2012 Tour of China II stage 4: Tianjin ITT

Just like his Formula 1 namesake, Stefan Schumacher started today’s 18.2 kilometre individual time trial in pole position and never looked back. Even an on-course mechanical wasn’t enough to stop the former Grand Tour rider from winning by a comfortable margin.

Note: Cycling iQ is not on-site in China. The below report and images have been provided by the Tour of China organising committee. Some spell-checking may have been applied, but the report has otherwise been left “as is” for authenticity.]

Images: Tour of China
Video: QQride

Stage 4 of Tour of China 2 took place 75 miles south-east of Beijing in northern China’s largest coastal city, Tianjing, (population: 12 and a half million). It was the decisive race day, the one real chance to make a impact on the overall standings – but only for the time-trial specialists.

The 18.2 kilometre route led outwards along the Hanbei Road and back again the same way. No tactics, nowhere to hide. Rider, clock, pain. The usual.

BMC-Hincapie Sportswear’s outstanding Tanner Putt, 20 years old, 2nd in the US U23 road race in June and bound for Bontrager-Livestrong in 2013, set the early time to beat with 24.01.388. His lead lasted 45 minutes before José Luis Cano of Andalucia, level on mountains points with the World Cycling Centre alumnus Sergiu Cioban (Tusnad) but trailing Cioban in GC, became the first rider to break the 24 minute barrier. Cano’s time of 23.22.728 subsequently stood for another 38 minutes.

Astana 2’s Alexandr Shushumoin rode into provisional second place with 23.50.618. He was displaced by the Russian pursuit team member Ivan Kovalev, fresh from 4th place at the London Games, who rode 23.46.116.

It was Tom Vermeer (Nutrixxion-Abus), swashbuckling all week – he instigated the early attacks on stages 2 and 3 – who finally smashed Cano’s mark. Vermeer’s time of 23.05.912 would stand for 24 minutes, until the last four riders were riding.

Sergiu Cioban was the next name to finish. He led Cano by 16 seconds in GC, and had the clearest of targets: 23.38.728 to retain his mountains jersey. But his efforts were hampered by mechanical problems: a loose saddle led to a bike change, and despite a determined sprint for the finish line, his time of 24.17.192 was 29 seconds too slow. Cano would stand on the podium in polka dots and, barring alien abduction, will win that category tomorrow.

42 seconds after Cioban finished, the former Discovery Channel and Radioshack rider Li Fuyu, riding here for China Hope Star, made his challenge for the Best Chinese Rider’s jersey with a time of 23.59.520. Prior to the stage, Li trailed Kwok Ho Ting (China-Hong Kong) by five seconds in that competition. Kwok was already on the road when Li set his mark; whether or not Kwok knew what he had to do is immaterial. The Cantanese rider rode 24.10.817, to end the day the way Li Fuyu started it: five seconds away from the jersey. But for him, there is no clear way back: Li Fuyu must be odds on favourite to win that competition – officially known as the Great China Riders General Classification – tomorrow afternoon. Still, with 19 seconds of time bonuses available in tomorrow’s stage, there could still be life in the white jersey competition.

The occasional impressive time came in: Angelo Furlan (Christina Watches-Onfone), the multi-lingual bike acrobat who keeps his colleagues entertained most mornings with start-line equilibrism, rode 23.41.507. Cano’s Andalucia colleague Jordi Simón – on paper, the better tester of the two – rode 23.40.052. BMC-Hincapie Sportswear’s Tyler Magner, who has been singularly impressive in China, winning the final stage of China 1 and animating yesterday’s big breakaway, proved he’s more than just a sprinter with 23.57.593.

Matija Kvasina of Tusnad rode an excellent 23.38.716, and RusVelo’s Valery Valynin achieved a sub-24 minute mark. Then, the final ten riders started.

