Pro Cycling

2012 Tour of China II | Prologue

If not for today’s 6.2 kilometre prologue, the three day void that lies between ‘Tour of China I’ & ‘Tour of China II’ – with the underlying motive to keep teams in China for as long as possible to give local sponsors value for money – would have been an almost unforgivable dead space. The race format may be questionable, but the quality of the field is proving to be top-notch.

Note: Cycling iQ is not on-site in China. The below report and images have been provided by the Tour of China organising committee. Some spell-checking may have been applied, but the report has otherwise been left “as is” for authenticity.]

Images: Tour of China
Video: QQride

Tour of China One finished last Thursday after the six-stages, with victory going to the Danish rider Martin Pederson. His Christina Watches–Onfone team-mates Stefan Schumacher, Michael Rasmussen and Daniel Foder took 2nd, 3rd and 4th place overall, in a race largely decided by the opening Team Time Trial.

Tour of China Two is likely to be settled by two Individual Time Trials covering nearly 25 kilometres. The other four stages are circuit races that should favour the fast finishers – unless a group of chancers can break away and stay away.

So: the second Tour of China in less than a month started at 11am on Sunday 16 September with a 6.2km prologue out and back along a smooth, flat, largely featureless stretch of road beside the charming Liang-zi Lake, close to sprawling Wuhan, Central China’s largest city with a population of 10 million.

The final rider scheduled to start the Prologue was the hot favourite, Stefan Schumacher. He spoke about the route before the race started.

“When I set out to ride the course this morning, there was a head wind over the outward stretch, but by the time the Prologue started it had turned into a sidewind coming off the lake. The homeward stretch has the slightest of uphill gradients, and the wind may be slightly harder on the way back. But it’s not a technical course and it’s just a matter of digging very deep.”

The eighth ride to start, Nicholas Dougall of the Australian National Team (wearing race number 122) set the first credibly fast time. Dougall rode 8.01.306. Just five minutes later, Rabobank’s GC hope Marc Goos, the winner of the Vuelta a León last year ahead of second-placed Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, one of this season’s revelations, relegated Dougall to second place by setting the first time under 8 minutes: for forty minutes, Goos’s time of 7.52.239 looked impregnable.

Former Trek-Livestrong rider Joseph Lewis, now riding for BMC-Hincapie Sportswear (dossard 116), moved into second place with a time exactly 7.500 seconds slower, before a cluster of riders in close succession – Angeo Furlan (Christina Watches-OnFone, 75), Tom Vermeer (Nutrixxion-Abus, 102) and Nikita Eskov (RusVelo, 13) – set times of 8.02 plus a few fractions of a second.

However, a series of sub-8 minute times – the first of them by Daniel Foder (Christina Watches-OnFone, 72 – 7.55.593), followed closely by Kiel Reijnen (Team Type 1-Sanofi, 24 – 7.55.565), Benjamin Hill (Australian National Team, 124 – 7.57.180) and Jordi Simón (Andalucía, 6 – 7.56.764) – suddenly made Marc Goos’s mark look attainable.

Salcano-Arnavutkoy’s Serbian rider Ivan Stevic (dossard 95) was the first to surpass it when he achieved 7.51.701. But Stevic’s lead lasted just three and a half minutes before the former World Junior Team Pursuit gold medallist Mitchell Lovelock-Fay (Australian National Team, 126; the winner of the Tour of Thailand in April) crossed the finish line in a time 6 hundredths of a second faster than Stevic’s.

RusVelo’s Valery Valynin, Russian national Under-23 champion back in 2007 (wearing dossard 15 here) rode a commendable 7.53.706 before yet another excellent Australian National Team member set the new fastest time.  Jordan Kerby (dossard 125), Lovelock-Fay’s gold-medal winning pursuit team-mate at the 2010 Junior World Track Championships, where he also won the points race to boot, rode the course in 7.45.357. With just twelve riders more to finish, the 20-year-old Kerby looked a likely podium contender.

However, as the final handful of riders closed in on the finish line, the inevitable took place: first, the pursuit veteran Vitaliy Popkov (ISD-Lampre, 51), Ukranian national road and time trial champion in 2010, took three-and-a-half seconds off Jordan Kerby’s time. Then the former Olympic oarsman Cameron Wurf (Champion System, 35) improved on Popkov’s time and completed the test just 4 hundredths of a second outside 7 minutes 40 seconds (on the finish line, apprised of Popkov’s excellent performance, Wurf commented, “ I wondered why I wasn’t catching him!”).

With only Stefan Schumacher left on the course, the fancied Jenning Huizenga (Rabobank 2) – Individual Pursuit silver medallist back in the 2008 World Track Championships behind Bradley Wiggins – tucked briefly into third place with a time of 7.42.217.

Then, as is the nature of these things, Wurf’s time was smashed by the final starter. His face rapt in concentration, Schumacher rode the course a full 3.3 seconds quicker than his rival, stopping the clock at 7.36.696 – easily the best time of the day.

Wurf remained satisfied with his performance. He said, “It was a good, even course and the strongest rider won. The distance was good: 1 or 2-kilometre Prologues are a lottery, but a 6-kilometre, 7-minute time trial is a good test. The winning time in a rowing race is normally 6 or 7 minutes, so for me it was the perfect combination of speed, endurance and aerobic effort.”

The Australian also made a prediction. “In Saturday’s 18.2-kilometre time trial,” he said, “the same riders will be contending for the win.” Just one day into Tour of China 2, then, things look bright for Stefan Schumacher.

“It’s always nice to win and it’s not easy to be the favourite. You just have to give 100% and that’s what I did. When I was training I thought that the way out was faster because there was a little bit of tailwind, but the way back was really tough. We are very motivated. We had a lot of fun last week because the team time trial favoured us. Now it’s up to me with the two time trials in the second Tour of China. I’m very motivated and confident.”

Schumacher’s winning margin of 3.343 seconds is rounded down to a three second lead over Cameron Wurf in the General classification. Vitaliy Popkov and Jenning Huizinga are third and fourth, both of them five seconds back, with the fifth and sixth-placed riders, Jordan Kirby and Dirk Müller, 8 and 12 seconds down.

Click on image to jump to prologue highlights video at QQride.com

In addition to the official Tour of China race reports, I also highly recommend checking out the blogs and images of participating teams from around the globe. The below-listed sites are simply the most up-to-date and visible. I’d love to hear from any other teams/riders that are keeping Tour of China blogs.

Aisan Racing Team (Japanese)
Andalucia (Spanish)
Champion System Pro Cycling (English)
Nutrixxion Abus (German and English)
Rabobank Continental (Dutch)
Rusvelo (English)
Team Type 1 – Sanofi (English)

LEADERBOARD
Individual General Classification (Yellow jersey): Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches – Onfone)
Points Classification (Blue jersey): Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches – Onfone)
King of the Mountains Classification (Polka Dot jersey): N/A
Best Great China Rider Classification (White jersey): Kwok Ho Ting (China Hong Kong Team)
Teams General Classification: Australian National Team









PROLOGUE RESULTS

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