–SAN DIEGO, CA–
Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis completed its first block of international racing for 2019 this past week, excelling at the UCI 2.2 Tour of Taiyuan held in northern central China, the first of two races the team would compete in during their trip abroad
TOUR OF TAIYUAN
Stage 1: Taiyuan – Taiyuan (199km)
The team flew into Taiyuan, the capital city of the Shanxi Province, via Shanghai, arriving two days before the race in order to adjust to the time difference and scope out some of the course on deck for stage 1.
The first day ended up being monstrously difficult, with an unrelenting profile that covered almost 200 kilometers (125 miles) and roughly 3,600 meters (12,000 feet) of vertical elevation gain. Temperatures would reach roughly 90ºF, making the day not only one of physical endurance, but of heightened nutritional awareness. Riders had to drink and eat far more than any race this year has called for, presenting new challenges during the race.
Quinten Kirby would make his way into the early move of 5 riders that escaped and gained nearly 2 minutes on the field immediately, as riders’ wariness of the climbs to come made them hesitant to attack and chase it down. However, one larger group of about 15, including Sam Boardman, managed to pinch itself off the front of the peloton and catch the lead break just before the first climb of the day.
This break of about 20 riders would then proceed to gain almost 9 minutes as the peloton sat up. With each team represented in the move, there was no motivation to chase, and the break’s leash was released.
Quinten and Sam would roll through as Kent Ross, Maxx Chance, and Colby Lange patrolled the pack looking for any more attempts to get up the road.
The first climb came about 40 kilometers into the stage, and from there, it was either up or down for the next four and a half hours. Both Quinten and Sam would become dislodged from the original break and absorbed by smaller chases that had blitzed the first climb and were making up ground.
Colby surfed wheels and muscled his way onto a chase group that would catch stragglers from the original break, the rest of which were up the road contesting the win. Colby would roll through the finish line in 13th place, only 8:38 down from the winner on a 6-hour stage.
The rest of the team would roll through afterward, conserving as much as they could to make it within the time-cut limit and prepare for the next 5 stages.
Stage 2: Zuoyun – Datong (126.4km)
After a long transfer that didn’t see riders arriving to the Stage 2 hotel until 11:30pm the night before, everyone rallied together to prepare for the day’s race, consisting two laps of a rolling circuit bookended by flat drags out of Zuoyun and into Datong.
Where hills and the race’s distance presented Stage 1’s main source of difficulty, crosswinds would step in to assume that role in Stage 2. Members of the Malaysian outfit, Sapura Cycling, would work all day to gutter the peloton in the hopes of trying to split the field. Though the split only came in spurts, and nothing definitive ever materialize, casualties of their efforts were seen popping out the back all day. Among them included Sam, who would be involved in a crash and forced to abandon the race with a knee injury.
The rest of the team managed to stay safe, and worked to protect the designated sprinter for the day, Quinten. After the two laps of the circuit, crosswinds aside, the run-in to the finish was relatively non-technical, safe for a tight 120-degree bend that brought the peloton into 1 kilometer to go. With crashes in the field through the turn, which the pack took nearly 20 abreast, Wildlife Generation riders managed to stay upright and positioned Quinten for the sprint, in which he would finish 9th.
Stage 3: Wutaishan – Wutaishan (83.4km)
Based on the profile the race organizers provided, Stage 3 appeared to offer the next best chance for the general classification contenders to separate themselves and make time up on their rivals. The course consisted of three laps of a 28-kilometer long circuit, in which the peloton went up a hill and back down it. However, the climb proved not as steep as the profile image would let on (with a gradient averaging only about 2 percent) and would be ridden tightly and nervously.
Many of the roads in China, including those in Wutaishan, have knee-high barriers lining the centerline to prevent cars from making illegal u-turns. This made for uncomfortable riding on the out-and-back loop the riders had to navigate three times during the day, as the chaotic and fast-paced race often pushed riders dangerously close to the barriers.
Colby followed moves and made his way into the day’s break, which got as far as 1:30 up the road before. Team Illuminate, the team of Cam Piper, the race leader, and Neri-Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM, an Italian Professional Continental squad, instigated the chase and the lead dropped precipitously within the last 15 kilometers. Colby attacked out of the separation and was leading solo, but was unfortunately swallowed within the last 2 kilometers of race, making for a hectic finish. Kent and Maxx would try and shepherd Quinten as best they could through the charging fray, which approached the line 15-riders wide. The riders would be swarmed, but Kent and Quinten both managed top-ten finishes, placing 9th and 10th respectively.
Stage 4: Changzhi – Taihang Baquanxia Scenic Area (87.2km)
Stage 4 saw the peloton going uphill for the first 50 kilometers of the 87-kilometer long stage. Though no part of the earlier sections of the hill were particularly steep, the last 5 kilometers did see pitches between 6 and 9 percent, so there was once again potential for GC contenders to make time on their rivals. With a relatively technical 30-kilometer descent leading into the finish, the course lended itself to a breakaway too.
Colby and Maxx were once again on the lookout for a move to go up the road and stick, but riders were marking them throughout the race. Colby would try and go solo near the top of the climb, but would be brought back in, and a break of 3 would go on the first sections of the descent and stick it to the line. Various attacks would follow in spurts, one of which Kent was able to cover. He would gain about 10 seconds on the rest of the field, finishing in 6th on the day, with the rest of the pack in tow.
Stage 5: Guanqelou – Heijn (134.4km)
The penultimate stage of the tour offered a straightforward and flat route heading north into Hejin. Once again, crosswinds would wreak havoc throughout the race, making it difficult, especially on the loop early in the course, but never splitting the pack. With the race destined to come down to a bunch sprint, the group would once again ride for Quinten. He conserved throughout the race after suffering a tiny slide out in the tricky lead-in to the finish of the day before, which included tight turns through a small city center over harsh cobbles within the last 3 kilometers. Colby and Maxx would look for moves that had potential to go off the front.
Unfortunately, Kent had also suffered a crash the day before after hitting a drainage gutter that ran across the road of the finishing straight that caused severe muscle bruising. Consequently he was not able to start Stage 5.
Nevertheless, the trio that was left worked well together to position Quinten for the sprint finish. After making a righthand turn off of the main roads and onto a straight and flat boulevard that took the peloton into the city, racers were able to see the finish line from a kilometer out. Wildlife Generation kept their powder dry until the last possible second when Colby and Maxx launched Quinten, who would take 5th in the bunch kick, notching the team’s first top-5 finish of the race, and it’s 4th top-ten finish in as many days.
Stage 6: Pingyao – Taiyuan (100km)
With a slight headwind, the peloton had another straightforward day on the road, this time in the form of a pan-flat 100-kilometer ride back into Taiyuan.
To the benefit of the riders, the last 5-kilometers of this stage was identical to those of Stage 1, so there were no surprises.
Breaks were having trouble going up the rode with the headwind limiting the chances of anything getting away. With the GC teams controlling the pack’s speed all day to ensure nothing dangerous got up the rode, riders were able to shelter in the draft through to the final kilometers of the race.
Colby and Maxx practiced the leadout they had been fine-tuning all week for Quinten, and drove their train as hard as they could to get him as close to the front as possible. With another wide-road finish, however, teams with more riders working for them were able to swarm, but Quinten was able to notch one last top-ten for the team, finished in 8th place on the day.