Spinning down the season in Beijing
Australia's GreenEdge Cycling Teams' Luke Durbridge, Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen(AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)
Well, it’s nearly all over for the professional road cycling season. Marco Marcato has claimed the final classic of the year at Paris-Tours, the cyclocross bikes are out, managers are signing deals, and most of the pro peloton are busy posting holiday snaps on Twitter.
Just one World Tour race remains: the Tour of Beijing.
For the Chinese team Champion System, it’s a rare chance to race at the top level, in its first World Tour race. This is a significant step for an Asian pro continental team, in its first season, towards its ultimate goal of taking Chinese and Asian riders to the Grand Tours.
However, with only three Chinese riders in their squad, alongside two Americans, an Australian and a New Zealander, it will probably be a few years yet before we see a big group of Chinese riders on the Champs Elysees.
For several teams, it’s a desperate grab for enough points to retain their World Tour status. For some riders, it’s a last chance to impress team management, or earn a new contract. For hapless Andy Schleck, it’s pre-season training for 2013, after a disastrous 2012 campaign.
For some riders, it’s a smog-filled five-day marketing exercise standing between them and a well-earned holiday.
Amusing pre-race pictures of Europe-based riders wearing ventilators probably overstate Beijing’s air-quality problem, but the peloton was no doubt relieved to see blue skies for the first stage, a circuit through Beijing past Tiananmen Square and the Bird’s Nest stadium.
It’s a slightly odd race, Beijing. A cynic might say it’s a blatant cash grab and an attempt to manufacture an interest in cycling in a huge consumer market, before a genuine interest exists, that is undeserving of World Tour status.
A more charitable observer may see a valuable opportunity to extend the world of cyclesport to a receptive country that still primarily sees the bicycle as transport (notwithstanding the success of the Chinese track squad). Developing the sport in Asia is no doubt a huge commercial opportunity, and many of the sponsors will be pleased with any local media coverage the race receives.
So, what sort of racing will we see? Five short stages over mixed terrain should make for aggressive racing, but it’s difficult to predict a winner over a short parcours with limited opportunities to take time gaps.
Stage One was a pancake flat 117km stage around a circuit of the Olympic stadium and Tiananmen Square, predictably won in a bunch sprint by Elia Viviani of Liquigas-Cannondale. A five-man breakaway was allowed no more than 90 seconds’ gap, and was comfortably reeled in by the sprinters’ teams with time remaining to set up the finish.
Orica-GreenEDGE worked solidly on the front to control the breakaway, and delivered a good lead-out for Aidis Kruopis, but he ran out of legs in the last metres and was swamped, finishing eighth.
Stage Two is a mere 134km, but boasts a Category 1 (10.1km at a relaxed 4.9% gradient) and a couple of Category 3 climbs. Even so, it probably won’t be selective enough to make much difference to the general classification.
Stage Three is a hilly 162km punctuated by a Category 1 climb at the mid-point, with a summit finish on the Category 3-rated Badaling Great Wall (1km at 6.3%). This is probably the best chance of the race for a punchy climber to claim the race.
Stage Four is lumpy, with three Category 3 climbs and a 30km downhill run into the finish at 165.5km. An opportunistic attack in a small group could stay away if the peloton dozes off, but I see this one finishing in a bunch sprint.
Stage Five features a Category 1 ascent (5.4km at 5.9%) with 30km remaining, which could produce a reasonably selective group if raced aggressively. However, another 30km run into the finish should bring most of the peloton back together for a bunch sprint to conclude the race.
Orica-GreenEDGE has nominated Vuelta sensation Simon Clarke as its GC hope, with Allan Davis as the first-choice sprinter coming off his sixth place at the World Championships. Leigh Howard and Aidis Kruopis will also present strong options in the remaining bunch sprints, with Howard coming off a strong Tour of Britain and Kruopis performing well in the sprints and GC at the Tour de Wallonie Picarde.
Domestique duties will fall to Mitch Docker, Sebastian Langeveld, Christian Meier and Wes Sulzberger.
Despite the narrow miss in Stage One, there’s a good chance of a stage win for the Australian team, which would bookend its successful first season nicely.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.
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