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MENTAUGOU, China (VN) — Heinrich Haussler ended a season-long drought with a narrow sprint victory as the Chinese fans turned out in numbers in Thursday’s 137km second stage at the Tour of Beijing.
The victory book-ends a frustrating season for the Garmin-Cervélo rider, who hadn’t won since starting the season off right with two stages at the Tour of Qatar in February.
Since then, things went all but wrong for the Australian-German, who struggled with injuries and poor health that sidelined him during the Tour de France.
“It’s a nice way to end the season with a stage win. The whole year’s been up and down and hasn’t gone the way I wanted,” Haussler said. “I came out of the Vuelta strong and had a good world’s ride, so I came here with good legs.”
A day after fans were all but shut out of Wednesday’s time trial stage, the Chinese turned up in impressive numbers to watch an animated race into the hills west of Beijing.
Haussler pipped Russian Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) in a photo finish as the pack barreled down a long, flat straightaway against strong headwinds. But even he wasn’t sure he’d won.
“I thought the Katusha rider had won. I went straight to the team car,” Haussler said. “I was in something like 60th position with 2km to go. Summie (Johan Van Summeren) and David (Millar) did a great job putting me in good position. (Davide) Appollonio went with 300 meters to go, but that was heaps too early against the wind. The Katusha guy came behind me. It was really, really close.”
Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) finished safely tucked inside the main pack to defend his 17-second gap to Millar. Alex Dowsett (Sky) remained third at 24 seconds back as there were no major shakeups in the GC.
A four-man breakaway tried its luck early, led by Vacansoleil’s Thomas De Gendt, but HTC-Highroad controlled the stage to defend Martin’s jersey.
There were some late attacks in the last of four passages on a 21km circuit that included a third-category climb, but it all came together for a bunch sprint.
Martin is in the driver’s seat going into Friday’s 162km, four-climb “queen” stage that features three first-category climbs in the mountains north of Beijing.
“I have a strong team here and we controlled the race. There was a lot of wind, but I was well-protected all day,” Martin said. “I have a good gap and I have good condition. Tomorrow is the queen stage. I have to stay with the best climbers. I have good chances.”
Unlike Wednesday’s stage, when fans were locked out of the Beijing Olympic Park by nervous authorities, impressive numbers of fans lined much of the route from Beijing to Mentaugou.
It’s hard to say whether residents were “urged” to go out by government officials or went out of curiosity, but the large numbers did not go unnoticed by the peloton.
“There were a lot of spectators today. There were some drummers making noise,” Martin said. “I think people like cycling in China. It can have a good future here.”
Philippe Mauduit, a sport director on Saxo Bank-Sungard, said the fan interest is genuine, but said that the officials need to get out of the way and let the public come closer to the cyclists if the sport is going to have a future in China.
“I was here in China in the early 2000s for some races and the Chinese are very curious about cycling. When they see the professionals here, with their expensive bikes and their jerseys, they look at them as if they have come from another planet,” he said.
“But there is a big gap between the public and the riders,” he continued. “The officials are worried about safety and do not want to risk a crash. But they are not letting the fans close to the riders at the starts or the finishes. They have to make it free so they can come closer to us. That will be better for everyone.”