Capitalising on a revised second day parcours to take victory, Philippe Gilbert clung on to Dan Martin‘s wheel on the queen stage to secure the overall in the final edition of the Tour of Beijing, consigning the Irishman to the runner-up spot for the second year running.
Short is sweet for PhilGil
The shortened stage two made all the difference to the outcome of this race. Reduced from 147.5km to 111km due to adverse air quality, the peloton was suddenly presented with a completely different challenge as a sprinters’ stage was turned into a sapping 25km-plus uphill drag concluding with a punchy finish.
After Manuele Boaro‘s (Tinkoff-Saxo) late attack, Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) launched the first serious sprint for the line at around 200 metres to go – way too early. Jense van Rensburg (Giant-Shimano) waited until 125 metres before sling-shotting around the Colombian. But it was former world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) whose patience was rewarded, coming past everyone in the last 50 metres to take the stage and (thanks to bonuses) a crucial 11-second advantage.
Although a familiar Garmin-Sharp one-two punch saw Ryder Hesjedal tee up Dan Martin to win the queen stage at the summit of Mentougou Miaofeng on the penultimate day, Gilbert was safely shepherded to the finish just two seconds in arrears and, critically, in third place to maintain a three-second margin.
The Belgian safely negotiated the concluding circuit race in the capital city, won by Lampre Merida’s Sacha Modolo, to seal his place as the final winner of this race.
Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) won scrappy sprints on stages one and three respectively.
Last day of school footnotes
As is often the way, the final stage of the final race of the season provided some interesting little stories.
The day-long two-man breakaway featured riders at opposite ends of their career. FDJ’s Laurent Mangel was hoping to ride into retirement with what would have been only his third career victory, while Lotto-Belisol’s Tosh van der Sande, at 23, is desperate to find a ride for 2015 to extend a three-year career in which he has registered no wins and just a single WorldTour point in each of 2012, 2013 and 2014. The pair survived until deep into the final kilometre, but it was not to be.
American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) has become known as one of the nearly men of sprinting, with a host of second, third and fourth places to his palmares but few wins in recent years. The 30-year-old is dropping down to Pro Continental level next year with MTN-Qhubeka, but he left Garmin-Sharp in style. Having won just two races since the start of 2012, he bagged a stage here – just over a year after his previous victory – and finished fourth (of course!) in the final sprint to steal the points prize away from Mezgec by a single point.
Dan Martin‘s second place overall was enough to catapult him from 20th to ninth in the final WorldTour individual rankings, pushing Tour de France runner-up Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) down to tenth. That was the only change in the top ten.
Gilbert’s points moved BMC up to second ahead of Tinkoff-Saxo, well adrift of Movistar who won the team ranking for the second year in a row.
WorldTour finale remains a damp squib
With virtually all the big names missing, sparse crowds and smog both disrupting the spectacle for viewers and raising health concerns for riders, the 2014 WorldTour went out with more of a whimper than a bang,
Of course, the fact that neither individual ranking leader Alejandro Valverde nor his only rival Alberto Contador were present to fight it out for the number one position didn’t help either. And the likes of Froome, Quintana, Rodriguez, Kittel, Cavendish, Degenkolb, Bouhanni, Greipel, Tony Martin and Cancellara were all absent too. The Tour of Beijing may have had WorldTour status, but it never had a world-class field throughout its four-year life (although, curiously, it did feature 2012 and 2013 rainbow jerseys Gilbert and Rui Costa this year).
The reality is that the WorldTour competition lacks both prestige and any significant cut-through with fans, for whom the grand tours, World Championships and the major classics all rank more highly. The fact that the individual title is usually decided before the final race means there’s no big finishing showdown. Nor does it help that, since 2012, the season’s final event has been a much-maligned race based around a smog-filled city, one held in low regard by riders, fans and spectators alike. Which is a shame in many ways, because China has more than its share of natural and man-made beauty and is a key developing market for any major sport. The WorldTour should be present in China – just not like this.
With Beijing gone, the 2015 season will now end with the last of the one-day monuments, Il Lombardia. Finshing with a race beloved by fans is a good start. But should the UCI consider introducing further changes to encourage a final-day showdown? How about an equivalent to the rainbow jersey that the top-ranked rider gets to wear for the whole of the following season? And what if the stakes were increased somehow? For instance, Il Lombardia could offer double points, F1-style, as the final race of the season. Just a thought.
Race in numbers
4 – This was the fourth and final edition of the Tour of Beijing.
7 – Philippe Gilbert‘s stage and overall wins raised his total number of victories in 2014 to seven, a total he has surpassed only once previously in his career (18 in 2011).
2 – By adding victory in stage one to last year’s closing stage, Luka Mezgec became only the second rider to win consecutive stages in the race’s history, matching Nacer Bouhanni last year.
2 – This was the second consecutive year in which Dan Martin finished second on GC. He was also fourth in 2012.
Stage 1: Winner – Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano). Leader – Mezgec.
Stage 2: Winner – Philippe Gilbert (BMC). Leader – Gilbert.
Stage 3: Winner – Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp). Leader – Gilbert.
Stage 4: Winner – Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp). Leader – Gilbert.
Stage 5: Winner – Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida). Overall winner – Gilbert.
1. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) 17:59:57
2. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +0:03
3. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:09
4. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) +0:11
5. Sergey Chernetski (Katusha) +0:23
6. Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) same time
7. Julian Arredondo (Trek) s/t
8. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t
9. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
10. Mikael Cherel (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:26