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Tour of Beijing preview

The final stage race on the UCI calendar starts tomorrow (Wednesday) with the inaugural running of the five-day Tour of Beijing. Although the parcours itself is relatively straightforward, the race takes in a number of the city’s key tourist and Olympic locations, which should provide a fascinating backdrop to an event which favours strong time-trialists who can also cope with medium mountains.

Here is a quick preview of what to expect from the next five days.

About Beijing

Situated in the north of the country, the Chinese capital is home to a population of 18 million people and remains the epicentre of Chinese culture and politics. The city is protected by mountain ranges to the north and west (which include several peaks surpassing 2,000 metres) and, of course, the Great Wall.

Of course, the Tour of Beijing would not be complete without a visit to the Great Wall

The city itself contains several well-known tourist attractions: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube all feature on the race route, while the race will also pay a visit to the Great Wall at nearby Mutianyu to the north-east.

Beijing is traditionally known as a city of bicycles, and while this remains true it has also more recently become a city of cars, with its central districts boasting traffic problems the equal of any major European or American city. The road network is expansive and laid out in a form similar to a spider-web, with a series of concentric rings linking the major arteries in and out of the city. Pollution from motor vehicles and industrial plants is a major issue – factories were shut down for several weeks before and during the 2008 Olympics to alleviate the problem, a policy which is not being repeated for this race.

Nonetheless, the city boasts many parks and lakes in central areas, providing pockets of tranquility in which locals can often be seen early in the morning practising tai chi.

Race profile

With the exception of the opening individual time trial and stage three, which takes the race into the mountains to the west and north of Beijing, the parcours is largely short, flat and designed to encourage big bunch sprints. Expect to see lead-out trains jostling for position on the long straight finishes of stages two, four and five, while the general classification will be contested by those who can sustain their power both against the clock and on medium mountains.

Tony Martin will start as favourite for both the ITT and the overall (image courtesy of highroadsports.com)

Stage one is an 11.3 km individual time trial starting at the striking Bird’s Nest stadium and finishing at the adjacent Water Cube. The pan-flat route contains four 90-degree bends in the first 2km before a winding loop through the Olympic Park leads to a final 3km section with a further four sharp corners. The course looks likely to favour riders with good bike-handling skills who can power out of the tight corners, with little in the way of long straight sections to benefit those who are aerodynamically efficient. It looks tailor-made for new world champion Tony Martin.

Stage two also starts at the Bird’s Nest, and is relatively short at 137km. It comprises a quick blast out along the sixth ring road to the mountainous Mentougou district on the western edge of the city. There the peloton will complete two circuits, with a small final climb coming 15km from the finish. This may disrupt the sprinters enough to provide the springboard for a small attack. However the race will probably come back together, aided by a final 5km which is fairly straight other than a left-right kink at just under 3km to go. If the peloton gets through unscathed, expect a bunch sprint on a finish which features a tricky ramp leading up to the kilometre banner but is slightly downhill thereafter.

Stage 2 profile

The third stage is the one big opportunity for the climbers to shine and create a time split. Heading north to Yongning, the stage climbs to over 800 metres above sea level and features three first category climbs, with the last two coming in the final 30km. Two climbs in the Xi mountains should see splits appearing in the peloton, with a fast descent after the first sprint point at 60km potentially providing an opportunity for the adventurous to make a long break for the finish. The final climb of Erpuliang tops out at 758 metres and leads to a frenetic 12km descent to the finish which may play to a breakaway’s advantage, although most of the final 6km is flat and straight. Watch for climbers and fast descenders to attack in the final 20km as they look to capitalise on their one opportunity to negate the time-trialists’ advantage on GC.

Stage 3 profile

The final two stages should both end in relatively straightforward sprints. Stage four is the longest of the race at 189.5km and includes a photo opportunity as the riders contest a King of the Mountains intermediate at the Great Wall before finishing at the Shunyi Olympic Aquatic Centre. There are three minor categorised climbs in all to negotiate, but with the final 44km being entirely downhill or flat and the final 4.5km dead straight, this has bunch sprint written all over it.

Stage 4 profile

The final stage is a short 118km critérium starting in Tiananmen Square before a dozen 8km circuits ending back at the Bird’s Nest. The finish is flat and dead straight for the last 1,700m. Indeed, the only gradient of any note will be the climb the winner has to make to the top step of the podium, so expect a traditional high-speed hare-and-hounds chase culminating in a frenetic sprint.

Riders to watch

With no time bonuses available at either intermediate sprints or the finish, the race will almost certainly be settled by the time trial and the mountainous stage three, favouring strong time-trialists with decent climbing ability.

Expect Froome to be among the leading overall contenders (image courtesy of Hugo Tack)

Tony Martin, who has been unbeatable against the clock this year and also won the overall at Paris-Nice, will start as the favourite for race victory as he looks to deliver one final win for the soon-to-be-defunct HTC-Highroad squad. His closest challenger is likely to be Sky’s Chris Froome, who was second overall at the Vuelta a España and was the only man to finish within a minute of Martin in the long time trial.

Also look out for Beijing Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack), Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank) and Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R La Mondiale), who all excel at both time trials and in the mountains. Rabobank’s Lars Boom (the recent winner of the Tour of Britain) and the Garmin-Cervélo pair of veteran David Millar and 22-year old Australian Jack Bobridge should also perform well in the time trial and may be able to hang on in the mountains. Conversely Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and Nicolas Roche (AG2R) will hope to limit their losses against the clock and launch a decisive attack in the mountains.

On the three stages likely to end up in bunch sprints, watch out for the powerful Peter Sagan, whose sparkling 2011 has included three stage wins at the Vuelta and two at the Tour de Suisse. With most of the other big-name sprinters absent, competition is most likely to come from riders such as Theo Bos (Rabobank) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha).

Live coverage and highlights will be shown daily by British Eurosport in the UK.

Tour of Beijing stages

Stage 1: Bird’s Nest Stadium to Water Cube, 11.3km individual time trial

Stage 2: Bird’s Nest Stadium to Mentougou, 137km

Stage 3: Mentougou to Yongning, 162km

Stage 4: Yanqing Gui Chuan Square to Shunyi Olympic Rowing & Canoeing Centre, 189.5km

Stage 5: Tiananmen Square to Bird’s Nest Stadium, 118km

Links: Official Tour of Beijing website, steephill.tv

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

8 Responses to Tour of Beijing preview

  1. Sheree says:

    Thanks for the great summation. With so many teams (and riders) scrabbling for points this should make the race even more interesting.

    • Tim says:

      Indeed. I imagine teams like AG2R will be desperate for points and have sent in their big guns. Should be fun to watch – I look forward to watching it later.

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