Germany’s Tony Martin of the HTC-Highroad team sprints over the finish line to win the first stage of the inaugural Tour of Beijing cycling race in Beijing on October 5, 2011. The race is the first of its kind in Asia, as the International Cycling Union (UCI) looks to expand into new continents. (LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Courtesy of tourofbeijing.net
Sunday, October 7, 2012 – Excitement is starting to build in the Chinese Capital two days before the start of the Tour of Beijing, where defending champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), the 2010 Tour de France victor Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) and the peloton prepare for the world’s “first division” race.
Martin and Schleck will headline the second edition of the UCI WorldTour’s Chinese event, alongside Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), 2011 Vuelta Espana champion Juan Jose Cobo and America’s rising star Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team).
The pair arrived in Beijing on Friday to adapt themselves to the jetlag and explore the roads with local cyclists, while some others have taken time to also enjoy the nearby China Open tennis tournament.
None of those named above have expectations of capturing the overall general classification, which will make the race particularly open.
“It will be really hard to defend my title because there is no time trial,” said Martin, who won the against the clock event for the second time at the UCI World Championships at the end of September.
Schleck, who fractured his hip at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, is still recovering from this injury. He restarted competition in Belgium just before flying to Beijing, at Tournai-Binche-Tournai, where he pulled-out after 130 kilometers.
“The Tour of Beijing is a kind of come back for me while most of the riders are here to finish their season,” he said.
“I am happy to be here but I have no special ambition. I just hope to survive.”
This morning Schleck took part in a fans’ bike ride around Men Tou Gou, north of Beijing, and happily signed autographs. This 70-kilometer ride was a perfect opportunity for dozens of China’s Sunday warriors to meet world class professional riders, ride with them and sometimes even get a kind and discreet hand from them in the most difficult ascents.
“This fan ride shows that locals’ interest for the Tour of Beijing is rising,” Global Cycling Promotion Director Alain Rumpf said.
“More generally I am happy to see everything has improved within the local organization committee since the first edition last year, and the riders who took part last year are happy to be back.”
The race will start Tuesday, with the first stage a journey from the iconic Tian An Men Square, considered as China’s heart, to the foot of the Bird’s Nest, the 2008 Olympic Stadium.
The course grants a fierce battle because of the individual time-trial’s withdrawal and the addition of some hills in the north of Beijing. New this year, the time bonuses will provide a fantastic fight between the sprinters and escape artists, like the guest team Champion System. Two intermediate sprints will indeed offer three, two and one seconds to the first three riders crossing the line, while the finish gives ten, six and four second bonuses, which may well decide the overall Tour winner.
Italian sprinters like Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) hope to take a stage victory throughout the five days, as well as fast men from Orica-GreenEDGE and Argentinean Juan Jose Haedo (SaxoBank-Tinkoff Bank).
Some of the best puncheurs in the world will be a good show on Thursday, in the stage three race to the Badaling-Great Wall. Among them the 2008 Olympic road race champion Spain’s Samuel Sanchez and Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Young all-rounders including Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), the 2012 world road race silver medalist, and Italian neo-professional Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale), the Tour of Poland winner, also have the talent and the burst of speed to claim final victory in the 2012 Tour of Beijing.
The 2012 Tour of Beijing kicks off on Tuesday and runs from the 9th to the 13th of October as the last event on the UCI WorldTour calendar. Starting from the historic Tiananmen Square the five-day Tour will also feature some of China’s top tourist attractions including the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Great Wall.