Tour of Qinghai Lake’s 141 riders tackled the first of the 2012 edition’s ten categorised climbs today. A category-three 600-metre vertical ascent caused no problem for yesterday’s stage-runner-up Luka Mezgec (SAVA); taking top honours well ahead of sprint peers that found the going a lot tougher.
Today’s 122 kilometre stage opened with blue skies, warm conditions and possible anxiety for the few riders already struggling with the high altitudes. At 30 kilometres in length, the day’s major climb – commencing a little over halfway into the stage – transported the peloton further towards 3,000m elevation; a marker also representing Qinghai province’s average altitude.
Having finished a modest fourth in yesterday’s opening stage, Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini – Selle Italia) nabbed the first of two intermediate sprints, following 51.7 kilometres of haste along the downhill-trending first half of the parcours. Guardini absolutely dominated the 2.HC Tour de Langkawi earlier this year, so followers of the ‘next Mark Cavendish’ would have been relieved to see the pocket-sized Italian find his legs again.
Unfortunately for Guardini and his fast-twitch counterparts, the stage bottomed out at 2,100 meters after 70 kilometres of racing. Malak Cycling Team’s Ma Haijun decided it would be a great time to solo ahead towards the second intermediate sprint and the peloton slowly began to fragment. Race leader Fabian Schnaidt (Team Specialized Concept Stores) was one of the bunch-sprint regulars that found himself in trouble on the ascent, but at least he had almost half the field to keep him company.
Iran’s reigning national road cycling champion, Hossein Alizadeh (Tabriz Petrochemical Team), led the way over the category three summit (2823m), securing the race’s first polka dot jersey in his third Qinghai Lake appearance. Suffering not far behind Alizadeh, and with most of his sprint rivals well off the back, Mezgec had dug in deep with the assistance of three teammates (Mark Dzamastagic, Vladimir Kerkez and Jure Bitenc) knowing the 22-kilometre descent to the finish would lend sufficient recovery time to refresh for an odd-ons chance at his first stage win in China.
Luka Mezgec, (SAVA), 1st in stage 1, new leader on GC
“The difficulty was because of the high altitude, which I’m not used to. The highest point (was) the most difficult, but after (that) it was just a downhill to the finish. I did well; I think on the climbs I suffered but it was a long way that I could stay behind (until the finish). Also, I have three guys left in the finish (who) helped me so it was not so hard.”
CLASSIFICATION LEADERS AFTER STAGE TWO
Leaders (Yellow) Jersey (黄衫): Luka Mezgec (SAVA)
Points (Green) Jersey (绿衫): Fabian Schnaidt (Team Specialized Concept Store)
King of the Mountains Jersey (圆点衫): Hossein Alizadeh (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
Best Asian Rider (Blue) Jersey (蓝衫): Hossein Nateghi (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
STAGE ONE RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 2