2012 Tour of Qinghai Lake preview

Billed as the highest race in Asia , the cloud-scraping Tour of Qinghai Lake is also the longest on the 2012 UCI AsiaTour calendar. At 1,867 kilometers over 13 stages, China s first Hors Categorie stage race will punish the lungs and legs of all riders, including those from the seven ProContinental teams making the journey to central China.

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) and Iran s Hossein Askari (2010) are the only Asian riders to have topped the general classification. 2012 will be the first year the race has exceeded nine stages.

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) and Tour of Hangzhou (first edition to be held this year in October) have both appeared since in the rarified air of the WorldTour calendar without any hard development graft at all.

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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 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. Stages three and eight include long climbs with vertical gain exceeding 1,200 metres and the race will reach its highest point (3,869 meters) in between, during stage six. Four 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 teams, 7 are ProContinental and 15 are Continental. Asian riders account for 49 of the 154 starters.

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, Gregor Gasvoda, now rides for ProTeam squad AG2R-La Mondiale and won t be back to defend his title. 2010 winner Hossein Askari (Tabriz Petrochemical Team) and Javier Ramirez (Andalucia) arrive in China with solid GC results so far this season, whilst Andrea Guardini is surely the hot favourite in a bunch sprint. Look out for Arb s Kyung Gu Jang in the mountains.

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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 USD600,000 is on offer; a 20% increase from 2011. Here s the breakdown: [To be listed once available]

Overall winner (individual) = Overall team = Overall team (Asian) = Overall KOM = Overall Points =

Stage winner =

Cycling iQ hasn t yet visited the English version of the official website, due to Google suggesting it contains malware. [The site link is here; you have been warned]. Race information and results (to come) can be found on the Chinese version of the site. Install the Google translation plug-in, and you re good to go. Local media with international websites, such as Xinhua News Agency, CCTV, People s Daily, China Sports Daily and Sina, will be reporting on the race. Helicopters will be used during the race, so hopefully aerial footage will be available. If I find any live coverage, I ll be sure to post it here (including any proxy information, if needed) and on Twitter. [My photographer mate, Mike Murano (Cycling Asia), is also attending; follow him on Twitter.]

At this level of racing, English-language media coverage should be available through major cycling news sites, but there are no guarantees. For anyone who cares to invest the time, there is already a tonne of Chinese-language coverage online. Just enter the following characters ???????????? ( Tour of Qinghai Lake International Road cycling race ) into Google, and translate away!

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Stage 1 | Xining Criterium 96.8km (8 laps of a 12.1km circuit)
Friday, 29 June 2012 (starts 11:00 local time)

Stage 2 | Duoba Huzhu 122km
Saturday, 30 June 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 3 | Xining Qinghai Lake 147km
Sunday, 1 July 2012 (starts 11:00 local time)

Stage 4 | Qinghai Lake Chaqia 148km
Monday, 2 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 5 | Tianjun Xihaizhen 205km
Tuesday, 3 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 6 | Xihaizhen Mole 123km
Wednesday, 4 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 7 | Qilian Criterium 104km (10 laps of a 10.4km circuit)
Thursday, 5 July 2012 (starts 13:40 local time)

Stage 8 | Qilian Zhangye 200km
Saturday, 7 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 9 | Zhangye 117km
Sunday, 8 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 10 | Wuwei Jingtai 191km
Monday, 9 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 11 | Zhongwei Criterium 107km (22.56km + 7 laps of a 12.1km circuit)
Tuesday, 10 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 12 | Zhongwei Baiyin 220km
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

Stage 13 | Lanzhou Criterium 78km (5 laps of a 15.6km circuit)
Thursday, 12 July 2012 (starts 10:00 local time)

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