Xunhua, CHINA (VN) — It’s been a tough week for Lampre-Merida at the 14th Tour of Qinghai Lake. The only WorldTour team in the race was winless through the first six stages, while Slovenian Continental team Adria Mobil has already racked up four victories, with three of those wins nabbed by former Tinkoff-Saxo rider and current points leader Marko Kump.
But Belarusian Ilia Koshevoy put an end to a string of bad luck for Lampre-Merdia with a brilliant solo attack inside the final 15km of the 190km stage 7 on Saturday.
Lampre-Merdia arrived at the Tour of Qinghai Lake with only six riders, after Portugal’s Mário Costa, older brother to Rui, failed to obtain his travel visa prior to the start.
Two days later on stage 2, the team lost two more riders when Xu Gang and general classification hopeful Mattia Cattaneo both fell victim to separate crashes that forced them to withdraw from the race, leaving the Italian team with just four riders.
“I did 170km in the breakaway with the other guys and it was really hard with lots of elevation and heat,” said Koshevoy. “I tried to go in the break three times, but in the final 15km there is a tailwind so I go and this was the moment when I won the race.
“I’m very happy.”
With three riders off the grid, only Koshevoy, Tsgabu Grmay, Luka Pibernik and reigning two-time Taiwan road race champion Feng Chun Kai remain.
“We had a lot of misfortune at the start of the race because we lost two riders in the second stage due to a crash,” the 24-year-old Koshevoy told VeloNews after the race. “So it’s been a very hard race for us, plus we have a young team with no big stars.”
Koshevoy was not alone in his exuberance after the race. Lampre-Merida sports director Bruno Vicino shared in his young rider’s jubilation.
“We showed that we are competitive,” said Vicino. “It’s not easy here as we did not bring a sprinter with us, and we lost two of our top riders for the race, so we had to invent something in order to gain a victory.
“We are satisfied with this win, but now we have to think about what to do next, which may include Pibernik or somebody else.”
As far as the team’s two injured riders, Vicino said both were on the mend and should be back on the bike soon.
“Cattaneo is not yet ready, but from the beginning of next week he should be back to training,” said Vicino. “Xu Gang has to keep his arm in a sling due to his separated shoulder, but is already riding on a wind trainer.”
The 13-stage, 2,027-kilometer Asia Tour race continues on Sunday with a 126km stage 8 from Guide to Xunhua, where Hossein Alizadeh (RTS-Santic), who won a stage and the overall in 2012, will try to defend his 3 second race lead over Radoslav Rogina (Adria Mobil).
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.