From the heat of China, SaddleDrunker Daniel Carruthers keep reporting for us.
Stage 3: Mountain iTT 23km
As the race moved West of Yunnan, the scenery and the weather has become pristine; we have well and truly left the urban industrial areas that were sprawled around the Kunming city area and now we are surrounded by Majestic mountains and deep blue skies.
As we witnessed during stage 2, the local Yunnan teenage sports team riders continued to raise eye-brows; the fastest time of the day went to 16 year old Lv Xiangjing who posted an unbelievable time of 44 minutes, 1min 30 clear of second placed Mongolian Myagmarsuren Baasankhuu. The Green Jersey, Wei Kui from Specialized was only ninth with 48.11 but retained his GC lead. English rider, John Cattrall moved from 4th to 2nd with his solid 50.37 time. The biggest mover of the day goes to Australian Shannon Bufton (Serk Cycling), who was in 12th position at the start of the day and posted a highly respectable time of 49.14 to vault into sixth overall.
As for myself, bad luck seems to continue here at the Colorful Yunnan Gran Fondo. While out checking out the mountain climb the day before the ITT, I unfortunately wiped out on a steep off-camber corner with some slick on it. I was descending like I normally do, not too quick and within control; so it seemed! Up ahead was a slow moving truck, so my attention was more on the truck rather than the corner that was looming. I applied a little too much front brake and my front wheel slipped out from underneath me and bam I was on the ground sliding on my back. I lay there stunned for a few moments trying to recollect my thoughts. Shannon Bufton was behind me at the time and was scrambling to get my bike and fallen Smith eyewear off the road. I slowly twisted myself to the side and got up. I was pleased that I had not broken any bones but I had some nasty road rash on my right thigh and my leg had also received a nice heavy thump. Not ideal preparation for the mountain time-trial!
I was pretty stiff when I woke up in the morning, but fortunately my start time was not till 1.27pm so had ample time to rest. It was a brilliantly clear sunny crisp day in Chuxiong and I eventually got out on the bike just after midday and had a banana for lunch. My warm-up was a good 45 minutes and I felt a little more relaxed. I had several tablets of ibuprofen to dull the pain of my crash and I got to the start in time. Despite the crash the previous day, I was able to find a rhythm and I did not run out of gas during the climb; in fact I should have dug deeper. I felt fresh when I crossed the finish line with a time of 51:56, which is not a bad time for the 23km iTT for a rider like me who’s speciality is sprinting and breakaway style of riding. I was pleased that this was enough to retain my 7th on GC, just three seconds behind Bufton who had been the biggest mover of the day. I was looking forward to the Kunming stage: it was a stage that was highly suited to my type of riding and I was looking for a top finish.
Stage 4: Dali 108km
The parcours of this stage was not particularly challenging as it was predominately flat with a few undulating spots and a couple of short climbs, but it was one that blew the peloton apart as the race entered the small winding roads that fringed the edge of the Dali Lake. A breakaway of four riders managed to get clear after 52km and put 4min 53 on the peloton by the end. It really shook up the GC as John Cattrall was in the move and in the process he became the new leader of the race with a 46 second lead over Specialized Wei Kui. This stage was a crazy one as many riders punctured or crashed out.
It was quite a chilly start to the Dali stage, most riders were shivering on the start line but it was a beautiful crisp sunny day. The cold did not dampen the racers enthusiasm for racing hard from the gun. It was attack after attack, especially from the Mongolian Attila team quartet. The speeds were over 46km/h average and never really slowed down. I was consistently in the mix and was in a few moves but nothing stuck.
My biggest bad luck was about to come. Coming through the 51km mark, there was a short climb and I had positioned myself in about 10th position going up and I drove over the top, looked behind and it was quite strung out. So on the descent I maneuvered up to the front and only one rider remained in front of me, he was riding down the middle of the road so it looked like I would have plenty of room to get by him on the inside. I was in the opening phase of my attack - I had planned on attacking hard at the bottom of the descent once in the clear; but disaster struck. The rider cut into my line abruptly and my yelling did not stop his curvature so I was forced to veer off the road into the rough. Boom, my front wheel pinch flatted and I could do nothing about it. I rolled to a stop and was totally deflated. My GC hopes were over. I did not have a pump or spare tube as I normally do races that have neutral support. This race is billed as a Gran Fondo, however we are racing every day for GC and prize money. While the Gran Fondo flavor is there, there are aspects of this event that make it more like a proper stage race, thus requiring the need for neutral support.
I waited for over an hour before I got a ride in a bus full of other cyclists who had just finished the 51km short course event. The bus ride gave me the opportunity to appreciate the stunning scenery around the Dali region. The mountains tower up to over 4000 meters and provide a majestic back-drop to the Dali Gran Fondo Stage; it also gave me the opportunity to witness the “belly” of the Gran Fondo, the riders who are participating for the fun and touring experience. Many riders sported cameras slung over their shoulders and would often stop to take beautiful photos. They were not even exerting themselves and were enjoying the total road closure experience. For the masses, this is what Gran Fondos are about, taking part in a challenging event, enjoying the companionship and new friendships forged, and of course capturing moments/scenery along the way.
Thank You Daniel.