Denis Okunev and Aleksandra Biankina outpower competition on Sunshine Mountain
Vatternrundan China was held for the 8th time in Yanbian Korean Automonous Prefecture and for the third consecutive year the main long distance race took riders from Yanji to Tumen, with a long stretch along the border of China and North Korea. The course was a mirror copy of last year: 133 km with 1100 metres of elevation gain. Very rollable, but with a spicy finish in the name of Sunshine Mountain. A 3 km long climb with some steep bits into the two-digit range, followed by a fast descent and final 3,5 km flat stretch to the finish in Tumen City. In other words, a race for punchers – quite uncommon in China.
Denis Okunev is of course no stranger to Yanbian. He won the race – on a completely different course – back in 2016, but also finished second behind Evgeni Vitmanovskii here a year ago, so he knew what awaited him. This year’s edition took place with nearly 1200 participants under a blue sky and the best possible cycling conditions with comfortable temperatures around 23 degrees come late morning. 271 people signed up for the 133k long distance. The excellent conditions did not really inspire the competitive riders, however. The race was pretty locked for a long time, a few desperate solo attempts notwithstanding. Even on the long moderate climb halfway trough the race, nobody dared to go on the offensive. Still, the door was open at the back – as always in a granfondo-style race – and we went into the final with 13 riders.
As this was the third edition on this course, Sunshine Mountain begins to be a familiar item of Vatternrundan China. It is not a long climb, about 3 km, only steep in the beginning and at the end it flattens out a lot, but after 120 km of course it is painful for many people. One of the American participants tried to anticipate, but failed to get away and we hit the climb with 13. Denis Okunev actually took the left turn first and accelerated straightaway. Nobody even felt like following him (see our race video). Okunev quickly created a considerable gap to the others and it was clear who the race winner was going to be. The Khabarovsk rider finished in Tumen City in 3:29:09 with a 49 second bonus over American Jerry Zhao, who actually did very well. More than a minute behind Okunev, Liu Manyu took third and first Chinese ahead of Maksim Kotliarov, who won his age group. The prestige sprint for place 5 was won by Konstantin Saliukov ahead of Sven Grundmann, Tim Wilcox, Daniel Boettiger and Tian Boyuan.
In the women’s race, last year’s winner Solongo Tserenlham from Ulanbaataar jeopardised her chances straightaway by arriving late at the start. In the end, Solongo had to settle for third place today, but in all fairness, Aleksandra Biankina and Feng Jihong both rode an excellent race and were faster than Solongo’s winning time last year. The young Biankina actually finished in an outstanding 3:43:09. Another relevation from Khabarovsk, just like Okunev! Jin Lian, Zhang Yandong and Li Wenzu were four, five and six.