us out of the TOC. Regret, however, is a waste of time, and we’re not the type of team that is going to mope around over what could have been. Life goes on and our focus is now on winning elsewhere – starting with the Tour of Korea.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this first installment in my diary on a behind-the-scenes look at Jelly Belly’s experience in Korea. Check back later to see how we’re doing both on and off the bike.
Thanks for reading,