I’ve finally made it to China! I had a few days in Beijing initially, staying with a friend – actually arrived on St Patrick’s day so spent my first evening drinking lots of guinness in an irish bar, a great cultural introduction! I’m now settled down in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, where it’s my 3rd day of work. Seems interesting so far and it’s a really pretty city by a big lake. I’m working with all chinese people but they speak good english, when they want that is – the rest of the time I have no idea what they’re chatting about. Got my first mandarin lesson tomorrow, hoping it’s easy?!
Exciting news, I bought a bike here yesterday! Ok so it’s a bit of a downgrade, but not bad for about 170 quid. Even has cable disc brakes and some squidgy rst forks. As you’ll see, I ran out of budget at the accessories stage so have ended up with children’s penguin gloves and pink butterfly helmet, nice! I’ve got my first ride on saturday with an expat group here and some trail clearing friday eve. I’m missing the night rides, no one seems to do them here! Maybe I could get some started once I’ve got the hang of the trails. Although with my navigational skills I’ll be leaving here by then.
Huangshan MTB race, Anhui province, People’s Republic of China
After arriving Friday evening, I struggled out of bed on Saturday for a 6am hotel breakfast (and I thought 10am at Sussex Uni car park was early..!) I then opted for the 10km ride to the race start in a local village, rather than the provided transport. Inevitably it turned out to be uphill all the way. Still, it was worth it for the novelty of riding behind a police car escort, specially provided for us foreigners. At the race arena we waited in the sunshine for the opening ceremony. All sports events in China are organised by the government and they’d brought in lots of patriotic flag waving youths. Every time an official person was introduced there was a drum fanfare and everyone obediently flag waved. Chinese soldiers stood to attention around the arena, I guess to dispel any unwanted biking riff raff. Needless to say it was a very peaceful event. Well, at least until a local Lady Gaga tribute band came on to finish the ceremony. It all made for rather a surreal start to a race.
The men and women were to start together so at the gate I hung towards the back, thinking the guys would all be really fast. The gun went and we headed off through the village where locals had come out to watch, and on into the rice paddies. I soon realised that actually mountain biking isn’t a strong point for most Chinese people. At the first uphill singletrack section there was a big back-log as they’d all dismounted to push up. Now I’m not the best of climbers, but even by my standards it was a non-technical molehill! The next back-log was where someone had fallen off a little bridge into a paddy. Luckily they seemed to be ok. Shortly afterwards a girl was sobbing hysterically by the side of the track as she’d had a mechanical. So far the race was also proving quite surreal! Getting slightly frustrated by the delays, I decided to put the camera away and try to get past the slower riders.
There were around 500 racers in total, about 60 in my category (the ladies 20km). The course turned out to be really fun – a good combination of dirt road and singletrack with a bit of road work to make the main uphill stretch much easier. After some stunning views down the valley at the end of the climbing, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenging downhill sections, with interesting rocky bits, sharp switchbacks, through a mountain village with 2 flights of stone steps and then down into swooping forest trails. My new found competitive spirit led to some calamity on a narrow section as a girl I was overtaking wobbled, falling onto me so that we both fell sideways. Thank goodness there was some netting there, as there was a massive drop beneath us! Another interesting bit was a 2nd short section of road, this time through a long poorly lit tunnel. I had my sunglasses on so couldn’t see anything except the light at the end, so I just aimed for that and prayed for no pot-holes!
As we headed for the valley again I realised that the finish was close and went for a final push, shouting ‘excuse-me’ in my best Chinese as I tried to get past more riders. With the final exertions I was pretty tired and relieved to ride through the finishing gate. I was greeted by a camera crew (they’re fascinated by foreigners) and had to do an interview while still panting, bright red and sweaty. Embarrassingly it was shown on the national sports channel the next day. My time was about 1hr 15 and it turned out I was 6th in the category, 20 seconds behind 5th place and 10 minutes behind the first. At the prize-giving they weirdly announced the top 6 so I had to go on the podium to recieve a medal and a big cheque. Well in literal terms, not monetary unfortunately – it was about 20 quid and when I cashed it in they deducted 20% tax! Lunch was provided afterwards: a soggy KFC burger. We headed back to town for noodles and cheap beer instead. More promising was the race ‘banquet’ that night, followed by an excellent trials display in the hotel lobby and the return of Chinese Lady Gaga.
Nursing a slight hangover, there was time Sunday morning to explore some more local tracks before getting back on the public bus for the long journey home. All in all, it was a very entertaining weekend.