Pollution in the Chinese capital is a recurring topic on the social networks when Tour of Beijing is mentioned. Garmin-Cervélo's Andrew Talansky was one of the first to complain about the air quality on Twitter even before the start of the race, but other teams say the pollution isn't a big concern.
After a few hours on his bike, the American talent confirmed he has been affected by the bad air. "Pollution is clearly strong here", he told Cyclingnews. "I guess someone like David Millar who is born in Hong Kong doesn't have the same problems here. For my part I come from California but not from a big city. At home I struggled when I rode around Los Angeles but it is really worse in Beijing."
Amaël Moinard also said at the start of stage 2 that "it was pretty hard to breathe during the time trial". However BMC's Frenchman doesn't want to take part to the controversy and says he "is really enjoying" his first experience in China.
Beijing's pollution is hard to miss. Even on clear days, there is a haze that lingers, and it led the government to close dozen of factories around the city three weeks before the Olympic Games in 2008.
On Wednesday, weather.com.cn recorded a "pretty bad" quality of air in Beijing and Men-To Go district where stage 2 has finished. In its last forecast, published at 6pm (11am in London), the Chinese website recommends "to reduce the outdoor sport activities".
"With 18 million people and a huge amount of car traffic that the local authorities are trying to decrease, it's obvious Beijing doesn't have the same quality of air as the Swiss Alps," said Global Cycling Promotions Director Alain Rumpf, organiser of the Tour of Beijing, adding that spring and autumn are the best seasons for air quality.
"Air quality changes every day accordingly the wind, because Beijing is based in a basin," Rumpf said. "The weather was nice when the riders arrived and they managed to give their best in the first two stages."
HTC-Highroad's team doctor is aware of pollution's potential impact on his athletes. "It's both a physiological and... a psychological problem," Helge Riepenhof told Cyclingnews. An expert in recovery methods, the German team doctor said any issues riders might have are not serious.
The situation is similarly normal at Saxo Bank-Sungard, said team doctor Joost Maeseneer. "We were a bit worried about the quality of food and air and finally everything is OK."
In case one of his riders would be badly affected, he brought in his suitcase some conventional medicines like anti-histamines, normally used for allergies, and some others to relax an irritated throat.
HTC has another weapon against pollution, an herbal remedy. "I tried it in 2008 during the Olympics and it was successful", doctor Riepenhof says. "Every night, the riders who request it can inhale natural substance which doesn't clear their lungs, but which helps the riders to feel better."