The Tour of Sailimu Lake continued this morning with a fast 78km stage that was completed in 1hr 44 mins with an average speed of 43.6km/h; perhaps not as fast as yesterdays opening stage, but the peloton was motivated to keep things together after letting Stage one’s winning break get out to seven minutes!
Riders enjoyed luxurious accommodations in Ala Shankou, after staying in some sub-standard hotel in Jinghe that had some pretty shocking bathrooms and the food was marginally better. One of the riders coined it akin to staying in the ‘Hyatt Hotel’ in the Wild West of China, a mere 10km from the Kazakhstan border with plenty of Kazakhs about and Chinese people with blue eyes. The food that was served last night was also a step up, but its still not good racing food. Just about every dish was ladened with red-chilli peppers, causing me to have the runs the next morning with a bit of fire!
I can’t eat the Chinese breakfast that is served here or anywhere in China, its does not sit well in my stomach especially before a big race. So I bought my own bananas and had the steamed buns that was available at breakfast. Even the eggs were cooked a little funny so I requested for two fried eggs and the chefs kindly obliged! I made sure I was drinking plenty of fluids, taking extra vitamins such as calcium/magnesium tablets to cope with the demands of stage racing. Stage racing does take its toll on the body and recovery each day is very important.
Stage Two Racing
I had an easy warm up for about 10km before lining up for the 10am start. The good thing about this race is that they are punctual and well-drilled and organized. They also have timing chips and approach the timing/results just like any UCI level race. My legs were still feeling a little heavy from stage one’s efforts but I was feeling ok. The start was immediately outside the hotel so no transfer or mucking around getting to the start like many professional stage races in Asia. It was also an uphill start without a neutral roll-out so as expected the riders went out guns all blazing. I had to dig quite deep to follow the long single file that was forming but as we left the small city of Alashankou, the pace eased slightly and riders were able to re-group after the initial frenetic pace.
The first 30-40km saw many attacks from many of the teams and I found myself policing at the front to bridge the dangerous gaps back and even threw in a few counter attacks myself on the rolling highway beside the lake. I would initially create a substantial gap of 500m or so, but motivated riders kept bringing me back; no doubt due to my high position on GC. I had a go with a Motion rider for a minute or two and swapped out several pulls together before the move was killed. Nothing was getting away and the pace of the peloton in those opening kilometers was high, averaging a solid 46-50km/h. There was also a crash that should not have happened on the straight road with several riders hitting the deck hard, including Liu Min (Triace).
After the first 30km of fireworks, the pace eased slightly when the road pointed upwards and into the wind. It was a false flat gradient all the way to the finish line. Some more opportunist attacks went up the road and before I knew it, a good 30 guys had split themselves off the front so I made the jump across. It was at this point, if it was a normal race in New Zealand or USA, that the 30 guys should have put their heads down and pummeled it so that the rest of the peloton did not re-group. Instead, there was some disorganization and no one taking control on the front. As a result, the race came back together yet again. After my flurry of earlier attacks, I decided to sit near the back of the bunch and cruise for a bit. Just before the intermediate sprint of the day, a group of six riders jumped out to contest and they rolled on to establish what was the winning breakaway for the stage. I was content to let the break roll as I could see that the bunch was still motivated to chase and keep them in check. There was also one lone Triace rider trying his chances in front of the six riders. There was a massive surge within the peloton and I thought that the break would be re-asorbed, however riders at the front suddenly sat up about 800m from the breakaway’s tail. It was at this point I darted down the side to attempt to bridge across to the break. It turned out to be a great move on my part, but I was not too happy with the four passengers I took with me. They did almost nothing. Only one rider, Hu Hao (Xinjiang Team) had some half decent pulls to keep the momentum going. It took me 6km of hard riding at 46km/h with an average heart rate of 171 to make the bridge.
It was a successful bridge and the break now became 13 guys and the peloton was quickly being left behind. It was good for me as there was only two GC contenders in the group and it meant I was in for a chance to move up some places. Initially the breakaway seemed too big and unweildy with riders refusing to roll through smoothly and equal turns on the front. Success in breakaways depend on the mutual co-operation of opposing teams for as long as possible so that the threat of being caught is virtually eliminated. Instead, the break seemed keen to self-destruct with many attacks, especially from the Kung Cycling Team who had three riders represented. There was no cohesion for along time, but due to the constant attacks the momentum was fortunately enough to keep the peloton at bay. With 10-15km remaining, the break became a bit better organized but still had riders that would go through the pace-line but refuse to pull through when it was their turn.
I had one team-mate with me in the break and was feeling good for a good finish. With 3km remaining, Yang Jiati (Kung Cycling Team) put in an attack that went unanswered and I asked my team-mate to cover it, but I was told he was too tired. So that was an opportunity lost for the break to sprint for the win. My team-mate still found enough energy to put in a very good sprint for the 1km to go banner, he had believed it was the finish. I was fourth wheel at this point and the front three guys had been sprinting and I found myself out front with 1km remaining. Not a good position to be and I kept going steady for the next 500m, with no one coming around me so I started to coast in a bid to recover for a few seconds. The sprint was on and Zhang Li (Kung Cycling Team) powered to an easy second place, while I felt sluggish and had some onset of cramp but managed to finish 5th. My efforts of today improved my placing to 3rd overall on GC, 30 seconds down on the yellow jersey. Only the top 4 are within seconds of each other and 5th place is over two minutes behind. So, based on time on my key rivals, I have good time advantage and when the race hits the mountains on day four I will have a cushion to play with in case I lose some time to the skinny bantam weight climbers that are all 20-30kgs lighter than me! Regarding my team-mate who had mistakenly sprinted for the 1km to go banner, he ended up seizing up with cramp and losing his opportunity for a top 10 finish. Over the space of 1km, he lost over three minutes and placed 52nd! I feel sorry for the guy especially as he did well to make the original breakaway.
Tomorrow’s stage is a steady 92km climb all the way to Wenquan Village, about 900m of climbing and ending at an elevation of 1360m. It is my prediction that the Kung Cycling Team will go out on the attack again so they can take the lead in the teams classification. They have won both stages so far in impressive fashion and definitely have the firepower to achieve it. Currently, the Triace team is looking quite vulnerable with one of their key riders crashing heavily and some are also quite tired from the last two days of aggressive racing. The other team that is having a good show is the Xinjiang Long Da (Jeep) team that sports Garmin lookalike uniforms but with their Chinese logos. After finishing with three of their riders in the breakaway, they vaulted to 2nd position on team classification and their star rider is currently in second position, seven seconds behind the leader. Our team, Cronus-Kuota, has moved up to 4th overall.
Photos are on their way. Stay tuned to Bikedan in Asia!
Top 10 Stage results
Yang Jiati (Kung Cycling) 1.44.35
Zhang Li (Kung Cycling) 1.44.49
Yang Hanjie (Xinjiang Longda) Same time
Li Changde (Xinjiang Longda) Same time
Daniel Carruthers (Cronus-Kuota) Same time
Hu Hao (Xinjiang Team) same time
Tian Jiaqi (Motion) ST
Wang Lei (Triace) ST
Pai zula-kaqimu 1.44.53
Huang Jianlin (Motion) 1.44.54