Finally, some proper hills. The 158km third stage, from Men Tou Gou to Yong Ning, featured three category one climbs, including an epic descent – the type that seems to contradict the theory that engineers are stable, logical beings. In the end though, a well-pedigreed Irishman took honours – whilst our van load of media dudes had real “luck of the Irish”.
The day started well. Having enjoyed a pacey 40km morning ride before piling into the sardine-packed media van, anticipation of adventure was growing. We left with military precision at 9:30am. People lining the start route smiled generously – perhaps unaware that, even if we were in an official vehicle, we weren’t important. Ah well, nothing to do but wave and smile back. And then we drove into a kerb. The people laughed.
From nowhere, two men in blue jumpsuits appeared with a spare wheel which was fitted in two minutes flat. They’re watching you.
With no race radio fitted in our van, one might ordinarily login to Twitter for real-time updates. Twitter is banned in China. So, possessing no clue about on-the-road events, we prognosticated. On reflection, nobody got close to naming the winner. But back to that descent.
When a ‘DANGER’ sign is placed on the side of the road, pay attention. This was placed roughly 200 metres before the first of several freakish hairpin turns loomed. Generous crash barrier lining lent this luge-like environment an almost claustrophobic atmosphere.
When AG2R La Mondiale rider Lloyd Mondory led a six-man breakaway into the twisted (that works literally and figuratively) circuit, it should have been apparent the results-poor team was up to something. Two minutes later, the peloton – some audibly fascinated riders within – appeared at the descents wicked edge.
Fortunately, all riders made it through safely – though young BMC rider Yannick Eijssen was taken to hospital later in the stage with a fractured jaw, after an (at time of writing) unexplained encounter with a roadside barrier.
After waiting for the race convoy to pass our motley crew piled into the van, anxious to get on the back of the fast-moving peloton. Lo, as quickly as the tyre-changers had appeared that morning, so too did the race disappear before our eyes. In the time we’d taken to briskly walk from our positions to the van, only a few hundred meters up the hill, the race had traversed so much road that we entered post-race territory immediately after completing the 25km descent ourselves – which meant two-way traffic and general chaos.
For the next hour, our driver owned the roads by channeling an impressive admixture of F1 driver and prison-escapee. With 30km to go, we caught the back of the convoy. And stayed there.
As he personally explained post-race, Nicholas Roche won. That was good to know. OK, I ran like an idiot to the finish line and here’s what he actually said:
“It’s the stage win I’ve been waiting for for two years now. Last year, I had great satisfaction, but one thing I was missing was a win. This year, I had little satisfaction and I finally get a win! It’s been such a great moment for that split second when you put your arms in the air.
Because of all the injuries I’ve had, I insisted on riding the end of season races. I’m doing the Tour of Lombardy next week, so I decided I wanted to go all the way to the last one. Tour of China (sic) was one of the races where I knew I could get points and results, so I came here really motivated. The team was motivated here as well.
Those last 15km went really quick. Philip (Deignan) seemed to be in great form, because he attacked early enough in the climb and kept his place, and (Christopher) Froome is in fantastic form, so I knew that once we were clear we could just ride and we kept each other motivated.
Every ProTour race is significant enough, no matter what country or place it is. The last time I came to China was for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and I didn’t quite enjoy the road race. This year I was happy enough with my prologue and I’m over the moon with today.
I had four of five top ten finishes in the Vuelta, but something was missing in the last 500-600 metres. I just lose concentration or something. I’ve been getting enough good results but haven’t been capable of winning. Today I got it!”
And as for that descent?
“I reckon that could be a great finish in the next few years. It was a crazy part of the race but I think riders took it nice and safe. I’d put some money on it being a finishing spot in the next few years.”
STAGE 3 RESULTS (Top 10)
ROCHE Nicolas 158.0km in 3.53:15 (45km/h)
DEIGNAN Philip @ 00″
FROOME Christopher @ 01″
GAVAZZI Francesco @ 01″
NUYENS Nick @ 01″
MARTENS Paul @ 01″
MADRAZO RUIZ Angel @ 01″
CLARKE Simon @ 01″
BARRY Michael @ 01″
ROBERTS Luke @ 01″