Granfondo Yunnan is fast becoming one of the most popular races in China for international cyclists looking for something a little but different and unique.
Organised by Nordic Ways, Granfondo Yunnan unfortunately came into the limelight in 2015 with the infamous crash at the end of stage 4 where two groups of riders sprinted to the finish in opposite directions inevitably resulting in a head on collision. Contrary to local media reports, Nordic Ways stepped up and took responsibility for the mishap which fortunately no-one was seriously injured. CYLINGTIPS published an article capturing the facts which you can find here.
We took the opportunity to speak with long time cycling friend Thorsten Mayr capture his experience of the event.
SPOKEN: It’s a long way to travel so what made you decide to ride Yunnan Gran Fondo?
Thorsten: I wanted to race with my team again (MatadorRACING). This race was also appealing, with fully closed roads and 6 stages promising to make for a great experience. Also travelling to China in itself was quite exciting and played a major factor my decision given I love travelling
SPOKEN: Have you been to Mainland China before?
SPOKEN: What did your flights look like, did you have multiple transfers? How was transporting the bike, was it expensive and logistically difficult with taxis and airport transfers?
Thorsten: It was all relatively easy and smooth but then again I did fly business class the whole way and it paid off with the extra attention and service making it super easy. I did have some difficulties with some airlines cancelling flights so I had to rebook flights close to the race date which wasn’t ideal. The route to/from Europe to get there isn’t an easy one to plan – especially from Copenhagen where there aren’t many direct flights to the main international hubs such as SINGAPORE.
Above: Changi Airport, a great place to relax during transit
TIP: "This years race started in Mangshi which is accessible via a domestic flight from the major China airports such as Beijing, Diqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Kunming, Shenzhen, Shanghai and Xi'an."
SPOKEN: Was there anything special you had to do for a Visa, e.g. did the race organisers need to provide any paperwork?
Thorsten: Yes, I had to get a VISA, the organisers do provide an invitation letter but this is not always necessarily to obtain a visa. That part was a bit painful as the visa request (albeit online) does require a fair amount of paperwork to be completed and copies to be taken to the visa application centre.
TIP: <To find out what your visa requirements are click here>
SPOKEN: Did you have any communication difficulties with Mandarin being the primary language?
Thorsten: I was fortunate that my team mates <Gareth and Shirley> could speak fluent Mandarin. Without them it would have been very difficult as even the concierges at the hotels didn’t speak English, also Google translator is blocked but WeChat works well and is just as good if not better at translating English to Chinese and vice versa.
SPOKEN: What is the sequence of events for registration, is it straight forward, any special instructions?
Thorsten: Entries are limited and when online registration opens the page gets overloaded so you’ll need some patience. It crashed a few times when I was registering but I am sure they will get that under control for future events.
TIP; register early, get your visa, book your flights and pay attention to the sequence of the stages. I booked the wrong return flight initially.
SPOKEN: Was accommodation in the same place all tour or did you transfer between towns?
Thorsten: We had to transfer a few times. Some stages are loops and finish at or close to the Hotels. The transfers were really well organised but it does of course add some stress to it. We had one transfer after a stage where we had enough time to shower and pack however we were racing at the front of the field so we finished relatively early compared to the other Gran Fondo riders who will have had less time to get ready for the transfer.
TIP: <You can find more information the stage info including transfers here>
SPOKEN: What was the food like, did you take any of your own or just rely on food and drink provided by the race organisers?
Thorsten: We did go local most of the time. Breakfast was fine but I did bring my own porridge. I Was pleasantly surprised that I managed to keep my stomach in check (no issues during a 6 stage race is unheard of for me) so all in all pretty good but I’d recommend you do pack some of your own food especially if you have specific dietary requirements.
SPOKEN: What was the rider quality like, was there a mix of capabilities or were the riders all serious racers?
Thorsten: There was a decent amount of serious racers including ex-pro’s which made for some exciting racing. In the age groups there’s a big difference in capability between the top 20 and rest of field. The Open category is generally a very strong field.
SPOKEN: Yunnan is a multistage race, was the riding hard from day one or did the peloton ease into things on the first couple of days?
Thorsten: It was hard every day but the rest days helped a lot.
SPOKEN: How did you manage nutrition; did you take your own special fuel into China?
Thorsten: I did bring a big bag of gels, some protein bars and emergency flap jacks - just in case. The race itself did provide some form of carbohydrate drink but I'm not sure what it was. I'd recommend taking your own nutrition to be in control of your energy intake.
SPOKEN: How was the temperature? it looked like you were at altitude, was it difficult to know what to wear each day?
Thorsten: For some stages on the higher altitudes I’d recommend bringing a base layer and arm warmers (even if you take off the arm warmers/leg warmers just before you start racing). They offer a bag drop so you can pick up extra clothing at the end of the stage or back in the hotel.
For the stages with ascents reaching 2500m you’d want a gilet as the descents can get very cold. I did race one stage with arm warmers on the whole way and was lucky that it didn’t rain as the small amount of dampness on the roads contributed to some crashes which would have been a lot worse in wet rain.
SPOKEN: Did you get to meet and talk with other riders or were there language barriers? It looked like an international field where were the majority of riders from outside of China?
Thorsten: Very international and communicating with the other riders was fine but I did need to fall back onto sign language a few times during and after the race. Germany followed closely by USA had the most representation outside of Chinese (inc. Hong Kong)
SPOKEN: How would you rate the organisation of the race in terms of professionalism, safety and support.
Thorsten: There was an immense amount of support staff alongside the course. Unfortunately, some of the more junior “race martials” kept whistling away with their whistle probably to cheer us on but it did make it confusing when approaching cross roads or side roads as it was unclear if they were signalling a turn or just providing support.
All in all Super safe and well organised.
TIP: For race emergency and insurance info click here
SPOKEN: How did you unwind after the final stage, a few local beverages?
Thorsten: Beers food and a night out in a beautiful old town part of the final stage location
SPOKEN: Did you do any sightseeing before or after the race? Is there any place you’d recommend people see or do?
Thorsten: After the race, yes and during the rest days. The scenery is awesome and nice to look at even from the bus ride on the transfer days.
Above; Town of Lijiang where the final stage ends.
SPOKEN: Did you need to organise your own transfers from the race to the airport when it was all done?
Thorsten: I used Taxi’s but it pays to come prepared with locations as they don’t speak English. There were a number of other riders catching cabs at the same time so playing follow the leader sometimes works
Tip: You can take the stress away by booking the VIP package and have all transport sorted out for you, including upgraded accomodation.
SPOKEN: Do you have any advice for anyone else wanting to do Yunnan who is travelling from abroad?
Thorsten: Come prepared with food, gear and make sure you know how much luggage you’re allowed to carry on the planes without paying extra for excess baggage.
SPOKEN: Anything else you’d like to share or think riders need to be aware of?
Thorsten: No just book it and do it because you won’t regret it. I’d recommend you book the VIP package, the hotels are much better than the standard ones.
SPOKEN: We've received nothing but positive feedback from everyone who have raced this tour, the cultural experience combined with solid racing and friendly people make this one a must for the bucket list.
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