2015 Yunnan Granfondo Bicycle Race

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November 18th 2015
Published: November 18th 2015
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Starting LineStarting LineStarting Line

Me at the starting line in Yuxi. Ready for 175k!
Welcome one and all to the 2015 Colorful Yunnan Granfondo Cycling Festival!

As most of you are already aware, cycling has become my hobby of choice over the past couple of years. Hiking in Korea was so convenient and affordable, but higher and higher peaks came calling and the hobby of hiking became more remote, dangerous, and expensive (especially to do alone). Cycling was introduced to me by a friend in the states and it was continually on the back burner until recently. This year I finally splurged and picked up my first real racing bike fitted for my body size and type. Carbon frame, Shimano Ultegra groupset, the Swift R830 is the a very solid and much to my dismay, entry level road bike. If Jimi Hendrix could make even the worst guitars sing, I could certainly ride my bike to success. Hiking had me going higher and higher and farther and farther. Cycling has continued the trend of farther and farther, but now I must do it faster and faster. It is time to join a race. I joined the Yunnan Granfondo last year just to see what cycle racing was about. I did fine enough considering I
Racing YuxiRacing YuxiRacing Yuxi

I am in between packs wearing red. White bicycle.
had done no training and mostly just rode around for fun. Though I still ride for fun, I try to beat my friends on Strava (a cycling/running phone app) and try to beat my own times and distances. This year, I had actually trained and I felt ready.

Stage 1 - Kunming: Yiliang to Stone Forest (116km, 2,108m gain)

In all of my excitement for the race, and all the preparation I did making my own energy bars, sports drinks, and so on, I simply could NOT fall asleep the night before the race. It was an 8:30am start time and I think I fell asleep around 5am. Total disaster. I "woke up" and prepared my standard breakfast of a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Unlike the Asian riders, I was not a fan of spicy noodle soup in the morning before a competitive ride. I groggily carried my bike downstairs and rode to the starting line and all the pomp and circumstance. The performances provided by the city of Yiliang were a bit lacking, but no one is here for the pre-race fanfare. After doing a few warmup loops around the area, I wiggled my way between
Racing Fuxian LakeRacing Fuxian LakeRacing Fuxian Lake

I'm in the front! Red clothes, white bike
bikes for a good start position. Ready, set, GO! Off goes the gun and off go the riders! I rocketed ahead to the front peloton. We rounded a few sharp curves that I took confidently and found myself in the number one position. NOT where I wanted to be. I gave it my best to lead the pack, but was quickly overtaken by the much stronger riders. Soon after, the peloton split into two and I opted for the slower group. We were doing quite well, but I was feeling the lack of sleep and struggling to keep up. After 40km, long-distance riders were to go right and short-distance guys to the left. Inexplicably, most of the peloton went left, leaving just 4 of us behind to finish the long distance race. One guy dropped out after the first hill, so now three. The other two were too strong for me, and without the group to share the burden of wind resistance, I was left alllll alone. Sigh. I took the rest of the race at my pace and didn't see any other riders for nearly two hours. What happened? I was so tired, so I started singing, waving to the bystanders, blowing kisses. I think I was losing my mind. I looked around, still no one. I decided to reward my efforts with my energy bars and was stuffing them into my face when I was overtaken by my old peloton ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM. Damn it! I tried in vain to catch the tail end, and had to keep going alone... Up and down, up and down the hills. Finally the finish line was in sight and I raced to the end by myself to a miserable 70th place. I held out my hands and gave a large nod of the head to the onlookers. The announcer said, "Annnnd a bow from rider 223". Yep. An uneventful ending to a tired race. 3:36:04 moving time. YAWN.

Stage 2 - Yuxi: Nie'er Square to Chengjiang (175km, 2860m gain)

I fell asleep extremely early and got a really good night's sleep before what was promised to be the most challenging stage of the race. Climb up a looong hill right out of the gate and then back down to a large lake, lap the lake 1.5 times before finishing on it's shores in the town of Chengjiang. At

