The final stage of the Tour of Sailimu Lake was held in the city of Bole in front of what seemed like half the city out in force to support the riders. It was a 6km city circuit with long straightaways. The finishing straight was on a false flat uphill into a block head wind while the back straight was a slight downhill stretch with a tailwind. It was a wide-open, non-technical four-corner course that was raced around 11 times for a total of 66km. The large crowds present were treated to a great spectacle of competitive racing, with no real breakaway successful; despite numerous attempts by different teams.
Cui Hao (Xinjiang Racing Team) took an impressive win after jumping out with his teammate Hu Hao with one lap remaining. The pair worked very well together to maintain a slender margin, but the peloton led by the Motion team looked like they would make the catch right at about 200m to go, but a slight lull in the pace by the Motion team allowed Cui Hao to barely hold out a raging peloton; Cui Hao had to double take to be sure he had time to celebrate the win. I myself came in second, surprising myself with sharp burst of speed to past four riders in the final 50metres!
How it unfolded – My perspective
With the GC classification already sorted out on the penultimate stage, I came into the final stage with the objective of racing aggressively. With my 5th place on GC already wrapped up (just needed to keep an eye on Wang Lei, Feng Kuanjie and Hu Hao as they were all right around a minute behind – if they had gotten away in a break without me, then they could have had the chance to take 5th place.
After the first series of attacks during the first lap, I made a big attack and took with me one Motion rider. I was keen to ride hard as possible with the Motion rider’s co-operation, but I found myself doing the bulk of the pulling. There were times when the Motion rider would not even pull through. Our move lasted for two laps before we were swept up by the Kung led peloton that was interested in contesting the sprint points.
I recovered in time to also contest the sprint and maneuvered myself into a great position and could have taken maximum points, but I opened my sprint far too early (about 350metres out), I had a gap on the chasing riders but my legs exploded with 50m to go so was passed by three riders and got nothing for my efforts! It took half a lap for me to recover from that effort before I was ready to do some more attacking.
Every attack I made was chased down by the peloton, especially from the Kung Team and Motion. I was not strong enough to keep up the power riding so had to sit up and re-launch more attacks. The funny thing was that I felt like the entire peloton was working against me. Their objective was to keep me contained and not allow me to escape. A couple of my attacks were marked by Christope Moulins (Kung Cycling Team), Moulins would follow me but refuse to pull through so I swung wide on one of the corners to force him and the peloton to pass me. I also tried the tactic of suddenly swinging to the opposite side of the road; briefly this worked as the peloton stayed on the other side with just me and Moulins. When I saw this, I re-accelerated hard and both of us went but the peloton , led by Motion and Kung, frantically chased me back. It was quite amusing to watch the action unfold behind me. Some riders had the cheek to pull faces at me, so I obliged and did the haka style face!
From this point onwards, I shut shop for a while, riding at the back of the peloton, only moving to the front when I saw some threatening moves edge off the front. With three laps to go, there was a breakaway of four riders that the peloton was going to let go and I attacked hard and bridged across. This, of course, stirred a big reaction from the field and the breakaway move was killed. I then allowed myself to drift near the back again as I knew that the finish into the wind would be hard and I would have ample time to move up on the final lap. Two Triace riders, Feng Kuangao and Shi Yongming took a punt to go with two laps remaining. But were both caught with the last lap remaining, the momentary slow down after the catch allowed Cui Hao and his team-mate Hu Hao to leap out for the final lap flyer.
With three kilometers remaining, the Motion team all gathered on the front to do their lead-out train followed closely by the Kung Team. I was still quite far back, but still was confident of finishing well if I kept moving up at the critical moments. I had a close call when one of the Motion riders bounced off one of the Kung riders and almost crashed in front of me. My rear wheel skidded as I jabbed on the brakes and managed to reconnect with the front of the speeding peloton towards the finish. I kept waiting and waiting before opening my sprint. With 100m to go, I was still four riders back and we were rapidly closely on Cui Hao (his breakaway campanion was caught at the 300m mark). It was then that I launched my final surge towards the finish line. I impressed even myself with the way I just jumped past four riders to take a very comfortable second. Cui Hao, a young promising 18 year old rider, had to double check before celebrating. He could see that were were coming at least 20km/h faster than he was going. Riding into the head wind is tough and to do 60km/h for the last 40 seconds on the slight uphill drag is quite impressive. My top speed at the finish line was 63km/h and still accelerating! My nemesis, Zhang Li (Kung Cycling Team) finished third just behind me, and it was the first time I had beaten him in a bunch sprint.
With two other of my team-mates in the top 10 (one was 5th and the other 10th), we won the team classification for the stage, but still remained in fourth position overall for the tour.
Stay tuned for more updates about the Tour of Sailimu Lake and photos are on the way. We have left Xinjiang already, flew into Beijing last night at 1am and had limited sleep and the Trek Road Race near Lao Shan will begin at 10.30am.
Thanks to my team Cronus Bikes for their support and also my main personal sponsors USANA, Smith Eye-wear, and Hansaton Hearing Systems. My fifth place result on GC is my best ever result in a multi-day tour and I am looking to get stronger to perform even better at future races!