The race festivities started off with a bang. We had a lazy day before stage 1, soaking up the good vibes, eating some delectable Chinese food (I told the guys, don’t get used to it, it can be quite hit or miss and this place was a huge hit with sweet and sour chicken!) and relaxing on our beds made of straight plywood with a mattress topper. We blasted our legs with our two Marc Pros that we brought with us and they were incredibly crucial because our bikes didn’t show up in time for a spin ride like we had hoped. After watching a few movies, walking around the city, and stuffing our faces with more Chinese food, we all got on the bus and cruised over to the team presentation.
It was pretty wild. The building was chock-full of VIPs and performers on the inside who wanted to say hi (or Ni hao) and take selfies. After the local dignitaries and race organizers said some words, the smoke machines and strobe lights were turned on and the teams made their way to the stage one by one.
After a wild gauntlet backstage with cheerleaders, police, kids, traditional Chinese performers, and more, we bused back to the hotel, finished building our bikes and crashed for the night.
All of the pre-stage ceremonies were pretty similar for the next 11 stages, with performances, a very official sign in, speeches by local dignitaries, and the start with 8 foghorns being blown right in our ears (sometimes unannounced fireworks as well).
The start list had 110 riders from 20 teams and 31 countries on it, with Australia and New Zealand being the most represented countries with 9 riders apiece. The bike race was generally like a supercharged junior or collegiate race and stage one was no different. Teams only had 6 riders, so it was hard to completely take control, and generally chaos reined, but with very few crashes which was nice. The 110 km stage 1 was exciting for us, as Sam Boardman got in a beautiful long distance break that had a monster gap going into the final of 6 laps, but the field did over 60kph for the last half lap and caught the break at just over one kilometer to go. The sprint was quite chaotic and physical and our leadout train got boxed in pretty hard, but we were still able to put 3 riders in the top 20, with Sam Bassetti leading our charge in 6th place.
After wrapping up the race and a job well done by the team, we rode back to the hotel, racing a guy on an electric scooter for most of the way as he tried talking to us in Chinese (none of us speak Chinese). Shower. Eat lunch. Pack. Get on the bus. 2-hour bus ride to the next city.
10 minutes out from the hotel, we pulled onto a wide bike path in our large coach, and the stage came back to me from two years prior. Stage 2 was to be a race around a lake on literally a large bike path. There were unpadded trees all over the place and a whole lot of easy to crash into lakes and planter boxes – not a stage you wanted to crash on. More importantly, the finish had a hard right turn with about 600m to go and was very nicely suited for Sam Bassetti. After chatting with the guys about the course, we decided to go all in for Bassetti and race for the stage win and nothing else.
The 110km Stage 2 began and we kept our powder pretty dry for the first bit with the exception of Sam Boardman who was riding like 10 men getting into almost every break with some help from Justin Mauch and Sam Anderson-Moxley. With about 25km to go, all 6 of us organized near the front to avoid any trouble (lots of crashes today, both Mauch and Boardman hit the deck earlier in the stage) and just stay near the front, which was work in and of itself on the narrow, twisty bike path. With just over one lap to go, Boardman and Mauch launched off the front together, putting the responsibility to chase on the Continental team St. George from Australia that had won the first stage and has one monster of a leadout train and sprinter.
I locked onto the sprinter’s wheel with Bassetti on me and we stayed in the top 5 until about 5km to go when the dynamic duo was finally brought back after burning through almost the whole St. George team. I did a nice little pull with about 3km to go to keep the pace high before both of my legs cramped entirely and then I pulled the plug, hoping the guys could work some magic for the finish. As I rolled to the final right hand turn, I looked across the grass field and could see the leaders strung out, single file out of the right hand turn with Bassetti in 5th wheel. I started whispering please, please, please.
When I crossed the finish line a minute after the field, I could see it in the faces of the guys that we had taken the win on the day. We were so pumped up and elated. It was an absolutely impeccable team performance, beautifully capped with the stage win by Bassetti. Oh, and Quinten Kirby took 7th after a great leadout and Bassetti took the leaders jersey. And it is only stage 2…