Benat Intxausti won the queen stage and claimed overall victory in the Chinese capital, denying Tony Martin a hat-trick of victories. But the outgoing champion did not give up his crown without a fight as the 2013 WorldTour drew to a close.
- Stage 1: BMC’s Thor Hushovd timed his jump to perfection to squeeze out Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) in a slightly downhill sprint.
- Stage 2: In a chaotic battle for position, FDJ delayed their move until the last moment before delivering Nacer Bouhanni to take an easy win and move into the overall lead.
- Stage 3: A lumpy day with seven categorised climbs but, despite a bold solo move by Tony Martin (OPQS) over the final summit, it nonetheless ended in a sprint. Bouhanni claimed his second win in as many days to extend his overall advantage to 11 seconds.
- Stage 4: The queen stage concluded with a summit finish on Miaofeng Mountain at Mentougou (12.6km, 5.7%). The climb saw plenty of action, with Adam Hansen, David Lopez and Rui Costa all initiating attacks. Eventually the new world champion’s Movistar teammate Benat Intxausti put in the decisive move with 2km to go, holding off a late surge by Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin to seize the red jersey.
- Stage 5: Luka Mezgec held off Bouhanni to win the concluding circuit race around the centre of Beijing after Juan Antonio Flecha and Marco Pinotti both said farewell to the WorldTour by featuring in the day’s break.
With many riders already exhausted after a gruelling season and others mentally on the beach, Tour of Beijing is all about still has the form and motivation to pursue crucial UCI points.
Among the sprinters, the two form men were Thor Hushovd and Nacer Bouhanni. Hushovd’s stage one win was his ninth of the year, all but one of which have come since late June. Similarly Bouhanni’s tenth and 11th victories of the year made it seven wins in the last seven weeks for him. Luka Mezgec‘s win on the final stage was his first of the season, but came off the back of a good run which had included four second-place finishes in the last two months.
As far as the GC was concerned, it all came down to the summit finish on stage four, with Movistar’s Intxausti the strongest on the day to secure his place at the top of the order, having been set up by a preceding attack by his rainbow-clad teammate Rui Costa.
The top five in the individual WorldTour rankings were already set, but finishing as runner-up here propelled Dan Martin from eighth to sixth.
A disappointing race: the problem. On paper this third Tour of Beijing looked like an interesting and varied parcours. As things turned out, all but one stage finished in sprints, including stage three which, with seven categorised climbs, was enlivened only by Tony Martin‘s spirited solo attack, during which he showcased a combination of brave descending and some uncomfortable-looking aero positions. Although much of the terrain to the north of Beijing is mountainous, there aren’t that many suitably high paved roads. Consequently it’s difficult to design a parcours to disrupt a peloton rich in sprinters.
Also, unlike last year where we had a telegenic finish at the Great Wall, this year’s route skirted the Wall but we didn’t really get to see it on our TV screens. Add that to the lack of on-screen time-and-distance graphics, and the TV coverage fell a bit flat.
A disappointing race: no easy solution? Some of the problems with the race are easily fixed, such as improved TV coverage and a more ‘tourist-friendly’ parcours. Others are trickier.
Beijing is an unpopular location for the WorldTour season-closer. The biggest names have all ended their seasons already, it’s literally a long haul and most fans would rather see a race with more tradition and more at stake to provide a fitting climax.
However, it’s hard to argue against the commercial imperative to establish a presence in China. It needs a race. But when?
The most obvious option is to move the race earlier in the season. But the two-week Tour of Qinghai Lake is already established in July and it makes little sense to either move Beijing close to it or move it to a different date. In addition, the Beijing region is most susceptible to monsoons and smog in the summer months. Bringing the race into mid to late-spring would create clashes with major European races, and any earlier would carry too great a risk of snow in the mountains.
Personally, I would simply swap Beijing with Il Lombardia and expand it to create a week-long event (with a mid-race transfer day) which combines the best of Beijing and the still-born Hangzhou race. It would allow for a more varied challenge and the scenery in the Hangzhou region would be a spectacular addition. Are you listening, UCI?
The heart of a champion. The odds were always against Tony Martin completing a hat-trick of Beijing victories to add to his trio of rainbow jerseys, but he didn’t give it up without a fight. He gave everything with a downhill solo attack at the end of stage three – from the way he overcooked a couple of bends you could tell he wasn’t just doing it for show – and even on the queen stage summit finish he rode his legs off, finishing sixth, 11 seconds behind Intxausti.
The great champions ride with heart even when the fates are against them. Tony Martin has a heart almost as big as that engine of his. Respect.
Farewell. They’re not the only ones riding off into the sunset, but I’d like to single out the retirements of Marco Pinotti (BMC) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), who said goodbye to the peloton by getting into the final breakaway of the race.
Pinotti, the six-time Italian time trial champion, is one of the few riders about whom there has never been the slightest whiff of suspicion. He’s taking up a coaching role with BMC – there can be few better role models for younger riders to follow.
Flecha has finished in the top ten at Paris-Roubaix in eight of the past nine years, including a second, two thirds and two fourths. He’ll be remembered as one of the peloton’s most aggressive attackers. In his own words, he’ll be going “to Maui, Hawaii, with an open date on the return ticket”.
They’ll both be missed.
1. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) 19:35:46
2. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +0:10
3. David Lopez (Sky) +0:13
4. Rui Costa (Movistar) +0:18
5. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:24
6. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) same time
7. Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:26
8. Robert Gesink (Belkin) s/t
9. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) s/t
10. Garikoitz Bravo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:31
Other classification winners
Points: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ).
King of the Mountains: Damiano Caruso (Cannondale).
Best young rider: Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale)