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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 7 - Jiayuguan to Dunhuang – 478km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 7 - Jiayuguan to Dunhuang – 478km

Day 7 began in Jiayuguan, one of China’s major industrial cities, with the sun struggling to pierce the smog laden skies. A fair group had gathered to see off the cars, presenting a guard of honour as the machines trickled out into the Friday morning traffic, picking a route out of the city and heading towards better things.

The outskirts were a jumbled mess of industry, factories arranged as if dropped with great chimneys belching smoke into the thick atmosphere. In contrast, we passed great solar farms leaning towards the sun, in a seemingly futile attempt to offset the grim miasma hanging in the air.

Our road was taking us somewhere better though, somewhere cleaner, as we began the climb to what would be the highest point of the trip, an ascent to an altitude of 3300m in the Qilian Mountain Range. It was the first time for a while that I could remember seeing blue sky, a sky that highlighted the snow-capped peaks of the taller parts of the range. It was breath-taking stuff, metaphorically and literally, and the cars were a little breathless as well, a fact that would become more prominent on the first regularity of the day, a gravel climb 108km and a couple of hours from the start point.

The reg contained a pair of timing points, and the run to the second involved a steep pair of hairpins that proved a point of difficulty for almost all of the field, with everyone dropping at least ten seconds and, in most cases, far more, everyone except Lars Rolner and Marco Fila that is, it seemed Porsche-Power was the way to go.

Post reg and there was more dirt and mountains to enjoy, with some tarmac thrown in to offer up a less intense ride for a little while. There had been time control section planned for here, but this was cancelled, so the competitors could enjoy the road without the pressure of the competition. All of a sudden though, the scenery changed, almost at the flick of a switch. One minute we were squirreling about on the gravel and the next there was suddenly tarmac and green countryside. It was as if we had gone through the wardrobe into Narnia, there was even grass, something we haven’t seen for a good long while, and there was civilisation in the form of a small town that hosted the middle of the day, time control.

Anyone who wished they were still on the dirt wouldn’t have long to get back to the loose stuff though, as another 10km down the road we were back onto the gravel and into another series of dirt tracks and dry riverbed crossings as the scenery flipped again. As we approached the afternoons time control section the desert stretched out to the south of us, and above that loomed more distant mountains, with their 5500 metre peaks glistening white in the sunshine, as the cars tore up the sand and gravel into great dusty plumes below, as they enjoyed the sporting time control. There were no major dramas for anyone during this section, although John Henderson in car 99 managed to wrong slot just before the time control, but still got the car turned around and home inside his minute.

A long drive to the remote MTC followed the final competition section of the day, partly on gravel and partly on tarmac, all in the shadow of the mountains. It was a beautiful drive, after a day of tremendous scenery, and the wildlife was coming out to play as well, with Camels, Yaks, Birds of Prey and Snakes all featuring, and as the sun shone we must surely have been the most fortunate people on the planet to be enjoying this particular moment.

A number of crews had been enjoying the moment so much, that they had forgotten to fill up with fuel, and as legs were stretched at the MTC those who’s tanks were running dry were on the scrounge for petrol, so they could complete the 120km run into the hotel. The MTC was remote in every sense of the word, and the only road out of the place was a rough construction track that dropped down to the desert floor, and in the hot hot heat it was not somewhere to run out of fuel and become stranded. After much siphoning of petrol between vehicles, a lot of which came from Matt Bryson, the P76 turning Bowser for the day, everyone who had issues was able to get on with the job of negotiating the road home. It was an exercise in technical driving and patience, passable, but with some of the descents in and out of the numerous Wadi’s tricky to negotiate to say the least. It seemed that Florian Lissmann hadn’t read the script though, opting to go off piste and bury the throttle as soon as he was onto the desert floor.

As the sun began to drop in the sky, the last of the competitors made it into the days finish, with the promise of a non-transit day in the morning to fettle cars and take care of any issues, before the second week of our adventure. Once the scores were on the doors the number one spot was still occupied by Richard Walker and Faith Douglas, despite the Chevy Coupe doing its best to vibrate itself into the ground during the day. Andy Buchan and Mike Sinclair are a further 36 seconds back in second, with Patrick Debussere and Lorenzo Bas in third in the Dodge Roadster. In the classic category Lars and Annette Rolner are still the team to beat, one minute and eighteen seconds ahead of Matt Bryson and Mike Pink in the Leyland fuel truck. Lars though, will not want to chance running out of fuel again though, Matt may not be feeling quite so generous next time…


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