Norwegian champion Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) timed his sprint to perfection to claim victory in the opening stage of the 2013 Tour of Beijing.
The veteran started the sprint finish at sixth wheel, with Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) first to show his hand, but the former world champion latched on to the wheel of Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) and passed the Slovenian on the line.
The ‘God of Thunder’ will now swap his national champion’s jersey for the red jersey of race leader tomorrow.
And having added yet another stage victory to his crowded palmares he said: “It was a good win and I surprised myself. It’s been a hard couple of weeks after the worlds but today just worked out perfectly.”
Despite a long season in their legs, four riders attacked very early in the stage and were allowed to build a significant lead on the flat roads.
Willem Wauters (Vacansoleil-DCM) was among the escapees, ensuring the team – in their last WorldTour race before folding – did not go out with a whimper.
He was joined by Davide Vigano (Lampre-Merida), Sander Cordeel (Lotto-Belisol) and Japan’s Ryota Nishizono of home team Champion System – also due to disband at the end of the year – and the group were given license to go well clear.
Working well together to stay out in front, Vigano took the first intermediate sprint – and the three-second time bonus – followed by Cordeel and Wauters.
The peloton adopted a relaxed attitude on a hot Beijing day, with riders seen laughing and joking in the bunch as the escape reached a maximum lead of nine minutes.
Cannondale soon brought riders to the front, however, as they set to reel the break in and setup a potential victory for in-form sprinter Elia Viviani.
Compatriots Wauters and Cordeel contested the second sprint, with the former coming from behind to take maximum points, with Vigano crossing third.
Their lead continued to fall however, with FDJ.fr – riding for Nacer Bouhanni – joining Cannondale at the front of the bunch on the flat roads of China’s capital.
Vigano rejoined the bunch as they approached the final 50km and was welcomed back by team-mate Roberto Ferrari, signalling the Italian quick-man’s intent for the stage, but the three other leaders stayed out in front.
Once again Cordeel and Wauters contested the sprint, with Wauters taking maximum points, but with a fast pace now being set on the long, straight Jingmi Road the gap continued to fall.
With traffic at a standstill on the east-bound carriageway as drivers abandoned their cars for a view of the riders heading west, Nishizono decided to give the home fans something to cheer with a solo attack, which briefly earned him about 50 metres.
Cordeel and Wauters countered however, and the Lotto-Belisol man broke clear on his own to re-establish a lead of 2’45” over the bunch.
Cannondale and FDJ.fr continued to mount a charge at the front of the peloton, however, with Argos-Shimano and BMC also gathering riders at the front.
As ever, Sky – keen to maintain their spot at number one in the world team rankings – also adopted their usual position near the head of the peloton but with no stage ambition eased up as the sprint trains began to form.
The pace of the sprint teams, jostling for road space at the front, caused the peloton to string out slightly but Cordeel, teeth bared, remained determined to stay out in front for as long as possible.
The straight and flat roads meant BMC pair Marco Pinotti and Steve Cummings, who were driving the bunch, always had him in their sights and he eventually eased off and allowed himself to be swallowed up with five kilometres remaining.
Using up as much of the road as they could, there was a frantic pace in the bunch as several trains formed with teams desperate to pick up a late-season victory.
FDJ took up the mantle on the front of the bunch, but their efforts proved to have come a little too early as Orica-GreenEDGE moved to the front, prompting Petacchi to abandon team-mate Tony Martin and join the back of their train.
The Italian veteran mistimed his sprint for the line, however, with Hushovd, Mezgec and even team-mate Nikolas Maes passing him as the ‘God of Thunder’ took the early overall lead.
Tour of Beijing 2013: stage one – result
1) Thor Hushovd (NOR) – BMC Racing in 4:20:34hrs
2) Luka Mezgec (SVN) – Argos-Shimano – same time
3) Nikolas Maes (BEL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
4) Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
6) Enrique Sanz (ESP) – Movistar
7) Rudiger Selig (BEL) – Katusha
8) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr
9) Jonas Vangenechten (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
10) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
1) Thor Hushovd (NOR) – BMC Racing at 4:20:24hrs
2) Willem Wauters (BEL) – Vacansoleil-DCM +3″
3) Luka Mezgec (SVN) – Argos-Shimano +4″
4) Nikolas Maes (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +6″
5) Ryota Nishizono (JAP) – Champion System +9″
6) Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +10″
7) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE same time
8) Enrique Sanz (ESP) – Movistar
9) Rudiger Selig (BEL) – Katusha
10) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr