Stage 12’s profile didn’t fully support the notion that a pure sprinter like Andrea Guardini could win; the Italian even had his own doubts if he could place highly. So when Guardini rounded the last corner of the race’s longest stage in a near-complete field of 108 riders, the odds of his third stage win improved considerably.
Image: SINA Sports
Guardini’s third stage win – which came at the expense of second-placed Luka Mezgec’s tilt at a record-equalling five stage victories – was expected to come sooner; in yesterday’s much shorter (and flatter) criterium in Zhongwei to be exact. With one kilometre of vertical gain, today’s 220 kilometre parcours seemed more likely to favour a breakaway. Instead, the slower-than-expected average speed ensured a sprinter on his best day could remain in contention.
Farnese Vini – Selle Italia’s overall performance at Tour of Qinghai Lake needs the embellishment offered by Guardini. The Squad’s best-placed rider on GC, Alfredo Balloni, is placed 16th, 1’33” down on yellow jersey Hossein Alizadeh (Tabriz Petrochemical Team). That said, it appears there is an excellent chance that the six other ProContinental teams in this Hors Categorie stage race are about to be beaten in every classification by riders of Continental teams.
Fittingly, the best-performing ProContinental rider on individual classification is Cameron Wurf, from China’s Champion System Pro Cycling Team. Wurf still sits in 3rd place, 11″ behind Alizadeh. Crucially, EMP-UNE’s Geovanny Baez is only 2″ ahead. With time bonuses still on offer in Thursday’s final circuit race, there is still a strong possibility the Aussie rider can secure a higher position atop the final podium. Champion System’s season has, by team manager Ed Beamon’s own admission, been “disappointing”, but third place in a 2.HC race would be a restorative effort by Asia’s only ProContinental squad.
Having attended the team launch in Beijing earlier this year, Cycling iQ called Beamon before today’s stage to get his take on how the team – and specifically the team’s Chinese riders – had fared in the Tour of Qinghai Lake, as well as the 2012 season to date.
On the team’s Tour of Qinghai Lake performance
In the early part of the race we had a couple of communication breakdowns and made a couple of mistakes. We really think that Jiao Pengda would probably be in a position to win the race overall if he hadn’t made a mistake on stage three; that was basically some poor communication and judgement on his part.
Other than that, the Chinese riders have really been riding well. They’re getting better every day. We have a good chat every night after the race and talk about what we did right or wrong and you can see them getting more and more co-ordinated as a team. In the couple of hard days on the climbs, (Jiao) Pengda and (Xu) Gang have really been a big help to Cam. We finally got the Tabriz guys a little bit on the rivet (during stage 10) so, between the Colombians and the other teams, we might be able to apply some pressure. I know the Russians (RusVelo) are looking to ride hard every day. It’s going to be difficult to create any kind of selection. The best we can hope for is to go for some more time bonuses and close the gap a little. The problem is you normally get a breakaway for these intermediate sprints.
I’m really pleased, you know. I sent a note on to my wife last night about how it’s been a really positive trip just watching these guys develop. Regardless of the outcome of the race, just seeing the development of these guys has been pretty rewarding.
On being Asia’s only ProContinental team and the pressure to perform as China’s top team
I don’t think (Champion System’s Chinese riders) feel the pressure so much, and I think some of our problems early in the race was them getting a little bit caught up in the national competition; focusing on some of their fellow countrymen and losing a little sight on the bigger picture. Once they got over that in the first couple of days, I think they’re really finding their identity as a team and it’s really helped their focus in terms of the importance of the race.
I think there is some external pressure for us to perform. In order to be able to make the claim (of being China’s best team), we have to be able to prove we’re better. I think this week you’ve really seen these four guys (Xu Gang, Jiao Pengda, Jiang Kun, Liu Biao) are a couple of levels above any of the other Chinese guys here, and I’m guessing most of the better Chinese guys are here.
