After twenty hours of travel and about six hours sleep in two days I finally made it to my hotel in Beijing, albeit without my luggage. That was to follow the next day, something I've become reluctantly accustomed to with these long journeys.
But I've learned to keep all my gear with me: cameras, laptop, batteries, chargers, film, everything, even if it breaks my back and most cabin baggage regulations in the process. Because without that I am lost.
So after a very, very long sleep and a few cups of tasty Chinese tea I headed west to the Laoshan velodrome, scene of some of GB cycling's finest moments, with a view to grabbing some shotss of the Chinese track team in training. I'd attempted to make contact with them via email from London but got absolutely nowhere, so I decided just to go there and see what was up.
It's an impressive building but somewhat disconcerting to see the parking lot being used by numerous driving instructors guiding their hesitant pupils through car handling drills in slow motion. Makes you wonder what's going on inside…
The reception was manned by two giggling teenage girls and an even younger security guard. I had to stop myself asking why they weren’t at school, but they wouldn't have understood anyway. Some minutes later, having tried in vain to communicate with them, I resigned myself to the fact that this little project just wasn't going to happen.
But, as I was about to leave, a more businesslike individual appeared and I asked if he spoke English. "Yes," he replied, and proceeded to explain that he was assistant manager of the track team and that I could come back tomorrow and take some pictures. Hallelujah!.
So the next day I duly returned and did exactly that. Led by a French coach who has been working with the Chinese squad for the last five years, the group of young men and women riders trained hard but were very open and friendly, curious where I was from, in admiration of GB, and excited about the prospect of coming to London – if they are picked, of course.
I asked permission to interview the riders but was told that the boss needed to authorise that and I would have to come to another session. I'll do that after the small matter of the Tour of Qinghai Lake is taken care of, which is where I'm heading now.