–SAN DIEGO, CA–
With two days off of racing to travel and recover from the UCI 2.2 Tour of Taiyuan, the Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling Team headed south to the city of Shangluo in the Shaanxi province for a two-day stage race around the Qinling Mountains.
Riders tackled 10 laps of a wonky 8-shaped 7.5-kilometer city circuit to kick the event off. With wide roads, none of which were particularly technical, the race speed was fast. The peloton was able to cover the 75 kilometers in just under an hour and half, averaging 49 kilometers per hour (30mph) for the duration of the race.
Despite there being many familiar faces from teams that had also finished the Tour of Taiyuan, the racing tactics were noticeable more chaotic here than at the UCI event a couple days prior. With more amateur teams and less definitive solid strength amidst squads to organize pace and set steady tempo to chase down moves, the peloton saw a style of constant attacking. In other words, this meant that any break was viable, which meant that any break was both worth being in. Thus, there weren’t so much chases, as attacks out of the peloton to try and get into the break, which themselves were followed by attacks.
This played a large role in making the race very quick and the earlier parts extremely taxing. The plan was to ride for Quinten in a sprint finish (the chances for which were extremely high), and go for whatever Sprint competition points and KOM competition points were available. Maxx, Colby, Sam, and Kent would keep an eye out for moves to go off the front for the intermediate points while Quinten floated in the pack conserving energy. Kent narrowly missed out on the day’s KOM points, and a confusion with when the sprint points were up for grabs saw Maxx go a lap too early when contesting them.
With 4 laps to go, Sam and Colby had found their way into a break of 7, consisting of committed riders. They all worked well and smoothly together, and got as much as 30 seconds up the road going into 2 laps to go. However, a strong chase of 2 teams brought the septet back within 1.5 laps to go, and Colby and Sam transitioned to leadout mode for Quinten.
Without narrow roads or a single team to string the bunch out, the team found itself riding train-to-train with three other teams through the last lap of the city circuit. Skittish riders left and right who were either moving up and then dropping back made finding safe and consistent positioning difficult, and through the third to last turn, Sam, who was first man in the train, got swarmed, forcing the other 4 riders to go around him.
High speeds and a downhill tailwind section made moving up especially hard, and with riders fanned out across the finishing straight, pathways to do so were limited for Quinten as he opened up his sprint. Despite the trickiness of maneuvering around riders who were sitting, he managed a solid 13th place on the day.
A lumpier profile for stage 2 offered riders a bit of opportunity for more selective racing than the day before. With two climbs separated by a rolling valley in the foothills just outside of town, the 150-kilometer course presented new challenges for racers.
The peloton, however, would first have to complete 5 laps of the same city from the day before, and, accordingly, would race it similarly. Attacks were non-stop, and small breaks never gained more than five to ten seconds up the road before riders would explode out of the peloton to bridge across, inevitably dragging the peloton with them.
Just when the pack was entering their last lap, and it looked like they would exit out onto the bigger loop intact, a group of 9 splintered off, with Colby safely in the wheels. The pack hesitated briefly, but this small pause was all it took for the break to achieve the necessary time ahead of the road to escape.
Without radios and limited information regarding time gaps from the commissaires, the peloton began burning matches immediately to try and bring the move back. According to Colby, the break never got more than 1:30 up the road for the hour after the peloton left the city circuits, and they were forced to work hard to drive the pace and maintain distance.
Back in the pack, Kent, Quinten, Sam, and Maxx monitored moves and floated through the draft as the peloton continuously attacked and dragged the group with it. Once it looked as though the break was going to stick, it was their job to follow any more chases that went up the road.
Quinten did a tremendous job setting pace leading into the steepest sections of the climb before the group descended into the valley. Once he pulled off, Maxx and Sam worked to set tempo up the climb and reduced the group, with Kent riding wheels behind.
Once down in the valley, Kent and Maxx were able to respond to attacks that formed the main chase that would stick together for the rest of the race.
Up ahead, Colby was having to play a tactical game, with two riders of the strong Australian-Malaysian outfit having sneakily escaped from the peloton and bridged up to their two teammates already in the break, making it 4 on 1.
Colby would measure his efforts going into the last climb of the day, a 4-kilometer long climb of about 5%, whose crest deposited riders at 8-kilometers to go, and into steep descent followed by a quick kicker over a highway overpass. Colby would follow moves on the climb, using his strong time trial ability to diesel his way up to an escapee from the break who had gotten 10 seconds up the road after an attack at the base. He would drop members of the break in doing so. The group would crest the climb altogether and though attacks were thrown on the kicker, the group remained intact into the final descent-to-flat that fed them into 1 kilometer to go.
Colby would try and send a flyer up the road, and gained some quick ground on the group, but an earnest breakaway caught onto his wheel and passed him. However, even after working hard to attack off the front, Colby still managed a strong 7th place finish in the sprint.