2012 Tour of China II stage 1: Huainan circuit race

If Alexander Serebryakov was today’s biggest winner, the biggest loser was Aisan Racing Team’s Taiji Nishitani. A stage winner last week, the diminutive Japanese sprinter was ejected from the race, along with his team, allegedly due to concerns for their safety amidst the ugly Japan-China land rights dispute. With that, Nishitani’s chances of winning the 2012 UCI AsiaTour individual rankings all but vanished.

[Cycling iQ: for reasons that should be obvious to readers, little airtime is given to Aisan Racing Team’s ejection from the race in this report, which is supplied from the ToC organiser and published verbatim. There will be a separate post about this tomorrow.]

Images: Tour of China
Video: QQride

No racing yesterday as the teams drove the 475 kilometres to Huainan, ‘just’ two-and-a-half-million inhabitants but with vast new construction projects everywhere you look. The peloton faced eight laps of the city, each of them 15.2 hardly mountainous kilometres, so what could be described as the first molehill points were on offer on lap seven, 95.5 kilometres into the stage.

Before then, there were two intermediate sprints, at the end of Laps Three and Five. Each brought the winner a discount of three seconds on his GC time – cycling’s incomperhensible parlance calls this a time bonus. Two and one second bonuses for the second and third riders across the intermediate sprints, and, on the finish line, ten, six and four.

Now, soon after Sunday’s Prologue, tensions between China and Japan, which had already led to public unrest in Huainan and the surrounding region, led the race organisers to invite the Japanese members of the race entourage – riders, team staff, but also officials and media – to leave the race for safety. For that reason Stage One started with just 116 riders.

Among the missing, Taiji Nishitani, a quick finisher and a stage winner in Tour of China 1. That meant one rival less for the dominant sprinter here and the big favourite today, the 24-year-old Muscovite Alexandr Serebyrakov of Team Type 1-Sanofi.

The stage started fast, with repeated attempts to force a breakaway. Martijn Tusveld (Rabobank Continental, number 45) and Tom Vermeer (Nutrixxion-Abus, dossard 102) were among the most persistent attackers. Behind them, the yellow jersey, Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches-Onfone), was personally active in neutralising each new move.

As the peloton approached the start of Lap 3, five riders did manage to open and hold a small gap: Eloy Ruiz (Andalucia, dossard 5), Gabor Kasa (Salcano-Arnavutkoy, 96), Jordan Kerby (Australian National Team, 125), Cheung King Wai (China-Hong Kong, 176) and Wang Meiyin (China Hope Star, 201) gained an advantage of 23 seconds over the front of the peloton, and enjoyed nine minutes of glory ahead of the race, before the speeding bunch brought them back.

Ruiz’s Andalucia team-mate José Luis Roldán (dossard 2) then made his own brief dash for freedom but was closed down a few hundred metres before the first intermediate sprint of the day.

The excellent Malaysian sprinter Harrif Saleh (Terengganu, 131) took five sprint points and the first three-second time bonus, ahead of his compatriot Anuar Manan (Champion System, 33), for whom Harrif once used to lead out in the sprints. Third was RusVelo’s Valery Valynin (15).

An hour into the stage, with the first milestone of the day passed, the breakaway of the day finally formed. Xu Gang (Champion System, 32), Sergiu Cioban (Tusnad, 62), Simon Pellaud (Atlas Personal-Jakroo, 81), Marek Canecky (Salcano-Arnavutkoy, 93) and Alexandr Shushemoin (Astana Continental) first established a fifteen second lead, then slowly pulled away until, over one 15 kilometre circuit, they had grown their advantage to its maximum of 1 minute 39 seconds.

Despite Rabobank’s presence towards the front of the peloton, there was no organised chase and the escapees maintained their minute and a half of breathing space as far as the second intermediate sprint, at the start of lap six, with 76 kilometres covered. Sergiu Cioban (Tusnad, 62) took it, with Pellaud (Atlas, 81) and Xu (Champoin System, 32) taking second and third.

Losing impetus and cohesion, the five quickly lost thirty seconds of their lead. The prospect of the first pimple points of the race caused them to refocus their efforts, and the gap stabilised at about a minute before Alexandr Shushemoin, whose Astana 2 team has brought more or less pure climbers to a race where a false-flat looks like Alpe d’Huez, launched a hopeless solo effort to try and snaffle the King of the Mountains prize.

He was brought to order by Sergiu Cioban, who took the mountains prize, ahead of Canecky (Salcano, 93) and Pellaud.

Given their 60-second lead, and perhaps sensing an opportunity, the five began to work together in earnest. Behind them, Team Type 1-Sanofi’s hard men Daniele Callegarin (dossard 21), Joe Eldridge (23) and Kiel Reijnen (24) worked hard to bring them back. With 10 kilometres to ride, the gap was down to 26 seconds when the evergreen Wong Kam Po (China-Hong Kong, race number 171, age now: 39) flashed out of the peloton.

But Team Type 1-Sanofi and Serebryakov were not to be denied. Wong was quickly caught and, with 3 kilometres remaining, the advantage of the five break-away riders was down to seven seconds.

After sweeping up the attackers, Aldo Ino Ilesic, the lead-out man who became a stage winner in Tour of China 1 after Serebryakov messed up the final corner, guided his sprinter towards the finish-line before the Russian came off his wheel and powered to his first stage victory of Tour of China 2, to add to the two he won last week. Astana 2’s Ruslan Tleubayev (dossard 153) and Champion System’s Anuar Manan (32) followed him home.

Serebryakov, a former winner of the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, has added muscle and power since the four amateur years he spent riding in Tuscany, to become a pure sprinter rather than a fast-finishing all-rounder. Out of contract next season, he expressed his gratitude to his team-mates and sponsors.

“I signed a two-year contract when I turned professional at the start of last season. I love this team, and I’m very happy here, but the team is changing focus and sponsor next year so I’m looking for a contract.”

Serebryakov’s serial successes here will do him no harm at all.

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)

Individual General Classification (Yellow jersey): Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches – Onfone)
Points Classification (Blue jersey): Alexander Serebryakov (Team Type 1 – Sanofi)
King of the Mountains Classification (Polka Dot jersey): Serglu Cioban (Tusnad Cycling Team)
Best Great China Rider Classification (White jersey): Kwok Ho Ting (China Hong Kong Team)
Teams General Classification: Continental Team Astana