Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) was not expected to claim a second Tour of Beijing title in 2012, and once again there are question marks as to whether the German can manufacture a third overall victory at the final WorldTour of the season.
Martin, along with newly-crowned world champion Rui Costa (Movistar), headlines this third edition of the Tour of Beijing.
"The Worlds really motivated me to get ready for Tour of Beijing," Martin said, "but to be honest the parcours this year is not really for me. There is no TT and there are a few uphill finishes.”
Costa has enjoyed the season of his career, with overall victory at the Tour de Suisse and two stage wins at the Tour de France in the lead up to is rainbow jersey coup.
Ninth overall in the 2012 edition of the Tour of Beijing, Costa was a minute behind the winning time of Martin and will no doubt have his aggressive race style on display when the five-stage race comes to the crunch.
“It’s a race that I know and like. I got within the best ten overall last year and I hope to profit from my good form at this time of the year. It will be the first stage race where I will get to wear my rainbow jersey and that makes it even more important for me,” Costa said.
There’s no shortage of contenders in 2013 with a hot field assembled for the event which begins tomorrow. There’s something for all riders this year, with the sprinters, rouleurs and climbers all set to get a taste of the action.
Omega Pharma-Quick-Step is one of a few teams with the luxury of having more than one option for the overall with Zdenek Stybar joining Martin as a spearhead. Stybar, the 27-year-old from the Czech Republic, is a two-time world champion in cyclo-cross who has now truly made the transition to the road finishing sixth at Paris-Roubaix following a heart-breaking collision with a spectator, his first Grand Tour stage victory at the Vuelta a España and the overall classification at the Eneco Tour.
Team Sky is another squad with a two-pronged attack with Critérium du Dauphiné winner Richie Porte and David Lopez, who was fourth overall at his last-up race, the Tour of Britain.
Garmin-Sharp comes to the Tour of Beijing with the strength of Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Dan Martin, who was most-recently fourth at the Italian one-day classic, Il Lombardia. Another option for the US-registered squad is New Zealander, Jack Bauer who was fifth at the Tour of Britain.
Mathias Frank (BMC) should excel on the increasingly challenging parcours, while Michael Matthews (Orica Green-EDGE) and Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) are also both looking to impress.
Of the contenders, just two sit in the top 10 of the UCI WorldTour rankings – Porte (ninth, 327 points) and Martin (eighth, 348) while leader Joaquím Rodriguez (Katusha) is set to be crowned WorldTour winner for the third time.
The 2013 Tour of Beijing, the hardest edition yet in its short history, has grown by around 250km from 2012, with the average stage length 167km.
The opening stage – 190.5km from the Shunyi Olympic Rowing Park to the Huairou Studio City is pan flat and one for the likes of Elia Viviani (Cannondale) – a two-time stage winner in Beijing – and Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) who is still chasing his first win of the season, while expectations have been raised surrounding the chances of Garmin Sharp sprinter Steele Von Hoff. The run in to the finish is largely trouble-free with a roundabout to negotiate at the four kilometer mark, followed by a 90 degree left-hand turn at two-and-a-half kilometres to go, leading onto the finishing straight.
Stage two, the longest day of the race at 201.5km, sees the beginnings of the softening process for the peloton with four climbs to be negotiated. The first comes just 16km into the stage and is the shortest of the stage at 3.7km, the longest at the 150.5km mark and 5km in length. Whether the climbs are long enough for a breakaway to form and stay away remains to be seen, with the stage there for the taking for any opportunists in the field. However, it’s more likely that any escape is reeled back in and a bunch sprint will decide stage two.
The 176km third stage is the first true test of the 2013 Tour of Beijing with the Si Hai climb, the first of three Cat. 1’s in the event and one of seven climbs on Sunday, set to put some real pressure on the overall contenders. At 7.4km in length and 5.1% gradient, it’s not super-long but the first significant time gaps should appear. The race will also pass through The Great Wall at the start of the Si Hai climb.
Stage four concludes with a summit finish on Mentougou Miaofeng Mountain – but the peloton needs to get there first. Starting in Yanqing, the race again will pass in the shadows of The Great Wall, before the Cat. 17.7km Xian Ren Dong climb (5.5%) at the 61.5km mark. There’s a short decent to follow before the nasty Cat. 2 Gao Ya Kou climb, which is short at 3.5km, but steep with a 7.1% average gradient. Of the riders that were here in 2012, they will remember the road leading up to Gao Ya Kou, which they descended off, this time, the only way is up. Descending into the valleys around the outskirts of Beijing’s 6th Ring Road, there’s a 30km reprieve before the final climb to Mentougou (12.6km, 5.7%). When the 150.5km stage is complete, an overall winner of the Tour of Beijing should be decided.
The fifth and final 117km stage of the Tour of Beijing starts at the iconic Tian An Men Square, does a ceremonial loop around the resting place of Mao Zedong before the proper start along the wide inner-city boulevard of Chang-an East Street. Working its way north the race will reach its conclusion with 12 laps around the precinct that surrounds the architectural marvel that is the Bird’s Nest. A day for the pure sprinters, so an exciting finish is guaranteed.
2013 Tour of Beijing Stages:
Stage One – Friday, 11th October
190.5km – Shunyi to Huairou Studio City
Stage Two – Saturday 12th October
201.5km – Huairou Studio City to Yanqing
Stage Three – Sunday 13th October
176km – Yanqing to Qiandiajian
Stage Four – Monday, 14th October
150.5km – Yanqing to Mentougou Miafeng Mountain
Stage Five – Tuesday, 15th October
117km – Tian an men Square to Bird’s Nest Piazza
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