10/9/2012 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!

Tour of Beijing stage 3: Gavazzi snatches victory

Italian beats Dan Martin and Boasson Hagen on uphill finish


Against the stirring backdrop of the Great Wall at Badaling, Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) charged to victory in a close finish to stage three of the Tour of Beijing, while Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) retained his overall lead, 40 seconds ahead of the Italian.

After taking his fourth second place finish of the season on the previous day in Mentougou, it was perhaps fitting that Gavazzi’s first victory of the year was one forged with patience. He held his fire when Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) launched what looked like the winning move with three kilometres to go, and maintained a watching brief when red jersey Tony Martin took up the pursuit on the final climb to the line.

Gavazzi opted to stick steadfastly to the wheel of Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp); biding his time as the flying Irishman led the fractured peloton back up to Boasson Hagen inside the final 200 metres. Gavazzi then struck on the crown of the final bend, and swept past Martin and Boasson Hagen to claim his first victory of the season.

“There was only one way for me to win today – I had to wait and wait and see how things developed,” a relieved Gavazzi said after the finish. “To be honest, when Boasson Hagen attacked, I thought it was over, as he is the perfect rider for this kind of finale.”

The rolling finale provided the platform for a flurry of increasingly ferocious attacks after the day’s early break had been swept up. Sylvain Georges (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was the first man to go clear, but when he was reeled in, Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) unleashed a rasping effort of his own on the penultimate rise.

Approaching the very crest of that climb, with three kilometres to go, Boasson Hagen produced a devastating burst that saw him cruise past Anton and then put daylight into the peloton behind. As he swooped down the gently curving bend, the Norwegian’s gap was approaching 20 seconds – he would have 17 in hand at the red kite – and given the disarming facility of his pedalling, he seemed destined to take the stage, the winner’s time bonus and make significant inroads on general classification.

Boasson Hagen had been one of the few riders to make the trek north from Beijing in the build-up to the race to reconnoitre the finale. His attack was pre-meditated and the aim had been to take the stage and the red jersey.

“I planned to go exactly where I did but it wasn’t the plan that the other guys would catch me,” Boasson Hagen said. “If Martin hadn’t gained time yesterday, then maybe I could have waited for the sprint. But that would have been a different race. So I was just thinking I needed to gap off and get as much seconds as possible.”

Sensing that his red jersey was under threat, Martin himself seized the initiative and took up the reins of the pursuit on the final kilometre-long climb to the finish, whose slopes seemed somewhat shallower than the road book had suggested. The German’s pace-making brought the bunch to within touching distance of Boasson Hagen, and then Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin completed the juncture within sight of the line.

200 metres out, Martin looked as though he was going to take the honours, but he confessed afterwards that he had hit the final ramp to the line in too high a gear, and the canny Gavazzi was able to zip past at the death to take the win, while Boasson Hagen held on for third ahead of Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Rui Costa (Movistar).

“It was hard finish, but a good stage for me, although I’m a bit disappointed not to win after all the hard work of my teammates,” said Martin, who now moves up to third overall, 50 seconds down on his namesake Tony.

The win went to Gavazzi, who claimed his first triumph since taking a stage at last year’s Vuelta a España. Unable to match the pure sprinters on the flat and nor the puncheur on the climbs, the 28-year-old has found that the right kind of finish can take a whole season to find.

“I actually thought the climb today would be harder,” he said. “But it turned out to be perfect for me. I can’t compete in flat sprints and I can’t win on harder climbs either, so it was great to break the ice here.”

Early break

The overnight release of USADA’s reasoned decision of its judgement on the Lance Armstrong case dominated many conversations in the start village, although some additional drama was provided by the news that Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) had taken a tumble while riding from the hotel to the start. The Luxembourger appeared relatively unscathed, however, and completed the stage 15 minutes down, as he continues his comeback from a fractured pelvis.

The day’s stage snaked its way through the foothills of the Xi Mountains and then skirted the fringes of greater Beijing before turning back towards the spectacular section of the Great Wall at Badaling. The early break went clear after 30km, featuring Vacansoleil-DCM pair Johnny Hoogerland and Pim Ligthart, Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat), Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi), George Bennett (RadioShack-Nissan) and Andriy Grivko (Astana).

The seven built up a lead of over 4:30 at one point, and with the peloton initially reluctant to chase, the group began to believe in their chances shortly after the midway point. “There were a lot of strong guys in the group who weren’t a threat on GC, so I thought we might go all the way,” Bennett said afterwards.

Eventually, however, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Garmin-Sharp and Liquigas-Cannondale (who were working for Moreno Moser) provided the firepower necessary to peg back the leaders. Leading by three minutes with 40km to go, the break was swept up in the finale, although Meier put up a brief, solo show of defiance before he too was caught. “I attacked when I felt the peloton coming back,” he said. “I saw an opportunity and took it.”

Ultimately, however, it all came down to frantic final three kilometres. Francesco Gavazzi won the day, but after quelling Edvald Boasson Hagen’s fierce attack, the day’s biggest winner might yet prove to be Tony Martin.

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Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) celebrates his victory at the Tour of Beijing
Photo: © AFP

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