BEIJING (AFP) — Ireland’s Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) took the fourth stage of the Tour of Beijing with an extraordinary uphill sprint on Monday, but Belgian Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) stayed just close enough to keep the overall lead.
Martin, who won the Giro di Lombardia earlier this month, struck in the last kilometer of the long climb up Miaofeng Mountain in Mentougou, after a series of attacks had been reeled in by the peloton.
Martin opened up a gap but overnight leader Gilbert — who is not known as a climber — was kept in touch by his teammates and crossed the line just two seconds behind Martin.
With bonuses, Martin rose to second place in the general classification, but is still three seconds behind the Belgian.
“We did a great job as a team, first controlling the breakaway and then riding a steady tempo,” Gilbert said. “The guys rode a nice speed – not too fast, just perfect.”
The 157km stage took place under clear skies in the wooded hills north of Beijing, some of the green trees dappled in autumnal hues — a contrast to the heavy pollution earlier in the event that forced Saturday’s second stage to be cut short.
Martin’s victory was set up by a long solo effort from teammate Ryder Hesjedal who attacked with around six kilometers to go on the final climb after an early break was reeled in and the selections began to take place.
“I was a bit surprised when Ryder went but he’s had good legs all week as well, and he had to try,” said Martin. “With the headwind, it was the only way to do it.
“I knew it was going to be a headwind on the climb. It’s not that hard of a climb. It’s a big chainring for a lot of it and we’re going at 30kph so it’s not really a climber’s climb at all.”
Martin, 28, who finished second in the event last year, said, “I’m just happy with the stage, the GC would have been a bonus. I’m still happy with second place.”
Gilbert said he “gave everything” in the sprint to the line. “It was very hard to close the gap to Martin but he did a nice win,” he said.
Tuesday’s final stage takes place in Beijing city center, starting at Tiananmen Square and finishing at the Bird’s Nest stadium that hosted the 2008 Olympics.
“Three seconds is not much, but it is better to have an advantage than to be behind,” Gilbert said. “Let’s cross our fingers that the race can go like normal tomorrow and that I can win the general classification.”
The race — the final UCI WorldTour event of the season — is being run for the last time, and has been overshadowed by some top-level withdrawals including Vuelta a Espana winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and WorldTour No. 1 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).