Tour of Beijing review

Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tony Martin brought his 2012 season to a successful conclusion by seeing double for the second time in a month.

Having already successfully defended his World time trial title, an opportunistic solo attack propelled him to victory in the second edition of the Tour of Beijing – the final WorldTour race of the year – to add to his overall win in last year’s inaugural event.

Stage 1: Tiananmen Square to Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, 117km

Elia Viviani took victory in a chaotic bunch finish to claim the first red leader’s jersey of the race. The Liquigas-Cannondale sprinter, who also won a stage last year, snuck up the outside of the pack in the final 100 metres and held off Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) by 1½ lengths.

Yes, the CCTV building is supposed to look like this … (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

There was no open-top bus, but this short first stage provided a spectator and viewer-friendly tour of some of Beijing’s most prominent sights. Starting in Tiananmen Square, the peloton rolled out along the front of the Forbidden City before embarking on a 12-lap circuit of the city centre, with the finish adjacent to the Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube. Fortunately, the hazardous smog levels of previous days which had led to suggestions that the stage be cancelled or shortened were greatly reduced by overnight wind which saw the race start under bright blue skies.

As expected, the day’s five-man break included a rider from local Pro Continental team Champion System, although it was surprising to see that it was American Craig Lewis rather than one of the team’s Chinese riders. He was the last man to be swept up on the penultimate circuit before a chaotic closing lap in which no one team wanted or was able to take control of the lead-out. Liquigas were content to keep their powder dry and sit 15-20 back in the pack, positioning Viviani neatly on the far left of the bunch with a clear run to launch his winning sprint.

Stage 2: Bird’s Nest to Men Tou Gou, 126km

Defending champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) shrugged off the absence of a time trial on this year’s parcours with a 26km solo attack which established a 50-second lead and put all his rivals firmly on the back foot.

Martin timed his attack to perfection (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

With the day’s three categorised climbs – first, third and second category respectively – all occurring relatively far from the finish, the pre-race debate centred more on whether the sprinters’ teams would be able to bring the bunch back together in time to set up their men. And initially the race looked to be following a predictable pattern, with the early five-man break seeing a three-minute lead evaporate on the Cat 1 Gad Ya Kou, a testing 10.8km climb averaging 6.4%. However, the pace was sufficient to break the peloton into three parts. It would never reform, as an elite group including both Martin and his no-relation namesake Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) bridged across to the leaders.

Martin put in his decisive dig over the top of the final climb, establishing a gap over the rest of what by then had been whittled down to an eight-man lead group as the others fatally hesitated and failed to organise. He was able to start celebrating 3km from the finish line, which he crossed 46 seconds ahead of the rest of the lead group, with 15 others four seconds behind. The rest of the peloton were over two minutes further in arrears.

The double time trial world champion expressed his delight after the stage:

I came to China to try to get a good result, even if there was no time trial this year. I knew I had to try something without the TT. About 25km from the finish there was a little downhill section after the climb. I turned and saw I had a small gap between me and the rest of the group, so I decided to go. Then I did my own time trial, giving my best — it worked in the end.

It’s super nice because it is unusual to win a road stage. I am always happy to win the time trials, but it is quite amazing for me to win a stage like this.

Stage 3: Men Tou Gou to Badaling Great Wall, 162.5km

Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen made a gutsy late solo bid for victory in the shadow of the Great Wall, only to agonisingly hit the wall himself and be overtaken within touching distance of the finish by Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), who went one better than his second-place finish the previous day.

Gavazzi secured his first win for over a year (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

A strong seven-man break including Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEDGE) went away after around 35km and established a lead of close to five minutes before the inevitable chase and catch. Meier was the last to succumb to the pursuing peloton inside the final 10km, leading to counter-attacks by first AG2R’s Sylvain Georges and then, with 4km to go, Euskaltel’s Igor Anton.

