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Philippe Gilbert leads Tour of Beijing after winning shortened stage

Philippe Gilbert sprints to victory in a stage slashed over to air-quality concerns and takes the overall lead at the Tour of Beijing

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BEIJING (VN) — Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) surged into the lead of the Tour of Beijing on Saturday as heavy air pollution forced organizers to slash the race’s second stage following complaints from riders.

Gilbert won the curtailed stage, which was scheduled to run 147.5km from Chongli to Yanqing on the outskirts of Beijing.

But after days of thick smog in the Chinese capital, organizers ended the stage 36km early “due to weather in Yanqing.”

“Air quality in Beijing has been very poor in the past few days and this has spread to surrounding areas including Yanqing,” read the race’s official Twitter feed.

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Saturday’s hilly stage stretched through an area that is part of Beijing’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Gilbert, who came around Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (Giant-Shimano) on the final curve to take the victory, plus the lead on GC and in the sprint competition, said riders had asked the UCI to shorten the race.

“We spoke together with the organization, UCI, and everyone agreed that we should cancel the last 30K,” he said. “I think it was a good decision.

“This means a lot, because a lot of times in the past … they didn’t listen to us. And today, we did a big step in our sport, I think.”

Global Cycling Promotion director Alain Rumpf agreed that the decision was proper.

“We spoke with some riders this morning and we’ve been monitoring the situation from the beginning,” Rumpf said.

“The decision that was taken was the only one that could be taken at that time. ”

The first stage took place Friday in rolling hills well to the north of the city, and under often blue skies with clear visibility.

But Saturday’s course saw the riders make their way closer to the Chinese capital, which has been shrouded by pollution more than 20 times over recommended maximum levels.

The conditions apparently didn’t affect Gilbert, who was in his element on the punchy 1km long, 8 percent climb to the finish.

“I was waiting because I knew in a finish like this that I am really strong,” Gilbert said. “So I was just waiting for someone else to take the lead. I did not want to go first. So when Van Rensburg went, it was perfect.

“I think he wanted me to go on the inside and close me out. But I just went on the corner on the left. There was a lot of space and I didn’t take any risks.”

Former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) rounded out the podium in third.

Gilbert now leads Van Rensburg by five seconds with Costa third at seven seconds.

Stage 3, a 176km leg from Yanqing to Qianjiadian Chao Yang Temple, the longest in this year’s race, includes seven rated climbs, including two category-2 ascents and the first-category Si Hai grind.

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