by Ricoh Riott
Now in its fourth year, the Qiansen Trophy brings racers from around the world to China for the first UCI C1 races of the season. After expanding last year to feature two races in different areas, the first station is again located in Yanqing, just an hour's drive north of Beijing. This course has been used in every edition of the Qiansen Trophy so far but still has a few surprises in store for race veterans and rookies alike.
Conditions are currently very dry and hardpacked with some dusty corners. It's a fast course but rough corrugations are common on the dirt, while many of the short paved sections feature raised cobbles. Riders will be in for a surface that is far from easy and fatigue could be a major factor. Last year featured similar weather, but sudden heavy downpours surprised racers, and rain overnight or on race day could change the surface very quickly. There is a possibility that tomorrow's race may be quite different.
Riders have a short paved road section to begin the race before entering flat, smooth dirt for a couple of turns. The very last few feet of this section have been re-routed around a tree and are yet to be properly worn in, with a few potholes to watch out for. The first set of stairs forces racers to dismount shortly after the start, and then racers enter a tight off-camber chute before another even steeper staircase. Being at the front of the pack here will be a distinct advantage.
The second and final road section leads over a bridge before funneling the course into a much tighter trail that bobs and weaves as it traverses a river bank and drops occasionally onto cobbled path. It's a fun section that would leave most cyclists opting for a mountain bike.
Racers then head under a flyover, across one of several bridges over the stream, and then enjoy a track that's wide and fast again, offering a chance to pass before more tight sections and short run-ups on the back end of the course.
Racers then return to the flyover with a final set of steps, before finally entering faster, open territory with slight twists through the trees on their way back to the finish line for another lap. While there are dismounts, as in years past, there aren't any barriers on the course.
Yanqing Station is deceptively difficult, providing quite a challenge even without long portage sections, sustained climbs or super technical trails. This year's winner will need to be not only strong but able to handle tricky corners and the fatigue of a race where the rough surface seldom takes a break.
Europeans head into the men's race as heavy favorites, with Rob Peeters, Jens Adams, 2015 Junior Cyclocross World Champion Simon Andreassen, Kenneth Hansen and two-time Qiansen Trophy winner Thijs Al all making the trip.
Sweden's 2015 Day 2 winner Asa Erlandsson returns to defend her title, with American 2015 podium finishers Kathryn Cumming and Emily Kachorek also making the trip to contest the two UCI C1 races.
See our men's start list here, and women's start list here, for the final list of racers starting Wednesday's race, along with a list of favorites to toe the line in China. Stay tuned for full coverage from the 2016 Qiansen Trophy event.