Review of Sun Trip 2018 Lyon-Canton on the New Silk Roads

The 3rd edition of Sun Trip started from Lyon, France on June 15, in celebration of the framework of the Lyon-Canton (Guangzhou) co-operation 30th anniversary. The Sun Trip 2018 revisits the Silk Road with a race relying solely on solar power, 12,000 km through Eurasia on the world’s largest overland adventure. It is a journey pushing back the limits, to revolutionize mobility and write a new chapter on the history of human adventures.

The year 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Lyon and Guangzhou as sister cities. Guangzhou Municipal Government, French Cultural Communication Center and Guangdong Lingnan Group organized the event. Rich celebrations, include a personalized reception for each contestant. The Lyon-Guangzhou Solar Cycling Race is expected lasted for more than two months to arrive in Guangzhou. When arrived, a Guangdong Food Festival and Guangdong Local Culture Festival was held to entertain these guests who have crossed thousands of mountains and thousands of miles.

42 contestants from France, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and China participated in this unusual race. The contestants travel through the mountains and forests of the Alps, the mountains and grasslands of Kazakhstan and Central Asia, the Taklimakan Desert in Northwest China, the Gobi and the basins and plains in central China, along the footprints of the ancient Silk Road, across 15 countries, Cycling 12,000 kilometers.

This is the largest and longest-running event since the launch of Sun Trip since its trip to Kazakhstan in 2013 and Turkey in 2015. This event is held under the framework of the France-China Energy Year, and is also an important part of the cooperation series for the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the international sister city relationship between Lyon and Guangzhou.

The competition has some strict rules, the participants cycle individually (or in a team) under their own physical strength, which can be boost with the help of an electric motor powered by solar panels. There is also no logistical support from the organization, which means everyone is designated and determines his own route and overnight stays. The long journey is also full of variables, and players must try their best to maintain their equipment, because it is difficult to find a suitable repair point in the middle.

For the next 12,000 km, they can only be helped by the people they meet on the road. Their only link with the organizers and between them is a SPOT geolocation beacon for safety and in case of emergency. When strategizing a Sun Trip itinerary, one must take into account that it is only allowed to ride between 7 AM and 9 PM. Nighttime is dedicated to recovery, time spent with the locals, and online communication. The organization team inflicts a time penalty on the slightest error. Adventurers therefore have only 14 hours a day to progress and must anticipate their supply, their break location and each time change.

The journey was originally expected to take two months to complete, while in the end, it sends a spectacular message to the world: the fastest rider took only 45 days to reach Canton from Lyon, 50 days for the second, 52 for the third. In a blink of an eye, these formerly anonymous adventurers become the fastest people in the history of emission-free energies on the New Silk Roads. The Sun Trip 2018 made its mark on the history of ecomobility.

The Sun Trip 2018 sent a very positive signal that the spectacular Silk Road journey can be completed by purely relying on clean energy, but also by green travel. The event also instilled confidence in the solar power industry, with both Europe and China having excellent solar panel technology, and these components have maintained good performance after a long journey of extreme testing, proving that the industry is gradually maturing.

The festive start is given under the sun in the presence of Chinese and French officials at the Place des Terreaux within the framework of the Lyon-Canton (Guangzhou) co-operation 30th anniversary on June 15, 2018. The twinned cities’ involvement was capital into making this cross-continental event a reality. With their support, the Sun Trip gains in credibility and can imagine a repeating the Lyon-Canton course for the years to come, building it into a world-famous event.

A week before the official departure from Lyon, Nicolas Hulot, French Minister of Ecology, was symbolically launching this great adventure from Paris in the presence of the Ambassador for China in France, a key moment to get off on the right foot and demonstrate the Sun Trip’s significance in the French-Chinese relations.

At the start line in Lyon, a diversity of people ranging from 24 to 70 years-old align: great athletes and Sunday afternoon strollers, students and retired people, solo travellers and family journeyers, disabled and heart transplanted participants… They are all guided by a desire to reach beyond their dream and become for a Summer the ambassadors for new energies.

Adventurers are free to take flight starting from Chamonix on June 19 where the start proper takes place. From there, they each ride freely according to their route choices, without assistance, propelled solely by their own muscles and solar energy. Participants ride for the following three days as a loose pack in the mountains of Savoie Mont Blanc, through Savoie Technolac, Aix les Bains and Chambéry.

In Chamonix, Roland Jourdain acts as a godfather, conveying his passion to the riders. After the Forclaz pass, the group divides in two. The biggest one head north around the Alps through Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. A smaller group choose to ascend the Great Saint Bernhard Pass and ride on the Italian plains towards the Balkans. The northern route was shorter on paper, but the weather can completely change the game.

Eastern Europe
Both routes merge in Western Ukraine, near Lviv. After 7 days, the first rider crosses into Ukraine with a 300 km route. At the rear of the group, bad weather puts considerable stress on the troops. The heavy rain and headwinds slow down most riders. At this moment, they are all still riding using only solar energy and the shying sun complicates everything. Some just cannot go forward.

