Bicycle Racing in South Korea: Interview with Daniel Marquardt of Watts Racing

Today I sat down with my friend Daniel to discuss amateur racing in South Korea. Danny is the team leader for Watts Racing, which currently holds the yellow jersey for the MCT racing series. Danny is currently ranked in the top ten and is last year’s winner of the Tour De Korea.

Cycling South Korea: What are the racing options for amateurs in South Korea?

Daniel: There is recreational road racing that is based on course times, and then there is competitive road racing, like what I do, the MCT series that is based on where a rider finishes in the pack. In that way, MCT is much more competitive, because it’s about being at the front. And then there is the King of Track criterium each year also, which is individual or team.

CSK: In Gran Fondos and other such rides, for a certain group of people it is about finishing first, so is there prize money involved even though they aren’t races proper?

Daniel: Occasionally, yes. For example, the Seorak Gran Fondo is on the World Gran Fondo calendar, so if you win that you earn points. You can then accrue points at other gran fondos that are on the world calendar and compete to win the world gran fondo series. In some gran fondos in Korea you can win prizes like a new bike or a helmet. Or, for example, the Hwacheon gran fondo, since it is an area famous for its rice, the winner gets bags of rice. I once won a ride and got three human sized bags of hot peppers, which I sold to some old women for $250.

CSK: For events like gran fondos and rallies you can sign up as an individual, but what about for MCT? Must you be a member of a team or can you do it as a solo rider?

Daniel: MCT has two categories. There is the DMZ League and Special League. For the DMZ League you can register as an individual or team. A team has to have at least three riders. For the Special League you must be a member of a team and the team must be qualified to race in S-League, meaning the team must have a certain number of points from the previous year which can be earned through the DMZ League or in S-Leauge to maintain its qualification. 

CSK: And there are six MCT races each year?

Daniel: Yes, there are six one-day races and a final four day stage race called the Tour De Korea for the S-League. For DMZ its six one-day races and then a three day stage race called Tour de DMZ. 

CSK: What are the one-day races generally like? What are courses like? How long are they? Etc.

Daniel: For DMZ each race is one fewer lap than the S-League races, so they are generally 55km on average. For S-League they are 75km on average. The course type varies from flat to hilly.

CSK: What kind of pace are we talking about in these races?

Daniel: In S-League the average for the year for all courses is probably between 39 and 42kph. DMZ is usually about 2kph slower. DMZ is definitely pretty quick still. There are a lot of strong riders in the DMZ League who just haven’t found the right team or are just building their team up to join S-League.

CSK: Last week at the Naju race there were a lot of crashes, including some for members from your team. What would you say are the causes of these crashes and what should people be aware of in terms of risks in doing MCT?

Daniel: Especially in the DMZ League there are a lot of inexperienced riders, a lot of new riders. That’s something to be aware of. You can identify them pretty easily based on how they ride in a pack. And those are the riders you should stay away from, especially on fast courses like last week’s.

Naju is all flat. The average speed in S-League was 44kph. In most courses there are hills involved that split the pack and stretch it out. Overall it’s not a dangerous series, but there is the Naju race that pretty much has all of the year’s crashes. But, again, overall MCT isn’t too risky.

CSK: If someone wants to get involved, what are the fees and what is the registration process?

Daniel: First, get a license. You have to sign up in January for insurance and sign other liability documents. You pay a 130,000 KRW fee. After that each individual race has a registration period. For DMZ it’s a competitive registration process because there is a limit of 350 riders, but 450 or more are trying to register. Registration is open only for a week, but most people register on Monday at 2:00pm immediately after registration begins. And the fee is 40,000 KRW per race.

CSK: What about age and gender?

Daniel: The age range starts from 18, which is the youngest allowed. The oldest current racer I believe is 64 years old, and he is the leader of his age category even though he’s the eldest in the category. Unless there is a big climb, he stays with the pack throughout. He’s a former Elite [National Pro] Champion in Korea in track and road cycling. He’s still super strong.

Women also compete in MCT in both leagues. They ride with the men but have their own set of rankings. So there is a top three after each race for men and for women. However, because there are cutoffs during the race and not a lot of female riders, sometimes there aren’t any female finishers. 

CSK: Anything else you’d say about racing in Korea?

Daniel: Just that the racing in the MCT series is really well-organized. It feels like being in a pro race. There are sponsors. There are lead vehicles and follow vehicles. Police are hired to marshal riders through the course. Ambulances are always on the scene just in case. And at the end of the series are the two tours, which are run like miniature Tour De Frances. There are motorcycle cameras. It’s televised on Cycle TV, or SL TV, and there are announcers for the race and a board showing the placement of each rider. And this is for an amateur race! I don’t think that happens anywhere else in the world, which really speaks to the organization of the series.

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