Yellow Mountain Mountain Bike Race
If you are looking for a picturesque mountain bike race combining ancient villages and traditional Chinese countryside, then the Yellow Mountain event is the race that has it all. The start/finish area is right by the famous Hongcun, where the opening scene of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is shot. Many of the old narrow cobblestoned streets of Hongcun are utilized to enhance the cultural feel of the popular region. The region is also famous for China’s most famous mountain, Yellow Mountain and many Chinese will tell you that if you have been to all of the top five mountains in China and then go to Yellow Mountain, you will never want to go to the other five mountains ever again.
Check out the QQRIDE video of the event. Its all in Chinese with some good footage, not much off-road action, but more focus on pretty girls and the cultural performances! Biketo.com posted a good series of photographs.
This year was the 7th year that this premier popular mountain bike race has been staged and was the second time that Far Seekers, a Beijing events company, have run it. They took over from the original organizers, Nordic Ways, to continue putting on the iconic mountain bike race. This year had the new addition of the ‘marathon’ category of three laps making for 66kms of fantastic mountain biking. Just under 100 riders took on the challenge while the biggest field was still in the 44km (two lap) category.
Adventure getting to Yellow Mountain
As I live in Hangzhou, the future site for the newly added World Tour race and one of China’s top tourist cities, it’s not too difficult to reach Yellow Mountain by long-distance bus, which t akes just under three hours to reach Tunxi, but still 60kms from my true destination. I arrived at 8pm, so it was already dark and I did not want to pay the taxi drivers 180rmb to take me so I started riding to Hongcun, much to the disbelief of the hawking drivers. Initially, I was riding on a nice well light bicycle lane for the first 20kms and was cruising along just fine. Then the well-lit road abruptly ended and I found myself riding along the country road with just the full moon for light. I did not have my lights with me and was getting a little anxious for my safety so started to try to hitch. The first person to stop was a private vehicle and he said he would take me to my destination no problem, but when I asked if he wanted money he wanted at least 200rmb. I was shocked and told him that I had ridden halfway in the hope of finding a cheaper ride. I can converse quite comfortably in Chinese and told him that I would continue riding, but thanks for offering to help. He clearly trying to capitalize on the situation I appeared to be in, as did the several other Chinese I asked further down the road. Another person was willing to take me 30kms, but told me he wanted 150rmb. No thanks! I did meet a group of guys that were unloading their vehicle earlier and they had offered to take me for a free ride to my destination, so as I was riding along the moonlit road, they appeared and told me to jump in. Perfect, I threw my mountain bike in the back and sat on the floor of the van. It was a free ride all the way to the village of Hongcun and I was kept talking by an endless stream of questions from the young 22 year old that was sitting in the back with me.
I arrived at Hongcun a bit tired, it was now just after 10pm and I had still not had a proper meal. I did have a USANA Nutrimeal Shake on the bus ride to keep me going. The accommodation I was staying in was called Hetang Yuese, a pretty guest house within the ancient village of Hongcun facing the South Lake. I had one issue though, and that was getting into the village; if you are not a permanent resident you have to buy a ticket to gain entry and all registered racers can gain entry for free with their race entry. The ticket for the village is not cheap. Since I had come late in the night, the registration was closed for the night and I had to do some fast-talking with the village guards in Chinese to convince them to let me into the village. After a couple of minutes, they relented and let me go.
Being a popular tourist destination, Hongcun was still busy with Chinese tourists walking the cobblestoned streets and taking evening photographs. There were even some sketch artist still out at this hour. Perhaps the full moon that was out was too alluring that people were out in droves. It did not take me long to find Hetang Yuese – fortunately I can also read Chinese characters and saw the sign as I rode past on the narrow path hugging the lake and the buildings. The guesthouse was really cool, a traditional “siheyuan” that contains a courtyard within the middle flanked on four sides by the buildings.
I rolled up at the start/finish line in quite a relaxed mode and did not worry about getting a front row position like I did last year as I could see from the uphill tarseal start will give me some time to move up before hitting the turn on to the gravel section. It was a fast start, but I was able to make it into the top 15 at the turn and then move up into the top eight on the loose gravel section before hitting the first of the single track. Eight of us gapped the field pretty quickly and going through one U-turn, the rider in front of me crashed to the ground by trying to sprint hard after losing momentum; I had to swerve to avoid him. It was now seven riders in a tight group. There was a nice wide river crossing that could be ridden at speed before another U-turn to head back into the village of Hongcun. After exiting the village, we raced as one tight group with the three Triace riders leading the way, the Malaysian Chiru rider, a couple of others and myself. Raced over some undulating single-track through tea-fields, some very steep sections that required some fast momentum to keep rolling and in contact with the leaders. However, for me those short steep climbs were my un-doing; I felt myself about to blow up so I eased off and let the Malaysian rider past me. I knew that I needed to conserve a little for the road climb that was looming.
