Colorful Yunnan Gran Fondo Stage 1

This month SaddleDrunker Daniel Carruthers still travelling around continents with his bicycle and now he is in China taking part in Yunnan.

The inaugural Colorful Yunnan Gran Fondo stage race kicked off today in Kunming City with 800 participants racing 114km around the Dian Lake; Specialized team rider Zhu Fanxin won with a long sprint to head off Mongolian Myagmarsuren Basaankhuu, followed by Quick’s 18 year old Xu Zuoling  and Mongolia’s Bat Erdene Narankhuu.  The main group consisting of 34 riders was came in 46 seconds down on the quartet and was led in by Chinese rider Zou Long. 

Top 10 place-getters 

1. Zhu Fanxin

2. Myagmarsuren Basaankhuu
3. Xu Zuoling 
4. Bat Erdene Narankhuu
5. Zou long
6. Ling Chending
7. Pu Jinxue
8. Daniel Carruthers
9. Yang Jiajie
10. Sainbayar Jambaljamts

How it unfolded - Carruthers perspective

With 800 riders on the startline it was always going to be important to be near the front and stay up there to avoid the inevitable crashes! I had ridden over from the hotel 7km from the start line not knowing the direction; just relying on people’s hand gestures and some good luck to get to the start/finish area on time. However, with just minutes to the start, my front tire gets a puncture. I ran around like a headless chicken trying to find someone who would have a inner tube for me. With just five minutes remaining, I found someone who had a spare tube and I got it installed and pumped up. I had to then run in my cleated shoes back to the rest of the bike and then jump over the guard rail to ride backwards to the start. I was able to start on the second row and while standing there, I noticed that my tire was not sitting on the rim 100% properly, but with just one minute to the gun, I had no choice but to hope for the best that I would make it through the stage!

 Credits to GoKunming.com

Credits to GoKunming.com

The gun went and we were away:  fast! it was the typical fast start that you enjoy here in China with the wide-open smooth roads that had 100% road closure. There were plenty of attacks going off the front and after the first 5km I made an attack of my own but it was going no where. Soon, three riders opened up a gap on the peloton but Team Attilia was quickly organized in team formation on the front and set the pace. With the Specialized team and myself sitting behind the Mongolians, the gap never extended beyond 30 seconds  and it was reduced to 20 seconds during the approach to Dianchi Lake. A number of teams decided to swamp the front and wind up the pace to make the catch. Once the catch was made, I made a counter-attack right before going on the Dianchi Lake bridge. It did not get far at all with riders not keen to let me get away. Attack after attack kept coming and whenever there was a dangerous looking break, I would jump across to join them. However the peloton had other ideas and were always right on my heels. 

After 50kms of racing, there was a solo attack by a Specialized rider and the peloton was happy to let him go. It was a temporary lull in the pace, a calm before the storm that was to follow. When the road snaked back around to the other side of the lake, there was a strong prevailing cross-wind and it was at this moment three of the Mongolian Attila team launched their decisive attack that splintered the peloton into pieces. I saw this attack happening and responded instantly but still had riders in front of me dropping wheels in the cross winds. I made it to the front group after closing gaps in the windy section of the road, and it was looking good as the race had just exploded but at 75km mark there was a climb that the front group went full gas up and without adequate recovery, I was jettisoned out the back, legs turning to jelly as I struggled to crest the short but vicious climb. I was quickly into a group that swelled in numbers and through the concerted efforts of myself, Aussie Shannon Bufton, and John Catrall from England. The chase was hard, and some inconsistent riding by Chinese riders and some un-called for attacks, did not make it easy. The catch was eventually made, but the 4-rider winning breakaway group had already formed and were over a minute up the road. 

 Credits to GoKunming.com

Credits to GoKunming.com

With just 20km remaining, I was on the front helping to drive pace but not getting much help. This is the time when you need a team to organize on the front and rotate hard for 10km to pull back the breakaway; but none of the teams were organized enough and I was racing solo. Coming into the finale, I kept position near the front and Shannon Bufton helped with towing me into a better position a couple of times. With 4km remaining, we had hit the bottom of the steep bridge just as the breakaway quartet was cresting. I continued to move up into better position and with 1km remaining I was still a little too far back and was also exposed to the wind, however I did slot into third wheel going through the roundabout and just 300m remaining. I stayed behind the two riders as they seemed to be doing ok with the pace and we were not getting swamped. As soon as the first rider behind passed me, I opened my sprint just before the corner; I was passed by three riders and I held on to finish 4th in the bunch sprint for 8th overall for the stage.  Quite a respectable finish considering I just stepped off the plane, traveling 48 hours from New Zealand!

Tomorrow’s stage will be quite interesting as it is 181km and consists of undulating parcours throughout. It is particularly interesting as most amateur races in China are usually no more than 60km long and many riders may not be conditioned for the long-distance. I expect time gaps to be even greater by the end and the front groups will be smaller than today.  Stay tuned for the action report for stage 2!

Thank you Daniel and good luck for next stage.