After speaking a little Chinese, this was the first of three interviews with CCTV during the race. I'm doing some high level explanation in this photo :P
70th place, I was "not on the list" (he actually said that) for the top 50 "elite" starting block. Curses! I felt great, rested, and was ready for this race. I again wiggled my way to the front of the chase group in hopes to catch the first or second peloton for this stage. Gun went off and so did I. Full power, enough to catch the lead peloton within 1km of the start. Once in a peloton, things get easier, but catching them is very very tough. I really had to work for that one and I was determined to keep with them as long as I could stand it. We were REALLY moving though. Rocketing up the hill and down, up higher, down again, up more, and DOOOOOWN a long descent to the lake. The peloton, I must say, is exciting to say the least. Surrounded by bikes just inches away, all traveling around 50km/hr, it is much noisier than you would think. You have to shout to be heard. It was cool to hear the teams giving commands to one another, also the elite riders chastising the inexperienced ones. I kept a low profile and just focused
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And what a performance!
on the ass or back tire that was in front of me. There is snot, spit, energy gel, and water (if your lucky) hitting you in the face and it you get blasted by the smell of burning brake pads whenever the group slows down. I didn't even know bike brakes could burn like that; they are so lightweight. Down to lake level we hit the first village and turned left to begin our first circuit of the lake. It was absolutely gorgeous. It is a totally protected water source as well as a UNESCO site for the fossils that have been discovered around it's shores, so no motorized boats on the lake allowed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuxian_Lake). The surrounding area is very picturesque. My Austrian friend said it rivals anything in Europe, and I would concur. It is quite pleasant.

I stuck with the top guys until the first real major climb around the lake. The top riders are just too strong and too fast. I did my best, but had to let them go. I was able to join the chase peloton and keep up with them for the remainder of the race. I had a scare about halfway through the race when our peloton split in half on another climb and I was caught between the two groups. I fought and fought and finally caught the faster group. That was hard work. I kept thinking, it's catch them now or never! Got 'em. The chase peloton is exactly my speed. Well, my speed when I'm going as fast as I can. But it is comfortable and I'm able to keep up. The ride, though long, was quite nice actually. Going through small fishing villages around this beautiful lake in perfect weather. Great place for a bike ride. With about 10km to go, the peloton broke apart and I fell toward the back and finished the race again, alone, and with a bow across the finish line. Beers were most welcome at the restaurants near the finish line as we waited for the other riders to show up. After 4:43:05 of riding time, I finished just 15 minutes behind the winner. Not bad I think. Moved from 70th place to 52nd. The race was on!

Stage 3 - Chuxiong: Zixi Mountain (24km 960m gain)

After a rest day (where some friends and I rode our bikes around of course), we had our mountain climb stage. I was determined to do well and get into the top 50 starting group. There had been performances and fanfare before and after every race, but Chuxiong put Yuxi and Yuliang to absolute shame. Determined to show off their unique Yi Minority Group, they greeted our buses with a police escort off the highway exit ramp and guide us through the city. We had a motorcade of 8 giant buses, 8 trucks (for bikes and gear), and maybe 20 BMW motorcycles for the media crew. We slowly weaved through the city to our hotel like something from Champions League. Sooooo coooool! Our bus stopped at our hotel and their were two lines of performers leading us into the building. They had these guys on giant horns blasting away (think Lord of the Rings or Alpenhorns or those giant Tibetan prayer horns). Really noisy and impressive stuff! There was a big party with a bonfire at the center of town the night before the race. Really awesome. The next morning before getting into the pack, I rode around and saw all the minority folks about in their traditional garb. I snapped pictures and even
Signing AutographsSigning AutographsSigning Autographs

Several of the volunteers insisted that I sign their shirts. Happy to do it!
got one with a jolly policeman (usually you just see grumpy ones). I, again, pushed to the front of the starting line to get in good position to catch the fast guys. The race was on! I had been competing with a pair of Belgian guys that were only a few minutes ahead of me in the rankings, so I really wanted to catch them on this stage. I started with the front peloton and stayed with them for half the race, then killed it on my own and finished in 53 minutes. Pretty good considering the climb. I was pleased. The mountain was also very beautiful and full of pine tress. The morning was a bit foggy, so the air was thick with pine scent. Sure beats the exhaust that I'm used to cycling around Kunming. 36th place in the stage boosted me to 48th place overall. Into the top 50! Huzzah! The celebration ended quickly for me as within about an hour of the race finishing I had terrible diarrhea that would plague me for the next 3 days. NOT ideal for cycling...