21-year-old Marc Goos (Rabobank 2) made the turn at 12 minutes 47 seconds. On the finish line Goos moved into provisional second place with 23.14.177. Mitch Lovelock-Fay of the Australian National Team, a year Goos’s junior, was eight seconds faster than Goos at the halfway point, and six seconds faster at the finish line, replaced him in provisional second place with a final time of 23.08.526.

Dirk Müller (Nutrixxion-Abus) complained of respiratory illness before the stage, rode a slow first half (his split time was only 12 minutes 56) but still managed a respectable 23.21.504. Six more riders to finish.  Lovelock-Fay’s team-mate Jordan Kerby rode inside Goos’s time for the first half of the race – his split time was 12 minutes 45 seconds – but he disappointed slightly in the second half and stopped the clock at 23.32.927. Five to finish.

Jenning Huizenga (Rabobank 2) was a little slower than Lovelock-Fay at the split – 12.44 for the Dutchman, compared with 12.39 for the Australian – but he was already within eleven seconds of his minute man, the sprinter Alexander Serebryakov (Team Type 1-Sanofi). Huizenga rode the second part like a champion and crossed the finish line with the first sub-22 minute time. His 22.56.368 performance looked like a possible winning one. Three more to finish.

ISD-Lampre’s excellent Vitaliy Popkov, 29 now and a veteran of two Olympic Games with the Ukranian national pursuit team (sixth in Beijing), crossed the halfway point in 12.36, who had already been overtaken by Huizenga, ahead of him. On the finish line, Popkov’s time of 23.03.071 was nearly seven seconds slower than Huizenga’s, so the he slotted temporarily into second place. Two riders left on the course.

Cameron Wurf (Champion System) reached the halfway point in 12:24. A minute later, his rival Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches-Onfone) reached the same point in the same time. Wurf had 9.1 kilometres in which to gain five seconds on a rider who could see his every pedal stroke along these long, straight, broad roads.

He powered towards the finish and crossed the line in 23.10.463: fifth overall in the stage, with Schumacher the only rider still on the course. But Popkov and Huizenga were now ahead of him in GC – and how was the German riding the second half of the course?

Schumacher sped purposefully on in his unmistakably muscular style. He crossed the line, the clock stopped, and one thing was immediately clear: Wurf had not done enough. 22.36.452. It was a masterful performance: as in the Prologue, Schumacher was simply too good for the rest of this field. And his time trial had not been easy.

‘My chain came off at the turn. Luckily I had good hands and controlled the bike OK, then I replaced the chain by hand and didn’t lose too much time. But after the turn I expected a tailwind. I looked down at the computer and saw 47 kph, and I thought to myself, “You don’t win a time trial at 47 kph!”. ‘I expected Cameron Wurf to be my closest rival, but thankfully I could see him ahead of me all the time.’

Instead, it was Rabobank 2’s Jenning Huizenga who came closest to Schumacher’s time, and replaced Cameron Wurf in second spot overall, 27 seconds slower than the race leader. Huizenga, as we’ve noted before in these reports, was the silver medallist in the 2008 World IP final to Bradley Wiggins.

‘I’ve followed Brad’s career ever since. Too bad he has made more progress than me. I didn’t ride for two years after that final because of illness, and this is my second year back on the bike. I rode at the London Olympics – we were 7th in the Team Pursuit – maybe I can step up now on the road.’

Huizenga was not disappointed with second place. ‘I know with a guy like Stefan in the race it was going to be hard. He’s been a time trial winner at the Tour de France. I probably maxxed out with second place. I haven’t been super at this race, so second place is OK.’

Popkov moves into third place overall, 33 seconds slower than Schumacher and 6 seconds slower than Huizenga. Wurf slips from second to fourth, another six seconds back, with Mitch Lovelock-Fay 5th at 48 seconds and Marc Goos completing the top six, at 55 seconds.

One stage, three intermediate sprints and 19 bonus seconds to go.

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): Jose Cano (Andalucia)
Best Great China Rider Classification (White jersey): Li Fuyu (China Hope Star)
Teams General Classification: Christina Watches – Onfone