Cyclocross behind the Great Firewall: Emily Kachorek’s photo essay from the UCI cyclocross season opener in China

by Emily Kachorek


Cyclocross is here! The UCI cyclocross season kicked off in China earlier this month with the annual Qiansen Trophy events in Beijing. After being impressed with well-run event, good courses and strong competition, American racer Emily Kachorek (Squid Bikes) returned to China this year in search of some good early season racing. What she found was a warm welcome, a little adventure and her first big UCI win.


One of the beautiful things about sport is that it translates across cultures and locations. Riding circles over mixed terrain and obstacles on a bike is actually quite similar in China as it is to the US or anywhere else. You line up according to UCI ranking, your heart races, the gun goes off, there is the race for the hole-shot, you turn, skid, dismount, remount, pedal, suffer and cross the finish line sweaty, dirty and exhausted — just as you would in the US, Europe or Australia.

That said, when presented the opportunity to race the first two UCI C1 cyclocross races of the season in Beijing in September, I jumped at the opportunity. I was excited to show off my Rattlecanned Squid bikes, and in search of some high quality early season racing and adventure.

Exploring the quiet backroads
Exploring the quiet backroads

I raced the Qiansen Trophy Cyclocross races for the first time last year, and had learned that the races are wonderfully run, the courses fun and technical, and the competition solid with racers from over 26 countries. The overall organization exceeded my standards so I was eager to return to again this year.

The Squid bikes
The Squid bikes with rattlecan paint jobs

For such a short trip, adjusting to the local time always provides a bit of difficulty, and I made the best of the opportunity by exploring some of the lesser traveled areas of our hotel. We ended up spending a number of mornings watching the sun rise on our hotel rooftop, a cup of instant coffee in hand.

The roof top view of Beijing’s 12th ring really offered a shockingly different view of the area.
The roof top view of Beijing’s 12th ring really offered a shockingly different view of the area.

In general our days consisted of huge buffet style meals with all the racers and staff, riding out to the race courses, with a little bit of exploring the neighboring area peppered in. Despite the bit of real danger battling with busy streets and unfamiliar ‘rules’ of the road, exploring the area by bike proved some of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

Street food!
Street food!

The Qiansen Trophy goes all out with cameras all over the course and a big screen displaying the live race coverage. Even though I have been bike racing for many years and have been lucky enough to race some of the biggest and most prestigious races in the world, I still get nervous come race day.

The race start. Photo by Shen Yi.
The race start. Photo by Shen Yi.

Having race on the course the year before I was confident in my lines and felt like I had some idea of how the race would play out. I had a good start and found myself in the lead on the first lap.

RACE PHOTO: Heading into of three sets of stairs. Photo: Todd Bauer / TMB Images
RACE PHOTO: Heading into of three sets of stairs. Photo: Todd Bauer / TMB Images

Without boring you too much with the play-by-play, the race came down to a great battle between me and a young Dutch rider named Ceylina Alvarado. After leading most of the race, she made three passes on the last lap and I was able to secure the win 400 meter from the finish line. Elated with my first big UCI win, my mechanic and Squid co-owner, ran over from the pits and gave me a big hug.

We won!
We won!

The podium ceremonies are a big deal at these events and we were quickly ushered away for a press conference, photos, TV interview and podium ceremony complete with a beautiful Chinese ceramic vase trophy.

Qiansen Trophy Women’s podium. 1. Emily Kachorek (Squid Bikes, USA), 2. (Kleur Op Maat – No Drugs, Netherlands), 3. Bianca Van den Hoek (Rijwielpaleis Bilthoven-Mtb Licht Verzat, Netherlands).
Qiansen Trophy Women’s podium. 1. Emily Kachorek (Squid Bikes, USA), 2. (Kleur Op Maat – No Drugs, Netherlands), 3. Bianca Van den Hoek (Rijwielpaleis Bilthoven-Mtb Licht Verzat, Netherlands).

After a big post race meal the American contingent celebrated by figuring out how to order cold (being the key word) beers and a bit of time wandering the streets outside the hotel. It was certainly a memorable night.

The highlight of the second race location, which was closer to the city center and required a transfer, was our hotel which was surrounded by the International Garden Expo and Beijing World Park. We spent a number of hours exploring the theme style park on our recovery day, some of which appeared to be no longer in use.

The 9th China (Beijing) International Garden Expo Visitors Center was super cool.
The 9th China (Beijing) International Garden Expo Visitors Center was super cool.

The second race course was new to everyone and included 63 turns per lap, which is a lot, even for a cyclocross course. It didn’t have the best start and ended up not really being able to ride my own pace until the second lap, at which point I was already 40 seconds down from the leader Alvarado. I was able to ride her back to within 15 seconds, but ultimately, she took the win handily and I walked away with second place and a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

"Wheel up, feet up” was my mantra for these steep fly overs. Photo: Shen Yi
“Wheel up, feet up” was my mantra for these steep fly overs. Photo: Shen Yi

The event organizers seem to take pride in putting on a good a party and, similar to last year, the closing banquet was certainly no exception. Tables full of wonderful and exotic-to-me food, karaoke, a pretty great live band that specialized in Nirvana covers and various other performance acts kept us blissfully entertained way past our bedtime.

The event organizers seem to take pride in putting on a good a party,
The event organizers seem to take pride in putting on a good a party,

The closing banquet kept us blissfully entertained way past our bedtime.
The closing banquet kept us blissfully entertained way past our bedtime.

China is a long way to travel for two 45 min bikes races, but for two years in a row the experience far out weights the 20 plus hour travel time and jet lag. I always felt welcome, appreciated the novelty of the surroundings, sights, sounds and smells as well as the beauty of getting lost on small village roads with only silly hand gestures between friendly strangers to get me back home. The win was icing on the cake.


The UCI cyclocross calendar continues this weekend with the Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo, Wisconsin, followed by two UCI Wold Cup events in the USA. The first World Cup race, CrossVegas, will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Las Vegas followed by JingleCross in iowa City, Iowa on Sept. 24.

The 2016-17 Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup calendar

UCI C1 Calendar

A former professional road cyclist, Emily Kachorek is an American professional cyclocross racer and co-owner of Squid Bikes. You can follow her season via social media:

Instagram: @eekachorek
Twitter: @EmilyKachorek

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