Ryder Hesjedal reprised his role as Dan Martin’s main supporting act on the queen stage of the Tour of Beijing. The Canadian’s stubborn break on the final climb set up Martin to take Garmin-Sharp’s second stage win and meant the team came close to wresting the general classification from BMC Racing’s Philippe Gilbert.
The Irish-Canadian pairing has proved a fruitful one for Garmin-Sharp. The Canadian was instrumental in setting up Martin’s success at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2013, and most recently at Il Lombardia. He played a prominent role helping Martin climb into the top ten at the Vuelta too.
On the relatively benign slopes of the Mentougou Miaofeng Mountain on Monday, Hesjedal hammered his way out of the front group. Despite sprinting over every slight rise and around every corner, he stayed tantalisingly in range of the select bunch for much of the 12km climb. While his lead was rarely more than a handful of seconds, it was persistent enough to make Garmin-Sharp’s rivals chase hard. He was eventually caught inside the final 2kms, leaving Martin in command of the team’s fortunes.
“I figured I’d try to take a chance because you never know until you get out there,” Hesjedal said at the summit. “I could do an effort and force the other guys to work and not just give them a free ride. From the looks of it, that really helped Dan. He could be relaxed and put the race on everyone else. He was able to finish off, so, happy with that.
“I don’t have the best punch but I can go hard for a long time and I really just needed to do that, keep grinding and see what happened. Some guys give up a little bit. If there wasn’t so much a headwind I could have done even more.”
Conditions on the final slope fell in favour of Gilbert. It was not, said Martin, “a climber’s climb” with pitches steep enough to shell the punchy, in-form Belgian. “There was headwind all the way and it’s not a hard climb. It’s big chain ring and you’re going 30kph,” Martin said after learning he had missed out on the general classification by a slender three seconds.
Still, the Irishman said he was content to walk away with the stage win – the team’s second after Tyler Farrar’s drought-breaking sprint yesterday at Quianjiadian Chao Yang Temple. “The GC would have been a bonus, but the guys rode incredibly all day - in fact all week they’ve been incredible,” added Martin.
“It’s always been a lot of fun, this race. It’s my third time here and I’ve enjoyed every year. It’s just a pity it’s not continuing but I’m sure it will be back in the future.”
The gap between Martin and Gilbert may be small and time bonuses are at stake in the final stage, but Garmin will likely settle for second on GC and hunt the green points classification jersey instead. Farrar lies a single point behind Giant-Shimano’s Luka Mezgec going into the 111km stage from Tiananmen Square to the Bird’s Nest stadium.