Today was always going to be a shake up of GC with the long climb up to the scenic Sailimu Lake perched amidst majestic mountains at an elevation of over 2,000metres. The two Feng brothers from the Triace team rode away together early in the climb to go 1-2 in the stage and in the process moving up to 4th and 7th overall. Their vigilant efforts was not enough to take over the yellow jersey from the Kung Cycling Team rider who rode well on the climb to limit his losses.
This Tour of Sailimu Lake is particularly well run and everything runs to clock-work. I’ve realized that this competition is probably the best run event in China. Despite some slightly sub-standard accommodations on a couple of the days and traditional Chinese cuisine (which is good if you want to experience more of Chinese culture), the event has great cultural performances, starts on time, proper road control and usage of the entire width of the road during the race makes the race a very safe one. The roads are very well maintained and the level of racing coupled with the prize purse makes this race a very attractive one for foreign amateur teams to come and experience Chinese racing. Having raced all over Asia, it is my humble opinion that this event also ranks better than Tour de Bintan, Tour of Matabangkay or the Friendship Tour of Thailand. You will have to register for 2013, race it yourself and decide for yourself which amateur multi-day tour is the best in Asia.
Bikedan’s Account of the Racing
My legs felt quite a bit better than stage three, but my body overall was feeling more tired after the first three days of aggressive racing. It was also going to be a make or break stage for me with the massive climb looming in my mind. The start in Wenquan was on a short climb before a longish 18km descent before the real climbing would begin. With the climb firmly in mind, I focused on riding relaxed for that first 18kms and then respond to moves once the climbing started. Sure enough, plenty of attacks started and on the first climb that was several kilometres, the field was already blown into fragments with the top 30 riders cresting the “warm-up” climb. At this point I was still feeling quite comfortable and just following wheels over the flat and into the severe cross-winds.
The two Triace Feng brothers took the opportunity to attack into the raging wind and immediately got a good gap that was not responded to at all. I found this a bit strange as Feng Kuangao and his brother Jie are renowned climbers. Feng Kuangao is an ex-pro and weighs a scant 58kgs; he was the rider with the most threat to the yellow, sitting only a few minutes behind. Some sort of echelon was formed in an effort to chase the two brothers, but the riders could not execute it properly and at least 20 riders were left in the gutter to struggle against the wind. Only 2 or 3 riders max would have shelter. So it was kind’ve like a dog-fight out there and it almost exploded into a full-on fight between myself and the Kung Cycling Team.
I was trying to form a second echelon behind the first one, but none of the Chinese riders would follow my example; instead they were content to grovel into the cross-winds just to hold onto the wheel in front of them. It was a painful procession and inevitably it was going to split up and this would do no good to peg back the gap to the Feng brothers who were gaining time rapidly. I think the Kung Cycling Team must have recognized the threat as all of a sudden they amassed all of their guys on the front of the bunch to ride what they thought was an “echelon”. It was a echelon to some degree, but they did not execute well enough to include all of their riders, plus any other riders that wanted to help with the chase. They also made life difficult for their own when only allowing space for 2-3 riders to ride sheltered from the wind. Not efficient riding from my perspective. I got quite frustrated, especially after almost getting knocked off down the loose gravel bank with the stop-start nature of the riding that was going on. So I retaliated by pushing the front two Kung riders over to the side to create space to actually ride a proper echelon. It was also accompanied by a angry cuss word (not directed at anyone). When you are riding at your limit and the echelon is not being ridden correctly, sometimes you can get quite frustrated. This caused the whole Kung Team in turn get mad at me…with some quite colorful body language going on. I ignored it and did not want to provoke any further and wanted to lead by example by rolling through smoothly in the echelon… I guess they had other ideas.
The ferocious winds were blowing down the valley and the plains, thus making it quite challenging to stay upright on the bikes. Soon after the intermediate sprint, the 30 rider peloton fragmented even more and I found myself in the lead group of 10 riders going up the climb proper. I still was feeling ok and hanging on near the back of the group. I felt the pace slowly being wound up on the 6-7% gradient and before I knew it I was having difficulty maintaining the pace. So I found myself slowly being dropped. I rode the rest of the climb at tempo pace and only one person caught me before the top, however I was caught on the descent by another group of four riders. I knew that I needed to keep riding hard for my GC placing. I was not going to muck around if the 4 riders did not want to co-operate. I was not going to stop pedaling. On a couple of occasions they were refusing to pull through, so I immediately went to the edge of the road where they could not draft me to make life difficult. I would only ride back to the center of the road if they pulled through. In the last few kilometers alongside the beautiful blue Sailimu Lake, I had to ride into the wind. With 300m to go, they all sprinted by me to contest 14th place. I had made a choice to keep riding hard and not worry about the sprint for nothing.
Despite falling back on the climb, I was still able to hold on to 5th place on GC and it looks like that could be my overall placing for the Tour, provided I complete the final 60km flat city circuit stage in Bole City without any mishaps. For the final day of action, stay tuned to Bikedan in Asia!
We are back in the same hotel we stayed in two days ago here in Bole City – and its the best hotel by far! This evening the food served actually had some dishes that resembled pasta and that was a welcome break from the steady diet of rice and spicy Chinese foods!