The switchbacks were Medieval in their cruelty.
At the 10-kilometer mark, it looked like the road might just corkscrew around Bei Feng Mountain for the last 2 kilometers to the summit. But I wouldn’t know for sure until I turned a sharp curve that would give me a good view of what was ahead. As I rounded the corner, there it was: the final segment of road that just snaked its way up one side of the mountain. It was Medieval in its cruelty. It didn’t look real. It looked like part of the set of a Lord of the Rings movie. I thought for sure that I would pass Frodo and Sam plodding along the road.
The red dot is Taishan, and the black star is Guangzhou, the home of Waffles & Steel.
This was my cool-down ride after Sunday’s 8.4-kilometer race up Bei Feng (or North Summit) Mountain near the city of Taishan in the southern province of Guangdong. The race didn’t finish at the summit, and I’m not sure why. I’m thankful it didn’t because the final ascent to the summit was an absolute killer.
The entire climb – from the race start to the summit – was 12.5 kilometers and we gained 873 meters in elevation. The average gradient was 7 percent, but it hit 20 percent in some areas. The views were breathtaking, with green valleys, lush forests and reservoirs. The mountain was undeveloped, nearly pristine. It was another reminder of how fantastically beautiful this country can be. In so many ways, China reminds me of the American West. Wherever humans settle, you’re bound to see some of the most tragic eyesores created by man. Depressing strip malls, drab homes, monotonous agriculture, abandoned rusty junk. But if you can get away from “civilization,” you’ll meet nature at her breath-taking best. Soaring mountains, vast deserts, thick forests, raging rivers. All in a land that has yet to go gaga over jet skis, bass boats, mobile homes and ski resorts.
I’ll shut up now and let the pictures tell the story, with a little help from captions.
Source: Banovic Data & Graphics Industries
- Backing up a bit: This is the scene we saw as we drove toward the race, looking for the starting line. Just beyond the rice paddies lies the source of our pain.
We often felt like we were climbing into the sky.
This is the last chain-busting segment of the climb to the peak. I wanted to shoot it while I was climbing but I really needed both hands on my bars because it was such a brutal climb.
Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Bei Feng Mountain, China cycling, climbing, cycling in China, Favorite climbs | No Comments »
One the edge of the precipice.
My goals for the 8.4-kilometer Bei Feng Mountain climbing race were pathetically unambitious. First, I wanted to hang with the peloton for at least the first 200 meters, until the starting-line crowd could no longer see us as we disappeared around a sharp bend and into a heavily forested area. In China, races usually start out super fast, with riders going balls out berzerk the second the gun goes off. I don’t have a fast-twitch muscle in my body, so this is a serious problem for me. I’m purely a strength, or endurance, cyclist who does better when the serious climbs come at the 100-kilometer mark. My second goal was not to get swallowed up by the B Group peloton, which started 2 minutes after us.
To my great relief, the peloton took off at a sane pace, and I was still in the mix after 500 meters when the road started to turn up. Surprisingly, I was still hanging on at the 1-kilometer mark when the incline started to bite really hard. Then the hammer went down and the tempo quickly picked up. I was gasping for oxygen and my legs already felt drenched in lactic acid. A second later, I went flying out the back door – cycling jargon for being dropped hard, being left for dead by the pack. Joining me in the caboose of the pain train were three junior riders who were put into the elite A Group division at the last minute. They were teen-age stick figures, weighing about 40 kilos each. They were long on promise but short on conditioning. It looked like a good “youth vs. experience” battle was brewing between us.
Brendan powering across the line.
Up the mountain, my friend Brendan – the only other foreigner in the A Group – was holding his own as usual. During his four-year stint in Guangzhou, Brendan has been the fastest expat racer by far – truly in a league of his own. Currently riding for Trek’s team, he rarely missed a race in the area and often traveled to other parts of China to compete. He’s spent a lot of time on the podium and was always in contention, even when working his butt off for a teammate. This is outstanding for someone with a demanding job, a wife and two kids. Most of the Chinese riders are young single guys who don’t have to juggle so many heavy career and family demands. Brendan has become a legend in the local racing scene and learned enough Mandarin to be able to chat with the local riders, who obviously have an immense amount of respect for him. Bei Feng was his last race before moving back to the U.S. Although he has been scaling back his training because he’s been busy preparing his move, he was still able to finish fifth, 4:21 ahead of me and fast enough to be included in the award ceremony. It’s going to be a long time before another person like Brendan comes along in Guangzhou, and for sure he’s become a permanent fixture in the local cycling lore. He should be commended for his athletic talent and passion for the sport as well as the role he played as a diplomat for cycling and his country.
Shortly after the 2-kilometer mark, a couple of B Group riders hammered past me. I did a shoulder check, just dreading the possibility of the rest of the peloton bearing down on me. It wasn’t, though, so I pushed the pace and tried to stick with the B Group leaders. By the 3-kilometer point, I had picked off two of the junior riders who were in serious difficulty. I knew that the road would level out between the third and fourth kilometers, so I powered past the third-and-last junior rider, who was racing in a wife-beater T-shirt. At the 4-kilometer mark, the road kicked up steeply for a few 100 meters before leveling off. The rest of the race was like that: short steep climb…short stretch of level road…killer switchback…level again…brutal short climb…false flat…then the final 200 meters or so were up a steep incline to the finish line.
This graphic was supplied by the race organizers. A more detailed analysis by Banovic Data & Graphics Industries puts the total elevation at 469.3 meters, distance at 8.41 kilometers and average gradient at 5.9 percent.
Source: Banovic Data & Graphics Industries
I accomplished my two feeble goals: staying with the group for the first kilometer and fending off the B Group peloton. I did have an unstated goal, which I fell far short of. I didn’t want to finish last. I was hoping that one of the elite riders would go out so hard that he would blow up spectacularly so that I could reel him in. It didn’t happen. I finished exactly 9 minutes behind the winner, Xu Rujie, who crossed the line in 25:27 at an average speed of 20.75 kph. I tooled along at 15.33 kph to finish in 34:27. The rider who finished just in front of me got me by 38 seconds.
The winner, Xu Rujie, flying up the last climb.
I’m trying to remember the last time I finished last in a race. I’m pretty sure it was in high school when my track coach still wasn’t sure what kind of a runner I was. He put me in the 400 once, and I’m pretty sure I finished last. It’s one of those youthful traumas you try to forget, I guess. Anyway, after that race, my coach started having me do what we called the “graveyard shift” – running the mile and two mile in the same meet. He quickly figured out that my legs only got going after running the mile event.
Observe the dork in polka dots placing last. Next time, he'll show up in a yellow jersey.
Check out the video of the race here. The funny thing is that they apparently edited out Brendan and me. Or maybe they didn’t even shoot us. I don’t know why they would do this. Perhaps the race organizers signed up for a cheaper form of insurance that wouldn’t include foreigners. But I noticed the video did include a Japanese rider. I’m trying to imagine the reaction if Asians were edited out of a video shot of a race in America or Europe. To be sure, I’m not upset about this. I’m really more amused and puzzled. It’s weirdness that I became accustomed to long, long ago.
I’m just happy and grateful no one made any wisecracks about my polka-dotted jersey and my last place finish!
Next: The fantastic post-race ride
(Editor’s note: Waffles & Steel takes great pride in the fact that most of the photos used on the site are produced by our own photographers. But due to the difficulties posed by China’s Great Firewall, our photos couldn’t be uploaded today. The wonderful photos were found here. There are many more so check them out.)
Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Bei Feng Mountain, China cycling, climbing, cycling in China, Favorite climbs, Guangzhou cycling | No Comments »