On the comments by UCI International Commissaire, Qiu Jijin
Of course, I don’t agree with the comments. A big part of the development with the Chinese riders that are on the team, and the other Asian riders as well, is being a part of a team that brings more multicultural and race experience. Even in the conversations that we have before and after the races, where all of the guys share their views and ideas of what happened and what we could have changed, that’s part of the education. I think you see it on some of the other Chinese Continental teams, where there are some international riders who may not have quite as much experience. To me, that just sounds like a jackass comment.
On the Champion System Continental feeder team, mooted by team owner Louis Shih earlier this year
It’s still something that’s on the burner. I think one of the things that we’re finding, and the comment from that commissaire is a perfect example, is the… I guess I would say, ignorance of the cycling organisation here. There’s a lot to learn in terms of the development of the sport, the riders, and the understanding that in order to take the sport and the individuals within the sport to a higher level, you have to have that international influence. The sport has been alive and growing for over 100 years in other parts of the world; it’s still in its infancy here. You can’t expect that it will be as mature, developed and formed in China as the sport is in other parts of the world. I think there is an attitude here that they’ (China’s Cycling Association) have got it all figured out and they need to do it their way. That makes it difficult to integrate national riders into an international system or program. There is a possessiveness; it really boils down to a fear of losing control.
So yeah, we definitely want to have a Continental team next year, certainly in the near future, to help that developmental process. It’s hard to take a guy off a UCI Continental Chinese team, then throw him into an international competition schedule and expect that he’s going to be able to perform. It would be much better if we had a program on a lower level where we could take guys and give them a year or two of experience internationally on a lower playing field so they can mature a bit before they step up to a higher level.
On the 2012 season so far
Honestly, I’ve been a bit disappointed with the first part of the season. I think we started with a first-year program on a very high level and basically got beat up quite a bit. Honestly, through February to April, there was probably more disappointment than good feelings. But in the last month and a half, it seems the team has started to find itself and started to gel; more importantly the guys are riding better together and they’re better connected communication-wise. Before I place a judgement on whether the whole season was a success or not, I think we need to get a few more races under our belt. At this point, I’m pretty happy with the development. The goal of the team is to help Asian riders get to the next level, so in most cases I’m really happy with the development of the Asian riders; most of my disappointments come from a lack of performance from some of the more experienced riders that I expected more from.
On Aaron Kemps’ lack of sprint results at Tour of Qinghai Lake
In terms of getting results, it’s been pretty disappointing – especially for him. We had a chat last night where he came to me to basically apologise for not being as productive as we would have expected. He came (to China) with a really good training block, and whether he’s got a little bit of a bug or just having a bit of a flat spell, he’s just not getting on top of the pedals at the finish. He’s has some bad luck, too; he’s punctured twice this week coming into the finale. It’s just like baseball; guys go into hitting slumps and riders also go up and down in terms of their performance. Sprinters are particularly fickle.
With that said, he is such a strong leadership figure within the team. He’s made such a big effort and commitment to really taking everything he knows and passing it onto the Chinese guys. Of anyone in the program, he’s been the most giving and conscientious with respect to really helping these guys learn the sport. So, you know, there’s no disappointment at all from my side as far as his contribution to the team. It’s disappointing that he’s not getting the results in the bunch kicks, but that’s his disappointment. I’m really happy with what he’s contributed to the team.
On invitations to the UCI WorldTour races in Beijing and Hangzhou later this year
It’s my understanding that (Tour of) Hangzhou is still building their organisation so it might be a little bit premature for invitations. We’ve certainly expressed our interest and honestly I’d be pretty disappointed if we didn’t get in to both of those races. As of yet, there’s been nothing official.
CLASSIFICATION LEADERS AFTER STAGE 12
Leaders (Yellow) Jersey (黄衫): Hossein Alizadeh (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
Points (Green) Jersey (绿衫): Luka Mezgec (SAVA)
King of the Mountains Jersey (圆点衫): Hossein Alizadeh (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
Best Asian Rider (Blue) Jersey (蓝衫): Hossein Alizadeh (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
STAGE 12 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 12
One km. vertical gain —-> Gasp!
I know, it seems trivial to mention… I still think it’s enough to hurt sprinters when most of the elevation gain comes in the form of one climb.