In what is becoming an annual event, Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes closed the 2019 calendar year of racing in the warmth of south-eastern China.
After two seasons of racing with great success at the Tour of Quanzhou Bay, this year the team moved 100 miles up the coast to compete in the UCI 2.1 Tour of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province, from 17th – 23rd November.
The tour consisted of seven stages: two finished with long climbs, one had a few smaller hills, whilst the remaining four were pan-flat. The stages were relatively short ranging from 107km up to 128km which encouraged aggressive racing, and covered 813km in total.
The Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes riders selected for the combined demands of sprinting and climbing were Ryan Christensen, Callum Macleod, Dan Pearson, Max Stedman, Rory Townsend and in his swansong race for the team, Charles Page.
Simon Holt was team manager/director sportif with ‘Kenny’ from Hong Kong acting as team mechanic for a second time.
Having arrived on the Friday morning after overnight flights via Hong Kong, the team had the Saturday to prepare before the race commenced on the Sunday with a baptism of fire.
Stage 1 started in the 30 degreeC midday heat and humidity and finished with a 10km, 7% climb from sea-level up to Ku Liang at 724 metres. With 8km to go, two Kazakhs with a chequered history, Ilya Davidenok and Artur Fedosseyev competing for the Shenzhen Xidesheng team, took off and had established a 45 second winning margin by the summit.
A combination of jet-lag and the heat left the Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes riders wilting with Stedman coming home 20th two minutes down, and Townsend, Macleod and Pearson finishing shortly after in 28th, 29th and 30th places respectively.
“Boys rode great, took it on, but unfortunately me and Dan went boom boom in the heat. 6 more opportunities and at least we got a cool pic out of it’”
Stage 2 came as a welcome relief as although still warm, the 5 lap 24km circuit of Langqi Hongguang Lake Park benefitted from a cooling sea breeze, and marked a dramatic change in the team’s fortunes.
The wind led to an animated race but the six-man break was caught with 10km to go. In a mass sprint finish Townsend found his way through the centre of the bunch with Page close on his wheel.
Townsend took a terrific win from sprint favourite Blake Quick from the Australian team St. Georges with Page claiming an admirable 3rd place.
In a post-race interview, Townsend commented…
“The finish was so hectic, I ended up opening the sprint with Charles on my wheel, so to finish first and third was a good result for us.
I got brought up really nicely by Ryan Christensen, my teammate. The sprinter from St Georges who is very quick (Blake Quick) had been in the wind for quite a while, so I was confident when I opened up my sprint. ”
Townsend later tweeted…
“Bosh, had to come all the way to China for my first UCI win but great feeling nonetheless. Outstanding work by the boys, especially Kiwi @ryanchr1stensen”
Stage 3 was another flat coastal route, but this time with a blustery onshore cross-wind.
Page made the six-man break of the day which gained a lead of over three minutes. With the peloton struggling to maintain their momentum due to the windy conditions, the break just managed to stay away until the finish.
With his strong sprint, Page was a possible favourite for the stage, especially as two riders fell away from the break. However, with only a kilometre to go Kirill Sveshnikov (Russian National team) and Ivar Slik (Monkey Town) forged ahead with Slik taking the victory and Page just snatching another 3rd place on the line. Townsend finished with the main bunch in 10th place and so passed over the green points leader’s jersey to Page.
With three 2.5km climbs of 6% gradient, the last coming just 10 km from the finish, Stage 4 provided an opportunity to shed the specialist sprinters before the finish.
This is exactly what Townsend did, assisted by extensive work from Christensen in the break of the day to help stretch out the peloton, and accompanied by Stedman to fragment the field on the last two climbs.
After a hair-raising final descent, the remaining 25 riders coalesced into a reduced bunch to contest the last couple of flat kilometres. With about a kilometre to go Stedman took off towards the right-hand side of the road taking the chasing riders with him, as he did this, Townsend shot off on the left-hand side at such a pace that he was left unchallenged to the finish and was able to celebrate in his inimitable style as he approached the line.
His storming win recovered the green sprinters jersey both he and Stedman gained time for the GC standings.
In a post-race interview, Townsend commented…
“I felt really, really good today. I gave myself sort of a slightly easy day yesterday because my teammate Charles Page had a good day at the front. In the end I was in the front group and I could see it was sort of messy around.
So I just decided to go early and I had time to enjoy my victory”
Townsend later tweeted…
“I Ioooooove it when a plan comes together. Ripped it on the climbs, before lead-out man @MaxStedman_ took it up in the final km”
Stage 5 was yet another flat coastal five lap out-and-back course finishing into a headwind.
In a frantic sprint finish, Page and Townsend surfed the wheels in a condensed bunch, but were squeezed into 16th and 19th places respectively.
The aptly named Blake Quick sprinted into 3rd place behind two riders from the Russian National team and took the green sprinters jersey along with it.
Stage 6 was the longest of the week starting from inland Yongtai where the race hotel was located, traversing along the valley through extensive woodlands, and finishing in the fog at the top of a 13km, 5% climb up to 836 metres altitude at Yunding.
This ‘queen stage’ provided an opportunity for the team to further improve their GC standings after the disappointment of the first day. Pearson spent much of the stage in a five-man break which was only caught half-way up the final climb. Stedman hit the front for an extended period towards the top of the climb, but as no other riders were willing to work with him, the stage finished with a small group sprint from which Stedman finished 6th moving him up to 12th place on GC.
After assisting Stedman on the lower part of the climb, Townsend and Macleod kept up a good pace finishing together in 16th and 17th places.
“Gave it a good nudge on the final climb, devo’d I didn’t have these legs on Stage 1, salvaged what I could after the guys hard work!”
Stage 7 was 6 laps of a 20km kermesse-style circuit along the banks of the Datun river and around the Yongtai town centre.
The team spent extensive periods on the front of the peloton keeping the breakaway in check, and positioning Townsend and Page for the final sprint. Townsend forced his way up the left-hand side of the peloton looking as though he may be on for another podium.
However, Townsend was rolled just before the line and finished in 5th place, two places ahead of Quick, but not quite enough to secure the green jersey.
Overall the tour was a great success for Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes with two stage wins for Townsend, two third places for Page, one fifth, one sixth and one tenth place.
On General Classification Stedman took 12th place, Townsend 18th and 19-year old Macleod 22nd. Townsend and Page also won green points leader jerseys in recognition of their stage efforts. An impressive list of successes contributed to a fine Chinese Takeaway!
An outstanding amount of work was accomplished by Christensen and Pearson either driving or chasing down breakaways, pace-setting and lead-out duties.
It was a common site throughout the race to see four or five team members sitting on the front of the peloton and dictating the pace.
The team was skilfully managed by Holt who put the well-executed competitive tactics in place for each stage. The Canyon bikes appeared to function consistently smoothly with trouble free rides from the Hunt wheels and Maxxis tyres.
Written by Paul Stedman.
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