Four in a row for Miga
While Granfondo cycling events lay emphasis on each participant’s individual achievement - illustrated this year by the introduction of the different certificates in gold, silver or bronze as well as the 6-piece helmet trophy - there is always a race at the front, too. That competition promised and also turned out to be more open than in previous years, yet it was again Myagmarsuren Baasaankhuu and his teammates who walked away with the main prizes and all 6 stage wins. It was the sympathetic Mongolian’s’ fourth successive overall victory in Granfondo Yunnan, and afterwards he sounded keen on adding more wins in the next couple of years! Miga, as he is commonly known, rode an intelligent stage race mirroring last year’s. While his Australian teammate Craig Stuart was undoubtedly the fastest rider in the Prologue Time Trial in Mangshi, Miga never seemed to worry even when Stuart also grabbed the stage win in The Border Ride to Ruili, attacking out of an elite group with over 20k to go. The Australian, in his debut in Yunnan and looking good in yellow, really grit his teeth together in the first part of the week.
Meanwhile, a tall lady from The Netherlands dominated the proceedings in the women’s category. Anne Stegehuis had done some extreme long distance riding (e.g. Paris-Brest-Paris) before, but allegedly never really competed under racing conditions. Guided through the peloton by former Belgian professional Danny in’t Ven, Stegehuis took the prologue win and was also the strongest in the Border Ride and Rock’n Ruili. Always smiling, Stegehuis looked like she could win them all this year, as a few of her female predecessors have achieved in our event.
Rock’n Ruili, a 148 km rollercoaster with start and finish at the Myanmar border gate, was the first serious challenge of this year’s event. Thailand-based Russian Konstantin Fast, best rider in the AG 40 category, was in the mood for some climbing and did the big bulk of the lead work all day. Unfortunately for him, he could not drop his main rivals uphill and in the final kilometers on flat roads he did not have enough juice left to spoil the party of Team Mongolia CCN. Nine riders stormed to the finish at the end, and for the first time Miga showed he was still the team’s captain as he attacked in the final 5 km. Nobody reacted promptly enough, and the Mongolian took his first stage win. American Jurgen Eckmann, leading the AG50 category, made a good countermove, but he got reeled back in as the elite group launched the sprint for second place.
Along Gaoligong was the name of Stage 3 in Tengchong, a city with quite some WWII history. Gaoligong is the name of the long mountain range in the vicinity. A 185 km long and tough course through dozens of small villages and mainly on more narrow countryside streets. A cycling experience one hardly ever gets in China, let alone in an organised event context. For the top contenders masks would fall off, and for everyone who had the ambition to score the Gold certificate, this stage was key. Fear gripped the peloton as the weather forecast on the rest and transit day to Tengchong promised a fair share of rainfall. Alas, the rain turned out to be extremely local and only affected most of the long distance participants for 3 to 5km halfway through the stage, while some others did not see any rain at all. Granfondo Yunnan’s beautiful weather legacy therefore remained intact. Previously, rainfall only caused minor hinderance at the start of one Chuxiong stage two years ago.
At the front, battles raged from the beginning and yellow jersey Craig Stuart and top favourite Miga found themselves in trouble with mechanical problems. Female yellow jersey Anne Stegehuis got entangled in a bad fall with her teammate In’t Ven and a few others and was forced to chase by herself as the Belgian ex pro broke his collarbone: an unfortunate exit from the event for the AG50 contender. This opened perspectives for Chinese riders Zhou Qiuying - a good young climber from Kunming - and Shanghai’s Chi Zhaoyuan, who got stronger and stronger as the week progressed, coached by American cyclocross rider Josh Bauer. Bauer himself suffered a mechanical on stage 1, which dropped him back in GC and encouraged him to go flat out on the attack on all days afterwards. If there were a combativity price in our event, Josh Bauer would be a prime candidate.
Meanwhile along Gaoligong, Mongolia’s young climbing talent Iderbold Bold had taken the bull by the horns as he went on the attack with Thailand’s Khunakorn and teammate Erdenebat. Bold set such a high pace on the cobbled Wall of Tian Tai at km 62 that he dropped his own teammate. Disaster struck soon afterwards, though, as Bold had to get off the bike and replace a punctured inner tube. Khunakorn and Erdenebat went into the fast descent as leaders but very soon afterwards they suffered a cold as Kunming’s 16—year-old sensation Lijun Gang stormed past them both! It was not the first time in Granfondo Yunnan that we see local talent emerging. Four years ago, the now-professional rider Lv Xianjing raised plenty of eyebrows in our event with his climbing speed and raw power.
With 120 km still to go, Lijung Gang had no intention to wait for anybody and went flat out. For 20 kilometres, nobody was to be seen behind him. However, upon entering the main road at km 86, there was consternation on race radio as people announced the return of Miga and he was catching up with Lijun Gang quickly! Even if we had already seen a lot of impressive feats by the Mongolian over the years, his return to the front on very technical terrain after his mechanical and a deficit of 3 minutes ranks among his best performances. If there still had been any doubt about who the strongest rider in the field was, Miga made that clear that moment. He caught up with the Kunming boy and allowed him to tag along up the longest 6 km climb of the stage. Miga went solo in the descent, as the Chinese rider - under pressure - misjudged a corner. Lijung Gang nevertheless would not disintegrate in the remaining 80km of this gruelling stage and only narrowly missed the top 6 podium at the end.
