A new WorldTour race late in October is an unlikely target for the majority of riders in the peloton. For Tim Wellens, however, the inaugural Tour of Guangxi presented an opportunity for a stage race win and important global exposure for his Lotto Soudal team.
On the queen stage of the race, the Belgian delivered on his ambition as he dispatched Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Nico Roche (BMC) in the finale of the Nongla climb for a win that moved him into the race lead.
However, it could have all ended on the side of the road with a late crash on approach to the turn onto the three-kilometre climb.
"It was right in front of me so I saw the crash. We were at very high speed to so I was very happy that nobody was injured from the team as it looked like a nasty crash. I hope everybody is ok. We were lucky to avoid to the crash," Wellens said of the incident that saw Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) injure his arm and abandon.
Shaking off the close call, Wellens repaid the work of his teammates, who had positioned him for an assault on the climb.
"Of course I am super happy. I was very good in front thanks to my teammates at the bottom of the climb and then I had a lot of power in the legs and I attacked together with Bauke Mollema. We stayed in front with three and then it was jut in the finale that I attacked one final time."
The winner of Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana and Trofeo Andratx-Mirador des Colomer in January and a stage of the Ruta del Sol in early February, Wellens' 2017 season started strongly, though the results would prove to be false omens with hi next win coming several months later in August. He followed his BinckBank Tour stage win with success at the GP de Wallonie a month later and has carried that form into October.
With the majority of the WorldTour peloton already enjoying the off-season, Wellens explained that he circled the race in red as a target, wanting to capitalise on his late-season form.
"I am always feeling good at the beginning and end of the season. I was especially motivated here at the Tour of Guangxi. In the beginning I didn't have super, super legs but the whole team stayed with me today and gave me extra motivation and confidence."
Still soaking in the win and his first leader's jersey of 2017 during the post-stage press conference, Wellens added that the win is not just of personal importance, but also for the team sponsor Soudal who in 2010 took over Shija, China's third largest PU foam manufacturer, and established a foothold in the Chinese market.
"It is very good to put Lotto Soudal on the world map because for the sponsor it is super important. It is also a big market here in China so it was our goal to do a very good result and we today we made it."
Like Soudal, Wellens has made an imprint in China and with just flat stages to come, he is confident of further success. First, though, he and his team will need to fend off the attacks, which are sure to come from Mollema and Roche in chase of time bonuses at the intermediate sprints and finish lines.
"I don't know how many seconds I have on second [Mollema]. But I prefer to have a few seconds in advance than a few seconds back," said Wellens of the GC situation, which includes four riders within 15 seconds of his lead.
"Before the stage, I said that today would be the classification so I hope I am right and I can keep the lead. Tomorrow will also be a hard stage but to gain seconds with the finish on the flat, is not so easy. I think we have a very good team to control. Everybody is riding super good and I have confidence in the team that we can control.”