The most challenging professional road cycling event on the UCI AsiaTour calendar is back, going higher and further than before! Spreading 2,002 kilometers over 13 stages, two provinces and one autonomous region, China’s premier Hors Categorie stage race will severely test 22 teams en route to its climax of 4,120 metres above sea level.
TOUR OF QINGHAI LAKE BACKGROUNDER
Qinghai Lake, China’s largest body of salt water, lends its name to the province of Qinghai in which it is situated. Much of Qinghai’s impressive footprint (it is China’s largest province, excluding autonomous regions) lies above 3,000 metres elevation, which naturally creates a few challenges for tourists who have not acclimatised to the thinner air. 40% of Qinghai’s six million population – small by Chinese standards – live in the capital of Xining to the east.
The 2002 edition of Qinghai Lake was won by American Tom Danielson, now riding for ProTeam Garmin-Sharp (Danielson would go on to win the Tour de Langkawi the following year). Probably the most well-known winners are Damiano Cunego (2003) and the notorious Tyler Hamilton (2008); in fact, it was Hamilton’s first and last international victory following his doping ban. Kazakhstan’s Andrey Mizourov (2009), Iran’s Hossein Askari (2010) and Hossein Alizadeh (2012) are the only Asian riders to have topped the general classification.
Tour of Qinghai Lake was China’s only stage race with a 2.HC ranking until the Tour of Hainan was upgraded to the same status in 2009. Of course, the Tour of Beijing (first held in 2011) has appeared since in the rarified air of the WorldTour calendar – though Qinghai Lake is arguably the more complete race. All stage reports from last year’s Tour of Qinghai Lake race can be found on this blog. Start with stage 1 here.
High altitude and semi-arid climate result in temperatures between 12-25°C in mid-summer. Rainfall is most likely to occur between the months of May and September, though high humidity is almost unheard of. When the sun shines, there is a high probability it will be against a backdrop of blue skies; a scene that becomes less frequent as the traveller heads east.
In terms of top-tier (as defined by the UCI) stage races in Asia, there is a yawning gap between February’s Tour de Langkawi (2.HC) and this month’s Tour of Qinghai Lake; ten UCI2.2 ranked races are sandwiched between the two, but none are as long as Qinghai Lake. This shouldn’t be a problem for Lampre-Merida and the five ProContinental teams that have been able to compete in longer stage races in Europe and America, but it will come as a shock to riders from cash-strapped Continental squads.
The race begins with a flattish stage around 2,250m average elevation, then abruptly reaches 3,786m the very next day. The entire first week is punctuated by thousands of metres of vertical gain at altitudes normally reserved for mountaineering; stages six and seven will see the race reach its highest point (4,120 meters) before dropping down to below 2,000m again. No less then seven hors categorie climbs feature on the parcours.
Because it’s a ‘Hors Categorie’ stage race, teams can exceed the six rider maximum normally allowed for events ranked 2.1 or lower. Of the 22 squads, Lampre-Merida is the lone ProTeam, 5 have ProContinental status, 15 are Continental level and Australia’s well-travelled National Team makes up the balance. Asian riders account for 35 of the 150 starters. 13 local lads are split across three outfits: Champion System Pro Cycling, Qinghai Tianyoude Cycling Team and Gan Su Sports Lottery Cycling Team.
No pro cycling team goes all the way to China to make up numbers in the bunch, but Champion System and local Continental squad Qinghai Tianyoude Continental will probably feel the most pressure to excel. Geographically-speaking, riders from Kazakhstan and Iran are well-accustomed to the terrain and should thrive in the conditions. Last year’s winner Hossein Alizadeh now rides for Amore & Vita; he might be looking nervously over his shoulder at his former Tabriz Petrochemical Team – arguably a contender for the least-qualified-to-be-a-Continental-team award.
Finally, a small political note: should Vini Fantini – Selle Italia’s Junya Sano make the final start list, he will be the first Japanese rider since last year’s Tour of China to compete in a UCI race in China. [UPDATE 07.07.2013: he didn't, will find out why and update accordingly]
Four jerseys will be awarded at the conclusion of each stage:
Leader of General Classification – Yellow
Leader of Points Classification – Green
Leader of King of the Mountains (KOM) Classification – Polka Dot
Leader of Best Asian Rider – Blue
A total prize purse of USD500,000 is on offer; a 20% decrease from 2012 but the same as 2011. Here’s the breakdown [pending]:
Overall winner (individual) =
Overall team =
Overall team (Asian) =
Overall KOM =
Overall Points =
Stage winner =
Compared to last year’s malware-ravaged version, this year’s official website looks excellent. Toggling between the English and Chinese version of the site reveals little bias towards either; the local online production team at CyclingCN.com has worked extremely hard to ensure optimal user experience for native speakers of both languages. Local media with international websites, such as Xinhua News Agency, CCTV, People’s Daily,China Sports Daily, QQride and Sina, will be reporting on the race.
Military helicopters are again being deployed for aerial footage which will be integrated into daily stage highlights videos. Last year’s videos were uploaded promptly and were generally produced to a high level. For 2013, the media team from Bikeman Media (Taiwan) has created a dedicated YouTube channel, with all stage highlights videos in Chinese and English.
Cycling iQ will post race results, including preliminary podium placings and full results sheets, each day on Twitter (Hashtag: #ToQL). Domestic TV coverage is being provided by CCTV5 and Qinghai Satellite TV; stage 7 will be broadcast live by both networks and Qinghai Satellite TV will also televise stage 16 live. Lastly, Cycling iQ’s regular contributing photographer Mike Murano (Cycling Asia) will be sending images from each stage; follow Mike on Twitter.
For anyone who cares to invest the time, there is already a tonne of Chinese-language coverage online. Just enter the following characters 环青海湖国际公路自行车赛 (“Tour of Qinghai Lake International Road cycling race”) into Google, and translate away!
STAGES AND PROFILES
Stage 1 | Xining Circuit Race, 138km (7 laps of a 19.74km circuit)
Sunday, 07 July 2013 (starts 11:00 local time)
Stage 2 | Huzhu – Guide, 151km
Monday, 08 July 2013 (starts 11:00 local time)
Stage 3 | Guide – Qinghai Lake, 148km
Tuesday, 09 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 4 | Qinghai Lake – Tianjun, 227km
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 5 | Tianjun – Xihaizhen, 203km
Thursday, 11 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 6 | Xihaizhen – Qilian, 205km
Friday, 12 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 7 | Qilian Circuit Race, 82km (5 laps of a 9.8km circuit + 34.8km)
Saturday, 13 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 8 | Qilian – Zhangye, 201km
Sunday, 14 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 9 | Zhangye Circuit Race, 117 km (5 laps of a 23.33km circuit)
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 10 | Wuwei – Jingtai, 191km
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 11 | Yinchuan, 123km
Thursday, 18 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 12 | Zhongwei Circuit Race, 120km (8 laps of a 12.12km circuit + 22.56km)
Friday, 19 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 13 | Lanzhou Circuit Race, 96 km (5 laps of a 19.27km circuit)
Saturday, 20 July 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)