I was still in contact with the Malaysian rider going up the bike-carry section and when exiting the tea-fields on to the sealed road he was about 15 seconds in front of me and I could still see the four other leaders up the road. However, I had no power and slipped further back. I was soon caught by two fast climbers and hung with them briefly but again I was going to deep into the red-zone this early in the three-lap race. The next rider to catch me was a rider that was supposed to be attending the Asian games and was wearing the ‘World MTB Champions’ rainbow jersey, he passed me and left me behind pretty quickly. Soon after the rainbow jersey rider passed me, a rider with a GO PRO on his helmet caught me and shook my hand and then powered away! I was left languishing on the climb. I had slipped from a good 5th position to be 12th at the top of the climb.
After riding through the bamboo section, a short climb followed by a nice bamboo shrouded descent, there was a small village to ride through before taking a hard left down some staircases. There was a rider in front of me that I had caught and I asked him to move over so I could lead on the descent, but he would have none of that and rightly so, as he proceeded to disappear again. There was a reason behind this though, instead of a short section of stairs followed by a nice loose twisting downhill, there was newly built starts all the way down the mountain. This was the most painful section for me, what I called the “Bone Rattler”. It was not fun at all riding this section and hardly about mountain biking. I hope that for 2013, the organizers will try to carve a track through the bamboo forest next to the stairs.
Once completing the Bone Rattler, it was a fast ride to emerge out onto a short sealed section through a tunnel to begin what is my favorite section of the entire racecourse. Riding through the tunnel, I had three riders in my cross hairs and was gaining on them so I felt quite confident in catching them through the next off-road section. After turning off the road, back into the tea-fields and bamboo plantations, it was pure fun time riding the twisting technical rocky trails. To ride this section at speed, you need to be reasonably fluid and maintain momentum through the tight sections. The 29er bike I was on was handling them just fine and rolling over the sharp jagged rocks with ease. I soon caught up with the GO PRO rider, as he was riding down a steep technical rocky section, he lost control and summersaulted over the bars. I had wondered if he had done that on purpose for the benefit of the GO PRO camera as the crash looked quite ridiculous. I managed to ease by him without dismounting and continue in pursuit of the two other riders further up the dirt tracks.
I caught one of the riders going through the bamboo forest climb and followed him on the descent and when it flattened out, I motored past him in pursuit of the Rainbow jersey I could see about 30 seconds up. Raced by fields of bright yellow flowers in full bloom and back into the village of Hongcun onto the cobblestones. I finally caught the Rainbow rider crossing over the main bridge out of the village and we rode together to the start/finish line, rotating turns on the front. However he seemed determined to drop me by surging away through the staging area and re-establishing himself a good gap on me. I did not try to surge to catch him but just kept riding at threshold. Sure enough I slowly brought him back through the tea-fields single track and up the bike carry section. We rode together up the road climb. He gapped me again on the gravel steep section before the bamboo forest climb, but I kept contact and I was able to pass the rider on the descent through the bamboo trees to the start of the Bone Rattler (stairs). It was from this point on, I never saw him again and I continued on riding and was feeling good at this point.
In a longer race like this, it’s important to keep on top of your race nutrition by consuming enough fluids, food and energy gels. Doing two laps of this challenging undulating course with one long hill-climb each lap is about what you can do with just two bottles of water and a couple of gels; but by adding the third lap, it makes nutrition doubly crucial. I think it was in this area I was lacking slightly during the race. I did not consume any solid foods during the race, only GU gels (four packets). Prior the race, I had one USANA Nutrimeal shake and three bananas. I did have a fourth banana that I was intending to take with me for the rest, but some monkey in the old village stole a banana from me! I also had bottles filled with REV 3 Surge (a brilliant natural energy drink) and this worked well for the first two laps in combination with three gels. By the time the third lap came around, I was utilizing the water stations and guzzling down what water I could find. I also timed my final gel to be consumed right before the final water station just before the bamboo forest climb, as I knew I could also consume fluid right on top.
I felt the first twinges of my cramp when doing the short steep power climbs through the tea-fields and really had to concentrate on a smoother pedal stroke and lower gear. I made it through but the road climb took me an eternity to complete. I could feel the cramp in my legs ready to strike me dead at any moment. It was a combination of seated and out-of-saddle climbing to keep the cramps at bay. So far so good as I crested the top, as I knew that if no one passed me before I reached the bamboo forest, I would be good to hold the position I was in. The Bone Rattler was just that, it really did shake every bone in my body and I was crying out bloody murder that the course would be run on stairs!
I went through my favorite section of the again for the last time, enjoying every bit of it leading up to the final climb of the day. This is where I almost seized up with cramp, but just barely made it over the top with out this happening. I thought that by standing and not pedaling too much on the downhill would help the legs recover, and they did recover – somewhat. I blasted the flat section by the meandering stream, fields of bright yellow flowers, and back into Hongcun. At this point I was really gunning for the fast finish, but instead my right thigh muscles just locked up on me and I was forced to unclip the right foot and pedal for the last two kilometers with one leg! It was a sorry sight for sure but at least I still maintained my position to finish sixth overall with a time of just over three hours; some 17 minutes behind the Triace professional rider and nine minutes behind the Malaysian Chiru rider.
Photos were courtesy of QQRIDE and Biketo.com