Tour de Langkawi winner Ryan Cox will attempt to take his second Asian 2.HC event of the season when he spearheads the Team Barloworld-Valsir squad in the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China, which begins on Saturday, July 16.
The South African champion came out best in the nine-day race last season when American Philip Zajicek, the initial winner, was disqualified for taking the banned substance cathine. Cox had finished 48 seconds behind the Navigators Insurance rider in the general classification. He missed out on the chance to wear the final yellow jersey on the podium, and so will be motivated to win the event from the front this year.
Cox will be backed by a good squad. "We've decided to go with a team of good climbers and good all-round riders," said Barloworld-Valsir team director John Robertson. "Ryan is the defending champion and is in good form, so he'll be our GC rider and the guys will look after him. But there are others on the team who are more than capable of winning stages and performing well in the mountains. The team has a nice shape to it and we're expecting good things of them."
The team includes South African Jeremy Maartens, who outsprinted five breakaway companions to win the fifth stage last year. Compatriots David George and Jock Green join up with Australia's Sean Sullivan, Italian Giampaolo Cheula and Danish rider Rene Jorgensen to complete the seven man squad.
"Ryan, Sean and Jeremy have been training hard in the mountains around Lake Como," said Robertson. "They've been putting in daily five-hour rides up some big climbs. Qinghai is an altitude race. We're talking about 2200 to 2400 metres above sea level.
"There will also be some tough teams going to Qinghai. South Africa is sending their national squad, which did well last year. There is the Polish Action team, who we raced against in the Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Giro Del Capo, Navigators are coming from the United States, so there will be some strong opposition. We know how hard it will be, but we're pretty sure we've got the team to counter any threat."
The 1344.4 kilometre Tour of Qinghai Lake is the most prestigious road race in China, and is part of the new Asian Continental Tour currently led by Cox. It runs until July 24.