Guest writer: Ed Cork’s account of Yellow Mountain

Race report- Huangshan Mountain bike festival 80Km race; March 14, 2013.

Ed Cork

Now in its eighth year, the Huangshan Mountain Bike Festival in Yixian, Anhui continues to grow in popularity. A combination of stunning scenery and a varied and often challenging course ensures that this event attracts China’s top riding talent and makes it ‘the’ event in the Chinese amateur XC racing calendar. The event features 20Km and 40Km races, and in 2012 a 60Km marathon was added that was bumped up to a full 80Km for the 2013 edition.

 

For those unfamiliar with the race, the course at Huangshan is one of the best on the Chinese circuit. Yes, it features the obligatory road sections; but to moan about this is to ignore a lengthy 20km lap, a start/finish in a UNESCO-scheduled world heritage site, and a varied course that includes flowing singletrack, rocky descents, blistering fast fire road, the tight back-alleyways of a medieval village, a river crossing, and a tunnel.

 

The course starts in the Ming dynasty village of Hongcun, and heads out for a short turn in the fields around the village before heading towards the terraced tea fields on the side of the valley. After a few kilometers with some short and steep climbs as you hop up and down terrace levels, you hit the bottom of a fairly lengthy road climb that eventually gives way to fire road. By the time you have finished that, you are at the top of the course and have transitioned from tea fields to bamboo forest to pine forest. You are in a small mountain-top village, and ready to shed nearly all your elevation gain in a very short time indeed down a steep footpath that is now mostly concrete steps. The track then makes use of a road tunnel to double-back under itself, before you shed the rest of your elevation on rock-strewn singletrack that steps down the terraced fields down to the valley bottom. After a quick run through a hamlet, all that remains is a short climb and very fast descent through a small forest before a long flat sprint through the paddy back to Hongcun.

 

Chiru-WTB fielded a team of five this year: Pierre Le Magnan (France), Ed Cork (UK), Daniel Carruthers (New Zealand), Jamri Johari (Brunei), and ‘Spark’ Awang (Malaysia). This diverse bunch saw some riders suffer from sunburn, whilst others shivered with cold! Our focus was on the 80Km event, in keeping with Chiru’s specialization in endurance riding. Indeed, on this course the Chiru Pulse 29er does not disappoint. The 29” wheels and stiff, low bottom bracket are a no-brainer on a course with long smooth climbs and singletrack. But the real advantage come in the compliance built into the frame. 80Km is, after all, four times down an extensive set of concrete stairs, and this can be really punishing in the long run. By the end of the last section of steps, it became hard just to maintain a solid grip on the bars!

 

Somewhat oddly, and probably because the major players had all raced each other the day before and were content to just watch each other, the customary sprint to the first corner didn’t happen. Instead, a leading group of around 15 riders cruised relatively gently through the opening sections of the course and up the long road climb. The relaxed atmosphere was deceptive, though, as a little light jostling saw those in the know place themselves at the front before the start of the first set of steps. Immediately the group was blown apart, as riders found themselves stuck behind others with very different descending abilities. For those caught behind, the race became a war of attrition. The leaders had put too much time into the stragglers for any of the latter to catch them easily, and we were also barely 10% of the way through the race, with three more energy-sapping climbs spread before us. Maintaining a steady pace  was a profitable tactic that saw riders slowly reel in more burned-out riders as the race progressed.

 

In the end Ed placed 5th place; a massive improvement on previous performances and one that he is happy to attribute as much to the capabilities of the Chiru Pulse 29er as his training and race strategy. Pierre came in 14th, very respectable for someone who has barely looked at his bike since winning the Action Asia Challenge adventure race2 in Hong Kong weeks before. Jamri and Spark really suffered in the cooler weather, and with the efforts of the previous day’s race in their legs. Jamri came in 36th, whilst Spark pulled out suffering cramps and cold. Unfortunately, Daniel did not start, after crashing out of the 40Km race in spectacular fashion the day before.

 

Position (80Km race) Position Time
 

5

 

Edward Cork 3:42:56
 

14

 

Pierre-Arnaud Le Magnan 3:59:05
 

36

 

Muhammad Nurjamri Bin Johari 4:45:29
Mohd Arif Bin Che Awang DNF
Daniel Carruthers DNF