The one day Mountain bike race is aptly named the Tour of the Dragon, not only because it is being held in Bhutan, which is also called the Land of the Thunder Dragon, but also because of its difficulty.
As difficult as it is to conquer a dragon, so is it difficult to complete the race! This race is one of the most grueling bike races, if not the most, in the world.
268 Kilometers Across the Inner Himalayas of Bhutan.
268 Kilometers Across 4 High Mountain Passes.
268 Kilometers From Central Bhutan to Western Bhutan.
268 Kilometers from Elevations of 1200 Meters to 3340 Meters.
Any self respecting cyclist would know about Paris Roubaix which is often called the Hell of the North or A Sunday in Hell – considered the most challenging one day race in the world and the Tour of the Dragon is just 3 km longer. The tar road of the Tour of the Dragon (from Bumthang, Central Bhutan to Thimphu, West Bhutan) would feel almost as cobbled as the route of the Paris Roubaix. But on the road of the Hell of the North, the elevation does not cross 685m while on the Tour of the Dragon; the starting elevation is 2700m and climbs up to 3340m. In total, during the race, one gains 3790m and loses 3950m.
The highest one reaches in the Death Ride – the most challenging one day premiere race in the US, is 2660m with total distance of 206km. So it is no wonder that some of the participants, including the founder have dubbed Tour of the Dragon as “Death Race”.
The race has been conceived by His Royal Highness, Prince Jigyel U. Wangchuck – President of Bhutan Olympic Committee who is a leading biking enthusiast and an all round sportsman himself. His Royal Highness himself led the race and was one of the few that completed in record time. It is to be held first Saturday of every September, during the time, when in Bhutan climatic conditions is just right.
Tour of the Dragon starts in Bumthang, central Bhutan (2610 m, 8560 ft.), and takes you to Thimphu across 4 mountain passes, or las as they are called in Dzongkha.
The riders follow the Bumthang Chhu (river in Dzongkha) for a couple of kilometers and then climb 6 km through blue pine forest to Kiki La at 2870 m (9420 ft.). From there it is down to Nangar. Through more blue pine forest and agricultural land you follow a gentle road through Chumey and up to Gaytsha (2950 m, 9680 ft.).
The road then climbs 7 km up through blue pine forest to Bong Bridge, and then gets a little steeper for about 5 km through mixed conifer and rhododendron forests and pastures until you reach Yutong La at 3430 m (11250 ft.). From Yutong La it is a 29 km downhill ride to Trongsa. The pass is dominated by fir and rhododendron forest, open pastures and rock outcrops. As you go down to Dorji Gonpa, which is almost halfway, firs give way to spruce and hemlock and mixed broadleaved forest dominated by birch and oaks and rhododendrons. Below Dorji Gonpa, the road passes though broadleaved forest and agricultural fields. There are some excellent viewpoints to see in Trongsa, including the dzong (fortress) and the extensive forests and agricultural fields beyond. Just before reaching Trongsa (2150 m, 7050 ft.) you pass right below the Ta Dzong (a watchtower to guard the dzong from enemies).
From Trongsa the road descents gently for 7 km to Bjee Zam bridge at 1900 m (6230 ft.) and then climbs 6 km through broad leaved forest to a viewpoint from where the Trongsa Dzong seems just a stone’s throw away. The road continues climbing for another 10 km along cliffs and through broadleaved forests and agricultural settlements. At Tshangkha it passes the headquarters of the Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park. After reaching Tashiling, a few km further, most of the climbing is done. For the last 20 km you will only climb some 150 m (500 ft), but there are some ups and downs. As you near Chendebji, hemlock replaces broadleaved species on some of the ridges and in the valley. You pass Chendebji Chorten and a little later will reach Chendebji village (2430 m, 7970 ft.).
The road climbs through mixed conifer forest past Nikkarchu Bridge at Chazam and Rukubji to the small settlement of Longte. By this time pastures and agricultural fields have replaced most of the trees. Through these pastures dominated by dwarf bamboo you reach Pele La (3430 m, 11250 ft.). You then continue your long descent through fir, birch, rhododendron forest and many small waterfalls to Wangdue Phodrang. After passing the village of Nobding, there is a single restaurant a further 12 km down and then a few shops at Tiki Zampa another 15 km further. Just past here a new Japanese bridge spans the Dang Chhu. At Chhuzomsa, there is a side road to an abandoned slate mine. After a long, almost flat stretch you reach Wangdue Phodrang.
From Wangdue Phodrang, you continue to Metshina (1410 m, 4625 ft.). From Metshina, the distance to Dochula at 3150 m (10,330 ft.) is 38.3 km and the race is uphill, with an average slope of 5% and a few short sections of up to 10%. You will pass Thinleygang (11 km), Lumitsawa (15km), Lampiri (28km), and a memorial chorten for traffic accident victims (32km). Thinleygang is the only place recognizable as a village, having a couple of shops and a BHU (Basic Health Unit). Racing 1700 m (5575 ft.) uphill is as breathtaking as the views.
After Dochula, it’s downhill to Thimphu at 2330 m (7640 ft.), with a small climb only at the end to the Thimphu city square.