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BEIJING (AFP) — Slovenia’s Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) won the first stage of cycling’s five-day Tour of Beijing in a sprint finish on Friday.
Sky controlled the race entry into Zhangjiakou, part of Beijing’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, but a series of attacks whittled away the black jerseys at the front of the peloton.
American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) took the lead in the finishing straight with a burst of speed, but the 26-year-old Mezgec overhauled him in the approach to the line, and Australia’s Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) sneaked up in the last few meters to take second place from Farrar by inches.
“The plan was to stick me in the right wheel at the front in the final few kilometers and this worked perfectly,” Mezgec said in a team release. “It’s great to win again here in Beijing and hopefully we can continue this week with other opportunities for us. It will be hard to defend the overall in the next few days before the mountain stage but we will see tomorrow how it is.”
The Chinese capital has been shrouded by heavy pollution in recent days, but the stage took place in rolling hills well to the north of the city, and under often blue skies with clear visibility.
“It was really close,” Ewan said. “I got a little bit boxed in there at the end and I had to wait to get out and I think I got out a little bit too late.”
Added Farrar: “The form’s decent so I’ve got to try. I thought it was a good one for me today because it was such a hard day and that suits me.”
The race, the last UCI WorldTour event of the season, is being run for the last time, and has been overshadowed by some top-level withdrawals.
Vuelta a Espana winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) pulled out injured, leaving his fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) assured of winning the season WorldTour title. Valverde also dropped out.
The Astana team of Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali also withdrew when it self-suspended itself for a week because of two doping infractions within a year.