Wednesday 28 September 2011

Tour of Beijing - Stage 2 Guide

Close-up detail of the Bird's Nest. The
apparently random placing if the steel
spars isn't ransom at all
(© JJ W CC2.0)
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Stage 2 begins, as did Stage 1, at the iconic "Bird's Nest" National Stadium (39°59'28.06"N 116°23'14.38"E), but rather than a high-speed course around the city and managed parks, today the route heads out into the real countryside. The finish line is in Men Tou Gou, just west of Beijing and contiguous with it, but as the riders head north-west they'll soon be leaving the city behind. At first, it's all wide arable fields, but once the race begins to proceed south after passing through Yangfangzhen, it's not long until we see the first mountains of the tour. The teams will only be climbing two small ones today and only the second, at 188m, is categorised (3) - but they'll go up it four times, giving a total of around 900m climbing over the entire 137km stage.

Beijing to Jun Zhuang

After riding 1.05km north from the stadium, the peloton will turn left onto Datun Road to begin the neutral zone.  The turn is tight due to the wide central reservation with riders needing to avoid the barriers lining the narrow passage on the southern side of the road. They then turn right 500m later, passing onto Beichen West Road - as they approach it along the left-hand lane of Datun Road and the junction is around 50m wide, there should be no problems with the pedestrian crossing and central reservation just around the corner. From here, the race takes the same route as yesterday for the next 2.9km, passing onto Aolin Road West. However, rather than crossing the bridge over the N 5th Ring Road they'll take the left lane slip road down onto it (40° 1'10.89"N 116°22'44.46"E), heading west and reaching the end of the neutral zone and the beginning of the race as they do so.

Olympic Centre Court (© Doma-w CC3.0)
The following 9km run along motorway and, like all motorway sections in all cycle races, will be rather boring as the peloton settle into a rhythm, nobody bothers making an almost-certainly-doomed breakaway attempt and nothing much happens. So, it's fortunate for we spectators that there are a few interesting things to look at along the way. The first, coming up on the left, is the Olympic tennis courts, now home to the Chinese Tennis Association and, since 2009, the China Open tournament. Designed to suggest the shape of a lotus flower - symbol of the 2008 Games - the central court can seat up to 10,000 people.

Ruins of the Old Summer Palace (public domain image)
Even more impressive are the Yuan Ming Yuan Gardens (the gardens of perfect brightness) 6.2km along the road and also on the left. Begun in 1707 as a gift for a prince of the Qing Dynasty and who later became Emperor Yongzheng. In time, the Gardens grew until the covered some 348 hectares (860 acres) and included the Old Summer Palace, built in European style at the behest of the Qianlong Emperor who was known for his love of exotic architecture. The Palace was destroyed during the Second Opium War in 1860 by French and British troops in retaliation for the murders of twenty French, British and Indian soldiers who under a flag of truce had accompanied envoys to talks with the Emperor. The Emperor, after a single day of discussions, ordered his forces to capture the foreigners and had them imprisoned, where they were subjected to horrific torture. The envoys, Harry Parkes and Henry Loch, survived, as did fourteen others. They were released a fortnight later with the corpses of those who had died, the bodies so mangled by the ordeal that they were close to being unrecognisable.

Yihe Huang (© Zhangzhe0101 CC3.0)
As they pass the Gardens, the riders will take the slip road up onto the fly-over carrying the Yuan Ming Yuan West Road and for km travel south before a right turn onto Yihe Yuan Road (40° 0'2.86"N 116°16'58.08"E) 1.23km after the bridge and leading through the Yihe Yuan (gardens of nurtured harmony) Summer Palace Park. Not quite as extensive as the Yuan Ming Yuan at 2.9km, of which 75% is water - the lakes are all man-made, the excavated soil having been used to create 60m Longevity Hill. Among the various spectacular structures on the hill is Fo Xiang Ge (variously translated as the Temple of Buddhist Incense or the Temple of Buddha's Fragrance), one of the finest in Beijing. The road carries the race underneath N 5th Ring Road, then northward along Heishanhu Road, a much narrower route that will cause the peloton to lengthen, continuing for 2.5km until they arrive at a right turn onto Malianwa Road.

Much of Stage 2 takes place in the forested Western Hills
(© Shizhao CC2.5)
The corner looks a likely spot for diesel spills, but the road beyond should be problem-free. After 615m, having crossed the bridge at the start, the pack turn left for Yongfeng Road. To the right of the road immediately after the corner is the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development, then the riders need to stay right to follow the correct route north. We see a very different landscape to that around the Olympic Park here - the mixture of heavy industry and grim, regimented housing blocks is very much of the Maoist era and far more indicative of how millions of Chinese still live. The Tour's first intermediate sprint begins at 17.5km on this road (40° 2'52.49"N 116°15'7.22"E), decreasing the time it'll take to get to Beiqing Road another 3km ahead.

Beiqing Road heads west for 7.16km - another rather boring section that forms part of the race solely to convey the riders from one place to another without any technical features. Fortunately, the countryside through which it passes is attractive; a compliment that cannot also be paid to the towns - though Sujiato, just around the right-hand corner leading onto Wenyang Road, has at least one thing to recommend it in the annual fruit-picking festival. Sadly, it's a tradition that will probably not last until the end of the current decade as the little town will, sooner or later, be swallowed up by Beijing as the city grows ever larger in the biggest expansion and urbanisation project the world has ever seen. Also worthy of mention is Sujiato's peculiar liking for blue roofs - a liking that also manifests itself in the surrounding towns and villages.

