Just a week after the Mongolia Bike Challenge took a train to Ningbo, only two hours away from Hangzhou where I live to take part in a Shimano organized mountain bike race. There was a 20km road hill-climb early that morning but I opted to just bring one bike and race on the Orbea Alma 29er S Team bike. Lining up at the start with a small field of about 20 elite riders, I got a lot of oohs and aahs since I was the only one on a 29er! In China, the 29er fever has not yet caught on like it has in Europe and America but I think that will change in the not too distant future. Chinese riders at the moment think that 29ers are only for tall people and they consider themselves too short to ride such a bike. Once the perception changes and they realise the 29er bike can fit them. There are very few companies, to my knowledge, that actively promote 29ers in China; Orbea Bikes is in a good position to capitalize on the opportunity and be part of the growth curve of early Chinese adopters. Ok, back to the race! It was on a short 4km circuit that was pancake flat and mostly gravel with some quite rough potholed sections strewn with rocks. We raced around this circuit four times for a mere total of 16kms! Too short in my opinion, especially after doing the epic 6hr stages each day for nine days in Mongolia.
The pack got off to a fast start and since the acceleration of 29ers is slightly slower than the 26ers, it took me a few extra seconds to get up t o speed. But once I did, it seemed like I was cruising by effortlessly. I took over the lead and drilled it for most of the first lap. Going through the start finish line it was a lead pack of eight riders. I eased off and played the game of following wheels in the next lap. The next time around the breakaway was only five riders. Mid-race, the skies opened up and it poured with rain, instantly creating a mud-bath for the rest of the race. To make things slightly more challenging, there was also a mini-storm blowing on – creating a vicious cross-wind. I continued to follow wheels till the final lap – it was down to four riders and I was the last one in line. With 2km remaining in the race, I launched a vicious attack that took the other three by surprise and they had to chase hard to catch me. It was back together for the last 800m – a four-man sprint and I was not going to lead it out for them so I let one of the riders through and let him do the attacking. I matched every attack and then in the final 200m I unleashed my power sprint to take the win over Gao from Cronus Bikes, ex-Champion System rider and his team-mate in third place.
It was a good feeling to have some winning form after the Mongolia event and I scored a nice set of Shimano XT wheels (unfortunately not 29ers!) for winning first place. Thanks to Shimano for putting on a great event. Typically, Shimano are well known for putting on mountain bike races that closely resemble ‘true mountain biking’ as in China there are many so-called mountain bike races held on the road. They go to great lengths to ensure that their events are off-road and challenging for riders. Some of the memorable challenging courses Shimano have run include the Nanjing MTB race and another one in Chengdu racing through some typical Chinese country-side but with an elevation gain of 200m each lap! Looking forward to taking part in more Shimano events and spreading the 29er revolution in China.
Shimano’s next round is in Xian on September 10th – here is the link –Xian Race. The Tour de China also starts in Xian soon – but not sure about the dates!