One of China’s few multi-day stage races for amateurs is now being held in the far flung wild west of Xinjiang Province. This is the sixth year that this five day stage race has been held and the numbers of competitors continue to grow each year. In this 2012 edition of Tour Sailimu Lake, 115 starters lined up in the city of Jinghu (some 450km west of Urumqi). Stage one was 100km and the residents of Jinghu came out in great numbers to support the riders as a parade lap around the city, for the crowd benefit, before the real racing began.
Many of the top amateur teams have made the long trek out west to compete for a 200,000CNY prize pool of cash and there are plenty of opportunities for riders to take a slice of the pie and get some valuable racing experience. In my opinion, many of the Chinese riders are very talented and have fitness, but in some areas lack the tactical knowledge or when to work together seamlessly for the benefit of the breakaway or for the main peloton. Right from the beginning of the 100km stage, a breakaway of 12 riders was formed, finished with seven riders and a massive lead of seven minutes or so.
Bikedan’s account of the stage
This race marks the first event I am competing with my Chinese team, Cronus Bikes. Since only two official Cronus riders could attend, we teamed up with two young talented strong riders from the Shanghai Kuota Team – based on previous results of these two riders, we should have some fire-power in the breakaways and/or sprint finishes. During the parade lap, it was nice to see so many supporters out in force including primary and high-school kids dancing out on the street as we went by.
Once the gun went, there was the usual flurry of movement as riders sought to be at the front of the race. I was just focusing on moving up steadily towards the front without expending to much energy. I noted that Liu Min from the much vaunted Triace Cycling Team had made a solo break and he was quickly joined by a foreigner from the Chain Sprockets Team. There was a half dozen riders in between from teams I did not know. As I saw the gap get increasingly bigger without reaction from the peloton, I decided to nip across to test/open my legs. I made the bridge relatively easy and initially we became a breakaway of half-dozen riders. We had some good early co-operation and this helped establish the gap; however after a couple of minutes, it looked like we were in danger of being caught as there was a concerted chase to bring us back. There were a few riders in the middle and some made it across to us. The break kept getting bigger with riders leap-frogging across. The most notable bridge across came from Cui Hao (riding for the Xinjiang Team) and ex-pro Feng Kuangao (from Triace) who came together. The break number at this point was around a dozen riders and we had the semblance of a well-oiled machine, but not quite good enough with some riders being weak links or just not willing to contribute even workload to the break. But it was good enough to steadily put time into the peloton.
First time check we were up two minutes 30 seconds and as we motored along to the intermediate sprint, we were over four minutes! I initially was not going to contest the sprint points as I was hoping that the breakaway riders would keep steady and roll through. Instead some riders wanted to sprint, so I also surged forward to take third and soldered on in the hope to split the break, but everyone was onto me quickly so the move was quelled. We had a momentary loss of momentum and dipped down below 35km/h for the first time, but it was also a block head wind on a false flat gradient. At this point the break was just eight riders and we were all co-operating well together into the cross-winds towards the lake. But I felt the race at this point was not hard enough for my companions so I decided to open the throttle going over the rollers. When it was my turn on the front, I accelerated hard and veered left to hug the very edge of the road to prevent drafting behind me. My move was perfect as it succeeded in blowing apart the break. Initially it was only Liu Min (Triace) who could respond and bridged across to me, but he was unwilling to pull through and let me take a breather. It was only when our gap became bigger, that Liu Min was willing to trade some pulls on the front. But when Cui Hao made it across, he stopped co-operating again and it was stalemate. I kept on driving forward in the hope that the three of us could distance the other riders. Feng Kuangao (Triace), and a Kung rider all bridged up. Immediately the pace was quelled and this allowed for another two riders to re-establish contact. The foreigner from the Chain Sprockets Team was the only rider that did not make it back.
I wanted to keep the pace on but the other riders, most likely due to the massive seven minutes we were now enjoying with 30km remaining, were wanting to slow down a bit. I was left out front dangling about 50 meters – I was going in tempo mode and feeling comfortable. I was not gaining time and when I slowed to allow them to catch up, they also slowed, only increasing pace when I accelerated. Based on this, I knew that they were leaving me dangling in the hope that I would tire and subsequently be dropped. Feng Kuangao had the cheek to attack me when I had a bottle in one hand and a gel in the other trying to feed… but fortunately I caught back on.
With 10kms remaining, there were attacks left and right as riders sought to gain the upper hand. I followed mostly but did do a couple of counter-attacks to keep things interesting. At this point in the race, I was not interested in working with anyone as all they were doing is attack and sit up, rinse and repeat. With 5kms remaining in the race, a rider from the Jeep team made an audacious attack that was almost pulled off. I did not respond to this attack, but instead left it to the responsibility of the other riders, especially the two Triace riders represented in the break. They had the most to lose and surely should have controlled the proceedings better (they are one of the best amateur teams in China). Instead, they seemed to prefer watching and responding to my moves in the hope that I would drag them back to the riders up the road. Cuihao and the Kung rider both escaped together to pursue the solo rider with Wang Kaiyuan (Chain Sprockets) the next to attack. I was content to see what the two Triace riders would do and they were only interested in trying to attack me and whenever I matched their moves, they would slow down and the other rider would go on the offense. In effect, they were trying to work me over by 1-2′ing me in the hopes that I might break and one of them can safely go in pursuit of the front riders.
With just over two kilometers remaining, I told them lets co-operate otherwise we would not stand a chance to bring back the escapees. I started pulling hard on the front and they also obliged but I felt they were not pulling to their maximum. They were still playing some games. So with 800m remaining, I took the front again with Triace in tow. Liu Min was in my draft the whole time up the final uphill drag to the finish line. With 200m left, I opened my sprint, passed Wang Kaiyuan and finished 4th. It was the best I could do in the circumstances. Had I had better co-operation from Triace earlier, we could have all had the chance for a podium finish. However, it is like chess on wheels – you have to take tactical choices in split seconds and sometimes it can work in your favor if executed at the right time.
Zhang Li (Kung Cycling Team) proved his sprinting prowess once again by taking the bunch sprint for 9th place ahead of Wang Lei (Triace).
We are now right up by the Kazakhstan border in a small town called Ala Shankou and stage two is another relatively flat one and is only 78km. Stay tuned to Bikedan in Asia for the race report updates. The evenings here are very long… the sun stays up till well after 10pm!! We should be in another time-zone but since we are still in China, the official time still goes by Beijing standard. However, many of the locals go by Xinjiang time…
I will be posting photographs of stage one once I receive them. So please check back again for the images.
Top 10 Results
Gu Tian (Kung Cycling Team) 2.05.23
Cui Hao (Xinjiang Cycling Team) 2.05.24
Li Changde (Xinjiang Long Da) 2.05.26
Daniel Carruthers (Cronus/Kuota) 2.05.46
Wang Kaiyuan (Chain & Sprockets) 2.05.47
Liu Min (Triace Cycling Team) 2.05.57
Feng Kuangao (Triace Cycling Team) 2.06.04
Sebastien Vergnes (Chain & Sprockets) 2.07.48
Zhang Li (Kung Cycling Team) 2.12.05
Wang Lei (Triace Cycling Team) 2.12.11