Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) lived up to his status as one of the big favourites in the Tour of Beijing when he won the queen stage of the WorldTour race. The Irishman accelerated strongly in the final kilometre to drop all his rivals but Philippe Gilbert (BMC) dug deep to finish an excellent third and defend his overall lead on the eve of the final sprint stage.
One year ago Daniel Martin made a furious acceleration in the final kilometre of the Mentougou Miaofeng Mountain in the queen stage of the Tour of Beijing but he ran out of legs metres before the line, failing to catch lone escapee Benat Intxausti. Today he did what he failed to do back then when he won the 2014 edition of the hardest stage of the race.
Martin finished off a perfect display of team tactics. With a headwind on the 12.6km climb to the finish, it was important not to end up in chase mode and so Garmin-Sharp made use of the fact that they had two cards to play. In the first half of the climb, Ryder Hesjedal launched a strong attack and the Canadian did a marvelous job to stay clear of the hard-chasing peloton for almost the entire climb despite riding into the headwind.
Dario Cataldo (Sky) and Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) did most of the work to keep the Canadian under control but the difference was made when Samuel Sanchez (BMC) took over. With race leader Philippe Gilbert feeling good and still in a safe position, the former Olympic champion sacrificed himself for his teammate, bringing Hesjedal back as they turned into a cross-tailwind for the final 1.7km.
Sanchez’ fast pace whittled the peloton down to around 20 riders by the time they passed the red kite. All the time, Martin was looming on his wheel and with 800m to go, he made his move.
Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) did a marvelous job to hang onto the Irishman while Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Gilbert followed just a few metres further back. The two duos proved to be much stronger than the rest, easily gaining a lot of ground over their rivals.
For some time, it seemed that Chaves would be able to hang onto Martin but with less than 200m to go, the young Colombian cracked. While he drifted backwards, Martin kicked again, crossing the line to take a beautiful solo win.
After Costa had done all the chase work, Gilbert launched his trademark sprint with less than 200m to go but it was too late. He caught Chaves but didn’t have time to come around the Colombian, crossing the line in third. Costa stayed in contact with the Belgian to finish fourth while Julian Arredondo (Trek) led a bigger group across the line to take 5th, 10 seconds behind Martin.
Finishing just 2 seconds behind Martin and scoring 4 bonus seconds, Gilbert managed to defend his lead.
He now goes into the final stage with a 3-second advantage over the Irishman. At just 117km, the fifth stage is a completely flat affair that is mostly made up of laps of a circuit in Beijing, meaning that the sprinters are expected to shine on the final day of WorldTour racing in 2014.
The queen stage
After yesterday’s hilly stage, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 157km from Yanqing to a summit finish on Mentougou Miaofeng Mountain. With five categorized climbs in the first part of the stage, it was a very hilly affair but all was set to come down to the final 12.6km climb which was the scene of a big showdown 12 months ago.
For the second day in a row, the air quality was good enough to do the stage unaltered and all 131 riders who finished yesterday’s stage, took the start in Yanqing under beautiful sunshine. As it was the case in yesterday’s hilly stage, they got the race off to a very fast start as lots of riders wanted to be part of the early break.
Mezgec takes the points jersey
No one had escaped by the time the riders reached the first intermediate sprint at the 12km mark where Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) scored maximum points by beating Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE), Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) and race leader Philippe Gilbert (BMC). The attacking continued for a little while until a quartet finally escaped.
Graeme Brown (Belkin), Guillaume Boivin (Cannondale), Julien Vermote (OPQS) and Boris Vallee (Lotto Belisol) were 40 seconds ahead after 25km of racing and while the peloton took a small breather, they started to increase their advantage. When Vermote led Vallee, Brown and Boivin across the line in the second intermediate sprint, they were 1.50 ahead.
BMC in control
The gap reached 3.10 at the 46km mark before the peloton started to control the situation. While the escapees tackled the first climbs of the day, the gap hovered around the 3-minute mark. Boivin led Brown, Vermote and Vallee across the line at the top of the first climb while Brown was first on the second ascent, beating Boivin, Vermote, Vallee and KOM leader Michal Golas (OPQS). At this point the gap was 3.30.
In the early part of the race, all the work was left to BMC who had Rick Zabel, Martin Kohler and Yannick Eijssen trading pulls on the front. When Boivin led Brown, Vermote and Vallee over the line at the top of the third climb, the trio still kept the gap just above the 3-minute mark. On the fourth climb, Vermote beat Brown, Vallee and Boivin to protect Golas’ lead in the KOM competition.
Nerz takes over
The three BMC riders continued their hard work until they hit the bottom of the penultimate climb with 35km when the atmosphere started to get more intense. Several teams started to position themselves near the front and both Kohler and Eijssen swung off, meaning that Dominik Nerz had to join forces with Zabel on the front.
In the front group, Vermote set a hard pace which split the group into two. Only Boivin could stay with but Vallee managed to close the gap. Unfortunately, it spelled the end for Brown who dropped back to the peloton.
Garmin-Sharp kick into action
Zabel had now finished his job and so Nerz was the rider working all the way up the climb. When Vermote led Boivin and Vallee over the top, the German had brought the gap down to 2.25.
Having finished the descent, Nerz asked for some assistance from Lampre-Merida but the Italian team refused to lend a hand. Instead, Trek took a short turn on the front before Garmin-Sharp kicked into action.
Vermote takes off
Tyler Farrar and Thomas Dekker upped the pace significantly and this caused the gap to come down rapidly. When the pair swung off, Steele von Hoff and Philip Gaimon took over before von Hoff was replaced by Nathan Haas.
The pair led the peloton onto the final climb with a deficit of 1.05. In the front group, Vermote proved that he was the strongest as he dropped both Boivin and Vallee while the sprinters got dropped from the peloton.
Vervaeke passes Vermote
Filippo Pozzato (Lampre) took a huge turn on the front of the bunch before Sky took over with Ian Boswell. Michael Valgren (Tinkoff-Saxo) started the attacking but as Tejay van Garderen (BMC) started to chase, the Dane was quickly brought back.
Instead, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Belisol) made a move and he flew past a fading Vermote. Ag2r and van Garderen led the chase while he maintained a 10-second advantage but when Petr Vakoc hit the front for OPQS, the young Belgian was brought back.
Hesjedal makes his move
Cataldo took over the pace-setting for Sky before Hesjedal launched the expected attack. The Canadian built an advantage of 10-15 seconds and for a big part of the climb, it was a battle between Hesjedal and Cataldo who were constantly separated by such a margin.
Jesus Herrada (Movistar) was the first big name to get dropped from the peloton before Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) made a small attack. However, the Frenchman quickly felt the headwind and drifted back to the peloton.
With 4km to go, Cataldo finally blew up and this caused the pace to go down. Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) launched a strong attack while Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) set off in pursuit with Chaves and Arredondo on his wheel.
The Colombian trio was brought back and instead Pieter Serry (OPQS) bridged across to Zoidl. The duo stayed clear for a little while but when Weening started to chase, he brought them back with less than 3km to go.
With 1.7k to go, the riders turned into the cross-tailwind and now Sanchez took over the pace-setting. The Spaniard quickly brought Hesjedal back and whittled the peloton down to around 20 riders. He led the group under the red kite and moments later Martin launched his decisive move.
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