Chris Niesen says he's a little nervous, but in a good way. He's getting ready to take his first-ever trip overseas to race in two UCI cyclocross races in China. There have been a lot of firsts for Niesen recently.
"I’ve been dreaming about having a UCI license for three years," he said. "Now I look at my license and see UCI elite. Yes! That’s cool."
Niesen leaves on Thursday for the 8-day journey that starts with the Aug. 30 Qiansen Trophy Cyclocross Festival in Yanqing Station, a place known as the summer resort of Beijing.
"Just getting everything together for this trip has been a process," Niesen said. "There are passports, visas and logistics. Beijing has four airports. You have to fly into the right airport so that people can pick you up. And on the way back, you have to make sure you are dropped off at the right airport."
From Beijing, Niesen will fly to Hainan, China's southern-most island for another cross race on Sept. 2.
"I was reading that this is going to be the hottest UCI race of the season," Niesen said. "I don't know anything about China, but I'm expecting it to be a tropical jungle. It's supposed to be 95 degrees, even hotter than Cross Vegas."
For the past two years, race promoters and Chinese sports officials have invited a JAM Fund cyclist to participate in the races, both ranked C1 and which get a pretty good turnout of U.S. pros. Last year, JAM's Scott Smith had the experience. This year, it's Niesen's turn.
"I'm so excited. Ever since I started planning for this trip, I've been like, don't get sick, don't get hurt. I bought hand sanitizer for the first time in my life," Niesen said. "And of course this weekend [Jeremy] Durrin and Anthony [Clark] and I were riding these sandpits and within two minutes I fell into the sand drop right on my knee. It's been sore, but it'll clear up before I get to China."
Niesen is heading to China with only $400 in his pocket.
"I don't want to be taken advantage of when I give people money so I did some research on the currency," he said. "There's no backup fund that I have set aside for this trip. Everything that I've been able to come up with has been just to get there. There's no room for mistakes."
Niesen will be traveling alone but knows that this trip will build his confidence so that he will be able to do it again in the future.
"It's a world of unknowns, but it's going to be awesome," he said. "I'm just ready to lay it all down regardless of finishing 1st or 31st. It's just time for me."
Watch Niesen in action on Aug. 30 and Sept. 2 on the UCI's YouTube channel.