Jacob Tipper and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. The 28-year-old Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling rider is a three-time UCI road race winner. This is Jacob’s fourth journal entry…
For some strange reason, I was looking forward to racing up mountains at high altitude for thirteen days with some potentially very questionable riders
This one time, in China…
If you have spent any time with me in the last 2 years it’s probably worth giving this one a skip as you’ve probably heard it too many times before. But with no racing going on, other than my coached athletes all pumping me in club or practice time trials, I thought I would give it a whirl.
This is actually one of many stories from China, but the first one is more of an 18+ involving date rape drugs, prostitutes and near death. So I thought I would go for the slightly more light-hearted one from the ‘Tour of Qinghai Lake’.
Upon signing for Memil -CCN Pro Cycling in December 2017 there was one race that really stood out on the potential calendar. Qinghai Lake is the fourth-longest professional bike race in the world behind the three Grand Tours. It’s based on the Tibetan Plateau and it’s also the highest altitude race in the world, with an average altitude of 2200 m with the highest point being 4000 m+. It’s featured heavily in physiology textbooks as one of the hardest sporting events in the world.
Bike racing … It’s like fighting a bear, you don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop once the bear gets tired
Whilst I’m sure there are many ‘challenges’ in the world that are harder to complete, bike racing has that additional element of hurt. To paraphrase Greg Henderson, it’s like fighting a bear, you don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop once the bear gets tired. Or in this case, when the Columbians get tired!
On that note, I’ve got no real fear speaking out here: it’s also a race that definitely has some dodgy riders*. It’s previously been won by Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton and a series of other questionable winners. Two Burgos BH riders were booted out the day before the tour and the winning Columbian team have since folded due to doping issues. But for some strange reason, I was looking forward to racing up mountains at high altitude for thirteen days with some potentially very questionable riders.
*To give the race it’s credit there was plenty of dope control there and it was followed diligently by the organisers. They can’t really help what riders may do out of competition.
Anyway, we rocked up to base camp ten days before the race, based at a Chinese national sports training facility at 2000 m. Not that I even made it to the facility before losing my passport on the tuk-tuk on the way there. I would like to blame the thin air but I’m pretty sure it was just stupidity. The base was like a glorified prison, with the option of ‘DO NOT EAT’ meat, at risk of contamination, or ‘western food’, which was interpreted as chips and nuggets. Not the temptation I needed before climbing up to 4000 m.
Training leading up to the event, whilst fun (every ride is an adventure, and I had a great time with the lads, we saw loads of cool temples etc), was actually terrible as I did not adapt well. Other than a few sprints I don’t think I saw above 300 w for those first weeks. It’s an odd sensation until you adapt. Unless your life depends on it, you just can’t make yourself go. My heart rate was typically 10 bpm above normal at Zone 2 pace, but when it got hard, I just had no gas, I couldn’t even make myself go deep. So this was not boding well for the hardest event of my life.
At least there was some good news: I got a new frame the day I started. I had been riding with a fully snapped top tube since stage 5 of Tour of Morocco when I decked it at 40 mph. Credit to the Memil bike, it got me round Rutland with that massive crack, but now it meant I could finally go back to descending on the top tube.
I’ve already made this a bit too wordy, so I’ll do my best to summarise the stages.
Stage 1. Very easy opening, the team rode on the front, the only hard thing was a short climb with 10 k to go, survived it but literally didn’t get my breath back to the finish.
Stage 2. Another quite easy one, which meant everyone was fresh for a crazy wet finish; bottled it.
Stage 3. First big day in the grupetto. It sound’s easy but making those grupettos up mountains at 3000 m was not fun.
Stage 4. As above, this was clearly going to be a tough tour.
Stage 5. A one hour climb up to 3000 m, then 100 miles at 3000 m. There was a sprint, but I was still not able to breathe let alone sprint! This was also followed by a six-hour coach transfer – which was fun.
Stage 6. 57 km from 2000 m to 4200 m. Enough said.
Stage 7. This should have been a bunch sprint for me but boy was I struggling by now. Finished out the back, just making the time cut.
Stages 8, 9 & 10. These were my chances. I was finally starting to breathe, we were back below 3000 m and they were sprint days. I did manage 11th on stage 9, which I was pretty chuffed with. But to be honest I was still pretty out my depth in these sprints from an experience – and bottle – point of view. These should be relatively easy as they’re on wide run-ins but before this race, I had done fewer than ten UCI bunch sprints in my life. Most sprinters might expect to do 50+ a season. I was happy to be competing in the biggest race of my life but equally a bit gutted that the pinnacle of my career maybe an 11th on stage 9 and 111th on GC at the Tour of Qinghai Lake.
Stage 11. The pressure was off a bit now. It looked like we would finish the tour, bar any major mishaps and this stage was finally bellow 2000 m! We swapped the tactics up for this one. Rather than attempting any lead out, the plan was simple: follow Sam. And somehow this one worked, with 300 to go I was still there, I had gas left, and we were moving forward with momentum. With 250 to go, I finally got to hit out, 1350 w peak and a top speed of 73 kph at 200 bpm (for people who want to know). I knew no one was going to come round me, I think I won by at least a bike length, taking my first pro win.
As a pretty average cyclist coming out of university, I think I’ve done alright
While I’m fully aware an Asia .HC stage win isn’t close to a Belgian or French .HC win, I still can’t get over the fact I have won a race at that level. It might be the worst .HC in the world but I’ve still got that pro win now and it’s pretty mad. I’m still pretty proud I constructed my life in a way that allowed me to even do such an event. I was still coaching riders between stages. As a pretty average cyclist coming out of university (my 2012 FTP was 4.3 w/kg), I think I’ve done alright (not that my W/kg is actually that much higher now).
Anyway sorry I’ll continue…
Stages 12 & 13. Anti-climax.
And that was that. Well, it should have been…
I then spent two extra weeks in Beijing trying to sort out an emergency passport and an exit visa home. This, combined with eating only in Pizza Hut for two weeks to avoid all Asian food due to a nut allergy (feeling like Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad) pretty much ate up all my prize money.
Finally, I’d like to say thank you for the help and support that my teammate Rob Orr gave me that year, it needs some appreciation.
And thanks too to all the team staff on the race and to my other teammates: Sam Volkers, Ben Hetherington, Pierre Monocorgé, fat Erick (Erick Bergstrom Frisk), Hannes Bergstrom Frisk
Find out more
Jacob on Twitter
Jacob on Instagram
Jacob’s coaching business