Stage 4 - Dali: A lap of Er Hai (116km 755m gain)

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The American couple on their titanium tandem bike. They did quite well!
was to be a very flat stage. I felt confident I could stick with the fastest peloton if I really pushed it. My diarrhea was a bit of an issue. I ate porridge and bread, drank a ton of selfmade energy drinks, took some medicine and hoped for the best. After about 5 trips to the toilet that morning, I felt like I could handle the race and headed for the starting line. Ahhhh... Top 50 starting block. No need for pushing and shoving. I was at the front! Very exciting stuff! A grand performance with several dragons and dancing teams (I chuckled at the old man yelling at the old ladies to hold the dragon higher HIGHER!) After an obnoxiously long introduction of basically every government official in the entire city, the race began. Keep in mind, the faster I go, the sooner I can get to the toilet again! The race was on! Rocketing out of the starting blocks, I was able to keep up with the fastest guys. We averaged 43km/hr for 2:39:00. For those that don't ride bikes so often, that is fast. The top peloton was crowded with people like me that were juuuuust strong
Team AttilaTeam AttilaTeam Attila

Coolest bikes in the race
enough to keep up and the elite racers. They tried several times to alter the speed to get rid of the more inexperienced riders, but I stuck to my guns. I even led the peloton for a few kilometers. I misjudged the speed at one point and moved from the back of the peloton to WAAAY out in front after just a few strong pumps. Not exactly where I wanted to be, but I tried to keep the pace of the group up. I think I grew tired and slowed sooner than I expected, because instead of falling off to the side and letting the peloton pass, the riders just started creeping around me and I was enveloped into the pack. More spit and snot in the face. I will admit, that most of the riders do their best to keep their excretions out of the peloton, but sometimes things just get through. I got hit twice with a snot rocket from a Mongolian girl (the first place female) in the Dali race. "I think she likes you" my friend said after the race. I don't think I could handle it. We mused over the idea of dating a competitive
Lijiang HospitalLijiang HospitalLijiang Hospital

Me taking and IV while being accompanied by Wolfgang, my man from Austria
Mongolian rider. They all looked the same. Short, stout, like their war horses, round faces, never smiled. The whole Mongolian team was like that. They were VERY competitive.

With the crowded fast moving peloton, the Dali race was by far the most dangerous. About halfway through, two riders slammed into a bunch of flower boxes in the middle of the rode. Their bikes flew into the riders behind and knocked off maybe 7 riders. It happened on my right as I passed left around the boxes. A few kilometers later, the Belgian and I watched one of the riders from "Team Quick" hit a bunch of sand and slide out down a hill. With about 10km to go, a rider on one of the Chinese teams grabbed a Mongolian "Team Attila" rider and pulled him back. He went down and took out the Chinese guy with him. This happened near the front of the peloton and took out about 5 more riders. Then, the finish line. Terrible organization put the finish of the race in total confusion. There was the finish line for short distance (NOT us) and long distance right next to each other on either side of
Pre-race CommuniquePre-race CommuniquePre-race Communique

Me and my racing partner from Belgium
a median on a divided avenue. Leaving the final turn to do the sprint to the finish put us on either side of the median (it was not clear which side was correct). I sprinted to the end with a Chinese competitor with whom I tied, we shook hands, slowed down and rounded the U-turn to the drink stand area. We then noticed a group of riders continued sprinting up toward the OTHER (correct) finish line, so we followed until SLAM they hit head on with the other racers finishing on the correct side. A head on collision at full speed at the damn finish line. Total nightmare. I slowly slipped by and watched the mayhem. People with bloody faces, broken arms, some people on the ground not moving at all, a couple guys slammed their helmets down. "Lets get out of here" I told the Belgian ahead of me. We got cakes and water and inquired about what had happened (explained above). Here is also video footage of the ending as well as a comically low budget visual explanation as to what happened (http://sports.letv.com/video/23981418.html) Not sure if that link will work in the states, but includes explosive sound effects,
Post Race CooldownPost Race CooldownPost Race Cooldown

Riding back down the mountain with Team Herrmann from Germany
so don't miss out. Altogether, over 20 riders went to the hospital that day, the race results were "neutralized", and scary and disappointing end to what was my best race so far.

Stage 5 - Lijiang: Climbing Yulong Snow Mountain (98km 1223m gain)

The 5th and final stage of the Granfondo was once again in Lijiang, another UNESCO site famous for it's ancient town on the old Tea-Horse Trail. We arrived on a rest day and my diarrhea was at full force. That morning I was unsure I'd be able to race the next day having pooped 20 times during the night. I arrived and met my friend in Lijiang and went to the hospital. I did a blood sample, then was handed a small plastic cup the size of a shot glass for what, a urine sample? Nope, stool sample. Are you serious?? I wandered up and down the hallways considering my options. Surely poo on my hand and get it done, or leave with diarrhea. I had come this far... Off to the bathroom and the squat toilets. No soap at the sink. ARE YOU SERIOUS??? My friend ran out and bought soap at a convenience
Strike a PoseStrike a PoseStrike a Pose

Yoga with my bike and Yulong Mountain in the background
store just outside the hospital and ran back. I trudged into the bathroom. A perfect bullseye. I was proud. Despite my impeccable aim, I washed my hands twice before handing over the specimen. "Enjoy!" I told the nurse. Results came back negative, but the doctor prescribed some medicines and an IV, so I sat in the IV room with all the other victims for a couple hours getting my drip on. After a few doses of the medicine, I really did feel better. I had simple noodles for dinner and lots of 'em. I was set to race.

