Busy time for Tour volunteers
By NORIDEEN KITCHELL
PLANNING the inaugural Kent Tour of China, a 500-kilometre international cycling race that visits four Chinese cities and Hong Kong, has become a logistic challenge of epic proportions.
Behind the scenes preparatory work started more than six months ago with the race's technical director Jim Birrell drawing the route and painstakingly recording every intersection and feature along the course to ensure race marshals are positioned at every key point.
Birrell will be assisted by 150 volunteers, who will endeavour to ensure the historic event proceeds without a hitch, during the tour which starts with the prologue at Sha Tin on Thursday.
Volunteers' duties include setting up the podium for the start and finish points of seven stages in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, keeping the routes clear of spectators, feeding the racers and support teams and providing up-to-date information for the press.
Birrell said: 'It's going to be like a military boot camp where the hours are long and the work is hard.
'Crew members will sleep just four hours a night and travel nearly 100 kilometres a day transporting the massive loads of equipment, including a two-tonne stage for the start-finish podium.
'And we will require copious amounts of food with each of the 100-plus riders needing 10,000 calories a day.' The Chinese team arrived in the territory yesterday and wasted little time before going for a training session on the prologue course with the Hong Kong riders.
China's team manager Tian Junrong said the tour would be a learning experience for his riders, whose primary target is to finish the race.
'It would be unrealistic to look for results against the top professionals in this tour but I'm hoping that our riders would still be in the race till the very end,' Tian said.
'The toughest stages would probably be the criteriums in Shanghai because the course is short and the distance is long, so it is easy to be lapped and forced to retire.' Pan Guangchun and Li Wenkai will lead the youthful Chinese team that include three international debutants in Sun Boahong, Zhang Hao and Li Xiangdong. The other two members of the squad are Zhao Hongbin and Wang Chengfeng.
Veteran local rider Hui Chak-bor has been lured out of retirement to join Wong Kam-po, Man Wah-chung, Ng Kwok-wah, Leung Chi-hang, Tse Wing-man and John Prosser in the Hong Kong team.
Hong Kong's hopes will rest with 22-year-old Wong - the territory's only rider to have qualified for the Atlanta Olympic Games next year.
However, Wong said: 'I just hope I wouldn't be lagging too far behind at the end of the tour. My other target is to finish with the leading peloton at Tienanmen Square in the final leg.'