I have been riding the mountain bike a little more often these days and during the last few weeks of 2011, I have been attending mountain bike races. Attended the Merida Cup in Taiwan and most recently the Nanning International Mountain Bike Race in Southern China. I flew down from Hangzhou with my Orbea Alma 29er packed into my Scicon Aerocomfort bag. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the race track was 99% single track, it was a super tight and challenging circuit that took the fast riders right around 10minutes. I was one of the slower ones, completing laps in just over 11minutes. Those top Chinese riders are super light and really fly over the track. However, on the road I do give these same riders a run for their money!
I attended this race because I knew that it was going to be a true ‘off-road’ mountain bike experience, unlike many mountain bike races that are currently held in China. Many races are on mountain bikes but held on roads and this does not reflect the true spirit of mountain biking. The Nanning Sports Association in conjunction with the local cycling federation put together a brand-new track right by the newly built stadium in their efforts to promote mountain biking in their community. The brand-new track had only been completed the day before and some sections had freshly cut dirt. It is definitely a track with potential for National and international level racing. QQride did a four minute video interview with me. It has me speaking Chinese and some action clips of me racing, quite a well done little video. A short article about me also appeared on QQride.com, if you can read Chinese – check it out.
I was on the 29″ Alma equipped with a Nano Race 2.1 rear tire and a Vulpine 2.1 tire for the front. I also used the new WTB Volt Titanium saddle. Running the Vulpine 29er tire on the front was probably not a smart choice for the tight, technical and loose single track punctuated with steep climbs and descents. It is a tire that is more suited for the road and despite running lower pressures, the front tire still slipped many times on the circuit. If I ran both Nano’s on my wheels, I think I would have zipped through the track faster and with more confidence, without worrying about losing traction. If I had a choice, I would’ve raced a 26″ mountain bike on this course – as there were lots of accelerations due to the sharp switchbacks and steep short climbs. The 29″ bike rode well on the course, but perhaps not as nimble as the smaller wheels…
International Exchange Race
I lined up with about 25 other riders, some from Laos, Europe and Nanning university students. It was only three laps of the 3km circuit and I thought it would be a good warm up to the main event of the day.
It was crucial to sprint well from the gun, as the single track was only 200m from the start-line. I sprinted to 2nd position and was content with that as the rider in front of me was going quite well. It was a free-flowing single track for a minute before hitting the first of the steep climbs. The rider in front of me spun out his rear wheel and lost traction. It was at this point I overtook the lead rider and assumed the lead. In the second lap, I lost momentary concentration in an easy flattish section of the single-track and slid out. I landed heavily on my bottom and somehow gave my big toe a beating. Despite the fall, I got straight back up and completed the rest of the race, winning quite comfortably in the end. The margin of the win was just over 10 minutes by the end of the three laps.
Elite Open Race
Due to the impressive prize list with 10,000rmb going to the winner and paid out 20 deep, it was going to be a super competitive race with more than 70 riders taking to the start line. Triace fielded their best three riders, the two Feng brothers and Wang Lei. Champion System’s sharp climber, Yu Xiaoyong was also present along with Holy Brother’s Pu Xuejin from Yunnan. Many riders came from the nearby provinces of Guangdong, Sichuan and Yunnan.
After already doing three fast laps one-hour prior the start of the elite race, I was faced with completing eight circuits with some of the best mountain bike riders in China. I was also in pain, my left foot felt swollen and the big toe had changed to a dark black color. I was also finding it difficult to walk. I should be making no excuses here though.
When the gun went off, I was still fiddling with my Garmin to start the timer and thus lost position quite instantaneously; boy these guys were fast out of the blocks. Or perhaps it was the 29” bike; the larger wheels cannot quite match the acceleration of the 26” wheel bikes. I recovered somewhat to hit the start of the single track in the top 10. On the first climb, the rider in front of me lost some traction and thus let the front eight riders gap off the front. My first lap was completed in good time, just over 10minutes and still within contact of the leaders. But on the second lap, I took another crash, this time narrowly missing a tree and eating the dirt. I jumped back up and got going again, but lost half dozen positions from which I never recovered.
The rough downhill sections were ridden in a bit of pain, since my right foot’s big toe was pushing against the hard Shimano carbon shoes. After the super fast first lap of sub 10.30, most of my laps were 11-11.30 and the top three riders, Feng Kuanjie, Pu Xuejin and Feng Kuangao, lapped me towards the end. The winner was super-fast with a time of 1hr 15mins, almost three minutes faster than second placed Pu Xuejin from Holy Brother. I came in a good 15minutes behind Feng Kuanjie to finish 18th from 74 riders.
It is an encouraging sign that Chinese race organizers are slowly making the transition from holding mountain bike races on the road to ‘full-on’ real mountain bike races. The Nanning racetrack was amazing; offering all riders a challenge and most importantly it was 99% single-track. It is the direction that the future of mountain bike racing in China will take. We will be witnessing an increasing number of races being held on off-road venues in 2012 and WTB – Wilderness Trail Bikes will be at the forefront of this movement.
All photos were supplied by QQride.com, one of the most popular cycling photographers and film makers in China. A big thank you to my sponsors for their tremendous support. Also thanks to Orbea for providing me with the Alma 29 bike and the Odin Helmet.