Peking Man (homo erectus pekinensis), an early
human ancestor from as long as 780,000 years
before the present, was discovered in a Western
Hills quarry during the 1920s
(© kevinzim CC2.0)
The race passes under the W 6th Ring Road 1.56km after the town is left behind, past conifer plantations and crossing Niegezhuang East Road before reaching Qianshajiancun and Houshajiancun on the way to Yangfangzhen. It arrives at Shayang Road after 3.97km (40° 7'50.75"N 116° 8'47.29"E), riders needing to be careful to stay left around the bend to avoid hitting the central reservation. 1.36km later, they turn left again for Webai Road - there's some attractive parkland (including a feature shaped like a giant guitar) to the north-west and, just beyond, green mountains - and travel south, following the river for the next 7.2km back to Beiqing Road. The section isn't testing, but trees along both sides may have dropped thorny twigs and/or slippery leaves on the road. At Beiqing Road, the peloton turn right and continue west for 1.53km to Bei'anhe Road, turning left onto it as they reach 45km from the start of the race (40° 3'57.27"N 116° 6'47.16"E).

The turning itself shouldn't be problematic - though the pedestrian crossing just around it may be slippery after rain - but the road immediately enters a section with many overhanging trees as the race enters Bei'anhexiang, thus increasing the likelihood of punctures. There's more of the same on the way out of the town, then the race turns right onto Wenquan Road (40° 3'13.56"N 116° 7'16.81"E) which, after 1.1km, becomes Da Jue Si Road - the stage itinerary misses Wenquan Road, apparently mistaking the entire section for Da Jue Si Road.

A few kilometres to the south-west of the finish line is the
Tanzhe Temple. At 1,700 years old, it's among the oldest
temples in the Beijing area.
(© Ding CC2.0)
The details then become a little unclear - the stage map suggests that the race continues on the W 6th Ring Road, whereas the itinerary states it to be the Jun Zhuang Road - there isn't a road with this name, but the W 6th does lead to Jun Zhuang village. However, so does Junwen Road; making it difficult to establish with total certainty which one will be used. We think it'll be the W 6th, in which case it's another motorway section leading to an interchange and slip road (39°59'23.44"N 116° 5'16.65"E) onto the G109 National Road travelling south; whereas if the organisers mean Junwen Road there are a few sections overhung by trees before arriving at a junction with the G109 and a right turn (39°59'41.46"N 116° 5'17.06"E). Entry onto the G109 marks the beginning of the first of three 21km laps.

The Circuit

The first lap of the circuit begins 55.5km from the start of the race, passing through an urban area for the initial 0.92km before heading into countryside. The road is sandwiched between a golf course some way below the road on the left and a steep mountainside rising up on the right. The first categorised climb, a Cat 3 to 188m, begins 3km into the first lap, ending 1km later.

Almost immediately after the end of the climb, the road turns tightly right - potentially a danger spot for riders who attempt to descend fast to make up time lost on the way up. It passes by a junction with the X002 Danijan Road a short way ahead, then passes to the left of Dan Li village. Riders remain right to pass through a 40m tunnel, then turn left; the road becoming known as Shidan Road once it turns slightly right and away from the river. The stage's second sprint begins 2km later (39°58'32.28"N 116° 2'58.28"E) followed by the feed zone 1.5km after that (39°59'2.90"N 116° 3'39.40"E) - 65km into the race. The road sweeps to the right, passes a bridge on the left and then bends right again 1.2km later, soon becoming Chengzi Road and continuing south for 3.86km until a left turn onto Shuizha Road Bridge.

During the rainy season, the Yongding is wide
 (© Vmenkov CC3.0)
The river, known as the Yongding, was once called the Wu Ding - the river of instability, due to its dangerous propensity to alter its course. As the largest river to flow through Beijing, the resulting flash floods and damage to property and farmland could prove disastrous, hence a successful project in 1698 under the Kangxi Emperor to strengthen the banks and confine the water to one permanent course. It remains successful to this day. Long sections can dry out, creating wide swathes of green as opportunistic, fast-growing grasses take advantage of the rich, silty mud before the next rainy season turns it back into a river.

708m after joining the bridge, the race turns left and back onto the W 6th Ring Road heading north. The road itself is as uninteresting as it was earlier, but offers some good views across the river and to the mountains; especially after 908m when it skirts the edge of the water on concrete piles before passing under a 1.08km long railway bridge. The next 2.98km lead back to the start of the circuit and the beginning of another lap 76.5km from the race start.

Though considered separate from Beijing well into the 1990s,
the eastern parts of Men Tou Gou are rapidly becoming
suburbs of the city. However, the mountainous terrain that
covers some 97% of the region will hopefully ensure that
the tiny villages dotted around the landscape will be
preserved. Among them is the famous village of
Chuandixia, dating from the Ming Dynasty and now a tourist
attraction due to its traditional architecture.
(Copyright image used courtesy of Visit Our China)
Having three laps, including the final intermediate sprint in lap 3 (beginning and ending at the same points as that in lap 1), the peloton embarks on a fourth - however, after following the same route all the way to and along Chengzi Road, this time the riders do not turn left onto Shuizha Road Bridge. Instead, they continue straight ahead for 160m, then turn left onto Binhe Road, following it as it bends to the right and passes under a railway bridge. As the riders cross the pedestrian crossing just beyond the bridge, they enter the final 2km - not perfectly straight, but very near to it and completely flat..

Another crossing lies 300m ahead, followed by another marking 900m to go. A short way ahead, the race reaches the large Hetan Road intersection, marking 800m to go. Moments later, Yongdinghe River Cultural Square appears on the left - at the next pedestrian crossing, there are 356 straight metres left, making it territory for the sprint specialists. The finish line is located just before the turning on the left leading into the park, 112m from the fly-over (39°56'12.64"N 116° 6'15.75"E).

All the races we've covered in 2011: click here

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