The neutralized Dali race put all of us in the top peloton as a tie (which gave me maybe a one minute advantage on the day), but regardless, I moved up in rankings to 43 and kept my place in the elite starting block. Nice to put the bike down, have space for stretching and warmups and not have to push and shove with the riffraff in the back. I kept these thoughts to myself. 43 isn't exactly blowing up the rankings, but still, I was pleased. With my diarrhea in check, the race was on! It was really cold at the start and my muscles were not ready. I immediately lost the top peloton and did my best to catch them. I got my dear bike up to 60km/hr and it wasn't enough... I was happy enough to join the chase peloton for the remainder of the race. I led the peloton for a significant part of the first 60km, I fell back, worked back to the front, led, fell back again to rest. I was doing well. We hit the first hill and I passed nearly everyone in the group. 6 of us (out of maybe 40 riders) finished the first hill strong. We coasted down the back end and slowed our pace to let others catch up to form the peloton again. We got about 10 or 12 strong guys working together and hit the second hill. This time we were able to climb it together. We were really doing great. All riders taking turns leading the pack, falling off to the back to rest, and working up to the front again. That's how it is supposed to be! I think we were all very happy with how that worked out. In case you haven't figured it out already, the peloton works exactly like a flock of geese in a flying V; the front guy taking all the wind and working hardest. It's a cool system. We hit the final great hill climb and really slowed our pace. The finish line was at over 3000m (10,000') so we had to take it easy a bit. I felt good though and was happy to lead the slow pace. We even overtook some stragglers from the lead peloton. Good show! I cycled well out ahead of the group with about 2km to go, pedaling strong. with 1km to go, they came back. I thought I was safe, but no, the peloton overtook me and I ended up finishing near the back again. Curses! Sprinted the last 500m to keep it respectable, but I was exhausted. 43rd place on the day, which somehow pushed me to 37th place overall. 37! Not bad! I was very pleased. Me, my roommate, the Austrian, and the Germans (Team Hermann) rode back down together to "cool down" (It was below freezing up there and windy) and take pictures. The races were finally over. By my calculations we cycled about 530km, gaining 8,000m in elevation, and I repeat an estimated 17,000 calories burned in 5 races over 7 days. Woof.

I took the next 3 days off with a friend to Shaxi to drink tea and wander the countryside. I will write about that in my next blog entry, but for now, I bid you farewell and happy cycling!


I had a great roommate from Hong Kong for the whole week. He was a dentist that spoke nearly fluent English and could not have been nicer. We were very agreeable on bedtimes and waking times and had a good system for our morning and evening routines. His name is also Michael, so it was a good Michael ratio for our hotel room. He was riding a (I would pretty accurately guess) a $12,000 Pinarello with a Campagnolo wheelset and Dura Ace components. Look pedals with a built in power meter, too. Cyclists know what I'm talking about. Basically, top of the line. He was a smaller guy, too, so his bike weighed in at less than 7kg. Mine weighs 8.25kg and is by no means considered a heavy race bike. You can spend endless amounts of money on bikes. It's insane.

The Mongolians took first place for both men's and women's long distance. They would have taken first place men's 40+ if their guy hadn't crashed into the aforementioned flower boxes. An American guy from Oregon took the prize. I was happy for him (he beat me in two races).

There were riders from Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Lithuania, Russia, Mongolia, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, USA, UK, Kazakhstan, India, and China of course. There seemed to be some pretty professional "clubs" participating in this amateur race. Team Attila was my favorite. Cool bikes! If Thailand is the land of smiles, then Mongolia is the land of non-expression. Those guys never smiled, laughed, or frowned. Just there. They wanted the money. Meh, who am I to get in the way of a Mongolian horde and their plunder?

Great stuff! Check out the pictures!


Tot: 0.072s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 6; qc: 45; dbt: 0.0106s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb