Tour de Transfer

All images: ©Anne Wu / 7Cycling 

Recently, I heard a rider complaining about the transfers they had to do at the Vuelta a España. They claimed that during the three-week race that they had to endure a total of over 21 hours transferring between stages and hotels. They have obviously never raced in China.

A race that is notorious for its ridiculous amounts of transfers is the Tour of China 1 & 2. In the last few editions, the race consisted of two six-day tours with each race day followed by a rest day. This meant you did 12 days of racing in a 17-day period. Each year, the race organizers assure teams there will be no more long transfers but with route information only becomes available days before the race start, so riders receive a shock as they are boarding the flight to China.

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I have raced the Tours of China several times and this year was by far the worst year for transfers. The race was shortened to two five-day tours over a 15-day period with a total of 85 hours sitting in a bus. It was not a bike race but rather a bus trip where we rode our bikes every now and then. The race started north of Beijing near Inner Mongolia and weaved its way South, over 6000 kilometers to Zuhai, near Macau. Most of the stages were pancake flat and just over 100 km in length, so we were finished in just over two hours. So during the two weeks, we spent only 26 hours riding our bikes. It is the only bike race where I finished in worse condition than I started!

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Here is a breakdown of the Tours of China…

  • Day 1: Arrive in China. 4.5hr (300km) transfer to first hotel.
  • Day 2: Free day
  • Day 3: Stage 1
  • Day 4: 13hr (950km) bus transfer
  • Day 5: Stage 2 followed by 5.5hr (400km) bus transfer
  • Day 6: 11hr (700km) bus transfer
  • Day 7: Stage 3
  • Day 8: 5hr (360km) bus transfer followed by Stage 4, a 3.8km time trial
  • Day 9: 11hr (750km) bus transfer
  • Day 10: Stage 5
  • Day 11: 8hr (530km) ‘rest day’ bus transfer
  • Day 12: Stage 1 followed by 6.5hr (450km) bus transfer
  • Day 13: Stage 2 followed by 2hr (130km) bus transfer
  • Day 14: Stage 3 followed by 6hr (410km) bus transfer
  • Day 15: Stage 4
  • Day 16: 2hr (150km) bus transfer to the train station. 3hr wait in train station. 4.5hr (1100km) high speed train transfer. 2hr (150km) bus transfer to the hotel
  • Day 17: Stage 5
  • Day 18. 1hr (75km) bus transfer to the airport

Due to the amount of time spent on the bus, there was very little time for all of the normal race things to happen: laundry, massage, etc.

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Our first hotel was in a remote location in the grasslands near Inner Mongolia with no shops or supermarket. A mix up with luggage meant that some bags and all the massage tables were sent to the wrong hotel. As a result, my first massage was on Day 5 on the side of the road while we waited for the buses to load after Stage 2. 

The first few days were wet, and when racing in China, that means a very, very dirty kit. Because we were getting onto the buses directly after the stage finish and arriving late to the next hotel, laundry was limited. This meant each morning I was drying my clothes with a hairdryer.

Clothing wasn’t the only thing that we had trouble keeping clean. The team mechanics struggled to find time to service and clean the bikes because we had to get straight into the buses after each stage. We would arrive at the next hotel late into the evening, so the mechanics would be up late each night ensuring that the bikes were ready for the following day.

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Unlike other races, the team car could not go ahead of the bus when transferring to the hotel. Last year a team car crashed during one of the transfers, so any team that drove ahead of the convoy faced a fine or removal from the race. I don’t know how the team directors stayed awake. The buses would stop at rest stops roughly every 2 hours meaning that we averaged around 70kph during the transfers. By the end, even our bus driver was ready to explode out of frustration.

Each day before the start of the stage or transfer, we collected a ‘lunch bag’ to take on the bus. It consisted of a loaf of bread, can of rice, bottle of coke, stick of meat, chocolate bar, tetra pack of juice or milk and soy-pickled egg. Many riders instead opted for a bowl of instant noodles during the rest stops and then spent the next two hours trying to put out the fire in their mouths due to how spicy it was.

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This year, the Tours of China definitely maintained their reputation as being the Tour de Transfers. During the race, many people could be overheard saying that the race was disrespectful to the riders and staff, expecting them to endure such ridiculous transfers. Despite this, I am sure that next year the tradition will continue. By now, at least everyone knows exactly what to expect.

Chris Williams rides for Team Novo Nordisk - the world's first all diabetes pro cycling team.

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