Monday, 26 September 2011

Tour of Beijing - Stage 1 Route Guide

Stage Map: click here
Stage Profile: click here

The riders couldn't wish for a flatter course than the Stage 1 time trial in the Chinese capital - it starts and ends at 41m and, with the exception of the briefest of blips after around 4km, doesn't really rise any higher along the entire route. With several straight sections and few dangerous bends, it leads north into the Olympic Park where it follows smaller, winding roads for a short while before heading south then back into the city along more straight roads for a final 300m sprint, this is a parcours that will favour sprinters as well as time trial experts and may very well generate new speed records.

The Bird's Nest (© 老黄瓜 CC2.5)
As will also be the case with Stage 2, the route begins at the famous Beijing National Stadium (39°59'28.54"N 116°23'13.94"E): one of the world's most iconic buildings and commonly known as the Bird's Nest for the seemingly random placing of the steel beams from which the outer shell is constructed - however, as is the case with a real bird's nest, there's nothing random about it at all. The completion of the National Stadium
"Bird's Nest" is something that all the
Chinese people are proud of, according to the official race road book - possibly because the government told them to be. After riding north for 591m, riders turn 90 degrees left onto the National Stadium North Road whilst taking care not to hit the grassy verges separating the cycle paths running along both sides of the road  - whereas these will be lined with barriers, it should be noted that Chinese trucks do not need to abide by the same regulations as do those in many other nations and as such, a corner in a busy location such as this is very much subject to diesel spills - one of the hazards most feared by cyclists because the fuel is impossible to see and lethal, especially after rain. On the right, just before the turn, is the 128m Long Long Pagoda - not actually a pagoda at all, but the Olympics international broadcast centre.

Ling Long Pagoda (© Kyle Simourd CC2.0)
The next turn, a 90 degree right, comes 138m later and leads onto Tianchen East Road continuing north for 974m past the China National Convention Centre on the left, housed in the building that originally served as the location of the Olympic press centre and venue for pistol and fencing events. Random fact: the centre's central vacuum cleaning system is the largest in China with 15.8km of piping.

Passing by some of the 2.2 million trees planted around the Olympic site (because the Chinese government like to pretend they're concerned about the environment when there are foreign press about), the riders soon arrive at Kehui South Road (40° 0'19.69"N 116°23'5.35"E) ready for another 90 degree left, this time avoiding the central reservation in addition to the grassy verges (the official road book has not yet been published, so at present we don't know if both carriageways will be open). After crossing Tianchen West Road 204m from the turn, they come to a 90 degree right onto Beichen West Road 110m later. Caution is required again due to a central reservation. Just west of the corner is the Institute of Remote Sensing Applications, occupying the splendidly-named Nanlongwang Hall. The difficulty of the turn depends largely upon which carriageways are in use - if the left, it's a wide and easy section; if right, it becomes much tighter and especially hazardous when wet due to the pedestrian crossing just around the apex.

Having crossed Kehui Road 304m to the north, the riders continue straight ahead on Aolin West Road as it snakes around the western perimeter of the beautiful Olympic Forest Park, a man-made area of forest and lakes almost 2km wide. They'll be on the right carriageway here, as the next turn in impossible from the left. It bends gently left, then passes under a fly-over and past the site of the two Olympic hockey stadia that were taken down after the Games, then bends right and left again before crossing a bridge over the N 5th Ring Road, then following the narrow slip road to the right 128m after the bridge (40° 1'20.74"N 116°22'48.69"E)  down to a very tight right 300m later - a point where significant time could be lost through punctures caused by thorns from the overhanging trees.

A bridge 186m along the road is only very narrower than the road and as such should cause no problems since riders are crossing one at a time. More overhanging trees past the bridge may result in more punctures and there's another very tight right turn 400m after the bridge is left behind, this one made more difficult by a kinked entry (40° 1'27.29"N 116°23'9.87"E). There's an 80 degree right 181m ahead, followed by an equally tight left onto a narrower road 30m later where riders reach the intermediate checkpoint and we get early indication of their performances.

One venue we won't see is the Laoshan Velodrome,  one
of the finest in the world. Built for the Olympics, it's
hosted several cycling events since.  (© Doma-W CC3.0)
Shortly after the checkpoint is what must be one of the most remarkable motorway bridges anywhere in the world. Though some 50m wide - arguably making the passage below it a short tunnel rather than the passage across a bridge - the road on Tianchen Bridge is only around 5.5m wide, the space either side being landscaped and covered in trees and shrubs to form a continuation between the parkland to the north and south. At the road on the other side, riders turn 90 degrees left, ignoring the bridge south over the river and proceed for 805m past a car park and on to Aolin East Road for a right turn to head south.

Having passed under a fly-over, the road bends slightly right and then left before crossing Kehui Road and arriving at the next turn 259m later - a right onto Kehui South Road with caution again required to avoid the central reservation if both lanes are in use. As another busy urban route, diesel spills are a possibility; as may also be the case at the left turn 224m later onto Hujing East Road.

The Water Cube at night (public domain image)
Hujing East curves gently around a bend in the river, crossing five other roads before arriving at the National Stadium South Road 1.93km later and offers some of the best views of the Bird's Nest. On the left is the enormous 5-star Grand Skylight CATIC Hotel, then the riders turn 90 degrees right onto a bridge. The road narrows at the opposite bank to make room for traffic emerging from a central tunnel (39°59'18.16"N 116°23'28.36"E), then opens up again 269m after the corner. It then continues for a further 279m, crossing the wide boulevard past the stadium upon which the route began before reaching the final turn - a 90 degree right onto Tianchen East Road. From this point, there are 300m left to the finish line next to the National Aquatics Centre, better known as Water Cube; a striking building clad in 4000 plastic bubbles.

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