After knocking on the door with a whole string of second places and podium finishes for a long while, I finally won a road race at the Beijing Trek sponsored event in convincing fashion; winning from the bunch kick at the end by several bike lengths. It was quite amazing to pull of a win after just finishing a five-day tour in Xinjiang Province the day before and only getting less than four hours sleep. Basically, we left the Tour of Sailimu Lake as soon as it concluded and drove for five hours in a speeding car that had a couple of near collisions with cyclists along the way (the driver we hired was a little crazy!), four hour plane ride from Urumqi to the Beijing Capital. It was another hour in the cab before reaching the hotel conveniently located right next to the start/finish line at Old Mountain (Laoshan). I think we were housed in the Athlete guest houses that the Olympians stayed in during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. I had no breakfast as there was no shops nearby to buy food, but just 30mins before the race start my team-mate handed me three bananas, and I gobbled down two of them. This made me feel much better as I was starting to get the shakes.
How the race unfolded
Almost 60 starters lined up on the start/finish line at the “closed” off 4km circuit that consisted of two short but punchy climbs each lap. The first climb started about 500m after the start line and the final 200m of that climb kicked up to 15% on uneven “cobble-stoned” surface. At the top was a reasonable sized crowd cheering the riders on, it definitely gave the feeling of riding in a classic! After the steep climb, it was a twisty curvy roller coaster ride to the second climb of the lap which was about 600m in length maxing out at 6% in gradient before descending down towards the finish line with the wind gusts blowing at your faces. It was a technical finish and positioning was key to doing well in the finale. Basically, it was a race to the final corner as whoever reached it first and on the right line, would almost be guaranteed of winning the race. It was just 100m from that corner to the finishing banner.
Present at the race was a full pro squad from Shenying -Shandong Province. They looked the most organized with matching bikes and uniforms. They also looked very “pro” and had the legs to go with it. The other main team that I regarded with caution was the Trek squad of four riders consisting of top sprinter Cui Yinhao and breakaway “specialist” Yang Wei. Specialized from Shanghai also showed up with several strong riders including Simon Cui (Yellow jersey holder of the 2011 Shanghai Trek Series). A whole contingent of local strong riders, both expat and Chinese were there to provide a stiff challenge. After a good fast first lap (it was the fastest of the race), the pace lulled just before the 200m steep climb and it was here that I gritted my teeth and mashed up and over it to establish a very good gap on the main field and quickly closing on the breakaway group of five riders including a couple from the pro team, Specialized Simon Cui. I picked up Trek’s Yang Wei enroute to the breakaway. I asked him for help with bridging up to the promising move, however he refused to pull at all. So, I towed him all the way to the breakaway and yet he still refused to contribute to the decisive move. We were seven riders and quickly rode out of sight of the main field and it looked like it was going to be the winning break. However, the “breakaway” specialist Yang Wei had other intentions. He was determined to disrupt the breakaway by rolling through to second position and then refusing to pull through to the front. This caused a couple of very frustrated bike riders, especially me. I had a few words with him to try and get him to co-operate or just stay at the back to be a passenger. But he would have none of it so I started trying to isolate him by dropping off the back with him on my wheel and then re-accelerating back to the breakaway. I started taunting him a bit, trying to force him into co-operation but it did not work and ultimately the breakaway was doomed. We were several laps off the front before getting chased down by a motivated pack containing sprinter Cui Yinhao.
I kept the pressure on with further attacks of my own, including one that gained 30 seconds on the pack but was reeled in right on the start/finish area. Each time the pack went up the steep 200m climb, many gaps formed but no one was willing to drive home the advantage by riding hard and in co-operation with other riders. For this reason, the pack always came back together and it was a matter of who would attack next. I decided to stop my own attacks with three laps remaining and respond only to dangerous moves. Going up the steep climb with two laps remaining, there was a good attack and four riders went clear and formed a late breakaway that I immediately recognized as a threat, so I jumped across immediately and the move was shut down.
I just bided my time patiently at the back of the pack, I was not worried about fighting up near the front for most of the last lap. On the 600m climb, I was almost taken out by one of the “pro” riders that veered out from his line suddenly to launch his attack going over the top of the final climb. I had to swerve out to avoid colliding with him. I kept my cool and let the others do the chasing with me still slotted near the back of the field. It was a long snaking run in to the finish with a good headwind to contend with. I made the decision prior the race that I would be taking the inside line and to make my jump at the 500m to go sign. I was slowly moving up, surfing wheels that would help me move up, finally I was up next to my most formidable opponent, Cui Yinhao (Trek), as a I started to crouch and then spring forward through the gap that was opening up in front of me, Cui Yinhao also shifted left and this caused us to collide. I backed off immediately to regain control and fortunately no one came down. This set me back a little as I needed to re-start my sprint and there was 400m to go. I was fourth wheel behind Cui Yinhao, gapped off about three lengths. I knew it was make or break for me so I put my head down and sprinted hard. My momentum carried me past the three riders and I hit the final corner as tight as possible and then did the final dash towards the finish-line. With 50m to go, I checked on my progress and found that I was comfortably streaking in for the win with Cui Yinhao taking second and his team-mate Yang Wei taking the third spot. The top speed of the sprint was not too shabby at 64km/h into headwind. It was a very satisfying win despite the crazy circumstances leading up to the race. It was also my new team’s, Cronus Cycling, first win of 2012. It capped off a great debut with Cronus representing them at the Xinjiang Sailimu Lake Tour.
It was fortunate that I did not end up crashing in the last 500m and that is sometimes how racing is – those split second reactions that save you from disaster and catapult you into first position. You do need the legs to finish a job off, but first you need to know when to launch your decisive move to make full advantage of your strengths. For me, winning the race over Cui Yinhao was a good scalp as well as my second placing the previous day at the Xinjiang race ahead of another very good sprinter (Zhang Li). It means I am doing things right and waiting for the right moment to unleash. Sometimes you can misjudge and either go too early or too late and result in losing out on the opportunity. With limited team-mates, its always a fine art of judging a good position and when to make the decisive move.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the Shimano road race in Beijing. I’ll be flying up to the Chinese capital yet again and will enjoy more Persian food for dinner at the authentic Persian restaurant!