On the 10th day, the fastest adventurer has already set off in Russia, riding 270 km per day on average despite the sunshine conditions are not ideal. The gap between the top ten has widened within 1,000 km but anything can still happen as there are daily changes in their positions. Some had a quick start and then downgrade while others take advantage of the Russian plain to gain momentum.

At the rear of the group, a few branched off to the south after Slovenia. 7 teams chose to go around the Black Sea via Turkey. They get back to the main road much further, in Kazakhstan, after a Baku-Aktau ferry ride across the Caspian Sea, the only one allowed on this course. This southern route is much longer and mountainous. This road less travelled cannot lead to a place high in the solar challenge.

Central Asia
On July 5, thus a little over 15 days after the start proper, the Sun Trip enters Asia in Kazakhstan and Turkey simultaneously. The sun is finally shining brightly and the climate also gets warmer. Contestants face new challenges, the Kazakh steppes over 3000 km. This crossing of the Kazakh wilderness is the first great turning point of the adventure. The dazzling performances of the fastest riders in crossing the steppes allowed them to widen the gap with the rest of the pack where scorching sun headwinds and rain showers hits. But for all, time spent in Kazakhstan remain some of the best: a wild nature, a great adventure and kind people.

Kazakhstan was a monumental ordeal for many. The challengers encountered huge winds in the grasslands, so strong that they could barely stand. During the trip of Kazakhstan, 15 contestants had to abandon the challenge, mostly because their solar equipment was damaged, and impossible to find a place to repair.

7 crews choose the southern route, passing through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Two crews even passed through Iran. These southern routes joined the northern routes in eastern Kazakhstan and then the difficult roads of Uzbekistan. Here could meet again adventurers whose paths had been separated from the first day.

In just 25 days, Raf Van Hulle leading the pack and arrives in China with daily average has risen to 300 km. Many contestants mistakenly believe that they almost reach the finish line when they arrive in the west part of China. In fact, China is so vast that there is still a distance of 5,000 kilometers to reach Guangzhou. Competitors have to relearn, including learning to obey China’s traffic rules, as well as redefine their travel routes, as solar cars are not currently allowed on China’s most efficient highway network.

The passage of the Gobi desert was the last big turning point of the adventure. Many adventurers speak of the Gobi as “Cape Horn of the Sun Trip” so relentless was the wind! Everyone was in big trouble here. Falls, overturned bicycles, nervous breakdowns, fatigue, terrible night storm, flooding of the road, this section of road, difficulty in finding accommodation at night, in the heart of Eurasia, remain as the most difficult area of ​​the route.

Raf Van Hulle joins the finish on August 3, 2018, less than 45 days after the actual departure from France. He has about 1500 km ahead of the second. In the presence of around forty media, the consuls general of France and Belgium and the Chinese partners of the Sun Trip, Raf’s feat is celebrated. He becomes the fastest oil-free man in the history of the Silk Roads, able to travel 280 km a day between France and China.

Mickaël Joguet and Eric Morel was arrive respectively 6 and 8 days later, to complete the podium. Other arrivals then follow one another throughout the month of August and September. Françoise Denel, the solitary oldest, arrived in Canton in 103 days, tired but still valiant, she have enlightened this 2018 edition of the Sun Trip with her courage. Michael Polak arrived in Canton in 106 days and a perfect ending to this event.

A total of 24 finishers, for 12 who was classified in the “solar challenge”, having respected all the rules of the adventure, starting with the 100% solar recharging of the batteries.

1. Raf Van Hulle, Team Huyndai elevator: in 44 days and 19 hours. 100% solar.
2. Mickaël Joguet: in 50 days and 23 hours. 100% solar.
3. Eric Morel, Team MND – Douze Cycles: in 52 days and 20 hours. 100% solar.
4. Stéphane Bertrand (with Déclic-éco and Photowatt): in 55 days and 23 hours (with a 2-day bonus). 100% solar.
5. Herman Segers: in 59 days. 100% solar.
6. Laurent Souchet (Team EDF – Bel Air Camp): in 64 days. 100% solar.
6. Jack Butler (Team NewQuest): in 64 days. 100% solar. Winner of the jury prize.
Auguste and Camille Colle (KU Leuven): in 64 days, excluding the solar challenge.
8. Romain Neauport (Team O2Feel): in 70 days. 100% solar.
9. Dirk Huyghe: in 77 days. 100% solar.11. Peter Helsen: in 82 days. 100% solar. Cathy & Didier Pozzodon, Jean-Claude Viguier, Youssef El Haouass & Mohamed Said Jbari, François Médalle & Gilles Coural: in 98 days, excluding adventure.
12. Thierry Rassat: in 99 days, 100% solar. Corinne Courvalin (Team France Passion): in 100 days, excluding adventure.
13. Françoise Denel: in 103 days – Winner of the public prize – Out of the solar challenge.
14. Michael Polak: in 106 days – 100% solar – Out of 100 days.