BEIJING (VN) — Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) returns to the Tour of Beijing as king. Everywhere he looks, he sees himself on advertising banners and magazines. The Chinese, at least around the northern suburbs of Beijing, cannot get enough of him.
“I feel famous here,” Martin told VeloNews. “Every time I step out of the hotel, fans are waiting for me, wanting photos and autographs. The organizer did a good job marketing this race. It’s the same as last year, banners with my face all over the city.”
As he spoke, Chinese journalists circled and photographers started clicking. For them, he is the king of the Tour of Beijing.
It is a due title. He won both editions in the last two years, since the race’s start in 2011. The 2011 victory came thanks to his time trial dominance on day 1 and consistency through the following four days. To change up the race, the organizer took out the time trial last year. Martin still won thanks to a solo, power-man move on day 2.
This year, organizer GCP went up another level. It included an uphill finish on day 4, 12.6 kilometers to the Mentougou Miaofeng at 1,003 meters. Up top, with views of Changping city, the likely overall winner will become clearer.
“The profile of the tour is much harder this year, with longer climbs, including one uphill finish that seems to be pretty hard. You can’t compare it to the Alps or Pyrenees in the Tour de France but at the end of the season, it’s enough to make the difference,” added Martin. “I’ll try my best to stay with the top guys, but it will be hard to make the difference without a time trial.”
Cameras clicked and the flashes illuminated Martin’s face. He is used to it. This year has been one of his best. He helped Omega Pharma to team time trial wins in the Tour de France and world championships, and took the individual events in both races as well. His Florence worlds win, his third title, underscored his dominance over the former king, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and Olympic Champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
It appears GCP wants a different king in Beijing, though, given how it spiced up its race. As head of GCP, Alain Rumpf explained in a press conference today that the race is open.
“We have some new features on the course, including a summit finish,” Rumpf said. “It’s balanced; it offers opportunities for all types of riders. We are looking forward to it.”
The Tour of Beijing starts Friday, in the middle of the night U.S. time, with a flat stage. The weekend features a couple of medium-mountain stages. On Sunday, the race climbs 700 meters to Mentougou Miaofeng. The stage also includes a 20km climb mid-stage. The race ends with a circuit stage in Beijing.
Martin won Paris-Nice, so winning this year’s edition of the Tour of Beijing is not out of the question. Other favorites include Richie Porte (Sky), Robert Gesink (Belkin), Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), and new world champion Rui Costa (Movistar).
“It’s still OK for me,” Martin added. “I don’t dare say that there’s no chance for me.”