As others hesitated, Boasson Hagen leapt off the front of the bunch, catching Anton just before the 3km banner and continuing on over the top of him. On the twisting 1km climb to the finish, the Norwegian champion’s lead was as large as 17 seconds. However, with the testing 6.4% gradient causing him to visibly labour, Garmin’s Dan Martin put in a massive effort to chase him down, only for both to be overhauled by the fast-finishing Gavazzi in the final 25 metres. It was the Italian’s maiden win in Astana colours and his first since stage 18 of last year’s Vuelta, and consolidated his position in second on the GC, 40 seconds behind Tony Martin.

Stage 4: Yanqing to Chang Ping, 165.5km

Katusha’s Marco Haller took his first professional win ahead of the veteran Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD). as Tony Martin had no problem defending his 40-second advantage on the penultimate stage.

Haller celebrated his first pro win (image courtesy of Katusha)

On a fairly straightforward day containing just three Cat 3 climbs, the peloton had little difficulty chasing down the day’s five-man break, with escape expert Jeremy Roy (FDJ-BigMat) the last to be caught with more than 5km still to run. Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Lampre initially controlled the run-in, while Sky attempted to set up Edvald Boasson Hagen inside the final kilometre. However, as Petacchi opened up the sprint with around 250 metres to go, he simply did not have the top-end speed to hold off Haller, who eased past him to win by 1½ lengths. Stage one winner Elia Viviani was third.

The 21-year old Austrian celebrated ecstatically with his teammates after the finish, and was delighted to have taken his maiden pro win in such exalted company:

I am unbelievably happy to win today, on a UCI WorldTour event. I never expected to beat riders like Viviani, Petacchi or Boasson Hagen.

I had a high speed and felt quite easy. I was thinking: “My God! It’s possible to win! It’s really possible!” And I won!

Stage 5: Chang Ping to Ping Gu, 182.5km

A 12-man breakaway provided the springboard for two rabbits to escape the chasing hounds, as Steve Cummings (BMC) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) eased away from their fellow escapees on the last of the day’s three climbs. They maintained just enough daylight between them and the peloton – 17 seconds – for Cummings to ease past the Giro d’Italia champion in a two-up sprint to claim his second victory of a year in which he lost half the season to injury and illness.

In the intervening kilometres of the race’s longest stage, Dan Martin led over the first two climbs to secure the mountains classification, while Edvald Boasson Hagen picked up two bonus seconds at intermediate sprints to move him level with Martin in third overall. The Norwegian champion then claimed an additional four seconds as he won the sprint for third place at the line to secure the bottom step of the podium behind overall winner Tony Martin and runner-up Francesco Gavazzi.

Boasson Hagen also won the points competition, while Rafal Majka (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) – eighth overall – was the best young rider.

Closing thoughts

Although he is best known as a master time-trialist, this was Tony Martin‘s sixth career stage race win – that’s five more than Andy Schleck, folks – on a palmares which includes the overall at Paris-Nice in 2011. With his perfectly timed attack on stage two, he underlined his class as a fantastic racer as well as a top all-round rider. (Speaking of Schleck the Younger, his dismal 2012 season ended in predictable fashion as he abandoned 42km into the final stage.)

The second edition of the Tour of Beijing certainly had a much more interesting parcours than last year. Although most stages remained slanted towards the quick men, there was a finer balance between the sprinters and breakaway artists which ensured exciting finishes to the flat stages, while the punchy climb at the end of stage three provided the most exciting climax of the lot.

However, the biggest issues for the race remain its end-of-season timing, meaning many teams and riders turn up out of obligation as much as anything, and a lack of enthusiasm from the locals, with roadside fans being noticeably sparse in numbers even for the city centre finishes. There is still much work to be done here to turn this into both a commercial and sporting success, but this year was definitely a step in the right direction. As the Chinese themselves might say, the Great Wall wasn’t built in a day.

There are still a couple of races remaining in Europe, but this now concludes the 2012 UCI WorldTour. Bradley Wiggins ultimately had to concede the number one ranking to Joaquim Rodriguez after the latter won Il Lombardia, but his Sky squad dominated the team standings, with the Spaniard’s Katusha outfit a distant second.

