World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin blitzed the opening individual time trial (ITT) around Beijing’s Olympic Park course, dispatching the 11.3km distance in 13 minutes, 34 seconds (50km/h average speed) to secure the red leader’s jersey. Problem is, almost nobody was there to see it.
The Tour of Beijing local organising committee (City of Beijing) made a last-minute decision to exclude public entry into the cordoned-off Olympic Park, bringing back memories of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the citizenry were effectively distanced from all road cycling events – creating an eerily clinical backdrop throughout the televised coverage.
Alain Rumpf, director of Global Cycling Promotions (ToB owner and organiser) and other race officials within the UCI/GCP delegation were baffled, but not surprised, by the LOC’s actions and were apparently powerless to do anything about it.
Team riders, on the other hand, looked generally relaxed and the mood throughout the peloton seemed upbeat. Team mechanics, many awake before dawn to prepare for the race, completed finishing touches in the warm-up area whilst devouring ice creams – procured with the assistance of obliging volunteers – obviously enjoying the change of scenery and the fact a long 2011 season was nearing a conclusion.
Ironically, the team which appeared most nervous was the local China National Cycling team. Having assembled from five different Chinese provinces only a week prior to the event, the young squad of eight riders appeared rather unsure about their surroundings.
However, the atmosphere at the start area was enlivened by the media throng, dozens of motorbikes, local officials and invited guests. At 1pm on the minute, the race got underway with China’s Kun Jiang rolling down the start ramp accompanied by applause and loud cheers from the gathered crowd.
Even before the race start, many of cycling’s major media organisations attacked the UCI, GCP and the Tour of Beijing for the way in which it was “fast tracked” into a WorldTour event. Allegations of corruption by the UCI, including threats made to teams not wanting to attend the race, made more headlines than the race itself. However, given much of that content would only be seen by already-educated audiences – i.e. foreign cycling enthusiasts searching for online coverage of the event – such reports made negligible traction at a domestic level.
Whilst opaque politics and China are synonymous, efforts by international cycling media to unearth any dirt on the back-end organisation seemed like a wasted opportunity to focus on the event’s broader aspects. The fact is that China is one of the most polluted and motorist-centric countries on the earth. The fact that a professional race of this magnitude has a four-year window to influence healthy local perception and take-up of cycling should not go unnoticed. This hack writer in particular can only draw the conclusion that since doping in professional cycling appears to be waning, certain segments of the cycling media are hungry to generate tabloid headlines at any opportunity. I hope I’m wrong.
STAGE 1 RESULTS (top ten):
MARTIN Tony 13.3km in 13.34
MILLAR David @ 17″
DOWSETT Alex @ 24″
FROOME Christopher @ 26″
CUMMINGS Stephen @ 35″
BOOM Lars @ 36″
KAISEN Olivier @ 39″
SANCHEZ GIL Luis Leon @ 41″
PERAUD Jean Christophe @ 43″
CATALDO Dario @ 43″