Tuesday 4 October 2011

Tour of Beijing - Stage 4 Guide

Mutianyu (public domain image)
Stage Map: click here
Stage Profile: click here
Stage Itinerary: click here

The penultimate stage of this first ever Tour of Beijing is also the longest, covering 189.5km through the towns and countryside to the north of Beijing and makes two visits to the Great Wall - during the first, the riders will pass through the Wall at Huanghuacheng, where two stretches are joined by a dam; and at the second they'll leave the main route to complete a short circuit up to Mutianyu and back - the best-preserved, best-built and most spectacular of the several sections of defences forming the Wall as a whole. It ends at the Shunyi Rowing-Canoeing Centre with its several kilometres of lakes, rivers and white-water courses purpose-built for the Olympics.

The Guyaju Ruins in Yanqing County were once occupied
by the Kumo Xi, a tribe of fierce Mongolian warriors
(© pfctdayelise CC2.5)
The neutral zone begins at the Gui Chuan Square in Yanqing, capital town of Yanqing County - the exact route is, once again, not terribly clear from details in the roadbook. Having left the Square, the peloton travels east for a while along the Hubei Road before crossing the river and joining Binhe Road heading west at some unspecified point, we think most likely the Yongxi Highway crossing. Directions for the first 17km remain unclear - one road, the G101, doesn't seem to exist and is presumably a misprint for the G110. This, says the itinerary, should be followed until the beginning of a 1km section on Hubei Road again; but this appears to bear little correlation to either the road layout or what is shown on the official map. Since we need to get to Hunan Road, we think the most likely route would be to continue on Binhe Road as it crosses the G110, arriving at the S216 just over 0.5km later - the two roads are also known as the Jingyin and Old Jingyin Roads, making entirely feasible the idea of a route planner becoming confused. Turning right and then left 400m later brings the race onto Hunan East Road, with the stage's first intermediate sprint beginning some 500m later (40°27'15.67"N 115°59'33.15"E).

2km ahead, the route reaches what the roadbook states to be Yanqing Road but maps state is Yankang Road, turning left and then right at the next junction for Huanhu Road. We're now directed to find Kang Hang Road - trouble is, the road registered under that name is in Singapore - as we need to get to the S217, we assume the correct road is the one beginning at 40°26'58.84"N 115°57'34.54"E and ending at 40°26'33.87"N 115°52'42.83"E, where the peloton turn right towards another section of the G110 approximately 4km away followed by another unspecified route to find the X020 County Road (we think they'll turn left and travel west for a short way on the G110, then right and north on the X012 County Road and right again to continue east on the X020 - the official maps seem to support this). Somewhere along this road, with 51km covered since the end of the neutral zone, the second intermediate sprint begins. Towards the end of the road, we'll have excellent views of the mountains to the left, over 1000m high. Another not very clearly-pointed out section leads to the S232 road, apparently via the X026 - however, the X026 is a considerable distance away to the south in Beijing.

Mutianyu is 2.25km long and has 22 watchtowers. Whereas
other sections are built of bricks, earth and whatever was
available, here the structure is granite.
(© Fabian Dany CC2.5)
We then follow the S232 east, reaching the feed zone 97.5km from the start. Riders will want to take on board a decent amount of energy gels - attentive readers will have spotted the lack of climbs in the first half of this stage. The first, a Cat 3, starts 4.5km after the feed zone and, having already climbed for some distance, the riders will need to climb 132m in 2.5km to reach the top. The descent is long and fast.

We remain on the S232 as far as Sihaizhen where we turn right, right again and left to join Ansi Road, leading 20km to Huanghuachengcun (note that on the official Tour website, the village is misspelled Huang Hui Zhen). It's here that the race passes by the dam connecting two stretches of Great Wall. Since 2010, there have been numerous eyewitness reports made by people who claim to have seen a large, fiery object falling to Earth in the area on the night of October the 30th - this has, naturally, got UFO fans hot under to collar. Whatever the object was - indeed, if the object ever was - there have been no corresponding accounts of aircraft in trouble nor wreckage/craters on the mountainsides.

Now we join the X009, leading through Huanghuazhencun - the probable cause of the of the confusion a few kilometres previously). The second climb, 159m in 4km, is rated Cat 2 and begins 125km from the start - that category seems a little more than would be expected, suggesting that the road isn't of the best quality. It's also very twisty as it climbs and could potentially be dangerous if wet (or while being bombarded with mysterious fiery UFOs). The summit comes at the entrance to the Tuoling Tunnel (40°24'9.66"N 116°23'32.82"E) which, as tends to be the case with tunnels in rural China, is unlit - it's short, but the riders won't like it due to the hazard it presents.

Having emerged back into daylight, the race follows the road right and descends quickly through Sha Yu Village before arriving at Bohaizhen Bridge 3km later. The right turn onto it is tight, but the bridge is wide and of good quality so crashes are unlikely. Bohaizhen Town is around 1.6km ahead. The stage's final climb begins 3.5km later at a large roundabout (40°24'53.05"N 116°32'19.11"E) where the race turns left, entering the circuit up to Mutianyu (40°25'59.83"N 116°33'33.35"E) and back down again. It's remarkable that this section - which, as we mentioned earlier, is the best-preserved along the Wall's length - has survived so intact: in the years following the Cultural Revolution, the Maoist government declared the Wall to be a symbol of the nation's feudal past and encouraged the populace to help themselves to as much of the masonry as they could cart away, even demolishing some parts to assist them. Were it not for the craggy ridge followed by this section, its proximity to Beijing would almost certainly have ensured its destruction.

We at Cyclopunk do not believe in ghosts,
UFOs or any of that stuff. However, we
wouldn't hang around Mutianyu alone for
any length of time just in case.
As if the UFOs around the last section of wall weren't sufficient weirdness for one stage, this section is said to be haunted by the Mutianyu Phantom. A legend dating from just the late 1990s, the Phantom is said to be the ghost of a local woman killed by an explosion at the factory where she was employed making the trinkets still sold to tourists who visit the area. Her first victim was a German woman in 1997; her family reporting that the victim had mentioned seeing a woman dressed in black, with a black veil and white gloves, pointing at her several times throughout the day when they visited the Wall. Then, later in the day, the victim vanished and has  never been seen again. The next victim was another tourist named Benjamin Heffemburg - he too saw the mysterious woman in black, reporting his sightings to his family, and the next day was discovered dead in his hotel room - his body surrounded by shards of shattered glass. Several more disappearances have been blamed upon the Phantom, whom some locals now warn tourists to avoid at all costs. Since she only attacks foreigners, the locals are not afraid of her and as a result have been able to get close enough to have a better look (or have perhaps realised that there's nothing like a good ghost story to intrigue rich visitors), now explaining that her white gloves are in fact bandages and the veil hides a hideously deformed face.

The final intermediate sprint begins 13km after the summit, 167km into the race, then the peloton continue on the X009 as it becomes Huaisha Road and travels along the northern edge of Huairou Reservoir, arriving presently at a very large roundabout (40°20'7.79"N 116°37'28.62"E) where they'll turn right for Qingchun Road. Having followed it south to Nanhua Street, they turn left and follow the road around a bend to a wide bridge; taking the first left turn at the next roundabout for Huaichanglian Road and, after 1.73km, an interchange with a right turn onto Jingmi Road heading south - they'll follow this road for 13.27km through a number of further interchanges, rural areas and industrialised urban complexes until they reach the left-hand slip road leading down onto Baima Road (40°10'31.03"N 116°38'8.58"E), at which point they have 5km left.

Shunyi's entirely man-made white-water slalom course
is considered one of the most testing in the world
(© Gerry Boudens CC3.0)
Now traveling east, they soon cross Shun'an North Road with 3km left to go. The horse racing stadium passes by on the right, then Youdi Road and the Beijing Country Club golf course before the route crosses a wide bridge. The flamme rouge is on the bridge, marking the final kilometre, then the road bends very slightly right as we enter the final sprint - an last section for the sprint specialists up to the finish line by the plaza in front of the Shunyi Park (40°10'7.58"N 116°41'7.65"E).

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