Under a rainy sky, Haute Route Qingcheng riders gathered under the start arch in Southbridge to take on the first stage featuring 82km and 1596 metres of climbing.
With the roads cleared by the police and 800 marshals for the entire stage, the international peloton got the chance to roll out of Dujiangyan and stretch their legs for the first three kilometres before reaching the first timed section of the day. Riders rode on hilly terrain to reach the bottom of the first difficulty of the day, the double ascent of the Longchi tunnel. Riders climbed 5km through the mist up to the Longchi tunnel before riding down the other side, turning round to complete the double ascent.
After the descent and the small ascent of the Maanshi tunnel, the participants enjoyed 20km of rolling terrain to the ancient village of Shuimo. With the timing stopped before entering Shuimo, riders took the time to refuel and enjoy the scenery around the feed station, located in the heart of the pedestrian zone of the ancient city.
British rider Ben Lain, Lanterne Rouge for the Haute Route Alps and Haute Route Pyrenees, was full of praise for his first Chinese experience: “This is brilliant, very nice. So far a bit wet but the roads are good, a bit steep but it’s really nice. It’s beautiful to be here.”
He added: “Very different landscape here, and where you can see in the mist with the river, it’s beautiful. There is a brilliant atmosphere as well with the people by the road and lots of children. Riding on closed roads is fantastic!”
Leaving Shuimo and crossing the timing mat again, the participants took on a narrow road with steep ramps up to the Balcony Road offering amazing views over the valley. They continued to climb to reach Baiyun Peak tunnel before rolling down to Yingxiu to cross the finish line in front of the Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial.
Riding her first Haute Route this weekend, 文毓 蔡 from China was elated at the end of the stage: “I took it easy and I’m not very exhausted. I enjoyed it all the way!”
Fellow rider 洋 卢 shared her opinion about today’s stage: “I think tomorrow will be tougher. Today I just wanted to warm up and it was good with some hills. This is my first bicycle race, I used to do Ironman but never a bicycle race before and I choose to do 3 days back to back. Most of all I want to enjoy this event and the views.”
After enjoying the singing and dancing show at the finish, the first three riders of today’s stage received the traditional hat of Wenchuan on the podium and celebrated their achievement with bottles of champagne. Chinese 云飞 吴 was the fastest rider ahead of Tim Proctor from UK and Zhuangchen Zhou from China. In the women’s category 刘芊箬 took the first leader’s jersey of the week.
Tomorrow, riders will set off again from Southbridge to take on a demanding 132-km stage which features 2,430 metres of climbing and the ascents of Xiange-Hongkou and Qingcheng Mountain.