After the success of the international cyclo cross races in Tokyo, Japan, the internationalization of the sport continues throughout Asia with the Qiansen Tropy UCI Cyclo Cross in the Chinese capital Bejing.
After a week of morning showers, skies cleared on race day and the course dried out from slippery to lightening fast yet dusty and rough. Running sections got reduced to two sets of stairs and a fly over. The event was organized and financed by the local government and the Qiansen Group, the company responsible for some of the best velodromes in China including the one built for the Bejing Olympics. A Chinese television station was present for live broadcasting, online and on the big screen at the finish line. The Qiansen Group, through the Song family together with the help of UCI coordinator Peter Van den Abbeele organized an event that easily passed the standards set by the European cx events and will hopefully become a stand-out feature on the international calendar.
In the morning, around 30 Chinese amateur riders were lead out on their first lap by some of the elite men and women and some of the staff members who were eager to get their bit of the action before supporting their riders on their races. The amateurs raced for about 3o minutes, most of them on mountain bikes that often left them struggling while running up the multiple steps and steep pinches around the course. It seemed like all of them brought friends and family to the race what led to a great ambiance. Two riders stayed together in the front of the race and a sprint finish in front of a cheering crowd was the presage for the afternoon elite events.
At 1.30 in the afternoon, 22 elite female riders started out for what became a nerve-wracking race. After a fast start a five woman lead group formed including Margriet Kloppenburg from Denmark , Asa Erlandsson from Sweden and Adela Carter from Great Britain. These three were joined by Australia’s Katherine O’Shea and the New Zealand national champion Jenna Makgill. It was amazing to see the Aussie and Kiwi, both with very little cx race experience, pushing the Europeans to their limits. In the end it might have been that lack of experience in international races that necked them as Kloppenburg and Esa decided the race in a two women sprint won by Margriet, the Danish rider racing for BMC. Exhausted but with great satisfaction, Makgill and O’Shea crossed the finish line in fourth and fifth position respectively.
More smiling faces came past soon after as the other two Australians Jenny MacPherson and Sarah Holmes brought their first overseas cyclo cross experience to a successful finish. Both unsure what to expect at the start of the race in a strong international field, they rode to a great 11th (Jenny) and 12th (Sarah) position.
Less fortunate was reining Aussie cx champion Lisa Jacobs as she was involved in a nasty crash on the steepest downhill section in the first lap. Despite suffering shoulder injuries, Lisa pushed trough to the finish and managed to pull back many of her competitors to finish 14th position.
An hour after the women’s finish it was time for the elite men to fight it out for the title of Bejing’s first cx winner. For many of the European pro riders, their biggest fear was how they would cope with the hot Chinese weather. Fortunately for them, the UCI made an exception on the rules and allowed for riders to take bottle from their mechanics in the pit area.
Sixty-three riders lined up under the approving eye of race organizer Yanxing Song. Having earned enough UCI points at the World Cups and World Championships last year, Australia’s Lewis Rattray and New Zealand’s Alexander Revell got second row start positions where fellow Aussies John Groves and XCE World Champion Paul Van Der Ploeg had to start in the back part of the field.
As predicted by the warm weather the days before the race, the pace was high. With a double stairs run only a few hundred meters after the start, riders were soon spread out and riders we’re fighting to get in better positions. A stomach bug kept Lewis Rattray from properly defending his chances while Paul Van Der Ploeg used his XC Eliminator experience to pull back riders that started in front of him.
Just as Lewis Rattray and John Grover found each other riding around 4oth position, Paul Van Der Ploeg had to abandon the race as the bumpy course proved to be too brutal on his body. The two remaining Aussies we’re eventually pulled from the race with one lap to go as UCI officials judged Dutchie Thijs Al got too close to lapping them. A better result was there for New Zealand National Champion Alexander Revell, finishing the race just within the top 30.
The Europeans lived up to their role as race favorites only challenged by U.S. pro Justin Lindine. The American crossed the line in third position only beaten by Telenet-Fidea Team rider Thijs Al from the Netherlands and Arnaud Jouffroy from France.
Even though the race was far harder then anticipated with some of the Belgian youngster averaging hart rates of more than 200 bpm, there was nothing but smiles and content riders at the team marquees near the finish line. UCI officials, riders and team managers all gave the Qiansen Group thumbs up and hope they succeed in their plan for 2014 to organize two races spread out over two weekend on any of their sports grounds spread out around Bejing.