UCI WorldTour action returned to the People’s Republic of China for the first time since the Tour of Beijing wrapped in 2014 with Quick-Step Floors sprinter Fernando Gaviria sprinting to his 11th win of the season in Beihai on Thursday.
The 23-year-old Colombian, who won four stages at the Giro d’Italia in May, outmuscled Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Pascal Ackerman (Bora-Hansgrohe) and the rest of the field at the first annual Tour of Guangxi — a six-stage road race making its WorldTour debut as the final UCI race of the 2017 season, as the upcoming Tour of Hainan (2.HC) later this month falls under the 2018 cycling calendar. Gaviria said:
The win looked easy only on television. It’s been a hard race instead: a short stage, fast and at the end one of the craziest sprints. It’s one of the hardest sprints I’ve ever done. I’m delighted to take the win.
'Sagan playing bumper cars' – How the big-name sprinters fared on Stage 2
Guangxi features 16 WorldTour squads and two Pro Continental teams, Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and Nippo-Vini Fantini, on the country’s southwest coast bordering the Gulf of Tonkin.
With temperatures soaring to 32C (86F) and crosswinds strengthening, echelons formed behind a four-man break, which included South African Nicolas Dougall (Dimension Data), Ukrainian Andriy Grivko (Astana), Swiss road race champion Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing) and Frenchman Rémy Cavagna (Quick-Step Floors), who was the last man standing before being reeled in at 4km to go.
Both BMC and Cannondale-Drapac pulled the majority of the race in the chase of the break, but according to Cannondale workhorse Will Clarke (AUS), perhaps the effort was a case of too much too soon. He told Eurosport:
We spent most of the day keeping the break in check. So it was a pretty hard start. Maybe we took on too much responsibility and probably hit the front a bit early. In China, maybe we can make our move a bit later. We are not used to racing on roads this wide, so perhaps we need to re-access. Our goal was to get Wouter to do the sprint. However, I was on the front with 2k to go and then only had Sep [van Marcke] left and you can’t do a 2k lead-out can you?
For fifth-placed Wippert, who finished behind German Max Walscheid (Team Sunweb), Cannondale’s efforts over the two-lap 107.4km city circuit did not go unnoticed or under-appreciated.
“We decided to stay in front on the climb and that worked out, and then we kind of took over,” said the 27-year-old Dutchman, who has signed to ride for Dutch-registered Pro Continental team Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij next year. “It was for me really easy because I was really relaxed sitting there and following, but it was still a long way to go — it was hard in the last kilometre.
We wanted to be in the mix today and the team helped me out perfectly. It was pretty close together at the line and we have two or three more chances, so hopefully we will get one.
Pre-stage favourite Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) finished an uncharacteristic 52nd on the day, but admits his month-and-a-half layoff since the Tour of Britain, where he won three stages, may have played a factor, not the weather.
“I didn’t feel great today,” Ewan told Eurosport. “I don’t think it was the conditions today, I just haven’t raced for a long time so I’m just getting back into it. I’m hoping I’ll feel better as the race continues."
With the win Gavira earns the race’s first red leader’s jersey, while reigning Swiss road race champion Dillier (+0:01), who claimed all three first-place intermediate sprint points, takes the blue jersey. Groenewegen is third (+0:04).
“It was quite tough,” Dillier told Eurosport. “It was especially tough with the weather — the wind and the heat. It’s not usual to have such conditions at the end of the year.
“The final sprint is not really my speciality, so I just wanted to finish the stage well and safe. I got some bonus seconds during the day to put me in second place overall.”
The race resumes with 156.7km sprint stage on Friday.
'At a canter!' – Merlier wins on Giro debut
'Almighty mess!' – Riders race to wrong line in awkward sprint