The pro-peloton headed to China this week, there were two races – the three-stage Tour of Chongming Island that took place from Wednesday to Friday, then Sunday brought the fifth round of the UCI Women’s World Cup.
The riders were warmly welcomed, dedicated personal translators were assigned to each team, giving the groups tours of the areas, helping them to acclimatise. It’s a race that really gives the cyclists a chance to see something of the culture and life of the place they’re riding in, rather than just turn up, race, and go home again.
Chongming is a flat island in the Yangtze River (and we mean really flat), connected to Shanghai by both a bridge and tunnel. The course combines long, wide, straight, flat roads with some very technical, sharp corners. Because of this, it’s all about the power of the sprinters bursting out of the corners, attacking the flat straights.
Four big names were missing from this round of events, notably Marianne Vos, who is so far ahead in the competitions rankings she didn’t need to contest this race. Uber-sprinter Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, whose skills were perfectly matched for this race, crashed in the Drenste 8 in March, and is still recovering from her head injuries. Ellen van Dijk, Teutenberg’s Specialized-lululemon team mate, is resting up after a spectacular Spring Classics season and Kirsten Wild, who suffered a broken shoulder in the Omloop van Borsele, had to sit this round out.
Even with those dominant riders out of the peloton, there was still a huge amount of talent on the road and this week demonstrated the highs and lows of life as a racing cyclist.
Tour of ChongMing Island stage race
The 3-day stage race was a perfect opportunity for the riders to acclimatise to China, and get their sprinting legs ready. The excellent race videos below show the courses for each day – with intermediate sprint ‘bonifications’ that have to be won if anyone has a chance to contest the General Classification.
Stage 1, Tour of Chongming Island = 73.4 km
A short, simple start to the stage race, where both wind and crashes dictated how the race was won. As the teams were organising their sprint trains in the final few kilometres, a rider went down, causing chaos. This didn’t hinder Lucy Garner of Argos-Shimano, who took advantage of the bedlam and powered to victory.
The look of pure delight on Garner’s face as she crossed the line victorious was great to see. At just 18-years-old, this is the first elite season for the Brit after a superb career as a junior, winning the Junior Road World Championships in both 2011 and 2012. Joining Argos-Shimano to learn that infamous Dutch-style of sprinting from Kirsten Wild, she hadn’t expected to step into Wild’s cleats so quickly.
Garner won ahead of the 2009 winner of the race Chloe Hosking of Hitec Products UCK, a veteran of this race and Oxana Kozonchuk (RusVelo) – with Nettie Edmondson of ORICA-AIS in fourth who now has enough intermediate points to sit in third on the GC.
Stage 2, Tour of Chongming Island = 113.7 km
Garner, a junior world champion, dominated Stage 1, whereas Stage 2 was all about an elite champion. Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle Honda who has three rainbow jerseys to her name, was caught behind the crash on Stage 1, so she took out her frustrations on Stage 2. Although Hosking and Edmondson won the intermediate sprints, in a race that was full of rain, it was Bronzini who rode the endgame perfectly, sprinting to a stage 2 win.
The stage ended with Hosking leading the GC after stage 2 of the race by four seconds ahead of Edmondson, meaning the final stage would be a fight all the way.
Stage 3, Tour of Chongming Island = 80.8 km
Hosking started her campaign for a win in Stage 3 well, winning the intermediate sprint points. It looked good for her, but then in the final lap, disaster struck, and she ended up too far back to contest the final sprint. Edmondson won ahead of the bunch – and because Hosking ended 12th, this gave Edmondson the overall win – a spectacular race for her.
The final GC was all about youth – Edmondson is only 21-years-old; Hosking, in second place, is 22, and Lucy Garner at 18, lays in third. Yes, it was hard having no Teutenberg and Wild there, but this podium really celebrates the fresh young talent coming through the ranks. Edmondson, who has five medals from Track World Championships, and an Olympic bronze, has ridden a few European races with the Australian National Team, but this is her first real road season. ORICA-AIS rode an excellent race, that team just getting stronger and stronger – and it looked like the Road World Cup would be just as exciting.
Tour of ChongMing Island World Cup
This race was the fifth round of the World Cup, and the only “pure" sprint race. It was a chance for riders like Elisa Longo Borghini and Emma Johansson, who were sitting 3rd and 4th in the rankings to gain more points – and for the sprinters to shine.
The 126.8km race runs on a similar course to the stage race, this time going out over the huge bridge, and coming back through the tunnel under the Yangtze. It’s always ended with a bunch sprint, so although riders tried to escape, including Aude Biannic of the French National Team, the peloton were confident they could catch them. Thrillingly, in the final stages of the race, Tetyana Riabchenko of Chirio Forno d’Asolo made a last ditch attempt. She gained 17 seconds, with the peloton thundering behind her, that’s when the chaos began.
The peloton were racing on one of the many large, wide roads, with a barrier separating the lanes. Following the race lead motorbike, were directed down the wrong side of the road with just 3 km to go. The whole peloton had to stop, turn round and get back onto the course, while Riabchenko ahead, sailed on to victory, unaware of the mayhem that was behind her.
You could argue “that’s bike racing", and it’s true that had the young Ukrainian was rewarded for attacking hard and taking her chances – but still, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, for a World Cup race to be decided by mistakes like this.
This wasn’t a case of “the peloton should know the route", because the road books don’t include details like which side of the road to ride on – but although teams immediately put in complaints, there was nothing that could be done.
Riabchenko won, by far the biggest result of her career. – When the bunch raced for second, Bronzini showed her form, with Amy Pieters of Argos in third. Johansson’s fourth place takes her to second in the current World Cup rankings.
It seems the peloton left Chongming feeling deflated – as ORICA’s Jessie Maclean tweeted,
I feel like we were invited to a party but got kicked out before the music started
What has been interesting is the lack of mention of this incident from the UCI. This isn’t the first time races have been decided by misdirection, and maybe it’s time for the UCI to start imposing penalties for mistakes like this.
It is possible that Riabchenko wouldn’t have been caught, and maybe a bunch sprint wouldn’t have made any difference to the World Cup rankings – but I’d much rather answer these questions with a real race, and have Chongming be remembered for a demonstration of how globalisation can work in cycling.