With Miga alone in front, the race seemed over. Until… a clear yellow spot appeared on the horizon at the km 115 mark. Craig Stuart had also gone back on the chase following his woes early on, and seemed determined not to give away his yellow jersey without a fight. When Miga saw his teammate approaching, he opted to sit up and wait for him. Together they would ride to the finish in Tengchong, albeit that Miga dropped Stuart a few times on the steeper slopes. Probably with Lijiang already in mind, it was a nice gesture by Miga to allow his teammate another day in yellow.
Still, no more mercy during the flat stage of 115km around Erhai Lake in Dali. While most people feared a big bunch sprint - always dangerous in a mass participation event -, the top contenders, joined by the German sprinters’ Team Hermann and a few other non-climbers, set such a high pace from the get-go the peloton splintered up rather quickly. And again Team Mongolia CCN was dominant. All five made the eventual breakaway of eight, whereby Iderbold Bold was the last one to join, seemingly coming from nowhere. Thailand’s Tanaphon and Germany’s Benjamin Korndoerfer and Christopher Schunk were the three others. Any hope for a German or Thai stage victory were dashed, when Bilguunjargal Erdenebat and Iderbold Bold attacked relentlessly with about 20k to go to the finish. The two Germans did what they could, but they were simply outnumbered. The two Mongolians stormed ahead until suddenly another Mongolian appeared to be catching them on his own. It was Miga. One might think it was totally unnecessary, but Miga clearly wanted yellow already in Dali. And so it happened. Craig Stuart’s reign came to an end. Miga allowed Bilguunjargal take the sprint for his first ever stage win.
Only Miga could beat Miga in Lijiang. He had won the pure mountain climber’s stage in the past three years already, and it certainly did not look like Stuart still had the energy to cause an upset on the monster climb to Maoniuping, almost 40km uphill to an altitude of 3500m above sea level. Astonishing views along the way and a steady gradient make this climb unique and for most people even enjoyable, despite the obvious difficulty level. After the early breakaway launched by Josh Bauer, Iderbold Bold and Miga directed proceedings already on the first mountain climb of the day. On those slopes, sadly, Zhou Qiuying was seen by several referees as being pushed uphill by her male teammate. To the extent that she was able to keep contact with the first group at that point of the race, which also contained yellow jersey Anne Stegehuis and challenger Zhi Chaoyuan. A 1 hour time penalty was imposed, which was sad as Zhou Qiuying arguably did not need to be pushed by anyone to win the Lijiang stage for women. She arrived at the summit finish 17 minutes ahead of Zhi Chaoyuan, but tumbled down the ranking order when the penalty time was added. Regulations are there for everyone, and after clear warnings to all women before the Lijiang stage, it was not particularly smart of her teammate to push her in front of the race director’s own eyes. Zhi Chaoyuan on the other hand deserves praise for her stage win in Lijiang, ahead of an exhausted Anne Stegehuis. The Shanghai girl is fairly new to cycling herself and improved stage by stage to take her inaugural win. The Dutch woman, suffering slightly from the crash in Tengchong, was nevertheless the obvious and well-deserved winner of the 2018 Granfondo Yunnan for women.
In the men’s race up behind the two Mongolian leaders, Sichuan’s Jiazhi Zhao rode a remarkable last climb up to Maoniuping, keeping pace with the frontrunners. A former stage winner in Granfondo Yunnan, Jiazhi Zhao took third in the stage, 2:30 behind. He also made it to the GC Top 6 podium thanks to his great mountain ride. Lijun Gang also completed his granfondo as fifth on the GC podium. Ahead of them were the four best Mongolia CCN riders. Iderbold Bold took the honours for the stage win in Lijiang as Miga celebrated his fourth consecutive overall victory. While Miga may not have contested the stage win this year, we should not take anything away from Iderbold’s performance. The youngster never looked in trouble climbing up and having really featured in our Granfondo for the first time this year, he might just as well become a true challenger for Miga in the future…
The 2018 event concluded with 466 participants out of 718 official starters on the long distance full tour scoring a Gold certificate for finishing all six stages within the cut-off times. That is 65%, which is remarkably high given the tough and often technical nature of the course, which remains highly unusual in China. The finisher rate of the most technical and longest stage, Along Gaoligong, was as high as 84%! With five editions now in the history books, we can certainly testify that the average level of Chinese cyclists has improved vastly.
The 2018 edition of Granfondo Yunnan saw new cities and brand new stages, which were appreciated by nearly all participants. The 2019 edition will build on these, with modifications expected especially for the first stage in Mangshi. We look forward already to the 6th edition from 2 to 9 November 2019, and invite all of you to stay tuned as infos will gradually become available after Chinese New Year.
Link to the General Classification overview (also list of Gold Certificate achievers)