It’s October, the nights are drawing in, and the beautiful Race of the Falling Leaves is a but a fond memory. This can only mean one thing. Yes the Tour of Beijing is upon us, and with it the official end of the WorldTour race calendar.
- The Tour of Beijing runs over five stages featuring some tough rolling parcours, a summit finish and a flat-out, circuit-style drag race around the iconic Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing.
- In a change from previous editions, the first two stages are based much further away from Beijing. Both feature a smattering of climbs, although probably not tough enough to drop the fast men. I’d still expect a sprint finish, but you can never disregard an opportunistic breakaway.
- At 176km, stage three is the longest of the race. The riders roll out from Yanqing to face seven ascents in total: four cat 3s, two cat 2s and the 7.4km cat 1 Si Hai (5.1% average gradient). However, despite all the climbs this stage was won by a marauding Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) last year, and I wouldn’t rule out a sprint finish again this year.
- The GC riders will be waiting for stage four and the cat 1 summit finish at Miaofeng Mountain. The testing ascent with an average gradient of 5.7% over the 12.6km, might not be Alps or Pyrenees-steep, but it is tough at the end of the long season. Usually there are not large time differences between the overall contenders at this point in the race, so whoever wins this stage could also take the leader’s jersey.
- The last stage is the traditional 12-lap circuit through the pan-flat streets of Beijing. If you like crit-style racing you will adore this fast and furious finale.
- This will be the fourth and final edition of the only WorldTour race to be held in Asia.
- Normally all 18 WorldTour teams would be on the start line in Chong Li. However, Astana’s self-imposed exile reduces this to 17 eight-man teams.
- I am pleased to see Panda Corner and the POM (Panda of the Mountains) award return. Last year’s winner Hayden Roulston (Trek) is back to defend his title. Look out for the fun on Si Hai Mountain on stage three.
Who to watch
Much of the talk this week has focused on who will not be appearing at the race. However, this is still a valuable race for riders and teams looking to use the last of their form to gain valuable WorldTour points. A good performance here may well make all the difference to sponsors and new contracts. Most teams will bring a mix of GC contenders, sprinters, and rouleurs who love a breakaway.
Last year Benat Intxausti (Movistar) claimed the overall by ten seconds from Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) in second with David Lopez (Sky) a further three seconds back in third. All three riders return to the race this year and are supported by strong teams. Martin in particular is in fine form after his win at Il Lombardia on Sunday.
Other GC contenders to look out for are the Colombian trio of Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Julian Arredondo (Trek), and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale). It would be great to see them back to full race fitness. BMC bring a strong team in support of American Tejay van Garderen and the plan B option of Samuel Sanchez. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) has an added incentive as any WorldTour points gained at this race could lift him to third in the rider rankings – a nice way to end the season.
Personally I would love to see young hopefuls Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano), and another Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) have a good run.
Some teams will be looking more for stage wins rather than the overall. The start list is packed with riders who might fancy a crack at a breakaway to foil the sprinters. Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) are all specialists in this fine art and seem to still have some firepower in the legs. However, do keep an eye open for Petr Vakoc (OPQS) and Michael Valgren Andersen (Tinkoff-Saxo). Both have had extraordinary neo-pro seasons and both finished well at the Road World Championships.
If the breakaways are reeled in then teams will have to look to their fast men to provide the stage wins. On paper I think Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Ben Swift (Sky) could do well here. But they are likely to be pushed hard by Moreno Hofland (Belkin) and Danny van Poppel (Trek). 20-year-old Caleb Ewan makes his WorldTour debut for Orica-GreenEDGE. His talent is undoubted and I would love to see him get those fast-twitch muscle fibres firing on the last stage.
Without doubt the most popular rider in the peloton will be Giant-Shimano’s Ji Cheng. He was the first Chinese rider in the Tour de France and always to be seen working hard chasing the breakaways down. I hope he has a fantastic race and enjoys every minute of his time in front of the home crowds.
October 10th: Stage 1 – Chong Li to Zhangjakao, 167km
October 11th: Stage 2 – Chong Li to Yanqing, 147.5km
October 12th: Stage 3 – Yanqing to Qianjiadan Chao Young Temple, 176km
October 13th: Stage 4 – Yanqing to Mentougou Miaofeng Mountain , 157km
October 14th: Stage 5 – Tiananmen Square to Bird’s Nest Piazza, 117km
Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website