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Colorful Gran Fondo China from Yunnan Province

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My racing team in China mentioned this race in Yunnan 云南省 in passing. I am very glad I looked into it and we made it out for some fantastic riding and racing in Yunnan, which is a neighboring province to Tibet (Xizang 西藏省). Cara and I packed up our new coupled tandem into my single bike bag and headed out to Yunnan on Monday night finally arriving to our first race stage around noon on Tuesday. The first race was not until Wednesday, so we assembled the bike, had a nice authentic Yunnan lunch, and took a nice ride around Chuxiong 楚雄 headed out to the windmills that we could see in the distance. It is so nice to ride in the mountains again after riding for so long in the flatlands of Zhuhai 珠海. There are a few mountains at home, but you ride pancake flat to arrive there. Our ride was very relaxing, with light traffic and beautiful views. Our worst traffic was a guy driving his cattle down the road to the next field! When we arrived back to Chuxiong we had worked our way around town checking it out and having a wonderful street food dinner. The amount of flavor the Chinese pack into their food is astounding. It far and away surpasses the flavor of “cultured” Western food.

The next day was race number one for us and it ended up being a 23 km mountain time trial. It was a mass start and since we hadn’t made it to the first 2 days of racing due to no time off of work, we got to start towards the back. With 2 of us to get the tandem up and at racing pace, we motored off the start line to catch and pass tons of people. Once we really hit ​​the climb, though, our pace slowed significantly and we started to get passed, but we hung in up the beautiful climb to reach to top in a reasonable time. It was kind of funny
watching the effort people put in to just pass us, since they felt getting beat up a climb by a tandem was embarrassing (it should be embarrassing). When it started leveling out at the top we got moving nice and fast and made it to the top at race pace. Upon crossing the finish line, we were greeted by free local bags and finishing medals. We would receive these medals for every finish. We were hoping to get to ride back to the start line since it was such a short day of riding, but they weren’t keen on us riding back down the mountain the way we came up and they wouldn’t tell us how to get down. This event was very organized, the issue was they just didn’t let everyone know what we were supposed to do. We were eventually told to leave our bike with a truck and get on the bus for the ride back to town. It worked out okay, but we were both very cold waiting on the bus to start rolling back towards town. It got underway eventually and we made it back along with our bike at a different time. We went to the inn we were staying at to pick up our things and shower, before heading back for lunch and travel to Dali  大理, where our next race was the following day. Food in Chuxiong was spectacular along with the town feel, since we were staying in the minority old town which wasn’t full of car traffic. The event provided the transportation for us, so we did not have much to worry about except making the correct buses at the correct times.

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We arrived to Dali with daylight to spare on Wednesday afternoon. We spent the time to find a hotel to stay in and then explore looking for a place to eat. Apparently we went the wrong way, as we couldn’t find hardly anything to eat and we were in a big city. We walked for what felt like miles, but was probably only ​one mile to finally find some street food that we could eat for dinner. We had a nice early bed time and rode over to the start of the race on Thursday which was a couple miles from where we were staying. The race started at the Olympic Training Center in Dali 大理, which was pretty cool. It was a huge venue and was a great place to start out.

We once again started out towards the back of those doing the Gran fondo segment and motored our way forward. Upon taking off through town we had to navigate a fair amount of road obstructions including some of the most dangerous speed bumps I have ever seen, but we made it through it all unscathed. That can’t be said for lots of others on the day. As we motored on forward flying past people, no one was able to catch on because we were going too fast. We eventually made it to the main pack of the day behind the leaders pack of top men. The group we were in was the “women’s race” group since it had all the top women minus one that was strong enough for the men. It also included all the regular weekend warrior men. This course was gorgeous going 115 km around the lake in Dali and affording views of the mountains and lake the entire way. Since it was around the lake, we were able to stay in and set the pace nice and super fast. It seemed like we made it to the front way too often as everyone enjoys drafting off of the tandem. Our new ride was working out like a dream and motoring us at quite a pace. At one point, I had to stop for a nature break as I couldn’t make it any farther. This put us over a minute behind the group, but after getting back on we chased for 15-20 min pulling a couple other stragglers back with us to the group. I was pretty determined to make it back and we chased at around 42-45 kph on the way to catch them. It was really cool and fun to get so much speed on the tandem. We had never ridden in a real group like this before and it was Cara’s first experience of race level speed besides descents that I took in Covington. Coming into the finish, we decided that it would be safer to either go in off the front or come in at the back of the group. We tried to take off with a couple km left to ride, but they weren’t letting us go, so we drifted to the back and finished at the back of the group to stay out of the stupidity that goes with amateurs sprinting. It was a great idea, as several slid out in the final corner. Also, the finish of this particular race made world cycling news for biggest cluster**** of a finish ever. No one has figured it out yet, but the sprint happened at the finish line from both directions at the same time and there was a head-on-head collision right on the finish line with both cyclists flying full speed ahead. The videos of it really show how crazy it was. Overall, we had a wonderful 115 km of racing, but decided we needed more riding, so we headed 20 km back out of town to Dali Old Town 大理古城. We had a nice lunch here with a new friend we made that lives in Thailand, but is from New York City. It is always nice to see Americans in China.

After a wonderful day of riding, we loaded our bike up that evening and then had a nice dinner with a bunch of American riders that were over just for this event. It is great being able to hang out with Americans again since it is so easy to understand them. Listening to Chinglish all the time requires a lot of concentration. Everyone was drooling over our new titanium tandem and wondering where we got it. This trip was a test of the new tandem for us and it passed with flying colors. We have been riding it with an older carbon fork I had and I have inspected it multiple times to ensure its safety and it has been holding up like a dream. We don’t want to switch to the touring fork that the bike was designed around.

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The next day brought us to Lijiang where we arrived and hiked forever to our inn, that wasn’t anywhere near our hotel. It ended up the hotel that hosted the event wasn’t the one we thought, so our hotel was much farther away. It all worked out in the end and we got our room, our bike, and then had lunch and dinner in 束河古城. We headed to bed early, so we could get up early for the 8:30am start to ceremony before the race started at 9.

It once again started off very fast, but today was to be much more hilly than the race in Dali. We took off from Lijiang Old Town 丽江古城 straight up the hill and our tandem is definitely not a quick climber. It is faster than most people, but at a race, it sure looks slow. We got over it and got moving and pulling ourselves ever closer to the front of the
race. We eventually made it up towards the front, but we had a train of 20-30 people behind us that were sucking wind, and I pulled off and made them finish pulling to close the gap to the leaders. Cara and I were not about to do all the work, plus my legs were not at 100% that day and didn’t want to respond well. I think part of the issue was the elevation which was 2500m in town and 3100m at the finish line, which is over 10,000 ft. We made it about 50 km with the main group rolling through the hills and up many of the long drags, but it felt as if we were dragging the whole time and the bike wouldn’t keep any speed without a lot of input. Later I would find out, that was because it was indeed slightly uphill almost the entire race. I finally pulled the plug about 50 km in and dropped back to a pace that we could safely finish the race at. We pulled off just before the first of 2 times over an intermediate mountain. It was a nice climb of 3 or 4 km and had amazing views of the mountains and valley. Descending the other side, we went past some super cool statues and buildings, but flying along at 60+ kph didn’t afford much time to look around. It was downhill until our next time up the mountain and we made up some good time, but we were getting more and more tired with the second climb being pretty slow. After that second descent we turned up the valley to head towards the gap where the finish line was looming at 3100 m. It was a 500 m ascent over 12 km, so it was not steep, but it might as well have been. I was very tired, so the we were going slow. It seemed like it would never end, but eventually we got to the final 3 km, where I was able to muster up the remaining energy and willpower to finish strong. We came across the top and were so glad to be there.

We had many drinks and snacks at the top and then zipped up and started the descent back to town. We could have loaded into the bus, but after such a climb, we thought we deserved the descent back to town. It was a nice descent, though it was clogged with traffic. On the way down we got some brake shudder that shook the whole bike. I had dealt with these issues since first building this bike, but had gotten rid of it. This time though, I think it was from overheating the 8″ rotor on the back of the tandem on a really long descent riding the brakes from traffic. After making it home, we took a much deserved shower and then headed to the old town to get lunch before going to the a sports center in town for the closing/awards ceremony. There are tons of prizes and money at this event. It is a top class stage race for those that want to race in China, and a wonderful beautiful Gran fondo ride for those that just want to see a beautiful China away from the big cities. It truly opened our eyes to the beauty of China and we will be back next year for more!

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