Although for many of the peloton’s big names the off-season has already begun, the UCI WorldTour does not conclude until the end of the second Tour of Beijing this week. The five-day race offers one last shot at glory and all-important ranking points.
With 19 teams competing for the 18 ProTeam slots which guarantee entry to every WorldTour event, for those languishing at the bottom of the rankings – hello, Vacansoleil-DCM, AG2R La Mondiale and FDJ-MigMat – this race is potentially crucial to bolstering their chances of having their status renewed for 2013. Nonetheless, for many riders there is likely to be something of an end-of-term feel to proceedings.
What kind of race is it?
Having only been run once, Beijing has yet to establish any particular character or pattern but last year’s edition was a sprinter-friendly race, with three of five stages ending in carbon-copy bunch sprints on straight, wide roads which offered negligible technical challenge. What climbs there were took place in the medium mountains to the north of the city, but the layout and (lack of) severity of the parcours worked against any big decisive splits.
This year’s route is similar but more challenging. However, as parcours go, Beijing is much closer in nature to, say, the Tour of Poland than to the Dauphiné, which should ensure the time gaps remain small throughout.
What happened last year?
Tony Martin marked the final race before the disbanding of HTC-Highroad by taking overall victory. The recently crowned world time trial champion blitzed the opening 11.3km race against the clock with a winning margin of 17 seconds, which he maintained in each of the four subsequent stages to head a British two-three-four of David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo), Chris Froome and Steve Cummings (both Sky), who had finished second, fourth and fifth respectively in the ITT.
With only the middle of the five stages providing a significant climbing challenge, the other road stages all culminated in textbook bunch sprints won by Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo), Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha). The one true climbing day, stage three, saw AG2R’s Nicolas Roche outsprint compatriot Philip Deignan (RadioShack) and Froome as the trio barely held off the chasing pack on the descent from the second of two late Cat 1 mountains.
Galimzyanov won the points competition, while Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) took the mountains competition and Sky the team prize.
1. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 13:39:11
2. David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) +0:17
3. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:26
4. Steve Cummings (Sky) +0:35
5. Oliver Kaisen (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:39
6. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) +0:41
7. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:43
8. Andriy Grivko (Astana) same time
9. Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) s/t
10. Niki Terpstra (Quick Step) +0:46
This year’s race
Last year’s race was effectively decided by the opening time trial, with three predictable arrow-straight bunch sprints and just one real climbing stage of any note which failed to produce significant time differences. For 2012, however, the climbs are both more in number and more difficult, with greater scope for the GC contenders and a number of stages which could potentially favour both a sprint or a Classics-style attack. However, while it’s undoubtedly a more interesting and challenging route this year, it’s still unlikely that the overall winner’s final margin will be more than a handful of seconds.
After an opening city centre criterium starting in Tiananmen Square and finishing outside the iconic Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, the vertical stuff starts on stage two. This features three categorised climbs including a 954m Cat 1 summit mid-stage (a far from easy 10.8km at 6.4%) and an uncategorised hill inside the final 10km which could prompt a successful late attack to thwart the sprinters’ teams.
The following day the race heads back along some of the same roads, again taking in the same Cat 1 climb before a long uphill drag takes the peloton to a short, punchy summit finish – 1km at 6.4% – at the Great Wall at Badaling. It is here that the race is likely to be won and lost, albeit by only a handful of seconds.
Stage four features three late Cat 3 climbs, none of them overly taxing and followed by a 30km-plus downhill to the finish which should ensure it is a day for the sprinters, aided by a finishing straight close to 3km in length. The final day could go either way. It features a tricky Cat 1 climb – although at 5.4km and 5.9% that classification is somewhat generous – less than 30km from the finish followed by a steep descent which may also provide one final opportunity for a peloton-splitting attack to shake up the GC. Equally a determined effort could easily see everything come back together again for one final sprint.
Who to watch
Despite the end-of-term timing of the race, there are still several big names in terms of both GC contenders and sprinters to look out for this week.
Tony Martin returns with Omega Pharma-Quick Step to defend his title, and although the lack of a time trial this year means he is unlikely to repeat he will be looking to carry over the form he showed on the hilly World Championships course on which he won his second consecutive time trial rainbow jersey. He will be supported by the Sky-bound Dario Cataldo, although the Italian may ultimately prove to have a more realistic shot at a podium finish.
Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez returns to the city in which he claimed the gold medal in the Olympic road race in 2008. Vacansoleil-DCM will be looking to Johnny Hoogerland to bring home some much-needed ranking points. Meanwhile Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, who took the silver medal in the road race at the Worlds, could also be a key player, while it will be interesting to see how RadioShack-Nissan’s Andy Schleck goes as he continues his hesitant comeback at the end of an injury-plagued season. I wouldn’t expect Schleck to feature particularly, though.
However, arguably the two strongest teams present will be BMC and Garmin-Sharp. The former are likely to focus on Steve Cummings (fourth overall last year) and Mathias Frank, with World time trial runner-up Taylor Phinney saying he will chase stage wins. Meanwhile Garmin will field both Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal and climber Dan Martin for the GC, with Heinrich Haussler, a stage winner last year, contesting the sprints.
On the flat stages look out also for the veteran Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), Lotto-Belisol’s Greg Henderson and Vacansoleil’s Kenny Van Hummel, among others. And, of course, expect Chinese riders from the Champion System team, which includes national road race champion Gang Xu, to feature prominently in the daily breakaways.
October 9th: Stage 1 – Tiananmen Square to Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, 117km
October 10th: Stage 2 – Bird’s Nest to Men Tou Gou, 126km
October 11th: Stage 3 – Men Tou Gou to Badaling Great Wall, 162.5km
October 12th: Stage 4 – Yanqing to Chang Ping, 165.5km
October 13th: Stage 5 – Chang Ping to Ping Gu, 182.5km
The Tour of Beijing starts on Tuesday 9th October and concludes on Saturday 13th. Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other live coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website