This also concludes VeloVoices’ race coverage for this year, but we’ll be keeping busy over the next few weeks as we look back on the races, riders and stories which made up the 2012 season. Stay with us!

General classification

1. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 17:16:56

2. Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) +0:40

3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:46

4. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +0:50

5. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:52

6. Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:56

7. Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

8. Rafal Majka (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) s/t

9. Rui Costa (Movistar) +1:00

10. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) s/t

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Who’s moving where for 2013? #4

From the sublime to the ridiculous, sporting transfer gossip offers no end of opportunities for speculation and distraction. Suffice to say, cycling is no different. This weekly column will bring you up to speed with the latest, greatest (and downright absurd) cycling rumours for your own examination and contemplation.

The Velits twins – Quick Step to CCC Polkowice?

Image courtesy of brassynn/Flickr

According to unconfirmed reports, the Slovak twins Peter and Martin Velits of Omega Pharma-Quick Step have been holding talks with little-known Polish team CCC Polkowice, in what surely ranks as one of the strangest transfer links of the ‘silly season’ so far.

The Velits twins moved to Quick Step from the now-defunct HTC-Highroad team ahead of the 2012 season, but have struggled to deliver results leading to suggestions that they are heading away from Patrick Lefevre’s outfit. After an impressive second place in the 2010 Vuelta, 27-year old Peter was tipped as a potential Grand Tour winner, though an 18th place at the 2011 Tour de France is the best result he has achieved at a major race since then. Martin has not added an individual win to his palmares since the national time trial championship in 2010.

Will it happen? 2/5. It is weird and wonderful stories like this one which make the transfer season so amusing and entertaining. Despite not having the most spectacular of seasons, both are very capable riders, with Peter in particular a potential race winner. It would take a lot to tempt them away from the WorldTour, let alone to a team who haven’t even got Pro Continental status. It it were to come off, it will undoubtedly be a leading contender for ‘coup of the season’.

Aleksandr Serebryakov heading a trio of non-Basques at Euskaltel?

The released Amets Txurruka made sure the world knew about his team’s new policy of signing non-Basque riders when it was announced his own contract would not be renewed. Now the floodgates appear to have opened, and three non-Basques (with two of them not even Spanish) being strongly linked to the team.

Image courtesy of Team Type 1

Portuguese Ricardo Mestre (Tavira) and the Spaniard Juan Jose Lobato (Andalucia) are two of the three, but it is the third, Russian Aleksandr Serebryakov, who is the most intriguing. Serebryakov, who rides on the diabetics-only Team Type 1, has won races all around the world, with his top European highlight being a top five at this year’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

After the departure of Koldo Fernandez to Garmin-Sharp for the 2012 season, Euskaltel were left without any capable sprinters at all, and the introduction of Serebryakov would most certainly change that, ushering in a new – and some say unwelcome – era at the carrot-clad mountain goats.

Will it happen? 3/5. Euskaltel have made no secret of the fact that they are being forced to look outside of their own region for WorldTour points, so these moves are certainly feasible on a practical basis. Whether Euskaltel are looking at these riders specifically I can’t be certain, though without doubt Serebryakov would plug a huge sprinter-sized gap in a team of mainly climbers.

Pippo Pozzato – Farnese Vini to Lampre?

Image courtesy of Farnese Vini

There has been yet another twist in the Pippo Pozzato story. Now it seems fairly certain he will be leaving the Farnese Vini team for the WorldTour, but the only question is: to whom? From Movistar and Katusha to Saxo Bank, he has been linked with just about every team going, with Lampre now joining the queue.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Pozzato would fill the void left by Grega Bole for the Classics, though Lampre are not exactly a team known for their prowess in the spring races in recent years. Nevertheless, Pozzato achieved some excellent results at a Pro Continental team last season, so may be unperturbed by a potentially relatively weak team protecting him.

Will it happen? 4/5. Despite so many teams being linked with Pozzato already this season, this one feels more probable than any other. The obvious Italian connection between Pozzato and Lampre adds fuel to the fire, with the famous fuchsia team looking to bolster their Classics roster. It’s one I can see happening.