10/9/2012 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!
Tour of Beijing stage 1: Viviani victorious
Liquigas-Cannondale sprinter pulls on leader's jersey
At the end of a season built around his unfulfilled ambitions of gold on the velodrome in London, it was perhaps fitting that Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) emerged victorious at the end of stage one of the Tour of Beijing in the city’s Olympic park.
On a finishing straight sandwiched between the imposing Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube - the signature venues of the 2008 Olympic Games - Viviani timed his effort to perfection to beat Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) in a close sprint finale. Viviani also took the red jersey of race leader and holds a four-second lead over Fenn thanks to the time bonuses.
As Team Sky moved to the front to control affairs in the final kilometres, Viviani had eyes only for the back wheel of Boasson Hagen, his rationale being that the Norwegian champion and his lead-out train would provide the safest passage through the tumult of the closing kilometre. Viviani’s strategy proved correct, and with a stiff tailwind at the peloton’s back on the finishing straight, he was able to open his sprint from distance.
“In the last kilometre I took Boasson Hagen’s wheel and I just stayed cool on his wheel,” Viviani told Cyclingnews after the finish. “I followed him because I know that he likes long sprints and that way you stay out of harm’s way. It was a clean sprint: I managed to go at the right time and got myself free in the final 250 metres.”
With a liberal sprinkling of strong sprinters in the field but no single overwhelming favourite, there was no shortage of teams striving to keep the race together in the finale. Viviani explained that his Liquigas-Cannondale teammates had focused on keeping him near the front rather than chasing the day’s break, reasoning that the bunch sprint would take care of itself on a stage that saw the peloton tackle thirteen laps of a fast and flat circuit.
“The tactic was to ride near the front no matter what because on a circuit like this, you’d use up a lot less energy,” said Viviani. “We had the team to do that. In the finale, men like Da Dalto and Capecchi were essential help, not so much to lead out the sprint but to get me into the right position.”
While Boasson Hagen was never able to get back on terms with Viviani once the Italian got ahead, Andy Fenn was closing quickly in the final 100 metres but the Briton simply ran out of road. Kenny van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) came home in fourth, while the much-fancied Theo Bos (Rabobank) could only manage sixth in spite of a committed Rabobank lead-out train.
“Bos looked to have the most organised team of them all in the finale, but I didn’t see how his sprint went,” Viviani said. “But there was definitely plenty of competition there in the sprint today.”
It was Viviani’s seventh win of a busy season that has seen him repeatedly switch back and forth between road and track. While his Beijing victory can hardly compensate for his Olympic disappointment, where he slipped from joint first to sixth in the final event of the Omnium, it is just reward for his resolute efforts in the closing weeks of the season. After a brace of second place finishes at the Vuelta a España, and another near miss at the Memorial Pantani, Viviani was keen not to fall short again in Beijing.
“It was a big win because it’s been a while since I won,” he said. “But I took good condition out of the Vuelta and I came here to win one or two stages. One is ok, but two is perfect and the objective now is to win another stage and take the green jersey on the last stage.”
Although he rolled across the line 21 seconds down after sitting up in the finishing straight, Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) had perhaps the second greatest reason for cheer in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon. In only his second race since fracturing his pelvis in June, the Luxembourger was pleased with his progress. "My day was better than expected", he said. "I had no pain and I could stay on the saddle for most of the time."
The day’s action got underway in the grand surrounds of Tiananmen Square, which had been specially closed off for the occasion. Unlike last year, local fans were able to enter the square to sample the atmosphere and while the crowds were sparse, it marked a progression for the event. A further boost for the peloton's morale was provided by the weather conditions - a brisk northerly wind meant that, for the first time since their arrival last week, the smog had cleared and there were blue skies overhead.
With just 117 flat kilometres on the agenda, it was nigh on impossible that the stage would end in anything other than a bunch sprint, but even so, the pace was high almost as soon as the flag was dropped outside the Great Hall of the People. The break of the day shot clear just eight kilometres in, as the peloton was still making the short trek northwards to the finishing circuit in the Olympic Park.
Marco Bandiera (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Matthieu Lagadnous (FDJ-BigMat), Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD), Bert Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Craig Lewis (Champion System) were the five men to break clear, but while they built up a lead of 2:40 at one point, they knew that the efforts were unlikely to meet with any tangible reward by day’s end.
“My attack was so that Alessandro Petacchi could be quiet in the peloton and my teammates would not have to chase,” Malori said afterwards. “But I knew it would be very hard to get to the finish in a break with this wind because the peloton can always decide when it wants to pull you back.”
Matthieu Lagadnous won both intermediate sprints, and the time bonuses he picked up mean that he lies in third overall at the end of stage one, four seconds down on Viviani. However, once the peloton cranked into action with five laps to go, the break’s advantage began to tumble rapidly, and when Orica-GreenEdge took charge in earnest on the penultimate lap, it was clear that the game was up for the breakaway.
The plucky Craig Lewis made a bold attempt to upset the odds by jumping off the front of the break just as the peloton was on the point of sweeping them up, but while the American enjoyed a brief stay of execution, he too would be ruthlessly shut down in the closing kilometres as the stage was prepared for Viviani and the sprinters.
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Photo: © AFP